Category Archives: Sustainable Agriculture in the News

Growing Better Taste: Huntertown farm first USDA certified organic poultry farm in Indiana

By Ryan Schwab, 7/18/16, KPCNews

Growing better taste
Dorothy “Dotsie” Hoffman works daily at Huntertown-based Hoffman Certified Organics, Indiana’s first and only 100 percent USDA Certified Organic pasture-raised poultry farm. Her sons, Don and Ben, are co-owners.

HUNTERTOWN — Don Hoffman doesn’t eat a chicken at a restaurant.

“I remember how chicken used to taste. Today, it taste like cardboard,” he said.

And the chicken you buy in the stores?

“It is just awful. It’s not what I grew up on and prefer,” he said.

Don and his brother, Ben, are co-owners of Hoffman Certified Organics, which operates on their family farm at 2606 Chapman Road in Huntertown. Their company is the first and only 100 percent USDA certified organic pasture-raised poultry farm in Indiana, specializing in pasture raised chickens.

“Our motto is that we are going to raise our chickens to taste like it used to taste back in the day when they farm-raised chickens,” Don Hoffman said. “Today, we marinate it or we brine it. You shouldn’t have to.”

Added brother Ben, “There is a big movement in knowing your farmer and the ‘farm to fork’ atmosphere. We decided to go organic because we saw a need for it in our area. It is very difficult to find an organic, pasture raised bird. There is a fine line between what is organic and what is pasture-raised organic. The flavor is in the chicken. That is the difference between a confined operation and a place like ours, where the birds can go out when they want, come in when they want and eat what they want.”

The Hoffman family has owned the property since 1976, but it sat idle for 35 years until the brothers decided to take on the new venture. Don had raised chickens on his property for nearly 25 years and together with Ben, began the road to organic pasture-raised birds three years ago. The company was incorporated in 2015.

“It needs to be done,” Don said.

They raise a White Mountain Broiler, which can grow to 4.5 to 6 pounds. The females grow on the lighter end of the scale while the males are heavier. The bird is more popular in Ohio, but has a smaller mortality rate than the cornish crossbird, which is more popular in Indiana. The birds have a 56-day life cycle.

The brothers pick up the chicks just after they are hatched from Eagles Nest Poultry in Oceola, Ohio. They are driven back to their farm and are housed in their brooder, where they are cared for with feed, water and an introduction to clover. Over time, the birds will eat less feed and more clover and grass.

The organic feed comes from a certified distributor in Wolcotville and the brothers are certified to grow their own organic clover.

Once the chicks are about four weeks old, they are moved them from the brooder to the pasture. They are housed in chicken coops — known as “chicken tractors” — to keep them safe from predators. Each tractor is loaded up with water and feed bins and the birds will eat the clover and grass as they are moved up and down the family farm each day.

Ben Hoffman said before they utilized the chicken tractors and allowed the birds to roam free, 142 of 400 birds were killed by area predators. He said they have had no deaths since utilizing the “chicken tractors.”

At full growth, the birds are then transported to a processing center in Colfax, Indiana, located halfway between Lafayette and Indianapolis along Interstate 65. There, between 600 and 800 birds are processed in a 3-day period. The first run of 2016 produced 642 birds.

They will make eight or nine trips to processing center of the course of a year.

“You want to make sure the birds are familiar with people handling them, that way your losses during transport decrease, because they are familiar with people handling them,” Ben Hoffman said. “As much interaction you have with these birds, decreases the shock value when you do handle them and have to transport them over two hours away. It can be five seconds. You can pick one up, set it down, and that can be the end (of its life). We only lost two birds of the 642 on the first run. The processor said they had never seen (a successful transport) like that before.”

Although there are other organic chicken farms in Indiana, Hoffman Certified Organics is the only farm of it’s kind that allows their chickens to be raised outdoors at pasture. It’s location is a fortunate one, with ACRES Land Trust, Issak Walton League and the Girl Scout Camp of Northern Indiana on its borders.

“It can be virtually impossible to guarantee your product will be organic. Out here, we are just so fortunate,” Don Hoffman said. “Being sandwiched between so many amazing preservationists makes over spray concerns nonexistent. It allows our farm property to exceed the USDA Organic regulations and ensure that our USDA Organic seal is trusted.”

Neither described the certification process as difficult, just that it provided a lot of hoops to jump through. The cost of certification through the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Agency is $1,300, but the farm was reimbursed $750 through a USDA grant. Water and soils must be tested, a daily feed log must be provided as well as a mortality rate. The farm is inspected on site and the certification must be renewed annually.

