Research & Outreach

The Pathways project combines research at both the community and national levels with extension and policy outreach to identify, verify, and disseminate effective, collaborative approaches to value-added sector development.

Finding Effective Pathways

Finding effective collaborative pathways involves three research phases. These combine national-level analysis, on-the-ground exploration of collaborative practices in our partner communities, and focus groups with rural development practitioners from across the U.S. to identify promising strategies for value-added sector development.

National Asset

We start by mapping established measures of assets at the county level for the entire United States to better under what assets rural communities have.

Partner Community

We work on-the-ground in two partner communities – in Ohio and Colorado – to identify how these communities use collaborative governance to leverage available assets.


Finally, we work with our national project partners to refine our analysis of collaborative pathways to rural wealth creation.

National Asset Mapping

The first task of the Pathways project is to develop databases of measures for all assets that make up a community’s wealth and measures of the local value-add sector for every county in the U.S. using existing, publicly available information. These datasets serve two purposes:

  • They indicate what assets are particularly common in rural communities and what value added agriculture development looks like nationally.
  • They indicate how our partner communities are similar to, or different from, other rural communities and, as a result, how strategies used in our partner communities may be applicable elsewhere.
These databases are made public so that other researchers and communities can use them to further advance this work.

Partner Community Research

The second task of our project is to explore how collaborative approaches are used for value-added sector development in our partner communities; San Luis Valley, Colorado and Wayne County, Ohio.

On-the-ground research allows us to dive deep into understanding how rural assets are used and what role collaboration plays in employing them. This process involves two parts.

  • Onsite mapping of community assets. To strengthen and, if necessary, refine our measures of community assets from the national-level analysis, we are conducting on-site assessments of the assets in our partner communities.
  • Exploration of collaborative processes. Exploring how each of partner community uses collaboration to develop their value-added sectors – drawing on analysis of existing documents, interviews with key stakeholders, and on-site observations – provides grounded knowledge to guide further research and outreach.

Refining Our Findings at the National Level

The final phase of the project returns to the national level to refine the findings from the first two phases. This involves drawing on the broad practitioner networks of our NRAC partners to conduct nationally-diverse focus groups with experienced local food system and rural development practitioners. These focus groups explore how observations and analysis from our partner communities applies to rural communities elsewhere in the U.S.

These three phases of research – national-level analysis of county-level assets, partner community research, and nationally diverse focus groups – provide the empirical basis for developing and disseminating rural development policy and development materials.

Extension and Outreach

The Pathways research is conducted with the aim of supporting rural development practice in the following ways.

Strengthening collaboration in our partner communities. The Pathways project uses the on-the-ground research and analysis conducted in our partner communities, combined with the resources of our national partners, to support the collaborative value-added agriculture development in community. The objective of this extension work is to strengthen and further advance the collaborative value-added development work that is already going on in these two communities.

Create practical resources for rural development practitioners. The project aims to support rural development practitioners beyond our two partner communities. Towards this end, we create tools and resources based on our research and extension experience to help inform and support other rural communities interested in developing and/or strengthening their collaborative approaches to value-added sector development.

Informing rural development policy. Finally, the Pathways project provides briefing and policy materials for state and national policy makers on how they can create policies and programs that support collaborative value-added sector development in rural communities.

Visit our resources and publications to learn more about our extension and outreach work.


Below are list of key terms and definitions used in the project.
Asset-Based Development
An approach to community development that focuses on the assets available in a community rather than its problems and/or deficiencies.
A community-wide value system that makes collaborative governance possible based on the beliefs that 1) collaboration is necessary to advance community wellbeing and that 2) all community members have a right to participate.
Collaborative Governance
A system of public decision-making in which collaboration across sectors (public, private, and nonprofit) is the primary approach for solving complex public problems.
National Resource Advisory Council (NRAC)
Council of participants from notable national organizations working on rural development and food systems policy.
Partner Communities
Two rural communities – San Luis Valley, Colorado and Wayne County, Ohio – that are partnering with Pathways to share and improve their collaborativ strategies for value-added sector development.
Pathways to prosperity (“Pathways”)
Collaborative, multi-stakeholder approaches to leveraging rural resources towards developing community wealth.
Value-Added Agriculture
Forms of agricultural practices and processing – including by locally owned food and agricultural businesses – that align food and agricultural production with consumer preferences – including form, space, identity, and quality characteristics – that allow a greater percentage of the product value to accumulate within the community where it is produced.
The comulative net assets of a community, including financial, physical, social, cultural, natural, human, and intellectural resources.

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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The value-added dataset contains nationwide data on measures of value-added agriculture compiled at the county level.

Recommended citation format for this publication:

Clark, J. K., Jablonski, B. B., Inwood, S., Freedgood, J., & Irish, A. (2020). U.S. County-Level Metrics of Valued-Added Agriculture. Pathways to Prosperity Project (USDA grant no. 2019-68006-29681). Retrieved from: