The planning commission hopes to make the search of victuals easier in the 12-county region, said Brian Williams, a farmland policy consultant for the organization.
Blue Valley Creamery, Westerville Creamery, Harmony Farms, Pestel Milk Co., Pickerington Creamery. Those were just a fraction of the milk processors in Columbus 50 years ago. None of them remains. There also were 10 meatpacking plants in the city; Herman Falter Packing Co. is the only abattoir left. A handful of the 25 produce distributors listed in the 1959 Polk City Directory are still in town.
Columbus still has the North Market but lost the Central Market downtown and the East Market on Mt. Vernon Avenue in the last 50 years.
The current trend toward "eating local" in central Ohio is nothing new. It's just harder to find local food in an economy that has moved toward mass production and national distribution over the decades.
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission hopes to make the search of local fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and dairy products easier in the 12-county region. It has completed a regional assessment of local-food production, processing, distribution and consumption, and intends to publish the assessment in April along with a plan to expand every link in the local-food supply chain.
The number of farmers markets has increased steadily in Franklin and surrounding counties. Grocery stores advertise local produce in season and highlight local meat and packaged products, sometimes through the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Ohio Proud program. Quality-conscious chefs feature locally oriented menus in a growing number of restaurants. Community gardens are springing up all over the region, providing food for residents of struggling neighborhoods through food banks and other outlets. Non-profits are pushing added value.
Residents of the 12 central Ohio counties spend an estimated $7-billion per year on food. Statewide, the figure is $43-billion. But only about 3 percent of that, according to estimates, is grown locally. Increasing that local share is good for our economy not to mention our environment, our palates and our health in general.
Too often, however, we fail to recognize the value of agriculture and local food. Development continues to encroach on our highly productive farmland, encouraged by local-government policies that view farms as vacant land awaiting development. Most businesses still don't buy local. Lenders are often reluctant to businesses that process or distribute local food.
Central Ohio has at least 200 farms most of them small that produce food for local consumption. The region also has 35 meat and poultry processors, plus small businesses that often rent commercial kitchen space to prepare and can their sauces and other products. In addition, there are seed companies, equipment dealers, distributors, lenders and other businesses that are part of the local-food economy.
But even if farms throughout the region started growing enough food to serve the region's 2 million people, the "food infrastructure" is not sufficient to get it to consumers. Meat processors lack the capacity to handle enough hogs and cattle to feed us. We need a regional distribution network to efficiently get the food to consumers. At the state level, the Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council is grappling with the same issues.
MORPC is developing its regional food plan now. In April, the completed plan will have a series of recommendations for local-government land, food and health policies. It will have recommendations for farmers to extend their growing seasons and band together for better distribution. It will include recommendations on how private businesses can increase the processing, transport and sale of local foods. It will help make central Ohio a region where fresh, safe, healthful and affordable local foods are equally accessible to everyone and distributed through a system that promotes sustainable farming practices and resilience in the economy.