Why Here? Why Now?

Six webinars were held on consecutive Thursdays June 16 – July 21, 4-5 p.m. EDT

Participants learned how NEO could generate $4.2B in regional output, and produce up to $126M in annual state and local taxes through food innovation and become a leader in the exploding Agtech Sector. In partnership with Lorain County Community College, this series is for farmers, entrepreneurs, funders, educators, economic development specialists, technology leaders, and environmentalists.

Northeast Ohio, an agriculture, manufacturing and high-tech community, is uniquely positioned to harness this exceptional opportunity. The region already has a burgeoning CEA and Vertical Farm community. The Ohio State University Agricultural Research & Development Center boasts the largest, most comprehensive agricultural bioscience research and development center in the country. The region has a road/rail/water infrastructure that provides access to 60% of the US population in a single day; as well as abundant access to water, empty factories, closed malls, and open land parcels. Robotics, IoT, water systems, sensors and other local technology companies already exist in the region and could see new business opportunities in support of CEA, Vertical farms and other food production and development activities.

June 16: Why should Northeast Ohio become a leader in food innovation? 

Renowned authorities present their research on agriculture and farming with a focus on the opportunity to increase local foods through expansion and innovation. They will share current developments and the future of agriculture and what it means for our region.

*Casey Hoy, Professor Emeritus and former Associate Chair of the Department of Entomology at The Ohio State University
Hoy held the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Agricultural Ecosystems
Management and provided leadership to the Agroecosystems Management Program of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center from 2006-2021. Hoy’s past research has included systems analysis and its application to integrated pest management and applied agricultural ecology, and he led interdisciplinary research toward advancements in agroecosystem health and sustainable communities.

*Hans Riensche, Intelligence Analyst at Aimpoint Research®
Hans is an active sixth-generation Iowa farmer. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Agricultural Business and International Agriculture. Hans has worked on a variety of farms across the country, for BASF in Germany, and for the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. He is an alumni of the Bayer Youth Ag Summit, has been active in the World Food Prize Foundation and is a mentor to the Gener8tor AgTech Accelerator, helping a variety of ag companies conduct research on his family farm.

June 23: Going local – Why do groceries, hospitals, restaurants and others want more local food?

A panel of executives representing organizations purchasing some of the largest quantities of local foods will talk about the growing demand and the broad advantages these foods bring to consumers.

*Jeff Heinen, Co-President of Heinen’s Inc.
Heinen’s is a 23 store family owned grocery chain located in Northeastern Ohio with stores in Cleveland and Chicago. He and his brother Tom run the business and represent the third generation to be involved in the business. He grew up in Cleveland, graduated from Stanford University and has worked with Heinen’s for 40 plus years.

*Chef Vincent Gaikens, Bon Appetit, Executive Chef at Case Western Reserve; Lead Sustainable Purchases
Gaikens earned his Associates in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales in Charleston, SC. He started working for BA in late September 2014 and was hired as the Executive Chef for Leutner Commons at CWRU. Inspiration for his work is found in the real boots on the ground dedication to local farming.

*Cullen Naumoff, Co-Founder at Farm Fare LLC

*Lisa Roberson, National Director of Wellness and Sustainability for Morrison Healthcare (Working with the Cleveland Clinic)

June 30: How can we increase local food production?

A panel of farmers and industry experts engaged in traditional and controlled environment agriculture (i.e. hydroponics, vertical) talk about the opportunities and challenges to sustainably provide more local year-round fresh, diversified plant and animal based food.

*Larry Klco, Owner, Rainbow Farms
Larry is a first generation farmer with his wife Tina. They started Rainbow Farms 39 years ago after purchasing an abused, overgrown 33-acre parcel and built it up now to farming over 250 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Rainbow Farms includes a farm market open all year including a CSA program, and the Klco’s attend four outdoor farmers markets while also servicing around 25 local chefs. Larry strives to continue to learn new and better ways to farm to keep our soil healthy and grow his business.

*Adele Flynn, A Flynn’s Farm; District 3 Trustee at Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
Adele Flynn is a full time farmer along with her husband, Eric and their three children. They raise beef cattle and farm corn, soybeans, wheat and cover crops on approx. 1,100 acres in Wellington, Ohio. Adele is the chairwoman of the board for the Center for Food Innovation. She serves on the board of trustees and Executive Committee for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation representing Lorain, Cuyahoga, Erie and Huron Counties; and is on the board of directors for Centerra Co-op.

*Tyler Gogolek, Tyler’s Farm, LLC. Tyler currently grows hydroponic produce and garden mums on his farm in Oberlin, Ohio. He is a graduate of the Ohio State Universities Agricultural Technical Institute in Greenhouse Production. Tyler has been growing garden mums since 1996 while working for various greenhouse companies in the industry. In 2012, Tyler was the winner of GroLink Plant Company’s “Who can grow the biggest Belgian mum” contest. In 2013 he was the runner up of the same contest. Tyler has both wholesale and retail experience within the industry. In January of 2014, Tyler attended a hydroponic grower training where he learned the systems of hydroponic crop growing. During the training, Tyler gained additional knowledge by receiving hands on training within two established hydroponic greenhouse operations.