Hoffman Certified Organics will have its chicken for sale every Saturday at the Fort Wayne Farmer’s Market from 9 .a.m to 1 p.m. near the corner of Barr St. and Wayne St. It is also available at LaOtto Meats and can also be ordered for on-farm pickup. The brothers hope to start a delivery service in 2017.

“The whole organic idea is to grow local, be local and know who is raising the birds. Keep transportation and fuel costs low and be environmentally-friendly. That is how we wanted to start,” Don Hoffman said.

The company has just three other employees. Don’s wife, Stephanie, runs the office and handles accounting and sales operations. Ben’s fiance, Natalie, handles is the marketing and social media manager. Lastly, the boys’ mother, Dotsie, provides daily help.

Don also works for Asphalt Drum Mixer in Huntertown as a steal fabricator, parts cutter and welder and Ben works as a general contractor. They both still find time each day to spend 4-5 hours on the farm, where they also grow organic sweet corn. That, however, is not yet certified for resale.

“Chickens is enough for our plates right now, since we still have two jobs. Once we get used to it, we can ease into something else,” Don Hoffman said.

And they won’t eat them from anywhere else.

Calls for Better Fracking Regulations on Day of Action

By Mary Kuhlman, 6/6/16, Ohio Public News Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While oil and gas drilling has slowed in Ohio in the past year, fracking opponents say the impacts continue to threaten the fabric of communities.

The Frackfree America National Coalition, based in Youngstown, on Tuesday is sponsoring a National Day of Action on fracking with events scheduled in Ohio and other states to call attention to problems associated with fracking, including toxic waste, pipelines, spills and leaks, and earthquakes linked to injection wells.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, says communities need more protection.

“People who depend on our government to protect us from these harmful environmental impacts are concerned because we don’t have those necessary regulations in place to protect communities from the harmful impacts of fracking,” she states.

Lipstreu notes that most gas drilling and extraction is exempt from the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

More than a dozen actions will be held Tuesday in Ohio, including an event at Bluebird Farm in Harrison County, an organic operation currently threatened by the proposed Utopia pipeline.

Supporters argue fracking supports more than 2 million jobs nationally and boosts local economies.

But Lipstreu counters that the short-term benefits do not outweigh the long-term costs to the water and land that communities rely on.

“The land is our grocery store, the grocery store for our families and communities,” she stresses. “And for those communities to thrive and survive, we really depend on that healthy land. ”

Lipstreu adds organic farms, which must meet strict guidelines for certification, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of fracking with 20 percent of all organic farms in the U.S. located within close proximity to a hydraulic fracturing operation.

Ohio Pipeline Projects Stir Fears of Compromised Farmland Integrity

By Mary Kuhlman, Ohio Public News Service, 2/4/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio – There are fears that two proposed pipelines, which would run through Ohio, will threaten the livelihood of some Ohio farmers.

The proposed Nexus and ET Rover pipelines would transport gas obtained from Ohio hydraulic fracturing operations through Michigan and up to Canada.

The pipelines will impact 25 counties, and Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), says besides affecting forests and waterways, the pipelines could compromise the integrity of farmland.

“And very particularly organic farmland,” she points out. “It’s very vulnerable to contamination, to soil compaction, destruction of soil structure and potentially loss of certification for organic farms.”

Lipstreu notes that approving the pipelines would show a commitment to an extractive energy industry that threatens water quality and is linked to earthquakes instead of long-term energy solutions.

Supporters of the projects maintain they would lead to cheaper energy, and say pipelines are the safest and cheapest way to transport natural gas.

James Yoder produces organic milk at Clover Meadow Farm in Wayne County, where the ET Rover pipeline would cut diagonally across 11 acres.

If the company does not use a mitigation plan, he says his organic certification would be in jeopardy.

“I probably wouldn’t go on farming if we had to be conventional,” he states. “If they don’t follow those guidelines, I’m sure part of the land or all of the land would be conventional. I don’t know if we could get it back if we go through the three-year transition period to get the affected land back to organic again.”

At this point, Lipstreu says there’s been no word if the company will take any measures to
prevent soil contamination, degradation of milk quality and loss of organic certification on Yoder’s property.

But she adds the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is accepting public input on the pipelines.

“There is an opportunity for people to weigh in on this issue,” she states. “We can think about what we’re doing here and think in terms of more long term sustainability.”

She also points to the risks to health and safety posed by new pipeline infrastructure.

In November 2011, a natural gas transmission pipeline exploded in Morgan County, burning three houses and leaving a 30-foot-wide crater.

