All posts by Lauren

Highland County home to Old Dutch Hops

Times Gazette, Michael Williamson, 8/1/2017

On a back road in Highland County, behind the Old Dutch Cemetery — a graveyard that dates back to the American Revolution — sits the Wilson family farm. The 250-acre plot of land, which has been in the family for more than 75 years, is home to two generations of farmers.

The elder, John Michael “Mike” Wilson, oversees the traditional farming practices such as harvesting corn and hay, carrying on the tradition of his parents who purchased the farm in the years preceding World War II.

However, Wilson’s daughter, Amanda, and her husband, Brady Kirwan, occupy a 2-acre stretch of that land where they hope to both carry on the torch as third generation farmers and start something new — organic hops production.

Journey home

Kirwan and Wilson operate the state’s first Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Certified Organic hops yard. Named after the neighboring graveyard, Old Dutch Hops is home to six varieties of hops plants including Cascade, Chinook, Magnum, Nugget, Columbus and Centennial.

“We were deciding on coming back here and started doing some research on what to start with,” Kirwan said. The two met in Kirwan’s home state of California while working as park rangers at Yosemite National Park. Kirwan had been working as a laborer for the park and Wilson was exploring an interest in park services after receiving her degree from Ohio University.

She found that she had a growing interest in farming and for being back home.

A growing trend

Kirwan began research into the subject of hops farming, particularly with regard to the work that Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with The Ohio State University, was doing into the subject. Bergefurd and his team operate a number of test hops yards at the OSU South Centers in Piketon.

According to Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences website, “The Ohio Department of Liquor Control handed out more alcohol-manufacturing permits in the first six months of 2011 than it did all of 2010.” This spike started a trend that has continued in some capacity in the subsequent seven or eight years.

Many brewery, pub, tavern and bar patrons might see the effects of these statistics on the menus of their favorite beer-serving establishments. Craft and microbreweries are competing for page space with many of the nationally-recognized beer brands.

With the growing trend of micro-breweries popping up around the state comes the demand for more hops being grown locally. That’s where people like Wilson and Kirwan come in.

They are part of the Ohio Hops Growers Guild (OHGG), an organization formed in 2014 with the goal of uniting Ohio hops growers and creating a standard of quality and practices. Since that formation, the group has grown to more than 80 members whose primary focus is bringing information about locally-sourced hops to fellow growers and the general public.

On July 22, the OHGG sponsored an open house for nine hops yards around the state. Those interested in the subject could tour their local yards and learn about the whole subject of hops farming. Among the stops was Old Dutch Hops and their Hillsboro yard.

The process

“I think we like the idea of bringing diversity back to the way farms used to be,” Wilson said. Rather than solely focusing on the large crops of the surrounding fields, the couple decided to try their hand at something different. “I think that’s what drew us to it, also. It’s such an odd crop,” Kirwan said.

The set-up of a hops yard with its trellis system is an interesting sight among the traditional fields of soybeans and corn. With the exception of the height difference, the process is not dissimilar to the makeup of a grape vineyard.

The hops are grown on vines which crawl up strands of rope made of coconut fiber, and the ropes dangle from metal wires which are attached to 20-foot, wooden poles. They are planted in long rows, divided by open patches of grass. For Wilson and Kirwan, they use two of these open rows to house chickens.

“We are interested in the idea of sustainability and as much organic farming as we can,” Wilson said. “The chickens feed off the land and help to fertilize it.”

The technique of pasteurizing the chickens in this way is attributed to Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer known for his unique approach to the world of farming. That approach and thought-process is something that appeals to Wilson and Kirwan.

“A lot of people mis-characterize hops as an easy crop to grow,” Kirwan said. “It is and it isn’t.” Once the crops are in the ground and growing, weeding and watering is about their only maintenance. However, the accessibility of the crop leaves it open to insects.

“We’ve had some problems this year with bugs, especially the Japanese beetles,” said Kirwan, referring to the torn leaves of the hanging plants. For the most part, other growers are having the same issues.

