For 23 years, Countryside has connected people, food, and land across northeast Ohio. Today, we can say we’ve advanced Countryside’s vision year after year and have done a whole lot of good work in these last two decades! There is still a lot of work to be done, but to mark this birthday let’s take a look at the progress we’ve made so far and the hopes we have for the future!
The Vision of Our Founder
The idea Countryside’s founder Darwin Kelsey put down on paper way back in 1999 is well on its way to fruition.
- He knew that local food would grow in demand and envisioned it would once again become commonplace.
- He hoped we could help the farmers and land stewards who would tend to the soil and pastures.
- He believed that the small farm dream (and to put farmers on public land) could be a viable reality for those tenacious enough to rise to the challenge and who worked with our partner Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP).
Today, and thanks to the growing number of small farms and support organizations like ours, the sales of local farm products grew nationally from $11.8 billion in 2017, up from $8.7 billion in 2015, rising to 3% of the market share. And there’s strength in numbers! The tiny 1% of local producers rose to 8% over the last decade.
Demand continues to grow because smart consumers like you want to care for their bodies and the planet, and they know the social and economic value of good local food.
What We’re Celebrating
Since 1999, Countryside has worked tirelessly with CVNP and a dozen aspiring farmers to launch one of the most unique land-lease programs in the country, the Countryside Initiative.
Countryside Farmers’ Markets put over $13,750,000 into the hands of small, local farms and businesses and have welcomed over 500,000 customer visits to its markets.
Countryside’s Community Food Access programming serves over 3,000 low-income households in four counties helping families put healthy food and fresh fruits and vegetables on their plates.
Countryside has given 22 interns and apprentices top-quality classroom and field experience to build careers in agriculture and provide workforce support to 16 northeast Ohio farm businesses.
We stayed in our communities throughout the pandemic making sure local shoppers had safe access to healthy local food and our farmers and producers could get their products to market.
So, what have we learned since 1999 and how do we keep up the momentum?
- Know your farmer! Growth in local food demand is great for producers but can also lead to big box marketing ploys that deceive consumers about where and how their “local food” is grown.
- Every acre counts. Access to land is still, and more than ever, a crisis issue. If we want to protect our global food supply and our planet, our local, state, and federal lawmakers need to act now and do more.
- Grow new farmers! First generation farmers need training and work experience like any vocational career, and farms in their first 10 years of operating need a trained labor pool to help them reach profitability.
- Ask your purveyors where their food comes from. The logistics and technical infrastructure to make local food distribution sustainable needs to be improved if we want our local chefs and makers to be able to prioritize local food.
- Everyone should have the choice of what’s on their plate. Healthy food makes healthy communities, and no one should have to compromise their health to feed their family.
This is the work we do everyday. For 23 years we’ve been here to help farmers, to help you, and to help our planet.
We are here today because of you, thank you.
Want to give us a birthday gift?
It’s easier than you think:
Check out the CVNP farms—follow them on social media and subscribe to their newsletters
Learn more about the New Farmer Academy and their upcoming events
Spread the word about our Community Food Access programs to those who may need the support
Plan a visit to our Farmers’ Market to support small businesses
Snag yourself some Countryside swag for the season
And of course, you can easily make a donation today to directly impact the progress we make toward birthday number 24!