The next year, a pipeline spill polluted one and-a-half miles of Boggs Fork in Harrison County.

Labor of Love: Small-scale farmers in alternative food networks

The Blue Review


By Analena Bruce

It’s a cloudless Saturday morning at the farmers market, perfect for strolling past stands overflowing with tomatoes, summer squash and melons. Filling your bag with fresh grown goodness, you feel the satisfaction of feeding your family the best and knowing that your choice is helping a small farmer steward the land in the best way possible while making a living, right? Not exactly…

Here’s a day at the market from the perspective of Sue, a small-scale alternative farmer:

And then you go there, you’ve spent five or six hours preparing, getting your linens together, baskets and harvesting and packing and getting the coolers, the trailer and all that crap.

You get there. You stand around for five or six hours. You listen to people come up “Oh, yeah I have tomatoes. I have blah blah blah.” And they comparison shop. So these guys that are buying at the auction are undercutting you. Then you come home, and you have to unpack all this stuff. And it’s not worth it.

The problem is that many small-scale alternative farmers have trouble making a living from farming. Research suggests that many only manage to ‘get by’ if they have some off-farm wealth or outside income that enables them to operate the farm without earning sufficient income from it. If sustainable agriculture is only feasible for those who can afford a paltry income, the likelihood that it will transform the larger agricultural system seems low.

Kids, old farm truck, Cynthiana, Ohio.

Small-scale, alternative farmers practice a more environmentally sustainable, or more organic agriculture, meaning they avoid synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered crops, while building the organic matter in their soils, which provides greater resilience in drought and flood conditions. They grow a greater variety of fruits, vegetables and small livestock, selling their products in alternative food networks such as farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farm-to-table restaurants.


As Americans, we place an almost religious value on small, family farms, and for good reason. Going back to Thomas Jefferson’s American agrarianism is the notion that family farms possess virtue and independence that is essential to our republic. Small-scale alternative farms of today capture the imagination of what farming should look like because they grow foods that people actually eat, rather than large-scale farms that typically produce one or two commodity crops for animal feed, biofuel or processed food fillers.

Traditional small-scale farms around the world produce a greater variety of crops more efficiently on less land with far less fossil fuel and chemical pesticides, by relying on intensive cultivation and careful management of complex, ecologically adaptive systems. Small-scale farmers provide important ecological services to society, growing a greater diversity of crops and planting locally adapted varieties, thus preserving genetic traits that may become essential in a changing climate.

Despite the apparent benefits, it’s disheartening that small and mid-sized farms are still going out of business in the U.S., while the number of large farms is steadily increasing. Large and very large farms now account for 30 and 47 percent of American agricultural production respectively, despite representing just 9 percent of the total farms in the U.S.

"Pastured Providence", a diverse livestock farm in Chillicothe, Ohio.

In general, farmers have been caught in a cost-price squeeze driven by their loss of control over production and marketing processes. Proximity to urban markets is important for alternative farmers’ ability to market their products directly to consumers, but the price of farmland, particularly on the urban fringe, has increased significantly. National farmland values doubled from $1,090 per acre to $2,140 per acre between 2000 and 2010.

Given the prohibitive cost of farmland and the increase of rented land (up to 38 percent of farmland in the U.S. is rented), many new farmers search for long-term lease agreements. However, these arrangements are very difficult to establish, given the high rental prices, reluctance of absentee landowners to take risks with new farming practices and the difficulty that beginning and alternative farmers have in accessing credit.


To better understand how small-scale alternative farmers make a living, I did extensive fieldwork including participant observation on 25 farm tours, numerous food and farm events and working as a caretaker on a small organic farm in Southern Ohio. I did 45 interviews with farmers in Southern Ohio and founding members of the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association and professionals who work with farmers. The farmers also completed a survey about their land access, the percentage of their household income that comes from their farm, non-farm revenue and off-farm jobs and socioeconomic information. I spoke with farmers from a range of backgrounds and farming experience, from organic grains and dairy and small livestock to vegetables and cut flowers. With this data I identified three pathways into alternative agriculture:

  • nontraditional first-generation farmers who are inspired by the food movement,
  • experienced farmers who adopt organic practices to improve their financial standing,
  • and returning farmers who are a generation or more removed from agriculture, yet find new opportunities via alternative food networks.