Growing a business

Wilson and Kirwan sell their Old Dutch Hops products at two farmer’s markets, the Northside Farmers Market in Cincinnati, and the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market closer to home. They also sell to the Fibonacci Brewing Company in Cincinnati, a company with which they have a good working relationship. Wilson and Kirwan sell their hops at $6 per pound for wet hops and $15 per pound for dry hops.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has recently complicated the process by changing the rules for the pelletizing process with regard to water content in harvested crops. The state has also shut down the Ohio’s only commericial-sized hops pelletizing machine, which makes the hops grower’s ability to begin selling more problematic.

“It’s slowed down the process. But we have made more this year than we’ve put in,” Kirwan said. “But with harvesting labor and transportation, it’ll take more time to actually see a profit.” As with any type of farming, the profitablity lies in the process of learning how to grow their yield.

The Old Dutch Hops adventure is a more than two-year project for the couple and something they hope to continue.

“We haven’t figured out how to do it 100 percent,” Wilson said. “But we’d like to get to the point where it’s more sustainable.” Wilson works as a paramedic and Kirwan an EMT, both part-time.

“We mostly do it to help pay for supplies and the animals,” Wilson said. They split their time between the hops yard, work, and learning how to farm.

Eventually, they would like to learn enough about it to make farming their lives. They hope to keep the hops yard part of the process and to incorporate the ideas of true, sustainable farming intact. For them, it starts with experimentation and discovery. According to Wilson, they are still working on finding their place in the world of farming.

“That’s the part we haven’t quite figured out yet,” she said.

Green Corps plants seeds with teens in urban neighborhoods

The Plain Dealer, Greg Burnett, 7/28/2017

Sixteen-year-old Tamryn Dailey fondly remembers her first gardening experience. It was with her grandmother when she was younger. The elder was teaching her how to plant flowers. Dailey is now one of 50 kids involved with Green Corps.

Green Corps is an urban agricultural work-study program for teens ages 14 to 18. The Cleveland Botanical Garden founded the program in 1996.

Dailey learned about the program through her guidance counselor and wanted to start digging soil immediately.

“I was interested because of my gardening experience with my grandmother,” she said. “During the program, I planted watermelon, basil, tomatoes, scallions and cauliflower. We harvest our own garden and take the contents home. I’ve already taken basil home to my mom.”

The teens are paid minimum wage. But they must have a record of stability. After applying for the position, they have to submit a letter of recommendation and attendance from school to get an interview.

“Each summer, we employ youth to work 20 hours a week at the farm closest to where they live,” says Kelly Barrett, Green Corps manager of operations.

The program, in its 21st year, has created five Cleveland urban farms that encompass more than three acres on the East Side.

From 1 to 4 pm. Saturday, in conjunction with Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the 2017 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshops Series will offer a tour at the Midtown Learning Farm, 1945 East 66th St., and the Dunham Tavern and Museum (which is next door). The event is free. Participants will get tours, led by the youths, that will discuss the farm as well as the program. A history of the Little Yellow House, a cooking demo from former Green Corps students, information from Katie Todd of the Ohio State University, who is conducting research on bees at all the farms, and tours of the Dunham Tavern and Museum are also planned.

Dailey’s grandmother passed away in 2013. Before she died, she talked about the two of them creating another garden. “My grandmother and I never got a chance to do another garden. So this experience has allowed me to honor her,” she said.

Researchers put soil balancing to test

Farm and Dairy, Chris Kick, 6/23/2017

WOOSTER, Ohio — Organic farmers have long believed in the benefits of a healthy soil and balancing nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Now, farmers and scientists are working together to look at the scientific differences in organic soils, and help bridge the gap between farmer experience and scientific study.

Researchers and farmers spoke about their collaborative work June 20 during a tour of Raymond Yoder Jr.’s organic farm, known as Artisan Acres. This 17-acre produce farm, part of the Greenfield Farms cooperative, grows vegetables that are sold in grocery stores like Kroger, Meijer and Earth Fare.

Collaborative effort

Yoder opened his farm to Ohio State University researchers to test and document the perceived benefits of soil balancing and organic agriculture.

So far, he said working with the researchers has required patience by both parties, but he said “it’s progress” and something the organic industry needs.

“There’s so much that we don’t know and there’s so much that we can learn by seeing what we look at and observing,” he said. “I think the only way we’ll get anywhere is if we continue doing what we’re doing.”Douglas Jackson-Smith, an OSU natural resources professor with a background in sociology, said the gap between organic farmers and researchers is still wide, but “we’re hopeful in the four years of this project, we’ll at least begin to close that communications gap and get us closer to a common conversation.”

