Since 2005, northeastern Ohio has lost 20% of its farms and 29% of its farmland. High rates of unemployment continue to plague the area, falling particularly hard on minorities and people with disabilities. Increasing rates of chronic disease exacerbated by urban food deserts speak to the need for healthier food options for all residents.
In 2011, The Ohio State University (OSU) received a grant through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, run by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to address these related issues. The BEAN Project (Beginning Entrepreneurs in Agricultural Networks) offers training opportunities and workshops to women, minorities, refugees and limited-resource adults with developmental disabilities and will utilize approximately 3,300 acres of land in the City of Cleveland to develop small farm enterprises. This project is a unique partnership of the university Extension system, government agencies, local and state legislators, and several civic groups.
Since receiving the grant, OSU Extension has conducted classes, workshops and field trips to develop a more vibrant local food system. The 12-week Market Gardener Training Program helped launch 7 new local farm enterprises involving 11 new farmers. A 6-acre farm business incubator, the Kinsman Farm, makes land, fencing, water, storage and soil amendments available to participants. Additional farm sites are giving twenty recent refugees and immigrants an opportunity to start farming in the city of Cleveland, while farm business classes help them market their produce locally. An agricultural training program with the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities has already led to new jobs on urban farms for 26 socially disadvantaged individuals.