My research revealed that one of the main reasons small-scale alternative farmers struggle is that growing food more sustainably is much more labor intensive. Small-scale alternative farmers are forgoing the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, monoculture-based system, and economies of scale that industrial farming practices rely on. They are substituting their labor power for fossil fuels by investing significantly more time in the health of their soils. Making long-term investments in their soils with extended crop rotations, cover crops and amending with compost or manure requires a lot of work. In addition, many of them market their products directly to consumers, which is logistically challenging and time-consuming.

Farm in Cynthiana, Ohio.

Thus, while they achieve more profit per unit of production, these farms are logistically complex, highly labor-intensive operations. Organic price premiums are not high enough to compensate for these differences, so sustainable agriculture is an economically precarious enterprise. Beth described it this way:

Well, it’s way more hard work than you could ever imagine. Bob and I were just talking about that the other night and I was even crying about it. I was reading an article in Farming Magazine and this couple had just moved back to the land. It was a young couple and they had young children, and they were all idealistic. They had bought a cow that they were going to milk and had chickens. I was happy for them but it made me cry because I thought, they have no idea of what’s coming.

Half of the farmers I interviewed work more than 65 hours a week, and the rest work more than 40 hours a week on their farms or maintain full time or part time jobs off the farm. Diversifying their income by patching together different revenue streams enables them to offset the precariousness that defines small-scale farming. Keeping up with farm work in the evenings and weekends, often working into the dark, is common. For example, Sue works in commercial real estate and still manages her farm on the side:

Yeah, I do it… I’m working two full time jobs… I get up at 4:30 or 5 every morning and work the real estate part of it until usually my girls come, in the summertime they come around 8 o’clock, and we work til about 2. Then I go back to doing real estate until the evening. Then I go back out and work until dark. As my son says, ‘Mom, you have no life.’

Because managing their farms is so time-consuming, many small-scale alternative farmers find themselves caught in what Jeffrey Jacob called the time-money dilemma. This dilemma is that alternative farming requires a lot of work, but because much of the work is unpaid, it leaves farmers without sufficient income to support their efforts. Farmers with a time-money dilemma either lack adequate time or hired labor to develop sustainable systems because they are working off-farm to support their operations, or they lack the capital to invest in them. Richard describes it as:

Labor. Even though it seems like we’ve got it all together, we grow and then we hit this wall where we’re not making enough money yet to hire another person, but we know we need another person.

A consequence of the time-money dilemma is that it’s much easier for wealthy people or those with substantial off-farm income to practice this type of farming.


Small-scale alternative farmers also struggle to compete with highly capitalized industrial organic producers who use economies of scale to drive down the premium in organic prices through what Julie Guthman calls “organic lite practices.” Organic lite hamstrings small-scale farmers who practice a more comprehensive form of organic farming. Adam describes the challenge of selling to a restaurant that wants to work with local farmers:

That’s the challenge is it’s not sustainable. They’re not consistent. Their bottom line is so low that the prices they’re used to paying aren’t based on a sustainable system, so when they have to pay the prices of me or somebody, even though we’re not high, they can’t because of their bottom line.

The challenges facing small-scale alternative farmers are not an inevitable result of their size. U.S. farm policy dictates the structure of agriculture in a myriad of ways, and for the past several decades has given a competitive advantage to large commodity producers over small-scale diverse farms. The USDA’s Economic Research Service found that commodity payment programs are directly correlated with the concentration of farmland in the U.S. Median payments for farms operating on 1,000 to 10,000 acres were almost three times the median payment for farms operating on 500 to1,000 acres, and about 200 times the median payment for farms with 150 to 500 acres of farmland.

These commodity payments were directly correlated with the solvency of farm businesses that received them. Thus a significant portion of Farm Bill spending, which represents billions of dollars of tax payer money, goes to the production of a few commodity crops that will become animal feed, biofuel or the raw ingredients for processed foods and soft drinks, rather than high quality food grains, fruits and vegetables.

Agricultural policy and technological innovations in the U.S. have emphasized the perceived value of saving labor over the values of environmental sustainability, human health and farmers’ viability. The Green Revolution led to significant achievements in labor saving technology, resulting in extensive mechanization, genetic engineering to accommodate reliance on synthetic pesticides and herbicides and a monoculture-based system that produces a limited number of commodities.

Together with U.S. farm policy, these innovations accelerated the consolidation of the farm sector into larger and larger farms, resulting in the loss of small and mid-sized farms, serious environmental problems and unemployment and economic recession in farming communities. Alternative farmers practice ecological stewardship that has become critical in the face of climate change. Their higher labor requirements could be recognized and better supported as a social good with the potential to increase employment and enhance the vitality of farm communities.


