Rob Jaehnig, a project coordinator for the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), stands in a hallway at Wilmington College, where he is based. CIFT aims to promote economic development across the state of Ohio through the food and agriculture industries, and Jaehnig works to apply those methods locally in Clinton County.
“I like to call it non-traditional economic development,” Jaehnig said. “In most people’s minds, economic development is considered enticing businesses to locate in the area. What we do here is we help existing companies and farmers grow — by developing new product lines, by helping entrepreneurs get started.”
At Wilmington College, CIFT and Jaehnig are spearheading an agriculture incubator where 20 to 30 small-scale producers can rent production space to cut back on cost and utilize the college’s agriculture resources. “A cottage industry’s ability to move into a level of production is unbelievably difficult. The incubator will allow producers to get their product moving onto market,” he said.
Other projects include a potential food processing facility directly across from the Wilmington Air Park, the near-vacant industrial park that once housed DHL Express before the company closed its domestic shipping hub here. That project is moving out of the planning stages into the realm of development. Jaehnig said he is also working with a farmer who is developing a perennial wheat crop which would require planting only once every five years and could save farmers as much as $80,000 a year.
“It’s all about making things easier for producers,” Jaehnig said. “In Gov. Strickland’s last State of the State address, he noted that Ohioans consume $64 billion of food, but only three percent of that is produced in Ohio. A lot of it may be grown here, but most is produced and manufactured somewhere else and then brought back here. We want to change that.”
Agriculture remains the biggest contributor to the regional economy in Clinton County, Ohio. This series highlights actors in the county’s local food economy, from farmers and restaurant owners to community gardeners and food pantry directors.
The photographer, John Cropper, is a Clinton County native, a journalist at the Wilmington News Journal and a fledgling gardener. He came to CoLab Radio via Energize Clinton County, which “grew out of a citizen movement to broaden participation in economic development, and regain control of our local economy.”