Buckeye ISA is making an impact in the University District
By Haley Schmersal
In 2018, The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) launched the Buckeye Institution-Supported Agriculture (ISA) Project. Since then, Buckeye ISA has made a positive impact in the lives of many community members across the Columbus area.
Funded by a $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), Ohio State sought to create a program that would align with WKKF’s mission of creating conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work, and life. This resulted in the creation of Buckeye ISA, a program that would promote urban farming in economically disadvantaged communities, provide training and workshops to participating families, and partner with Nationwide Children’s Hospital to conduct health screenings of children before and after their involvement with Buckeye ISA.
Institution-supported agriculture is a similar concept to community-supported agriculture. In community-supported agriculture, a community comes together to support local farmers and growers by purchasing their produce. Buckeye ISA was designed to follow this idea, but with the university supporting participating families by providing their supplies and offering to purchase excess produce as well.
In order to launch this gardening project, Ohio State first worked to create relationships with community liaisons and nonprofit organizations in the Columbus area. The community liaisons were an important beginning step, as they would play a key role in recruiting families with children between the ages of 2 and 8. In all, there were seven community liaisons that served in the project.
The liaisons were instrumental in all areas of the project. Many families began their participation with little to no experience with gardening, and the liaisons were there to help. Because of the grant funding, the liaisons were able to provide the families with gardening equipment and supplies as well as with plants and seeds. They also were there to help with any problems or questions the families might have had.
The Franklin County office of Ohio State University Extension, CFAES’ statewide outreach arm, also played an important role in Buckeye ISA. The team conducted several virtual and in-person workshops to help families learn more about urban gardening. The workshop topics were guided by participating families and what they were most interested in learning about.
“My favorite parts of Buckeye ISA were learning, watching other people learn, and becoming more self-sufficient,” said community liaison Chloe Glenn.
Glenn started out as a participant of the program because she wanted to start gardening but felt intimidated since she didn’t have much knowledge on the subject. Shortly after joining Buckeye ISA, she stepped into a liaison role.
“I checked in with the families on a regular basis to see if they had any specific questions,” said Glenn. “I would also stop by their house and look at their garden and help them with problem solving.”
During its four-year span, Buckeye ISA provided over 100 families the opportunity to grow their own produce. Families were able to eat the food they grew, and some even had so much that they were able to both donate and sell it. The program was such a success that more than half of the participating families plan to continue their gardens even after the conclusion of the project.
Because of its substantial influence on Columbus and surrounding communities, Buckeye ISA was nominated for one of Ohio State’s University Outreach and Engagement Awards. In early 2022, the project received the High Impact Program Award.
Per Ohio State’s University Outreach and Engagement Awards website, the High Impact Program Award is defined as an award that “recognizes outstanding achievement by faculty, staff, and/or student-led programs/initiatives focused on community-university partnership and impact.” Not only did Buckeye ISA positively impact the lives of community members, but it also created a network of people passionate about making a difference and growing their own food. Its impact will be felt for years to come and will hopefully serve as a model for other communities looking to make a change.