Small-scale alternative farmers continue to persist despite all odds, partly because they are deeply passionate about what they do, work extraordinarily hard and make personal sacrifices that not many of us are willing to make. The farmer-owned and operated Organic Valley Cooperative has been very successful in keeping a fair and stable price for their members. In contrast to the other farmers I interviewed, the organic dairy farmers and organic grain farmers who sell their grain to them are able to make a living as farmers, earning greater than 80 percent of household income through farming. In fact, Organic Valley not only keeps a stable price for its members, but also sets a higher standard of fairness in pricing and contracts in the organic dairy market that other companies are forced to compete with.

Keep buying from alternative food networks but don’t stop there. Pay attention when the next Farm Bill, the big piece of legislation that shapes U.S. food and farm policy, is up for debate. The market for organically grown foods has grown by double-digits in most years since the 1990s, but there is a significant national shortage of farmers able to meet this demand. There is no reason we shouldn’t have a policy structure that reflects this demand and provides fair competition and equal opportunity for all farmers.

Water Quality in Ohio: Taking a Page from Organic Farming

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service, 7/20/15

PHOTO: Sustainable farming groups say lessons from organic farming can help solve Ohio’s toxic and unsightly algae problems and improve water quality. Photo courtesy NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

 PHOTO: Sustainable farming groups say lessons from organic farming can help solve Ohio’s toxic and unsightly algae problems and improve water quality. Photo courtesy NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
July 20, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Algal blooms in Lake Erie are predicted to be among the worst in recorded history this summer.

And organic farmers say taking a page from their playbook can help state leaders working to address the recurring problem, and other water quality issues.

Organic farms are prohibited from using synthetic fertilizers, which are linked to toxic algae.

One farmer, Dave Shively of northwest Ohio, says the practices he uses reduce runoff and soil erosion, which in turn reduce the chances that excess nutrients reach waterways.

“Most of the products we use are more water-soluble, so they stay in place more,” he explains. “And any manures we put on are usually incorporated right away. And we do a lot of crop rotation, which we put a lot of small grains in, and legumes.”

Ohio recently enacted a law (Senate Bill 1) that prohibits applying manure and fertilizer on frozen or saturated ground.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is among the groups suggesting growers follow organic farmers’ lead and use sustainable practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation and field buffers to reduce farm runoff into waterways.

Organic farmers also are required to take steps to maintain water quality as part of their Organic System Plan.

Shively says protecting water sources is vital to the health of the ecosystem and the public.

“What we’re doing is trying to not pollute that with pesticides and herbicides and insecticides, so we’re doing a more sustainable, natural way,” he explains.

Shively stresses chemicals used in traditional farming should be reduced to improve water quality.

“I feel very strongly about the chemical ag world and that that’s a practice that’s getting worse and worse as we go along, with more potent chemicals and pesticides,” he states. “And they’re creating resistance to herbicides, which is creating a whole other issue.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the effects of algae in Lake Erie are expected to peak in August or early September.

Flower-farm open house touts ‘local,’ sustainable

By Joshua Lim, The Columbus Dispatch, 6/29/15

In a straw hat and with the sleeves of his checkered shirt rolled up enough that you could see his tattoo of a dahlia, Steve Adams revealed his obsession in the sprawling field of some of the most beautiful blooms in Columbus.

About 100 people attended the open house at Adams’ Sunny Meadows Flower Farm on the East Side on Sunday to hear about how the sharpest-red and deepest-blue blooms rise from the farm.

The open house is part of an annual series of farmers events held by members of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Renee Hunt, the association’s program director, said tours, workshops and open houses are held each year to give farmers and consumers a firsthand opportunity to learn different practices from a variety of farmers.

“People are sharing what they know so that that information can be taken and be used elsewhere and promote any successful farming practices,” she said.

Adams and his wife, Gretel, started their farm in 2007 because they were passionate about buying and selling locally made products, especially fresh flowers. They grow flowers for mixed-cut bouquets to sell at local farmers markets, to florists and for weddings and other occasions.

Growing flowers for people to give to loved ones to express joy, love, sadness and remorse is something the Adamses don’t take lightly. And they want people to share those emotions with local products.

“People are going to come and see what the other option is for flowers, to see why local flowers are just as important as local food,” Mr. Adams said. “We want people to be buying local flowers, whether they’re from us, or they’re from other growers.”

The U.S. cut-flower industry accounts for $7 billion to $8 billion in sales in a year, according to the Society of American Florists, but only a fraction of flowers come from local farms.

Imports make up 79 percent of the U.S. supply of cut flowers and greens, according to the California Cut Flower Commission.

