History of The NAC

The New Agrarian Center (NAC) was formed in 2000 as a 501(c)3 organization focused on growing a sustainable local food system in Northeast Ohio. A 70 acre farm owned by Oberlin College was leased to commodity grain producers until 2002 when the NAC  began the work of restoring the basic ecosystem after years of degradation by industrial farming methods.

In just six years, the NAC converted 40 acres of soybean fields into a rich complex of market gardens,  learning spaces, naturally designed buildings, and restored wetland, prairie, and woodland habitat. The farm is utilized as an incubator for young and beginning farmers from Oberlin high school, Lorain Community College, Oberlin College and the wider community.

In 2003, the NAC published a community food assessment of Northeast Ohio in conjunction with Cleveland State University’s Urban Affairs College that revealed a $7 billion food market in Cuyahoga County and the six surrounding counties. The NAC organized the first regional Food Congress in April, 2003 in which 80 food system stakeholders developed a strategic vision for tapping into this spending to stimulate local farmers in the region. Following the Congress, the NAC  worked with OSU Extension to convene 15 community partners, mostly from Cleveland, to develop the City Fresh initiative.

City Fresh seeks to improve local food access in inner-city “food desert” neighborhoods that have lost grocery stores. Launched as a social enterprise in 2005 following receipt of a Community Food Project grant from the USDA, City Fresh improved food access by operating neighborhood Fresh Stops (volunteer-run food distribution centers) that provide nutrition education and space for community gathering.

City Fresh also partnered with Ohio State University Extension to develop an urban market garden training program to convert vacant lots in the city to productive market gardens. The program trained 51 urban farming entrepreneurs and provided start-up funding for 13 market gardens.

City Fresh produce distribution is conducted completely by volunteers representing 15 neighborhoods in three counties. The box truck for City Fresh runs on waste-grease collected from Oberlin College, Metro Hospital and other area restaurants. Food sold to these establishments through City Fresh helps to support a share fund that offers a reduced price share to lower-income shareholders.

In 2011, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur sponsored a congressional earmark to develop City Fresh in Erie & Lorain Counties.

City Fresh annually generates over $150,000 for Amish farmers who would otherwise never reach these markets and serves more than 800 families per week, about 30% of which are below federal poverty guidelines for household income. 

The NAC has produced over 30 short web-videos and two documentary films: Real Low Calorie Diet and Leadership in Local Food Systems with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and a feature-length documentary called PolyCultures: Food Where We Live. The NAC co-convened with three partners a Cleveland/Cuyahoga Food Policy Council in 2007 that is focusing on developing policies favorable to sustainable urban food system development which now has 40 community partners including urban farmers, government officials, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and for-profit businesses.

In March 2012, the NAC hosted a Local Food Summit at Lorain Community College bringing together local food stakeholders from throughout Northern Ohio.