ACEnet: Empowering Local Food Entrepreneurs 

For more than 25 years, ARC has partnered with the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) to support entrepreneurs and strengthen economic sectors in 32 counties across Appalachian Ohio. Local food provides a clear path to opportunity, and resilience, in many of those communities. To help them fully harness that potential, ACEnet helps markets and local food entrepreneurs thrive and grow – even during a global pandemic.  

Helping Local Markets Thrive

ACEnet provides support services to farmers markets associations in Ohio including the AthensFarmers Market, the Meigs County Farmers Market, the Perry County Farmers Market and the Ohio Farmers Market Management Network. This includes helping farmers market leaders strengthen governance and financial management, design vendor policies, recruit new farmers, implement marketing plans and social media promotions, and support young farmers in sustaining their businesses.  

By helping these markets strengthen their operations, ACEnet had an important impact on larger local economies. Markets brought more foot traffic and economic support for downtown areas, which was hard to come by during COVID-19. According to ACEnet’s Director of Programs, Leslie Schaller, markets even gained new customers during the pandemic and have maintained that business as communities have reopened. Markets are an overall win for communities, as shoppers were able to access healthy, local food during a global crisis, while keeping farmers and other entrepreneurs in business.  

Incubating Food Entrepreneurs

Behind every strong market are local producers and food vendors. Often, behind those vendors are strong entrepreneurial incubators. Assisting food startups is a cornerstone of ACEnet’s work, with their team offering business planning, product development, label design & printing, nutritional facts panels, marketing, regional brand access and financial management. ACEnet also manages the Athens Food Ventures Center licensed shared-use kitchen, the Nelsonville Food Hub distribution center, and the Food & Farm Enterprise Center in Nelsonville that houses licensed meat & produce processing facilities. 

For many of the food entrepreneurs incubating with ACEnet, farmers markets are their first direct experience with customers. These regular interactions with community members allow businesses to get feedback, adjust products, and gain more operational experience and brand exposure, all of which will help them expand into larger markets and retail outlets.  

Strengthening local food means supporting core elements of the supply chain – especially the markets and local vendors who fill the tables each week. Thanks to the work of ACEnet, local food systems in Appalachian Ohio were able to step up in a crisis and offer a place where shoppers to purchase the food they need, farmers and vendors remain in business, and the entire community could find a source of strength.