Soil balancing

According to a fact sheet by OSU, soil balancing is a soil and soil fertility management strategy based on the Base Cation Saturation Ratio — or the optimum ratio of plant nutrients, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Soils can be balanced in a variety of ways, but the common method is adding calcium-rich minerals, such as limestone and gypsum, in order to raise the calcium levels.

Balanced soils can be difficult or even impractical in some locations, and usually require some maintenance, according to OSU.

Organic supporters are hoping the scientists will be able to document the benefits of soil balancing.

“We already know the practice works, they (scientists) just need to, through empirical evidence, anoint it as sound science,” said Eric Pawlowski, sustainable ag educator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, one of the project partners.

Results to come

The research at Yoder’s farm is still in the beginning stages, and is part of a larger research effort by OSU scientists, which includes additional private farms, and sites owned by OSU.

In addition to OEFFA, researchers are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide more clarity about the benefits and challenges of soil balancing.

What is clear so far, at the Yoder farm, is that he has achieved a solid produce operation that grows healthy produce and in an efficient, profitable manner.

The tour drew nearly 80 people, who observed a mostly weed-free operation, with loamy soils and lush produce. Many comments were made about the color and health of his plants, and the good progress that they appear to be making.

In the early part of the season, the farm grows cabbage, kale and red beets, and then zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, followed by mid-summer plants like peppers, eggplants and tomatoes, and fall crops of cabbage and kale.

Making sauerkraut

One of Yoder’s specialties is sauerkraut, which he and his employees process and ferment at the farm. He said the fermentation is a simple process, but one that has to be done just right, to make a quality product.

He got into the sauerkraut business to provide a market opportunity for some of Greenfield Farms’ second-grade cabbage. These cabbages are still healthy and safe to eat, but require additional processing, which makes them ideal for making into sauerkraut.

After the tour, Yoder explained some of his horse-drawn equipment and the different tools he uses for planting and cultivating. He said he hoped the people who visited his farm left with a better understanding of sustainable agriculture, and maybe a new idea or two.

“There’s so many things that you can do to get better at sustainable agriculture and my hope is just that somebody picked up a little bit that will help them on their farm,” he said.

Local farmers express concerns, wishes for next farm bill

Newark Advocate, Sydney Murray, 9/5/2017

NEWARK – Representatives from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office have been traveling the state to talk to Ohioans about the 2018 Farm Bill.

Last Wednesday, the group stopped in Licking County and about 15 people showed up to The Ohio State University Newark Extension office to discuss the bill and their thoughts and concerns about the future of agriculture.

Jon McCracken, with Brown’s Washington office, said it is expected the bill will pass out of committee in late winter or early spring.

He said conservation remains a top priority and there is a continued interest in helping smaller producers reach different markets.

According to a release from Brown’s office, one in seven Ohioans is employed in agriculture and food production.

Those at the table brought up a myriad of concerns.

Knox County resident Jazz Glastra said her organization received a rural business development grant to do a feasibility study for a food hub.

The hub will be aggregating local produce and redistributing it to restaurants and institutions.

“It’s a great program that has really benefited this organization,” Glastra said.

She said she feels good about the project, but is concerned about the small pot of money available to people in the state.

“There’s more than six or seven people in the state of Ohio who have cool ideas that will, like, spark small businesses and development in rural areas,” Glastra said.

Glastra said rural communities need small businesses and economic development.

Mike Laughlin, with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said he believes there needs to be more research on transition farming from one generation to the next..

He said he would also like to see more help for new farmers to deal with problems they encounter and developing new farming skills.

McCracken said this issue has come up a lot at other roundtable discussions.

“It’s a hard business even in good times,” McCracken said.

He said with high land prices, it can be hard for people to get their foot in the door unless they inherit, or marry into, land.

Franklin County resident Matt Hildreth said a few different things concerned him, including how energy is produced and used locally, healthcare in rural areas, and opioids.

McCracken said the bill touches all three in various ways.

McCracken said because opiods are a problem in both rural and urban communities, there is a real role for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be more proactive in terms of opioids.

Hildreth said he was also concerned about connections between communities.

