OSU Extension of Stark County has been actively engaged as a team in a wide variety of efforts focused on building the county’s community, local and regional food system to address strategic issues focused on health, wellness, nutrition, hunger and food access, procurement, and farm to fork education. Programs include Farm to School planning, education & grant support, marketing support of local farmer’s markets, community food project initiative, community & backyard garden and urban agriculture development, support & education, and direct marketing and entrepreneurial consults targeting small and mid-size local producers.
A detailed listing of program examples is featured below.
- Ohio State University Extension of Stark County and Walsh University partnered to bring awareness and potential solutions to the table to address this critical issue. Ohio’s Farm to School Program, led by OSU Extension, offered the Northeast Ohio Regional Farm to School Workshop as a pre-conference to the First Annual Ohio Hunger Dialogue hosted by Walsh University. The workshop featured engaging lectures, discussions, and roundtables focused on Ohio Farm to School’s objectives of healthy young people, healthy economies and healthy communities by building connections in the cafeteria, classroom and community to over 60 conference participants, 95% of which were students seeking higher education degrees in nutrition, dietetics and education.
- Local Foods, Urban Agriculture and Farm to Table in Stark County
One effort in this area includes a published Stark County Farm Market Directory-over 150 copies were distributed alone at the Stark County Fair. Other efforts include a Stark County OSU Extension partnership with Stark County Educational Services to introduce Farm to School to twelve local and city school systems via food service directors and the creation of a Community Food Project Network to build connections between local producers, communities and hunger networks in Stark County. Currently two working groups are focused on growing the number of urban farms and the creation of a central food hub/pantry project.
- Growing Gardens, Growing Partnerships Program
The Growing Gardens, Growing Partnerships Program has provided the necessary hands-on educational support for Stark County residents, community gardeners, neighborhoods, organizations, and institutions for the fourth year in a row. A team of Stark County Master Gardener volunteers organized three community based gardening programs focused on vegetable production, composting and garden maintenance that reached over 80 local participants.
- OSU Extension hosted the DIG IN: Community Garden Forum, bringing over 10 community garden leaders together to share ideas and introduce resources. As a result, OSU Extension now populates a Stark County Community Garden Network Facebook page to encourage networking among community garden leaders, neighborhoods, and gardeners across Stark County. Additionally, four new areas of the county are in the development stages of bringing a new community garden area to life.
- Stark County Master Gardener Volunteer Program partnered with the Stark County District Library located in downtown Canton to operate the Heirloom Seed Bank, which offers free seeds to local patrons. From January through the end of May, the program distributed over 8, 000 seed packets to local residents.