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'It's huge for our community' Beginning farmers to start co-op, address food access inequity

A growing plot from the Trotwood incubator farm.
Donnetta Boykin
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A growing plot from the Trotwood incubator farm.

This upcoming winter a cohort of students from the Central State University incubator farms will finish up the beginning farmers program. Now, some are establishing their own farms in communities lacking access to healthy and affordable foods.

The Central State University beginning farmers program supports new farmers, particularly farmers of color.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded the university a $250,000 grant to establish two incubator farms; one in Dayton’s Edgemont neighborhood at the Edgemont Solar Garden and one in Trotwood near the community center.

The program serves a wide range of purposes, said Cindy Folck, a CSU natural resources program leader.

Through the incubator farms, beginning farmers learn how to establish their own farming operation, how to grow and sell their produce and seek to improve community health through access and knowledge of fruits and vegetables.

“A lot of this program is looking at ways that we can overcome some of the obstacles that new farmers have. New farmers have the obstacles of not having access to knowledge or getting capital to invest.” Folck said.

She added the incubator is also a solution for new farmers to learn without the burden of needing investments or land.

“Farming is a high risk business. So this is an opportunity to learn how to farm in an environment where you have lower risk because you're not having to meet a mortgage or not having to make some rental payments,” Folck said. “You're able to learn farming without the burdens that might be hanging over your head.”

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Donnetta Boykin
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A 2019 USDA report shows beginning farms are typically smaller and less financially successful compared to more established farms. It’s also much harder for beginning farmers to buy land as the value of farmland has increased steadily from an average of $2,150 per acre in 2010 to $3,380 by 2021.

That’s why Donnetta Boykin, along with other Trotwood farm graduates recently established the Seven Seeds Sower co-op.

Boykin, a graduate herself and president of the co-op said the new farm is a much needed asset in Trotwood.

“It's huge for our community because there aren't a lot of grocery stores where you can get fresh produce,” Boykin said. “And it’s bringing back into our community farming.”

The co-op is made up of a handful of smaller farms across the Dayton area, although they are looking to secure a more permanent location.

Boykin said the co-op is also about supporting farmers with few resources.

“It’s to give us an opportunity to continue growing, but then also provide those connections for us to acquire the supplies that we need to continue growing.

Boykin said programs like Central State’s are a move in the right direction to support underrepresented farmers. But she adds more financial support is needed for small farms to thrive.

“Give that [money] to the small farmers so that they can actually purchase the infrastructure that they need, so that they can actually maintain their small farm. And then that within itself would actually help the community.” Boykin said.

The CSU incubator farm will begin accepting a new cohort of students to start March 2023.

Food reporter Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming