The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded the Countryside Conservancy a $50,000 grant to pay for a variety of new programs to help further its local foods movement.
The conservancy, based in Peninsula, is a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting community-based food systems. It sponsors local farmers markets and, in partnership with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, has established long-term leases for farm businesses within the park.
The money will be used for programs to better connect those already involved in the local foods movement and to get even more people involved, by sponsoring monthly networking meetings and offering educational programs for local food producers and food lovers, according to information from Katie Myers-Griffith, program manager for the conservancy.
Jennifer Thomas, Akron director for the Knight Foundation, said the foundation, when awarding money, looks for groups that can truly engage the community. The conservancy’s plans impressed her.
“They are really innovative, and they have programs that can bring together people in the local food movement,” she said.
The conservancy intends to host a variety of events to bring together members of the community who are interested in expanding the sustainable local food economy.
One program that will be offered is Local Food Swaps, monthly events at which members of the community can share homemade, homegrown or foraged foods.
“Direct exchanges are made by trading one’s goods for another’s. Think jams, pickles, salsas, pastas, breads, cookies, candy and more,” Myers-Griffith said in a news release.
Beginning in January, the conservancy also will sponsor Local Food Akron mixers on the first Monday of each month, where those with an interest in the food community can meet, get to know each other and exchange ideas.
“Our goal in 2013 is to use all forms of communication to build the network of the people who grow the food with the people who eat, buy, cook and process the food. Technology and good old-fashion face-to-face meetings will help us achieve this goal,” Myers-Griffith said.
Online, the conservancy will reach out in two new ways.
It will offer new Countryside Chats, with topics relevant to growers and consumers. A variety of local experts will serve as hosts. The chats will be recorded and archived so that they can be accessed online in the future.
The conservancy also will offer Countryside in 5, a channel of five-minute training and how-to videos on topics ranging from clipping poultry wings to proper vegetable-cutting techniques. The conservancy is welcoming video suggestions.
Thomas said the foundation was impressed by the creativity behind the programming ideas.
“They are really engaging this group of people who are trying to make a change in agriculture locally,” she said, explaining why Knight was receptive to the conservancy’s request for money.
She said a main focus of the Knight Foundation is to support “an informed and engaged community,” and the conservancy’s plans speak directly to that goal.
The foundation also was impressed with how the conservancy works to “engage the next generation of talent,” in the local agricultural movement — not just farmers, but also agricultural entrepreneurs.
Thomas said the foundation believes the conservancy has the ability to be the definitive leader of the local foods movement and to make an positive impact on the Akron area.
“They are the face of the movement. It brings it to the people — this produce is really being grown in their back yard. It is an opportunity for Akron and for our county to really move on,” Thomas said.