Our outgoing CEO, Tracy Emrick, recently shared a blog titled “Looking Back at Countryside: It’s Our 23rd Birthday.” Reading this as Countryside’s incoming director, I am humbled by the vision that has been shared by so many over the years and the countless hands that have worked to bring that vision to life. Countryside’s original belief in what agriculture should be—nutritious food for all, healthy communities, and environmental stewardship—has been inspiring people for decades.
I am also impressed by the changes this organization has weathered. Our tumultuous world has impacted our work in ways we never anticipated, especially in recent years. I began my career at Countryside in January 2020, so I saw first hand how crucial our work truly is.
COVID exposed what we already knew: our food system is most resilient when it is local, personal, and cooperative. Our network of farmers, partner organizations, staff, and volunteers never missed a beat. Our first curbside farmers’ market was messy, but we figured it out. We made sure that our community could safely access quality food, grown with reverence for the precious natural resources we are privileged to steward in northeast Ohio, even in the most trying times.
We also expanded our programming during that time to provide training for the next generation of farmers, connecting them with the local resources and mentorship they need to be successful in an industry that often undervalues them. The New Farmer Academy is our investment in our future, and one that we believe is worth making, especially now.
Like many small businesses and nonprofits, our hard work during those difficult times came at a cost. Staff burnout, turnover, and difficulty securing funding have taken their toll. Frankly, our finances are in very poor condition. We need your help.
We have already scaled back our programs and operations in every effort to keep Countryside alive. Yet I remain hopeful. I know that Countryside can survive this setback because I’ve seen what we can accomplish when we come together as a community. This is messy, but we’ll figure it out. Like our food system, our organization is most resilient when our work is local, personal, and cooperative.
We have a scrappy, dedicated team and a lot of people rooting for us. We have long standing friendships with partners like Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Old Trail School, Produce Perks Midwest, Inc., and the Sustainable Agriculture Program at LCCC. There are incredible new opportunities for collaboration on the horizon. We are not alone.
That single phrase, “connecting people, food, and land,” was part of our mission statement when Countryside began. It is the core of our current mission “to build a thriving local food community by connecting people, food, and land, in and beyond Cuyahoga Valley National Park.” It strikes me that the most important element of that phrase, and the real essence of what we do, is connection. Connection to the earth, connection to our food, and connection to each other. Connection to you.
This year, in light of our circumstances, we are kicking off our annual harvest campaign early, and asking directly for your help. Our fundraising goal of $250,000 will ensure that:
- Our team will see you at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings
- Our farmers have resources to run their businesses
- Our families can put local, healthy food on their tables
- Our interns can harvest the fall crops they have planted
- Our farmland is protected and preserved
- Our staff can make certain Countryside is in a position of strength going into 2023
We can do this with your help. And because we are all in this together, I’d like to kick off this campaign with a personal donation. I hope you will join me in looking ahead to the future of Countryside with a generous contribution TODAY.
Please consider a monthly recurring contribution of $25, but we truly appreciate anything you can give at this time.