Expanding Marketing Opportunities for Small Farms in Athens County, Ohio

James M. Barrett, Gini M. Coover,

Christopher D. Penrose,

Penne L. Smith

Ohio State University Extension

Athens, Ohio

Athens County is a rural county in the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio. The 1992 population was 60,061. This included the population of Ohio University with enrollment of over 17,000 students. The poverty rate for Athens County for 1992 was 32% (Crawford & Bentley, 1994). With a high poverty rate and 530 farms (Ohio Agricultural Statistics, 1994) averaging 162.3 acres, there is a tremen-dous opportunity for local residents to utilize and develop markets at the local and regional levels.

Expanding and improving markets is a high priority for the farmers of Athens County. The majority of farms are considered small in size, with 73.4% (Crawford & Bentley, 1994) of the farms being under 180 acres generating an average of $4907/year.

Methodology

A local sustainable agriculture committee with input from local agencies (Rural Action, Community Food Initiatives and Ohio State University (OSU) Extension formed a marketing sub-committee which developed a descriptive questionnaire to evaluate the marketing, production and processing needs of farmers in the area. The questionaire was mailed to 90% (N=509) of the farmers in the county and 23.5% (N=120) responded. The question-aire included sections on: farming status, needs and interests, services farmers can provide, and processing and marketing opportunities.

Results

The greatest interest was to find improved markets for cattle (N=29) (cows & calves account for 28% of agricultural receipts in Athens County). Vegetable (N=17) and hay (N=17) producers also had interests for improved markets. There was also interest for information and programs on managed rotational grazing (N=32), extending the grazing season (N=27), and laws and regulations on food processing and marketing (N=29).

Implications

As a result, direct markets have been developed for cattle and hay. Direct markets now exist to market feeder calves to feedlots in Northern Ohio (in the corn producing region of the state). Also, local and regional markets for excess hay are developing for farmers.

In addition to a successfully established farmers' market, a retail store for marketing local fruits, vegetables, plants, meats and dairy products has been established as a result of the study. This new market provides an additional outlet on a year round basis providing a value added market for farmers and locally raised vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products for consumers.

Additional educational programs for marketing livestock and horticultural programs have been provided and are planned. A grazing council conducts monthly meetings and tours to learn more about managed intensive grazing and extending the grazing season. Specific programs such as developing a dairy goat operation and creating a market for the milk have been provided by OSU Extension.

Programs on value added feeder calf production and extending the grazing season have been provided. Gardening, and marketing vegetables and fruit programs have been provided by OSU Extension. Rural Action has developed a directory of local fruit and vegetable producers for consumers in the area to purchase fresh produce direct from the farm. Finally, the instrument used to collect data is being revised for use in an adjoining county.

Reference

Crawford, S. J.; Bentley, L.A. 1994. Athens County Demographic Profile. OSU Extension, Community Development unpublished memo.

Crawford, S. J.; Bentley, L.A, 1994., Athens County Agricultural Profile. OSU Extension, Community Development unpublish memo.

Ohio Agricultural Statistics. 1994. Annual Report. Ohio Department of Agriculture, Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

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