He said he knows people who are part-time farmers who use a side job as another source of income, but he said some small towns have changed so much that getting people to live in those communities and the opportunity for the “side hustle” has gone away.

As another source of connectivity, many in the meeting expressed the need and importance of getting broadband internet to rural communities.

“Broadband is kind of a necessity of modern life, I think,” McCracken said.

McCracken said helping connect small communities can also help make sure the rural communities can attract the next generation and get people to come back home.

Crop insurance reforms must protect farm safety net while also supporting new farmers: Amalie Lipstreu

The Plain Dealer, Amalie Lipstreu 6/28/2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In case you were living under a rock, the Trump administration has released its 2018 budget proposal.

According to President Donald Trump’s plan, farmers in the crop insurance program would still be able to count on the federal government to pay up to $40,000 of their crop insurance bill — after which they would be cut off.

This would save taxpayers $16.2 billion over a decade.

This is a difficult time for Ohio farmers. Farm products are selling low while the cost of inputs and property taxes are on the rise. Farming is never easy and is just shy of impossible when dealing with the vagaries of weather and wildly fluctuating market uncertainties. But we have deemed farming a pretty critical endeavor — as we depend on it for our survival.

Northeast Ohio farmers markets in Tremont and Shaker Square are featuring wine samples this year. The region’s farmers market population is holding strong.

For some farmers, crop insurance provides the stability to “weather” not just the weather but also the economic challenges they face.

As we head into negotiations for the next Farm Bill, crop insurance will loom large, as the historical average cost of the program is more than $6 billion per year.

According to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service, the mix of policies translated into the government paying an average 62 percent of the insurance policy on each farm in 2014 — no matter how large or profitable.

But as we look at changes necessary for the program, it is critically important that we think about the farmers that will be impacted, including beginning farmers.

We face a crisis and opportunity ahead.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, nearly 100 million acres of farmland is expected to change hands as the next farm bill is implemented.

How do we want to see that land utilized? Is the “highest and best use” another strip mall or subdivision, or is there value in ensuring our food security by making sure that young farmers are able to grow food for their communities?

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association surveyed its farmers in 2016 and found that access to land and credit are the biggest business challenges. This is especially true for beginning farmers.

While land costs can fluctuate year to year, the long-term trend is one of increasing prices. As they seek to access farmland, these next-generation farmers face competition from not just real estate developers but also from existing farmers with history, capital and assets.

Because the crop insurance program provides subsidies to the biggest producers, these large commodity farms can outcompete younger farmers for land purchase or rent, making it nearly impossible for them to access land.

Quite often, these “new” farmers are interested in farming sustainably, protecting clean water and building healthy soil so they are less reliant on outside chemical inputs. Utilizing techniques such as long-term and diverse crop rotations, they build soil organic matter and reduce the potential for runoff.

These are the kind of practices we are incentivizing  to prevent the algal blooms that turn the water toxic.

As we minimize the unintended effects on beginning farmers, we also have an opportunity to link crop insurance subsidies to good conservation practices such as those mentioned above. It is common sense that linking financial support for crop insurance to reducing risk (and, potentially, crop insurance payouts) and improved environmental sustainability is a win-win for farmers, taxpayers and our communities.

We can protect the critical farm safety net — and at least some of the 100 million acres that will change hands in the next five to six years — while at the same time getting out of the way of beginning farmers and protecting our land and water.

Now is the time to improve the crop insurance program to better serve all farmers, and all citizens.

New Farmers Positioned for Success with Heartland Farm Beginnings®: Applications Available Now

For Immediate Release: Monday, June 26, 2017

Contact: Kelly Henderson, (614) 421-2022,

(Columbus, OH) The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is now accepting applications for Heartland Farm Beginnings®, a community-based, farmer-led, field-tested, in-depth farmer training program which helps beginning farmers create successful sustainable agriculture businesses.

OEFFA has partnered with the Farm Beginnings Collaborative (FBC), a national alliance of regional groups, which offers Farm Beginnings® programs in 13 states. The program has not been available in Ohio until now. Hundreds of farmers have graduated from Farm Beginnings® programs, and they have a strong track record.  For example, 71 percent of graduates were still farming in 2016.

