about pathways


Pathways to Prosperity is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary project. It connects rigorous research with extension outreach to support the development of effective, collaborative approaches to strengthening the value added food and agricultural sector in rural communities by developing their unique resources and amenities.

Asset-Based Responses to Rural Challenges

COVID-19 upended the global economy while casting into sharp relief longstanding challenges. Among the impacts of the pandemic was a stark reminder that social, economic, and environmental consequences are not experienced evenly across our society.

Among those hit hardest by the pandemic were rural communities. COVID-19 cases stressed rural healthcare systems already struggling before the pandemic. Limited access to broadband infrastructure and dependence on in-person employment hampered quarantine work adaptations while contributing to both higher COVID cases and increased unemployment rates. Meanwhile, shifts in the national and global economies further burdened rural places that were already struggling with economic recovery from the 2008 recession. Meanwhile, a growing urban-rural cultural divide exacerbates a growing sense of disenfranchisement from the rest of the country

Too often, these problems and deficits are used to characterize rural places, often implicitly or explicitly contrasting them with the asset strengths of their urban counterparts. Yet, rural places are not solely defined by their deficits. In addition to stewarding nationally and globally important natural resources, rural communities are frequently rich in intangible resources such as strong social and relational networks and vibrant cultures. Together these assets – financial and nonfinancial, tangible and intangible – comprise the “wealth” of community. Each community – rural or urban – stewards a different portfolio of these assets, offering unique strengths and weaknesses for each.

Building back better from the pandemic in rural communities requires locally-led, collaborative stewardship and leveraging of these diverse assets. Strengthening and informing these efforts is the mission of Pathways to Prosperity. 

Taking an “asset-based” approach to rural development creates opportunities for communities to employ their unique strengths as a basis for development.

Opportunities from Food and Agriculture

One avenue for rural development is the creation of a local value-added agriculture sector. The value-added sector includes food and agricultural  activities that enable farmers, ranchers, food processors, and other food related businesses to benefit from consumer preferences for organic products, locally grown food, and other quality characteristics not available in conventional agriculture. A strong, locally owned value-added sector allows rural communities to earn a larger share of agriculture sales rather than exporting that income to externally owned business.

This approach is a particularly promising for rural communities, which still rely heavily on agriculture to support local economies.

Developing a strong value-added agriculture sector allows rural farming communities to take advantage of their unique characteristics to not only increase overall economic growth, but improve public health and small and midsized farm and ranch viability.

Hundreds of U.S. communities – both urban and rural – have started to strengthen their value-added sectors. While the specific approaches are as unique as the communities that make them, such approaches overwhelmingly depend on collaboration in planning and managing food system plans.

The work of Pathways to Prosperity is to explore effective, collaborative strategies that rural communities can employ to create strong, local value-added sectors.

Project Team

The Pathways to Prosperity project team is a collaboration between researcher and rural development practitioners at Ohio State University, Colorado State University, and American Farmland Trust.

Jill K. Clark

Ohio State University
Jill Clark’s teaching and research focuses on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process, and community engagement. She is a part of the leadership for the Ohio Food Policy Network and is an advisory board member for Johns Hopkins national Food Policy Network.

Email: clark.1099@osu.edu
Bio: http://glenn.osu.edu/faculty/glenn-faculty/clark/

Becca Jablonski

Colorado State University
Becca Jablonski is an Assistant Professor and Food Systems Extension Economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University. Her work evaluates the farm and ranch profitability impacts of non-commodity markets and the economic impacts of food system policies and programs.

Email: Becca.Jablonski@colostate.edu

Julia Freedgood

Julia Freedgood is Assistant Vice President at American Farmland Trust where she oversees program and policy efforts to support land retention, transfer and access, as well as planning for agriculture and food systems. Currently she leads AFT’s “Farms for a New Generation” Initiative, which supports beginning farmers and ranchers in gaining access to affordable land.

Email: jfreedgood@farmland.org
Bio: https://farmland.org/staff/julia-freedgood/

Shoshanah Inwood

Shoshanah Inwood is rural sociologist and an assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University. Her research and Extension programs study both the role of communities in food system development and the household-level social and cultural processes that underlay the American food and agriculture system.

Email: inwood.2@osu.edu
Bio: https://senr.osu.edu/our-people/shoshanah-inwood

Aiden Irish
Project Manager

Ohio State University
Aiden Irish is the research and community extension project manager for the Pathways project. He received his doctorate from the Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. Previously, he worked as a food systems policy consultant for Waterkeeper’s Chesapeake and as a research associate for Ecoagriculture partners in Washington D.C.

Email: irish.20@osu.edu

Jeremy Hershberger
Project Manager

Ohio State University
Jeremy Hershberger is the Pathways to Prosperity Wayne County outreach and Extension project manager and liaison to Amish and Plain community. He has a master’s degree in Rural Sociology and is based in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University Wooster Campus.

