In 2012, Mid-Ohio Foodbank started exploring social enterprise opportunities with community partners. Among the mission-aligned opportunities they identified, they landed on transforming vacant land into thriving, chemical-free farm operations. Today, Urban Farms of Central Ohio is a key initiative of Mid-Ohio Foodbank. In 2016, the venture produced more than 40,000 pounds of fresh vegetables. Fresh food is a key part of Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s work – nearly half of the food they distribute is fresh.
Clarfield Farm sits on 8 acres of a vacant elementary school property owned by Columbus City Schools. Four of those acres are farmed, as the school building and parking lot cover the remaining portion of the property. More than 50 varieties of produce are grown at Clarfield Farm, and with its four 30 foot by 96 foot high tunnels, they grow greens and root crops year-round.
“In the first six weeks of 2017 alone the high tunnels turned out over 2,000 pounds of produce,” said Strategic Projects Manager Sarah Lenkay. “Urban Farms supplies more than seven restaurants with fresh produce, including Roots Café.”
This location also includes a “Pay-What-You-Can” farm stand for local residents to access fresh produce, a delivery service for homebound seniors, and a section of the land dedicated to community u-pick, where local residents can pick their own produce while learning about maintaining a vegetable garden. Urban Farms also operates a 1.5 acre location in the Hilltop area. This location is used for seed-starting purposes because it has access to electricity to run lighting and heat mats. This location is the newer of the two, and Urban Farms is working to amend the soil in preparation for future planting.
At the core of this initiative, Urban Farms seeks to engage local residents in every aspect of the business. From training volunteers to work the farm stand, to inviting the public to the u-pick field, Urban Farms team members view each interaction as an opportunity to answer questions and share their knowledge to build connections with residents, using the land, produce and health as their medium.
“As part of our outreach efforts in 2016, Urban Farms launched a program to provide eight South Side High School students with an eight-week job-readiness training program,” Lenkay said.
The internship included on-the-job training and education. In addition to business basics workshops, the students worked 15 hours a week alongside Urban Farms’ team members, gaining hands-on experience with starting seeds, washing and preparing produce for sale or delivery, and providing customer service at the farm stand. Urban Farms hopes to expand this youth program in 2017. Additionally, Urban Farms hosts hundreds of children throughout the academic year for educational, experiential field trips.
As a social enterprise, Urban Farms measures its social impact in terms of growing and providing the community with quality produce that is comparable, if not better, than any for-profit entity. Measurement of the impact is determined in a variety of ways, including sales to restaurants, how many families are served with healthful produce through the farm stand, the number of teen and youth program participants, the number of volunteers, and, of course, the amount of fresh produce grown and consumed by the community.
“What is somewhat more challenging for us to quantify are the relationships we are building,” said Lenkay. “When residents interact with Urban Farms team members, often they express needs that are outside Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s mission work, but we are able to refer them to other local services or organizations such as the local civic association, which result in needs being met and a higher level of overall community engagement. Additionally, when local residents share recipes that have been handed down to them, cultural connections become revitalized.
“One recent success story we’ve celebrated – a local retired bus driver who had weight-related health challenges,” said Lenkay. “He made significant changes to his diet, including increasing the amount of fresh produce (specifically Swiss Chard) he consumed by frequenting the farm stand. He’s since lost more than 50 pounds.”
New for 2017
In 2016, Urban Farms piloted a Veggie Box program that was successful. In 2017, Urban Farms will be offering 70 shares or memberships for fresh produce delivery. If you’re interested in signing up for the program, visit urbanfarmsofcentralohio.org/food/veggie-box. There are many additional ways to get involved with Urban Farms as well, including volunteer opportunities and leading field trips and tours, and, of course, providing manual labor to maintain the farms. Urban Farms encourages the public to volunteer for its kickoff efforts starting in April. Follow Urban Farms’ Facebook page for upcoming events, or send an email to email@example.com to learn how you can support this social enterprise.
Learn more at urbanfarmsofcentralohio.org.
Central Ohio’s social enterprises dedicated to environmental sustainability
The Center for Social Enterprise Development (CSED) maintains a directory of social enterprises throughout Central Ohio. We have developed many at-a-glance profiles for each social enterprise, intended to inform consumers, funders, impact investors and individual donors of investment-worthy causes. Here are the social enterprises we’ve identified to date, whose focus is environmental sustainability. We encourage you to learn more, consider supporting these organizations, or inform us of additional social enterprises that share this focus. Connect with the Center for Social Enterprise Development on Facebook and Twitter to follow all the latest updates on roughly 100 local social enterprises throughout Central Ohio.