Adams said flowers from foreign countries might have been sprayed with chemicals that are harmful to consumers.

“For us, sustainability is a farm that can continue to provide fresh quality flowers without synthetic fertilizers and chemical inputs,” he said.

Sunny Meadows does not use herbicides, and it uses compost as fertilizer, Mrs. Adams said. The farm also uses beneficial insects to control pests.

Eric Pawlowski, the association’s sustainable-agriculture educator, said he has benefited from the tours because farmers often provide tips that can make or break a crop of any size.

“It’s not so much the ‘how’ or the ‘do,’ but it’s the ‘what not to do,’  ” he said.

In addition to the annual farm open houses, the association has a number of farm tours and workshops, which started in June and will end in late October. More information is at

Lindsey Baker, 32, a florist in Morrow, Ohio, said she was interested in learning from Adams because she started growing flowers this year.

“When you find out you can grow all this right here in Ohio, we should do a lot more of that,” Baker said. “You’re supporting the family, you’re supporting your local economy, and you’re cutting down on the energy to transport those flowers.”

Alwin Chan-Frederick, 36, said he was impressed by the farm’s sustainable practices.

“Supporting kinds of small businesses like theirs is important for the local community,” he said.

U.S. House of Representatives Denies Americans the Right to Know

Statement by Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator
Friday, July 24, 2015
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208,
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203,

“On Thursday, July 23, by a vote of 275 to 150, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1599, misleadingly titled ‘The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.’ More accurately dubbed the ‘Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,’ the bill flies in the face of public opinion by denying citizens  the right to choose what they eat and feed their families and throws out all state efforts to label genetically engineered (GE) food, such as the laws already passed in Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont.

This bill’s absurdity is immense: Although proponents say voluntary labeling is the solution, no companies have voluntarily opted to label their foods as GE. The Dark Act also ends states’ rights to regulate food labeling, and even more appallingly, it allows GE foods to be labeled as ‘natural.’

The House placed the interests of large corporate agribusiness above the interests of an overwhelming majority of the people they represent, who have consistently asked for the right to know if food contains GE ingredients.

A poll conducted by OEFFA in February found that 87 percent of Ohio voters, across partisan lines, support GE labeling. I encourage all Ohioans to take the opportunity to view how their representative voted on the bill and to let them know where they stand on this issue. A similar measure has yet to be introduced in the Senate and is expected to face a much tougher battle, so there’s still a chance for the public to make its voice heard.”

OEFFA reveals organic Ohio farm tour schedule for 2015, from goat cheese to chickens

By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer, 5/12/15

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Time to get your proverbial boots dusty. Fifteen organic farm tours – from chickens to vegetables and grains – are part of this year’s series organized by the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

Northeast Ohioans won’t have to travel far for several of them, including The Farmers’ Table, a farm-to-table dinner Aug. 30 at Maplestar Farm in Geauga County.

Muddy Fork Farm in Wayne County kicks off the schedule on June 3 with a demonstration of its pastured poultry research. On July 19, MorningSide Farm in Medina County opens its vegetable growing operation to everyone, especially those who buy from them at Cleveland-area farmers markets.

Nine events will turn into learning workshops, including poultry processing October 11 at Tea Hills Farms in Ashland County, a five-day solar energy class starting October 12 in Wayne County, and an urban agriculture exchange Oct. 24 at Ohio City Farm, Cleveland.

“This is a great chance for everyone interested in local foods to turn over a new leaf,” said OEFFA representative Lauren Ketcham. “They can learn how sustainably produced food is grown and connect with others who share a passion for sustainable agriculture.”

They also can learn, she said, about the life of a shepherd, how to control weeds without chemicals, see draft horses make sorghum into sweet syrup, sample local meats, cheeses and jams, and butcher their own poultry.

A list of all the programs, plus details and a statewide map, can be found online.

Ohio homesteaders and sustainability advocates feel good about kefir

By Vivian Goodman, WKSU News, 3/20/15

One of the world’s oldest elixirs is back in vogue. Kefir is a beverage made from fermented milk. Its health benefits remain largely unproven. But fans claim that drinking it makes them feel good.

Besides, it’s a local, sustainable, food source that can be made at home. In today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman delves into the drink.

Kefir is something like liquid yogurt.

It’s thick, white, creamy and bubbly and tastes tart, slightly sour and yeasty, like a cross between yogurt and buttermilk.

It’s one of the world’s oldest cultured milk products. Marco Polo himself sang its praises. And these days kefir’s being rediscovered by do-it-yourselfers and proponents of sustainable food systems.