*Marc S. White , Rid-All Green Partnership. Mark is one of the Original Green Partners who founded the Rid-All Green Partnership, and he currently serves as the Rid-All Farm Operations Manager. In addition to farming, Marc also has distinguished himself as a Fashion Designer, Humanitarian, and a Regenerative Specialist. As a student of life, and the first African American male graduate of Kent State’s School of Fashion in the Mid 1980’s, Marc has spent his career drawing inspiration from nature and the creation to form his unique design aesthetic.. His products are classified green, focusing on providing sustainable and affordable articles made with longevity in mind. His manufacturing employs socially conscious production methods, or low impact processes as well as the use of vintage, re-purposed and or up-cycled products. Living abroad between 1990 and 2010, Marc had the opportunity to reside in West Africa, Israel and Europe. Steeped in the deep rich culture of his journeys, he has gleaned much creative inspiration from this exposure. In 2003 Marc Co-Founded the Dimona Greening Company, an urban greening company in Southern Israel whose objective was to raise the green standards and practices of the people there. This initiative fostered personal and environmental consciousness towards a more sustainable and regenerative life. In the Fall of 2011 Marc was propositioned by longtime friends, fraternity brothers and Rid-all Co-founders Keymah, Damien and Randy to come back to Cleveland, manage the project and bring his spirit to the farm. Marc has produced a line of clothing and products that demonstrated a combination of utility and elegance called “Reconstructed”, as well as a regenerative juice and food product line called “The Urban Farm Doctor’s” super food line.
Marc specializes in growing relationships, healing herbs and succulent plants seen and experienced every time you come by their farm.

July 7: Innovation in agriculture and food – what are the opportunities ahead?

Richard Munson, author of Tech to Table, will talk about how technology is creating new startups, attracting capital and building markets with the potential to upend conventional agribusinesses’ stranglehold on the food systems of today. Learn what technologies are leading the way and what that could mean for NEO.

*Richard Munson, author and writer
Has worked on clean energy and environmental issues for non-profits, in the private sector, at universities, and on “Capitol Hill. His latest book is Tech to Table: 25 Innovators Reimagining Food,” a 2021 book that profiles entrepreneurs changing how we farm and what we eat, driving solutions to the biggest problems created by industrialized economies.

July 14: What are investors looking for?

A panel of AgTech investors will share how they see this market progressing and what they are looking to fund and why.

*Brandon Day: COO of the Yield Lab Institute, the non-profit arm of the Yield Lab. The Yield Lab is a global federation of funds that invest in agtech startups and innovations.  And the Yield Lab Institute is an agtech think tank focused on supporting, advancing global agtech startups, entrepreneurs and ecosystems.  The Institute’s initiatives include open innovation challenges, ecosystem assessments (in Latin America and Africa) and technical studies on indoor/CEA, of note a white paper we co-published with the WWF on indoor soilless agriculture in the St. Louis region.  Prior to his current role, Brandon spent the first half of his career in oil and gas services in a variety of engineering, business development and sales roles.  He also worked as a consultant for a boutique engineering firm providing design, regulatory and other services for multinational agriculture companies in the Salinas Valley of California.  He received his chemical engineering and materials science degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and a MBA from Washington University in St. Louis.

July 21: How can NEO harness new policy, research and funding to accelerate our food economy?

Visionary leaders engaged in regional policy, research and investment will discuss the emerging opportunities that can catalyze a robust food economy in northeast Ohio.

*Marcy Kaptur, U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 9th Congressional District
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is currently the longest serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives and ranks among the most senior Members of the 117th Congress. Today she serves as the first woman to Chair the influential House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which she considers an honor given the Ninth District stretches much of the southern Lake Erie coastline.

Tim Derickson, Director of Food and Agribusiness, JobsOhio. Tim Derickson was born and raised on his family’s dairy farm in Butler County. Tim worked  along side his family until he was 27, having graduated from Talawanda HS, Clark State  Community College and Miami University. He also held professional licenses issued by the  Security Exchange Commission, Ohio & Florida Real Estate and Ohio Group Health & Life.  

Tim was a former State Representative where he served as Chairman of the Community & Family Advancement Committee, Chairman of the Faith Based & Community Initiatives Bd and Chairman of the Ohio Legislative Prayer Caucus. Tim also served on the Education committee as Vice Chairman and on the Finance and Government Accountability/Oversight committees. Following this, he served as Assistant Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). Currently Tim oversees a sector that includes hundreds of companies that cultivate, process, package, distribute and market foods and beverages enjoyed around the world.

*Brandon Kern, Senior Director, State and National Policy at Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
Kern serves as senior director, state and national policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. He is responsible for managing the organization’s legislative and regulatory team and representing the interests of Farm Bureau members before Congress, the General Assembly and with federal and state regulatory agencies. Kern has previously filled various policy and legislative roles including serving as legislative aide and policy advisor to the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus and in the office of former U.S. Sen. George Voinovich.

*Chieri Kubota, Director of Ohio Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the Ohio State University
Dr. Kubota research mission is to serve in the development of science and technology in the area of controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Her projects are in an interdisciplinary area that encompasses plant physiology and horticultural engineering to enhance understanding and efficiency of CEA plant production systems such as greenhouses, warehouses (vertical farms), and growth chamber. Dr. Kubota’s research and extension contributions include greenhouse strawberry production, LED-lighting application, and low temperature storage of high quality transplants. 

*Bara Watts, CEO, Center for Food Innovation


Looking for more information and ways to connect on topics such as food systems, economic growth, agtech, and sustainability? Find research and other events not hosted by CFI on the resource page.