The Center for Food Innovation

We are increasing food security, increasing nutrient value, reducing environmental impact and expanding economic prosperity by supporting a robust year-round regional food cluster.

Northeast Ohio’s Opportunity

Even if we reach pre-Covid employment levels, Lorain County needs more and better jobs. Unemployment as of 9/30/20 is 9.9%. At the same time, poverty in the cities of Lorain, Elyria and Oberlin are 25.7%, 22.7%, 23.6% respectively (census).
5% – 10% of Northeast Ohio’s food consumption is produced in-region. The rest is imported from places around the country and world. Food is trucked for days reducing food taste and nutrient quality while also negatively impacting the environment through carbon emissions.

If we produced 25% of the region’s produce we would have the potential to create over 20,000 jobs, increase regional output by $4.2B and generate additional $126M in taxes per “The 25% Shift” report sponsored by The Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, Kent State, and Neighborhood Progress Inc.

What We Do

CONVENE: Bring AgTech ecosystem (from Lorain County, Northeast Ohio and the State of Ohio) to map out opportunities, barriers and needs and produce a five-year action plan.

ATTRACT: Entice successful controlled environment (CEA) farms and tech companies to fill our vacant factories, shopping malls and land with 12-month agricultural enterprises.

GROW: Stimulate startup success by scaling cottage-industry food products and technology innovation into industrial-level enterprises and global corporations.

Our Vision

We are a catalyst to an innovative cluster of growers, technology, systems and distribution channels that transforms Northeast Ohio into a leader in food production and agricultural innovation.

Our Mission

To cultivate a collaborative, inclusive industry cluster of producers, consumers, educators, distributors, innovators and entrepreneurs to grow regional jobs and prosperity in Lorain County and Northeast Ohio.

The Economic Potential of Vertical Agriculture in Northeast Ohio

This report with research by the student-based Oberlin Research Group (ORG) provides insights into how the Netherlands’ Food Valley became the second largest agricultural exporter after the U.S., and how Lorain County could leverage this model for economic development and job growth. READ HERE

Why an Advanced Agriculture Industry Cluster in Northeast Ohio?

Existing Vertical Agriculture

Northeast Ohio has a burgeoning vertical agriculture community. The cluster model will support the growth of these entities by driving the focus and speed of innovation.

Sustainable and Green

Vertical agriculture uses 70-95% less water than soil farming, and ZERO pesticides, eliminating run-off into our lakes.

$3.2 Billion Industry Sector

The Food and Beverage Manufacturing sector grew 85% 2007-18; has 370+ food processing & manufacturing operations; and Ohio is a top Agribusiness states.

This is a Growth Industry

Vertical Agriculture is projected to reach $12.77 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 24.6% from 2019 to 2026.

Empty Factories and Malls

Empty factories and malls throughout Lorain County and Northeast Ohio present an exciting opportunity for rebirth with 12-month vertical agriculture.

Northeast Ohio Tech Synergy

AgTech lives at the intersection of agriculture and IT, AI, LED lighting, renewable energy and storage, robotics and sensors as well as advances in logistics, shipping, and warehousing.

Who we are…

We are a group of people passionate about growing jobs, sustainability and community prosperity. We welcome you to join us. Contact Bara Watts – barawatts@gmail.com


Board Chair: Adele Flynn, District 3 Trustee, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Farmer

Board Vice Chair: Jack Ford, Sales Team Leader, AgriNomix LLC, Farmer

Treasurer: Janet Haar, Executive Director, Oberlin Business Partnership             

Secretary: Kyle White, Area Leader, Ohio State University Agriculture Extension             

Kevin Flanagan, President, General Plug & Manufacturing, Inc., Lorain County Community College, Board Member, Oberlin College, Board Member

Tony Gallo, President, Lorain County Chamber of Commerce             

Tyler Gogolek, Owner, Tyler’s Farm       

Vaughn Johnson, Deputy Director, Economic Development, Cuyahoga County    

Dr. Darko Opoku, Chair of Africana Studies, Oberlin College            

Terri Sandu, Director, Talent and Business Innovation, Lorain County Community College             

Dave Sokol, Director, Oberlin Food Hub

Amy Szmania, Wellington Center Coordinator, Lorain County Community College          

Bara Watts,
Chief Executive Officer,
The Center for Food Innovation @ Oberlin,
Brett Joseph,
Chief Operating Officer, The Center for Food Innovation @ Oberlin, bjoseph59@gmail.com

Dr. Eve Sandberg, Robert S. Danforth Professor,
Oberlin College; Ex-Officio: Senior Advisor to the Board
Oberlin Business Partnership;
CFIO Fiscal Agent