Central Ohio was on track to lose up to 500 square miles of farm and forest land by 2050 to meet projected population growth if development had continued in the same patterns as those in the late 1900s and early 2000s.

But over the last six years, projected land consumption has declined even as estimates of regional population growth have risen.

There are different reasons for this, including new development trends driven by demographics and consumer preference. But the data, models, and goals presented in insight2050 are a significant factor that influenced communities, developers, and residents across the region, helping to preserve farmland and strengthen cities and towns.

MORPC’s commitment to Central Ohio agriculture and the protection of fertile farmland is subtle and unheralded. It started well before the 2014 release of the insight2050 report.

MORPC’s Central Ohio Local Food Assessment and Plan, in 2010, is believed to be the nation’s first regional-scale, local-food plan. At its core is the notion that one of the best ways to preserve farmland is to ensure farming is profitable – and that a vibrant food system based on local production, processing and distribution would strengthen farms, improve the environment, create new food-related jobs in the region, and even improve the diets of residents.

MORPC does not have a direct role in farmland preservation right now, but it has been a significant partner all along. The regional food plan gave rise to the Franklin County Local Food Council and similar initiatives in other counties.

The council, in turn led to creation of the Columbus-Franklin County Local Food Board, which just unveiled the Franklin County Food Business Portal to help facilitate the creation and expansion of food-related businesses that can benefit area farmers. The Keller Market House in Lancaster and the Canal Market District in Newark are other initiatives spawned by the 2010 MORPC food plan.

MORPC also has partnered with agricultural and environmental organizations and agencies to promote better management of farmland to improve water quality and improve farmers’ bottom lines. It has organized workshops to help the Ohio Department of Agriculture promote better land-use planning to complement its easement-purchase program. And it has partnered with the Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts and individual land trusts in Central Ohio to reinforce the importance of farmland to the regional economy, environment, and waterways.

These food and farm initiatives have gone hand-in-hand with the overarching vision of insight2050: a region that grows on its emerging strengths while also building on its agricultural heritage. Business and industrial growth can be in balance with the farms, forests, waterways, and parks of Central Ohio, and a healthy agricultural economy can feed, and provide jobs for, the region’s growing population.