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Farming Without Chemicals in Ohio
A Case Study Report

Author: Keith Dix
Innovative Farmers of Ohio
in cooperation with the Citizens Policy Center

2. Where can I learn about organic farming?

Recently, this writer received a short note from a farmer in Holmes County that read: "To Whom It May Concern, I'm interested in trying some organic farming. What are the guidelines to getting started? In the past I've conventional farmed, using herbicides. Sincerely,...." This very question was asked each of the seven farmers interviewed for this project and, not surprisingly, they responded that they learned about organic production from other growers; that is, through personal contact, on farm tours and at growers' meetings. Several of those interviewed mentioned the Spray Brothers* in Knox County as an important source of information as well as an inspiration to them. Many of the farmers learned from reading, although the lack of technical, organic literature was lamented. They expressed that an important way they learned was through personal, on-farm experimentation, that is, through a lot of trial and error.

Nelson and Lynn W. They said that they read "a little bit" but most of their learning came from talking to other people. Nelson said, "Just get on the phone and ask questions. At first I asked about marketing, weed control, insect control but (now) we're kind of learning all that on our own." In this spirit of sharing, so characteristic of organic growers, the Wengers volunteered to host a farm tour during the summer months.

Jeff D. Jeff made an interesting comparison between the chemical and fertilizer salesmen with whom he had dealings when he farmed conventionally and the organic farmers he has come to know: When I first went organic and started listening to people,I went to OEFFA* conferences, to farm tours, none of those people were selling anything. None of them had anything to gain whether I went organic or not, so I could believe them...The organic people are all open, they're willing to show you everything, their books, what they're doing, and so forth. They have nothing to gain. I respect that. Jeff said that he had done some reading in the early stages of his interest in organics but was very skeptical at first. He said, "I thought that there is no way this will work, you can't do that." But he began taking in some farm tours and his opinions began to change. Although he didn't have a chance to visit the Spray Brothers farm, he read about them in New Farm magazine and other places and soon became convinced. He said "I thought that if Rex Spray can do it and can do it that long, it was working for him, so I ought to give it a try." To his credit, it should be noted that Jeff has been generous with his time by sharing his organic growing experiences with others. He has conducted workshops at the past three annual OEFFA conferences and at the last conference of the Innovative Farmers Of Ohio. He continues to learn by attending winter meetings of farmers and goes to farm shows whenever he can. Recently, he attended a workshop on organic dairying.

Geoff M. Geoff is particularly interested in water-quality issues and reads the newsletter of the Environmental Defense Fund, Earth Justice and other environmental organizations. He reported that he subscribed to New Farm when it was in publication and took Acres, USA for a few years. He attends OEFFA meetings regularly and enjoys learning from other farmers. "I know a lot of OCIA farmers. We have regular meetings in the winter. I'd like to do more networking...I'd like to spend more time learning about marketing and other guys' crop practices" he said.

Dean Mc. He reads Acres, USA, the OEFFA newsletter, the OCIA newsletter, the Ohio Farmer and others. He also believes that it's important to read industry newsletters to keep abreast of things. Whenever possible Dean attends conferences and meetings sponsored by organizations such as ACRES-USA, OEFFA, IFO and the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) to learn from other farmers. Dean said, "I also talk to a lot of other farmers. I confer with other farmers a lot about problems I have. We compare notes constantly both on field work, weather, growing, harvesting techniques, marketing. We cover it all with each other. That's most valuable."

Steve B. Before Steve and his father started an organic system, they attended some workshops on soil building in Minnesota. In the years since, they have attended several OEFFA meetings. Steve gives a great deal of credit to the Spray Brothers: "The Sprays were probably the first organic farmers we talked to. We went down there one Sunday and spent the afternoon with them. They were probably the biggest influence on us."

Ron G. Ron's learning curve began very much like all the others; he learned from other farmers, from reading what little there was available and from trial and error. A lot of it was trial and error, but I tried to get hold of as much stuff (reading material) as I could. There wasn't much available then. Harold Hartzler came up several times and gave me a lot of advice and helped me out immensely. He was, in a way a fertilizer salesman, Pro-Min, but he was also a friend of the family that owned the farm I rented....I like to read so I did a lot of reading and talking to as many people as I could. A lot of it was just trial and error. A lot of things you find out don't work. You find out the hard way, and I'm still finding out.