Background of the NEO Local Food Assessment

As the Northeast Ohio region (NEO) transitions toward a sustainable future, food will play an increasingly significant role in shaping the regional economy. It's estimated that the 1.3 million residents of Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland) purchased $3.4 billion dollars of food in 2006, accounting for about 35% of the $10 billion spent in the 16 counties that comprise NEO. Ohio has fertile soils and ranks in the top 10 states in terms of agricultural production, and yet only an estimated 1% of the food consumed in NEO was produced in the region.

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Recognizing the economic, environmental, and social opportunity here, NEO has emerged in the last five years as a national leader in the development of sustainable local food systems. This is in large part due to the efforts of many organizations to develop innovative public-private partnerships around food. In Cuyahoga County alone, these efforts have resulted in 200 community gardens and 20 urban farms, as well as over 20 farmers' markets and several community-supported agriculture programs. 

The Cleveland Foundation has provided funding to a coalition of non-profit organizations to use this momentum as a springboard for the development of a strategic business plan that will map out how to take local food markets to scale. The major goal of the Northeast Ohio Local Food Assessment and Plan is to create a significant economic development strategy for the region based on the production, processing, and distribution of local food. 

The Assessment began in early 2010 when the coalition of partner organizations selected a national consultant team to assess the state of NEO's food system and make specific recommendations for how to "re-localize" it to a significant extent in the coming years. The consultant team is considering the full-value cycle of healthy regional food systems by evaluating things in terms of: agricultural production, supply chain infrastructure, markets, capacity building, and secondary businesses. The quantitative analysis component will feature the use of the IMPLAN method for evaluating the impact of "import substitution" as a means for economic development through supporting locally-owned businesses. The Assessment will culminate in 2010 with a final report and public forum on findings.