Wayne County, Pathways to Prosperity

Local and regional food systems (LRFS) and value-added agriculture can be an important rural development strategy for communities that rely on agriculture to support local economies. A strong, locally owned value-added sector allows rural communities to earn a larger share of agriculture sales rather than exporting that income to externally owned business. Developing LRFS depends on collaborative planning and policy development that engage local leaders from multiple sectors in identifying and solving public problems.

Funded by USDA-AFRI, Pathways to Prosperity is a national USDA research and Extension project examining how rural communities use public-private collaborations to create rural wealth through food and agriculture.  The project is a partnership between The Ohio State University, Colorado State University and American Farmland Trust.

The project works in partnership with two rural communities – Wayne County, Ohio and the San Luis Valley, Colorado to understand and support LRFS collaborative planning that can lead to more prosperous rural development.  The project has three phases:

  • Phase 1 uses national county-level, secondary data to investigate the correlations between community capitals and value-added agriculture.
  • Phase 2 involves “deep dives” into the two communities – Wayne County, OH and San Luis Valley, CO – to explore how public and private partners have collaborated in the past around value-added agriculture development.
  • Phase 3 is a collaboration between the research team and the partner communities as we develop  engagement and extension resources to foster greater collaboration around economic development through LRFS and value-added agriculture.

In Ohio the Pathways team is working with Wayne County Farm Bureau, Local Roots, FoodSphere, Amish & Plain Partners, OSU Wayne County Extension and OSU-OARDC to build stronger community partnerships focused on economic development through food systems and value-added agriculture.

Mt. Hope Produce Auction

Wayne County is rich in local assets including prime farmland, a diverse and vibrant local economy, and is home to one of the largest Amish settlements in the U.S. Wayne County (WC) has the largest local/regional food economy in Ohio. In 2017 WC reported 250 farms selling a total of $5.4 million in sales through intermediated markets and $2.8 million in sales through direct-to-consumer markets. In 2017, 94 farms in WC reported a total of $13.9 million in organic sales.

However, making a living in farming is becoming harder. Changes in dairy markets, an aging farm population and farm stress combined with urban development pressure on prime farmland are raising concerns about the future trajectory of agriculture in WC and the larger regional economy connected to farming.

There are multiple organizations and groups of farmers who care about food and agriculture in WC disconnected from each other, who would like to build stronger relationships and better understand the food system in WC. In WC the Pathways team is working with our community partners to leverage local assets and foster stronger community partnerships focused on growing economic opportunities through food and agriculture.

Wayne County, Ohio Reports

Media about the Wayne County Pathways Project

The Economic Power of Local and Regional Food Systems Resources

  • Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities is published by the  U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and USDA’s agencies of Rural Development and Agricultural Marketing Service. The publication includes research, policies and practices that highlight how regional food systems can promote economic growth for both rural and urban communities through the creation of new or the enhancement of existing jobs and businesses.
  • Food Systems Finance Resource Center is hosted by the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA). The Center outlines development finance tools that can be used to support local food systems, such as bonds, tax increment finance, tax credits, revolving loan funds, and other tools.

Pathways to Prosperity Project Team: Shoshanah Inwood; Jeremy Hershberger; Julia Freedgood; Aiden Irish; Jill Clark and Becca Jablonski

Pathways to Prosperity National Extension and Outreach Approach

Strengthening collaboration in our partner communities. The Pathways project uses the on-the-ground research and analysis conducted in our partner communities, combined with the resources of our national partners, to support the collaborative value-added agriculture development in community.

Create practical resources for rural development practitioners. We are developing tools and resources based on our research and extension experience to help inform and support other rural communities interested in developing and/or strengthening their collaborative approaches to value-added sector development.

Informing rural development policy. The Pathways project provides briefing and policy materials for state and national policy makers on how they can create policies and programs that support collaborative value-added sector development in rural communities.

To Learn more about the National Pathways to Prosperity Project and our work in the San Luis Valley, CO Click Here


This work is supported by Innovation for Rural Entrepreneurs and Communities Program (grant no. 2019-68006-29681) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.