“Participants are able to tap the knowledge of some of the most innovative and skilled farmers operating in the Midwest, as well as develop lifelong friendships and networks with other beginning farmers,” says Kelly Henderson, Begin Farming Program Coordinator at OEFFA. “They learn critical farm management skills and innovative marketing strategies to help build a business plan for their own farm.”

The year-long program begins in October 2017 with 10 business planning sessions throughout the fall and winter.  These are followed by the development of an individualized learning plan for the growing season to facilitate continuing education. Participants may also receive mentoring from successful sustainable agriculture farmers through internships, employment, or technical assistance arrangements.

Applicants can visit to read more about the program and request an application packet. The course fee is $1,200 and includes a membership in OEFFA and registration to the 2018 OEFFA conference. The application deadline is September 15.  Space is limited to 25 new farmers, so early applications are encouraged. Individuals who apply by August 15 receive an “early bird” discount of $200.

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OEFFA is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters who committed to work together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to

See, Taste, and Experience Life on the Farm: 2017 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series Guide Available

Columbus, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 2017 farm tour, workshop, and event line up offers a multitude of experiences, including: strolling through organic fields and pastures, acquiring basic homesteading skills, learning from early career growers following their farm dreams, hearing stories from Ohio’s founding sustainable farmers, grasping the ins and outs of growing food in the city and on reclaimed urban lots, scaling up vegetable production, choosing the right farm equipment, and processing poultry.
OEFFA’s 27 summer farm tours, workshops, and other special events are part of the 2017 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series. Five of these events focus on urban agriculture and are presented by Central State University Cooperative Extension.
Meet knowledgeable local farmers ready to share their wisdom, and experience sustainable agriculture up close during these farm tours:
  • Saturday, June 17: Renewable Energy Farm Tour—Woodland Ridge Farm and Learning Center, Athens Co.
  • Tuesday, June 20: On-Farm Research and Organic Vegetable Farm Tour—Artisan Acres, Wayne Co.
  • Sunday, June 25: Diversified Beginning Farm Tour—Homecoming Farm, Athens Co.
  • Saturday, July 29: Youth Urban Farming Tour—Green Corps Midtown Learning Farm, Cuyahoga Co.
  • Friday, August 11: Organic Grain Seed Breeding Farm Tour—Valley View Farm, Logan Co.
  • Sunday, August 13: Vegetable Equipment Systems Farm Tour—Mile Creek Farm, Montgomery Co.
  • Tuesday, August 22: Grass-Fed Livestock Farm Tour—Grassroots Farm, Pike Co.
  • Sunday, September 10: Healthy Soil Farm Tour—Margraf Family Farm, Seneca Co.
  • Saturday, September 23: Cheesemaking and Homestead Tour—Blackstone Farm, Monroe Co.
  • Saturday, October 21: Pasture-Raised Livestock Beginning Farm Tour—Moores Heritage Farm, Ashtabula Co.

Develop production skills, explore a dream to farm, tour the countryside, network with beginning farmers, and taste summer’s bounty during these workshops and special events:

  • Tuesday, August 8: Young and Beginning Farmers Q&A and Networking Session—Rambling House Soda, Franklin Co.
  • Sunday, August 20: The Farmers’ Table—Maplestar Farm, Geauga Co.
  • Sunday, September 10: Poultry Processing for the Small Farm and Homestead Workshop—Tea Hills Farms, Ashland Co.
  • Sunday, September 24: Harvest Bicycle RideFairfield Co.
  • Sunday, October 15: Farm Vision Workshop—OEFFA, Franklin Co.
  • October 2017-February 2018: Heartland Farm Beginnings® Training Course—OEFFA, Franklin Co.
  • Friday, November 3-Saturday, November 4: Grow More Vegetables, Make More Money Workshop—Procter Center, Madison Co.

Learn how to farm in the city and achieve food security, and tour thriving urban agriculture projects that are reclaiming vacant properties, during these urban agriculture farm tours and workshops presented by Central State University Cooperative Extension:

  • Saturday, June 24: Urban CSA Farm Tour—Urban Greens, Hamilton Co.
  • Friday, July 28: Diversified Urban Development Farm Tour—New Harvest Cafe and Urban Arts Center, Franklin Co.
  • Saturday, August 12: Personal Food Security Workshop—CSU Dayton Auditorium, Montgomery Co.
  • Saturday, September 2: Urban Livestock Farm Tour—Glass City Goat Gals, Lucas Co.
  • Wednesday, September 20: Farm the City on Solid Legal Ground Workshop—Cuyahoga County CSU Extension, Cuyahoga Co.

