With the infusion of $265,282 from a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Oct. 8, the real work of the Ohio Farmers Market Network can begin, according to Michelle White, the network's vice president.
If you've never heard of the Ohio Farmers Market Network, well, that's one of the problems White said the grant would help solve.
White, manager of the Clintonville Farmers Market, said some of the funding would help raise the profile of the all-volunteer organization, which has been around since 2008.
"Everyone on it is either a producer or a market manager," White said. "It's been hard to really flesh out the whole goal of the organization. With the whole Local Food Action Plan, it was a nice tie-in to go for a big grant and get some work done."
The grant for the Farmers Market Management Network, which does business as the Ohio Farmers Market Network, came about in large part because of the existence of the Columbus and Franklin County Local Food Action Plan. It is the result of a joint venture launched in 2014 by county commissioner John O'Grady and Columbus City Council member Priscilla Tyson.
"This gives us the opportunity to expand access to locally grown food and produce," Tyson said in an announcement. "Our communities need pathways to affordable, fresh, local produce and this funding aligns with the goals of the LFAP allowing us to provide the training on how to create, manage and enhance farmers markets throughout the city and Franklin County."
"This award will help connect producers from all over the region with families that need access to healthy food options," O'Grady said in a statement. "The rural connection is essential to the success and viability of local urban markets. Without our rural farmers, there would not be enough food or vendors to support our markets."
The program has directed $13.35 million to 49 projects supporting producer-to-consumer marketing projects, such as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, roadside stands and agritourism through the Farmers Market Promotion Program, according to the announcement.
White said she and Ohio Farmers Market Network president Jaime Moore have yet to map out how to use the grant money.
"The whole point, hopefully, is obviously to increase consumer awareness of and demand for local food," White said. "We're going to launch a multimodal marketing campaign to assist with that."
That effort would help not only the 31 farmers markets the network has identified in central Ohio but also others.
"I'm a tiny little voice down here in southwest Ohio talking about the benefits of local food," said Penny Shore, manager of the Wyoming Farmers Market in Hamilton County and secretary of the network.
"I don't generate enough income to do that type of advertising. The greater breadth of an education program is huge, so that when they hear my sponsorship on the local NPR station, they're like, 'Oh, that's only 2 miles from me; let me go check it out.' "
In the long term, customers of farmers markets would reap benefits of the USDA grant, White said. The kind of research the funding will provide, she said, also might help with locating new farmers markets where they are needed the most.
"A lot of communities want a market and so they just decide to do one, and that can either go off really well depending upon the person who's running it or it can be a miss," White said. "Hopefully, if we're all working together, we can use those smaller markets kind of like a pipeline for producers to get their feet wet and understand how much crop to grow and how to sell -- that kind of training."
Shore said the grant also would fund creation of certification for people who run farmers markets like she does, "to raise the level of understanding what goes into managing a market."