Email: hershberger.83@osu.edu
Bio: https://senr.osu.edu/our-people/jeremy-hershberger

Partner Communities

The Pathways project benefits from the involvement of two partner communities – San Luis Valley, Colorado and Wayne County, Ohio – that provide long-standing, effective examples of collaborative approaches to value-added development.
The San Luis Valley (SLV) includes six Colorado counties – Alamosa Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache – along the southern border of Colorado with New Mexico. It is bounded by Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east, the San Juan Mountains in the west, the San Luis Hills of southern Colorado in the south, and the Continental Divide in the northwest. The Valley itself is a broad, arid, largely flat alpine basin, 75 miles wide, over 120 miles long, and totaling approximately 7,500 square miles. It has an average elevation of over 7,600 feet above sea level and receives, on average, between seven and nine inches of rain annually, making it one of the driest regions of the State of Colorado.
Wayne County, Ohio is located in northeast Ohio encompassing approximately 557 square miles, the majority of which (approximately 71 percent) is flat, fertile farmland. The county seat and largest municipality in the county is Wooster. Notably, Wayne County is also home to one of the largest Amish populations in the United States. According to the 2010 Religion Census, conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, there are approximately 9,280 people described as “adherents” to one of a variety of Amish denominations living in Wayne, making it home to the fourth largest Amish population in the United States and the 11th largest Amish county as a percentage of total county population.

Learn more about our partner community research.

National Resource Advisory Council Members

In addition to the project team, Pathways to Prosperity benefits from the commitment, expertise, and input of a distinctive team of advisors on the National Resource Advisory Council (NRAC). These partners bring insight and organizational resources to support the project and our partner communities on topics ranging from rural development and finance to food system governance.

Jack Morgan

Jack Morgan works as a Program Manager for Community and Economic Development in NACo's Community, Economic and Workforce Development practice area. He handles community and economic development, resilience and transportation grants and programs. Jack previously served as a Policy Analyst at Friends of Southwest Virginia, where he focused on economic development and tourism programs. He holds an M.A. in Geography from Appalachian State University and a B.A. from Emory & Henry College.

Andrew Dumont

Andrew Dumont is a community development analyst at the Federal Reserve Board where he leads the Board’s work on rural development, affordable housing, and other place-conscious community and economic development policy areas. Prior to joining the Board, Andrew worked at Pathway Lending, a community development financial institution serving Tennessee and Alabama, where he worked structuring and underwriting small business loans to further the organization’s economic development priorities. Andrew has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from The George Washington University, a Bachelor’s Degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Charles W. Fluharty

Charles is the founder and President Emeritus of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), the only U.S. national policy institute solely dedicated to assessing the rural impacts of public policies. Since RUPRI’s founding in 1990, over 300 scholars representing 16 different disciplines in 100 universities, all U.S. states and 30 other nations have participated in RUPRI projects. A Clinical Professor Emeritus in the University of Iowa College of Public Health and a graduate of Yale Divinity School, he was also a German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Fellow from 2007 to 2011. Chuck is the author of numerous policy studies and journal articles, has presented dozens of Congressional testimonies and briefings, and is also a frequent speaker before national and international audiences, having delivered major public policy speeches in over a dozen nations. He has also provided senior policy consultation to most federal departments, state and local governments, associations of government, planning and development organizations, and many foundations.

Sheila Martin

Sheila is Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Prior to coming to APLU, she served as Director of the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies and the Population Research Center at Portland State University. She continues to serve as a faculty member in the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and planning. Prior to joining PSU in 2004, she served as Washington State Governor Gary Locke's economic development advisor and as a Senior Economist at the Research Triangle Institute. She earned a B. A. in Economics and Political Science from Southern Illinois University, M.A. in International Studies from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in Economics from Iowa State University.

Joe C. McKinney

Joe serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington, DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 540 regional planning and development organizations. Joe has twenty-eight years of experience having served in city, county, regional and national association and government management since 1991. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a Master’s Degree in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill. Prior to NADO, he served as Executive Director of Land-of-Sky Regional Council in Asheville, North Carolina from 2003 until 2012. Under his leadership, Land-of-Sky became recognized nationally for its innovation and program expansion in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, aging services, volunteer services, and geographic information systems.

Anne Palmer

Anne Palmer is the Food Communities and Public Health program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a senior research associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society. She directs the Food Policy Networks project, which seeks to improve the capacity food policy councils and similar organizations to advance food system policies. Her research is focused on food retail, regional food systems, state and local food policy, food environments and obesity.

John Pender

John Pender is a senior economist in the Rural Economy Branch, Resource and Rural Economics Division. John joined the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) in July, 2009. His research focuses on concepts and measurement of rural household and community wealth and well-be ing, and impacts of economic devel opment policies and programs on the U.S. rural economy. Prior to joining ERS he led research on rural development and natural resource management in developing coun tries at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Toby Rittner

Toby Rittner is the President & CEO of Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA). CDFA is a national association dedicated to the advancement of development finance concerns and interests. Mr. Rittner runs the day-to-day operations of the Council, which includes management of a 32-member Board of Directors, and the organization’s various educational, advocacy, research, resources and networking initiatives. He is an adjunct faculty member at The Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University teaching planning and finance for sustainable economic development. Mr. Rittner holds a BA in Political Science and a Master's of City and Regional Planning degree from The Ohio State University. He was awarded the Ohio State University College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2016.

Mark Skidmore

Mark Skidmore currently holds the position of Professor and Morris Chair in State and Local Government Finance at Michigan State University. He holds joint appointments in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics and the Department of Economics. He received his doctorate in economics from the University of Colorado in 1994, and his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Washington in 1987. He is Co-editor of the Journal of Urban Affairs, and is a Distinguished Scholar at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He also serves as the Director of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. His research focuses on public sector economics and economic development.

Contact Us

Questions about Pathways to Prosperity, have ideas or recommendations, or want to know how you can contribute or get involved? We would love to hear from you!

Or Snail Mail at: Pathways to Prosperity | 310C Page Hall | 1810 College Road North | Columbus, OH 43210

This work is supported by Innovation for Rural Entrepreneurs and Communities Program (grant no. 2019-68006-29681) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
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