COLUMBUS, Ohio - Feeding the world begins with feeding our neighbors is a message at the heart of a new call to action to create a better food system for Ohio.
Ernie Shea, president and CEO of the group Solutions from the Land, says farmers are facing increasingly complex markets, low commodity prices and volatile weather that exacerbates crop losses and degrades the environment.
At the same time, he notes, 15 percent of Ohioans don't know where their next meal will come from.
So the Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land project has developed a blueprint for tackling the challenges of hunger, poor health and environmental degradation.
"This is a massive undertaking," Shea states. "But the policies and programs of the past are not adequate to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.
"And that's why we're forging ahead with this groundbreaking call to action and approach to meeting the needs in Ohio."
There are 50 recommendations that Shea says will boost profitability for farmers, restore environmental resilience and build strong communities.
Ideas include helping farmers adjust to new weather patterns and create cleaner air and water; improving health and nutrition for Ohioans and building new infrastructure for a more diverse farming economy.
Shea says making Ohio agriculture and the food system a public policy priority will help expand access to local fruit, vegetables and meat.
"We'll be sourcing food closer to home," he explains. "It will be fresher, it will stimulate economic development and job growth along the way, and all of these things are part of this integrated-systems approach to improving the food system in the state."
Shea says the blueprint considers agriculture, the environment and rural and urban communities as a system, and examines options and opportunities that benefit all.
"There needs to be some table that all of these partners can sit around and share ideas and energy and forge consensus," he states. "So we are creating a food, farm and health alliance, the place to come together to collaborate in achieving a shared vision."
Shea says his group's recommendations are just the beginning, and is inviting policymakers, philanthropic organizations, business leaders, researchers and others to join their call to action.