Explore audio excerpts, photography, multimedia pieces, and print materials from OEFFA’s Growing Right Oral History project during one of 15 stops on its tour of central Ohio farmers’ markets and groceries June-August. Get the full schedule here.

Visit with OEFFA member farms during four annual open houses held at Snowville Creamery on June 10, Foraged & Sown on July 16, Carriage House Farm on September 17, and Pastured Providence Farmstead on October 21.

This series is also promoted in cooperation with The Ohio State University Extension Sustainable Agriculture Team and the Clintonville Farmers’ Market, who are sponsoring additional tours.

All events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise indicated in the series brochure.

For more information and complete details for all workshops and farm tours, click here.

Successful local foods seminar focuses on link between nutritious food and health

The Clermont Sun 3/2/17

The Buy Local Foods Seminar held in Georgetown on February 19 focused on how the availability of nutritious food keeps people healthy.  Keynote speaker, Dan Remley, Food, Nutrition and Wellness Specialist with the Ohio State University Extension Service, told the fifty people in attendance that the lack of availability of nutritious food contributes to poor health conditions, including diabetes.  The keynote address was followed by workshops about the use of food choice systems in food pantries to promote healthy eating and the formation of community food/hunger councils to coordinate the efforts of food pantries and other agencies to obtain a supply of healthy foods for all.  Those in attendance included producers of food, purchasing and marketing groups, food pantry workers and consumers.

In the course of the day, a number of other topics were presented.  Aubrey and Adam Bolender of the Buckeye Beef Cooperative talked about raising beef cooperatively and sustainably.  Members of the local chapter of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association discussed the growing of Hazelnuts.  Mark Frommeyer from Blue Oven Bakery in Williamsburg talked about his new venture in which he is stone-milling local organic grains. And Christine Tailer of Straight Creek Farm told participants about wild edibles.

The seminar was sponsored by Catholic Rural Life, the OK River Valley Chapter of the Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and the Adams-Brown Diabetes Education Coalition.  For further information, call Julie Kline (937) 392-1543 or Pat Hornschemeier (513) 752-0647.

For further information, call Pat Hornschemeier (513) 752-0647.

Incentivizing Organic Farming

By Andrew Flinn, Brownfield Ag News, 2/13/17

A former USDA official says the upcoming farm bill needs to provide incentives to help conventional farmers who want to shift to organic farming. Jim Riddle is a past chairman of the USDA National Organic Standards Board.

“That allows a conventional farmer just to make a choice based on economics and provides technical assistance so they have people they can go to but also a financial safety net so they’re not risking the farm by going organic,” says Riddle.

He tells Brownfield there are additional rules and regulations for farmers shifting to organic operations before they can be certified as organic.

“You’re signing up to be regulated at a level that a lot of farmers haven’t been in the past but it needs to pencil out,” says Riddle.

Riddle says the certification is necessary for the industry to maintain its relationship with consumers.

“There have been ideas floated like we need to weaken the standards to make it easier to get into organic, and that would kill the market. The consumers demand rigorous standards and that’s what it’s all based on” says Riddle.

Brownfield spoke with Riddle at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Conference in Dayton Ohio.

Audio: Jim Riddle, Organic Farmer, Former Chair, USDA National Organic Standards Board

Organic farm leader Jim Riddle seeking common ground with Donald Trump, conservatives

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/7/17


While organic farming groups are moving an arm’s length from President Donald Trump’s views, from immigration to an agriculture secretary nominee, Jim Riddle is leaning in to the new administration with a corn-huskers’ handshake.

Riddle, a 60-year-old who grew up on an Iowa farm and now raises berries in Minnesota, says there’s an unclaimed common ground between organics and conservatives.

His own perspective is certified organic. For 20 years he was an organic inspector, one of those folks who show up at least once a year to determine if certified farms really do merit the federally approved organic label by avoiding harmful pesticides and genetically modified seeds, among many other strictures.

After co-founding a farmers market, he served five years on the National Organic Standards Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then he has been appointed chair of Minnesota’s organic advisory board. This weekend he comes to Dayton as a keynote speaker at the 38th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. He’ll talk 3:45 p.m. Friday at the Dayton Convention Center. More information online.

