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MANSFIELD – A food system intervention project developed by Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis, a professor at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, has made it to the final stage of the Alliance for the American Dream competition.

Along with two other projects, this unique collaboration between community partners and The Ohio State University, will advance to Phoenix, Arizona where they will compete with teams from three other research universities for an opportunity to pitch the idea directly to Eric Schmidt this coming summer. 

In early 2018, Schmidt Futures awarded Ohio State a $1.5 million grant to generate ideas to raise the net income of 10,000 middle-class families in central Ohio by 10 percent by 2020. After a statewide call for ideas that generated more than 60 viable projects, a community-university team winnowed these to 10 in August.

In early December, six surviving teams, including the Ohio State food system intervention project, presented at a public forum their proposals to help solve challenges facing the middle-class. Proposal content from the six teams included initiatives ranging from developing job skills, accessing support services, home ownership, farming, to rural mobility and tools for job and education matching. 

Curtis, an associate professor of environmental history at Ohio State Mansfield, launched his initial research work engaging in a collaboration with the North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC) to focus on food production as an economic development initiative for the greater Mansfield area.

The first phase of the of the project culminated in a proposal submitted to the Foundation for Food And Agriculture Research in August 2018. Th Alliance proposal, catalyzed by the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), an Ohio State Discovery Theme program, scales up the Mansfield project regionally to each of the six communities that host Ohio State campuses and adds both a technological backbone and management umbrella to enhance the original concept.

The Alliance proposal not only extends the Mansfield project’s aim of fostering true social mobility and genuine equality of opportunity through an innovative approach to local economic development and collaborative design, it also allows the addition of Blockchain Technology to create an Industry 4.0-style farmer cooperative.

It will create a system where otherwise vacant city lots across central Ohio will be growing produce intelligently and in coordination with each other and existing growers in both urban and rural areas associated with each campus, to meet a growing demand for locally and organically grown products.

Curtis, Brian Snyder, Executive Director of InFACT, Deanna West-Torrence, Executive Director of NECIC, and Dr. Vince Castillo, Assistant Professor of Logistics at the Fisher College of Business, presented the project at the public event.

“To have this opportunity to be able to fully develop and implement an idea like this community-based food production system for Schmidt Futures seems almost unreal,” Curtis said. “We have been thinking about ways to develop something like this and imagining complex networks of growers working together to enhance their operations and communities; these dollars could make the whole system come into being at once. It is very exciting.” 

Last year, Ohio State Mansfield started its first demonstration microfarm. This larger project will help grow the system.

“New urban farmers in particular will train on campus, and our students will have increased opportunities to participate in internships and course work related to food, ecology, and social justice," Curtis said. "It allows our campus to lead the University on 21st Century Land Grant activities.”

Three projects move on to the Arizona semi-finals. The two other projects selected to move forward to the final round are:

· Connect for Success. This systems-based approach advances economic mobility by removing barriers that compromise educational attainment in order to provide the 10 percent reductions in cost and/or additional income to 10,000 households aspiring to sustain middle class status. The idea is to provide advising and technology to facilitate matching students to services and opportunities that decrease costs incurred during their time in school and to improve and hasten access to employment after graduation.

Columbus State, United Way, JobsOhio and Ohio State will serve as the partnering organizations, and will enable students to overcome non-academic barriers to meeting educational and employment goals.

· The Power of Home. In America, home ownership is the gateway to wealth and improving life outcomes such as health and educational attainment. Yet, becoming a home owner is not a guaranteed pathway into the middle class. Unexpected costs and life events put many new homeowners at risk of economic instability, default and foreclosure within the first years of ownership.

The Power of Home leverages established public, private and nonprofit partnerships to use home ownership as a springboard for increasing income, reducing expenses and building a sustainable bridge to the American Dream for households at risk of falling out of the middle class. This statewide initiative focuses on leveraging an innovative, interactive online platform with a powerful assessment tool and connection to two Pathways – Power Up Home and Power Up Income – to help new homeowners realize the economic potential of their home and build strong communities.

Other partner universities include Arizona State,the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin.

Final presentations will be made in Arizona in late January.

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