Making converts to kefir

Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery led a kefir workshop at last month’s annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. He calls himself a “dairy evangelist.”

Before the workshop began, Taylor passed around buttons that read “Kefir: feel good.” The name derives from a Turkish word for well-being.

Taylor feels great, and hopes to convert others to what’s been his way of life for almost 40 years.

“I generally get up in the morning, my tummy’s pretty empty, I put about a quart of kefir in me. Goes deep, goes right through your stomach, and boom, right into your small intestines. Centuries ago this is how the herding people would consume their cultured products, big bowls of it. They would guzzle it.”

Centenarians of the Caucusus

Nomadic horsemen of the northern Caucasus mountains who drank the stuff reportedly lived past the century mark.

Some think the probiotic bacteria in kefir might be the reason why, but the only scientific proof of kefir’s medical benefits is a 2003 Ohio State University study that showed it curbed flatulence in those with lactose intolerance.

Reported rare side effects of drinking kefir include bloating, headache and acne.

Still, today it’s the most popular fermented milk in Russia, and in Uzbekistan, horse bladder saddle bags full of it still swing over front doors.

“You hang it in your doorway,” says Taylor, “and everyone who comes through the doorway slaps it, coming and going, to shake it and agitate it, and that makes it grow faster.”

It’s alive

It grows because it’s a living organism that you have to take care of every day.

“Real kefir is something that you keep like a pet.”

But Taylor says like many of the best things in life, real kefir can’t be bought.

“God can’t put kefir in a bottle,” says Taylor. “The stuff that’s in the store that’s called kefir is not kefir.”

Demonstrating how he says anyone can make it at home, Taylor strains foamy liquid through a colander to isolate kefir “grains.” He’ll share some with workshop participants.

“Pass that around. You can get a smell, get an idea. We’re going to put those in little bottles for you.”

The grains are a gelatinous mass of bacteria and yeast, a symbiotic community of microorganisms. The small, irregular, opaque clumps look like cottage cheese or cauliflower.

Once plopped into a quantity of milk, kefir grains ferment the liquid. Then they’re strained out and added to fresh milk for use in successive batches.

A renewable source of nutrition

Kefir is a self-perpetuating food source of somewhat mysterious origin.

It’s believed that all the kefir grains in the world today are babies of a mother culture that came out of the Caucasus mountains thousands of years ago.

Warren Taylor calls it an enigma.

“It only exists because of human beings, but nobody can make it. The most sophisticated dairy lab in the world can’t make you a real kefir culture. You have to get it from somebody.”

A question at the workshop: “Is there a ratio of grains to milk?”

“Good question,” Taylor replied. “It depends on the temperature that it’s going to be growing at, because the warmer it is, the less kefir you need to milk, to have it grow out in the same period of time. How vigorous are the grains, how good is the milk? All of these things. So you just kind of get to know your kefir.”

Sharing the grains and the method

You can drink it plain, but Taylor brought a blender and made the workshop participants a kefir smoothie.

“We’re going to put fresh strawberries, and blueberries. I like bananas.”

Warren Taylor learned about kefir at college in a dairy technology class, but it took two years of searching before he could get grains shipped to him from Holland.

“That was the beginning of my kefir culture, and this is the same culture I’m going to share with you all today. So I’ve been drinking this since 1978.”

How many people has he shared his culture with?

“In the last nearly 40 years, thousands. I think it’s a very fundamental human idea, to share.”

“You’re going to give us some today?”


“What am I going to do when I go home?”

“Put it in milk.”

“Well, how much?”

“Three parts milk to one part grains.”

“How long do you let it sit?”

“Until it coagulates, until it makes a gel, until it has acidity.”

“Like two hours?”

“Well, 24.”

Much longer than the 4 to 6 hours it takes to ferment yogurt.

“Kefir, buttermilk, sour cream,” says Taylor, “take more like 24 hours, room temperature.”

Slightly alcoholic when ripe

Letting it sit even longer on your kitchen counter is called ripening, and that’s what Rachel Baillieul often does.

“If you allow kefir to go on long enough you might get a little bit of an alcoholic taste,” she says, “or an effervescence.”

Baillieul is an urban homesteader farming on two acres of soil in Columbus.

“I’m a home cook who is unafraid to try anything. That’s what started me down this road of fermentation. “

She’s teaching a workshop on the culinary aspects of kefir.

“So this is kefir that’s actually gone a little bit far. I forgot to put it in the fridge when I came yesterday. So it needed one less day.”