Politics were heavy in the air when we talked to him by phone two weeks ago.

“In part, I want to talk about how organic values are conservative values,” he said. “At its core, organic farming is pro-life. From the ground up, it’s about keeping things alive – the seeds, the soil health, pollinators and wildlife. It embraces all species at all levels of farming.”And I also want to say that organic farming is really free-market farming. It’s farming the land in response to consumer demand. The demand for organic products is skyrocketing by double-digits each year. But because organic crop rotations are more complex methods, there typically aren’t government subsidies. That matches really well with the conservative agenda.

“The organic community went to the government and said it wanted standards that protect the word organic, and it worked really well. We’re really a model for self-regulation with clear, strong, transparent standards and protection of the word organic.”

Riddle believes organic food corresponds to the perceived conservative values of heightened personal responsibility.

“We are what we eat,” he said. “If it’s junk, you have lots of health problems. If you eat clean and live a smart life, your health improves and you’re less of a cost to society.”

Still, Riddle would like to see some changes, especially in what he calls loopholes to the organic trade laws.

In 2014, he said, Minnesota was one of the biggest producers of organic soybeans, selling more than $7.5 million a year. That same year, he said, India sold $75 million in organic soybeans to the United States. India got permission to sell here in a “magical, not transparent,” process during the George Bush administration, Riddle said. “India wanted access to the U.S. organic market, and it was granted as part of a nuclear arms agreement.”

While India has its own certifying groups to grant the use of USDA Organic labels, Riddle says the there’s no U.S. oversight on how they are being certified. In fact,, the site for a national certification body in India, says that because of forged certificates, buyers should double-check with Indocert first.

“Maybe it’s all totally authentic,” said Riddle, “and good for India if that’s true. But we don’t know. There’s no transparency, no U.S. audits, no reviews.”

Right now, he said, we import 70 percent of the organic soybeans we use, and 40-50 percent of organic corn.  Many of those grains are coming not only from India, but also from Turkey, Romania and the Ukraine. Those three, he said, are inspected by a Turkish agency which lost its accreditation to sell in the European Union and Canada two years ago. The USDA tried, but failed, to suspend the Turkish agency’s accreditation. From Riddle’s point of view, this means we are letting in questionable imports.

“Even if they are authentic, we are rewarding farmers in foreign lands rather than supporting organic farmers in America who are protecting water quality, preventing soil erosion, enhancing biodiversity, and growing good clean food. We need to do everything we can to preserve organics here. And, hello, if anything can grow here organically, it’s corn and beans.”

But who will grow it? Riddle admits that while organic food sales have spiked, the number of U.S. organic farmers has not increased. He himself turned from annual to perennial crops after some severe storms.

So, beyond blueberries, who will grow our vegetables? Riddle says produce is still a good, quick-turnover crop for beginning farmers, although he encourages diversification for biodiversity and future profit.

Organic farmers still face “a huge barrier” economically in the required three-year transition period from conventional farming methods to organic certification.

“There’s no safety net to help conventional and beginning farmers convert to organic,” he said. “While a country like Denmark is behind that transition 100 percent.

“As a result, we become more dependent on imports. The farther we get away from our own gardens, community supported agriculture programs, farmers markets, there’s a larger danger of not being authentic.

“There are container ships arriving here with 450,000 tons of “organic” grain at a time. It’s really difficult to think about traceability on that grain.”

Riddle, along with major players in the organic community, also worries about the rise in hydroponically grown products being labeled as organic.

“It’s right in the law that the term organic means it enhances the health of the soil. If there’s no soil, how can you apply the term? It’s misleading to the consumer. It’s fine if they want to label the products as pesticide-free, but hydroponic growers shouldn’t be cashing in on the organic market.”

Riddle worries about the current immigration crackdown, fearing that people will forget the contributions to agriculture made by Hispanics, Somalians, and, in his neck of the woods, the Hmong of Laos.

He’s hoping Ohio will create its own organic advisory board, to help bolster the movement. He may find ways to shake hands with the new administration, but he wants them to feel an organic grip.

“This whole movement toward organic food and farming happened outside the political sphere,” he said. “And it’s not going to go away.”