The grains are edible, too

A question comes up about how to handle the grains.

“Do you typically always filter them out prior to consuming the kefir?”

“No. They are consumable. And you have to decide, am I going to eat them? Am I going to press them together to make a sort of cheese? Am I going to feed them to my animals? Am I going to pass them to friends?”

She says they can be stored in a little bit of milk or water in the refrigerator. “I just recently pulled some out that I had just in water for about three months. They were still alive.”

Baillieuil belongs to a growing kefir community.

“I’m one of those crazy people who has cultures. So if you need things let me know.”

Snowville Creamery’s Warren Taylor believes the local foods movement along with a new reverence for lost arts creates the perfect climate for the growth of a shared kefir culture.

“We’re rediscovering community in this country.”

Great River Organics Looks to Build Name for Organic Produce in Central Ohio

By Susan Post, The Metropreneur, 3/3/15

Collaboration can go a long way when you are a small business owner. It means more – more resources and more ways to reach your customers. As the movement to eat local and organic continue to grow, a group of eight Central Ohio farms are banding together to form Great River Organics.

“Great River [Organics] is a farmer-owned, non-profit corporation comprised of farmers in Central Ohio looking to expand local, certified-organic products,” says Adam Welly, co-founder of Wayward Seed Farm, one of the members.GROlogo

“Our farm individually is never going to feed all of the people here in Columbus,” says fellow Co-Founder Jaime Moore. “We need a real collaborative effort.”

GRO aligns the values of these farmers, all of which are certified organic or are pending certification, with ambitious goals.

“We feel like we’re setting a really good example of what Ohio farming can be,” Welly says. “We think that this idea of creating a local, organic brand is really, really important for both Central Ohio and the wider region.”

In addition to Wayward, Sippel Family Farm, Rock Dove Farm, Sunbeam Family Farm, Harvest Sun Farms, Toad Hill Farms, Clay Hill Farms and Dangling Carrot Farm are a part of the co-op. While some of the farms were already certified organic, making sure each farm met the standards was an important part of the foundation. Welly says it gives them transparency in their processes, and a clear stance on what they stand for as they broach multiple markets.

Currently, the operation is focused mainly on the direct to consumer market, making their produce accessible through their multi-farm CSA known as The Great River Market Bag. The eight-product CSA is a mix of everyday staples and a few unique items.

“We only grew a few items for GRO in 2014, which meant we could focus on doing it really well,” says Kristy Ryan of Clay Hill Farms. “We think the quality of produce going into the CSA is phenomenal because each farm gets the freedom to grow the items that they specialize in growing.”

The CSA is delivered to about 20 community partners, mostly corporations, and includes the likes of Nationwide, Cardinal Health and Limited Brands. GRO’s collaborative effort allows the organization to extend a traditional 20-week CSA into 30 weeks starting in June and ending around Christmas, which means closer to year-round fresh, local produce.

The group is working on some other CSA options like every-other-week pickup or a peak-season selection.

“We’ve taken a lot of feedback from our customers and we’re trying to give people a wider number of options to take part,” Welly says.


Although the CSA is the anchor of GRO, wholesale of certified organic produce is in the long-term plans. The organization is just trying to be thoughtful in the way that they grow.

“A lot of people want to buy our product, but we believe it’s smarter for us to work in the framework of what our farmers are capable of right now,” Moore says. It ensures that customers are getting the highest quality of goods. And, it takes time to expand as a farming operation.

In addition to a steady outlet for their produce, member farms are also finding huge marketing advantages as a part of GRO.

“Great River provides the farmer a network of support and marketing ability that opens up an array of opportunities that otherwise would not be available to them as an individual organic producer,” says Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm.

Ryan echoes Dilbone’s sentiments. Being a young, growing farm in rural area, “While it is very nice to live a quiet, rural life, the downside is we don’t have access to good markets,” Ryan says. “Joining GRO allowed us to pursue our farm dream and gain market share. We can enjoy the stability and benefits that CSAs offer farms, without the pressure of ‘going it alone,’ especially this early in our career.”

Overall, GRO wants to bring awareness to and help grow the local food system.

“Local agriculture needs as much support as it can get to maintain economic viability and compete with the pressures of cheaply produced “corporate organics” that are imported from other countries that we see flooding the shelves at the grocery store,” Dilbone says. “GRO provides much-needed support to local organic farmers who work diligently to provide an alternative food option that travels far less miles to your dinner plate, and with much more quality and flavor.”

“I want people to crave that information and the value and the quality of products that we offer,” Moore adds. “I want people to crave that as much as we do.”

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