Ohio farmers new to sustainable agriculture can get a leg up on the learning curve with the help of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
The non-profit organization, established in 1979, works to promote and support the sustainable agriculture community in Ohio from producers to consumers including those new to farming. OEFFA assists new farmers through a variety of networking events, an apprenticeship program, and an investment fund created to encourage the expansion of sustainable farming practices.
Renee Hunt, Education Program Director at OEFFA, has seen an increase in the number of farmers who choose to manage their farms sustainably in the past several years, and has expanded educational programming to meet this need.
“It’s great when newer farmers don’t have to go through the learning curve,” says Hunt. “I recently overheard a workshop presenter comment, ‘It took me ten years to figure this out.’ He’s sharing his knowledge, so the people learning from him don’t have to wait those ten years.”
Sustainable and organic farmers in the Buckeye state connect annually at OEFFA’s two-day conference, which features keynote speakers, educational tracks and workshops, and a large trade show. The 2014 conference will take place February 15-16 in Granville, Ohio.
Ohio farmers also network through a dozen OEFFA-sponsored farm tours throughout the year.
“We tap different types of farming operations—urban, grain growers, product growers, value-added, livestock, and dairy,” Hunt said. “The farm tours are a great way for farmers of all experience levels to see and learn how others are approaching their particular farm, as well as to talk directly with other farmers.”
Ben and Emily Jackle, owners of Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon, Ohio, appreciate the networking opportunities OEFFA has provided them. Their farm was established in 2007 and became certified organic through the OEFFA in 2010.
“Our farm has benefited most from our association with OEFFA and the opportunities to see other farmers’ operations,” says Ben Jackle. “We’ve learned more through OEFFA-sponsored farm tours and workshops than we have through any other means.”
Networking among farmers often leads to collaboration. To facilitate on-site learning and hands-on experience in farming techniques, OEFFA founded an apprentice program that Hunt describes as “a bit like a dating service” for farmers. Prospective apprentices and host farmers both fill out applications on the OEFFA website. The applications are approved, and then posted online where both apprentices and host farmers can view them. Either party can make the first contact. Membership in OEFFA is not necessary, but there are added fees for non-members.
Hunt hopes that more established farmers join the program and pass on their know-how to the next generation. “We currently have more apprentices than host farms,” she notes.
Learning to farm is one thing; finding the financing to get started is another. In 2012, a group of local Ohio investors created the OEFFA Investment Fund to support the growth of sustainable agriculture in Ohio and provide needed capital to farmers. The fund provides an additional avenue for those who are having trouble getting financing through traditional sources. Farmers must be certified in sustainable and organic practices and a member of OEFFA to apply for funding. Funds can be used to improve or expand their business, make repairs to equipment or property, pay for short-term operating needs, or cope with an emergency such as a fire or natural disaster.
Hunt observes that farmers with an ecological bent are often resistant to the idea of taking out loans, especially if they are just beginning.
“A lot of sustainable and organic farmers are hesitant to take on debt,” she says. “Many new farmers don’t have the business background to understand how to build in expenses or make capital investments.”
Part of OEFFA’s mission is to help new farmers overcome such barriers, she says.
“We have evolved as an organization to be more supportive of young farmers,” says Hunt. “But we are here to advocate for the needs of all sustainable and organic farmers in our state.”
Every Tuesday, Sylvania resident Amy Ormsey picks up her bushel bag of mixed vegetables form the Gust Brother’s Farm stand at the Sylvania’s downtown market.
For $375, her family receive various in-season vegetables, picked that morning. For $31.25 a week, the Ormsey family has enough vegetables from kale to squash to feed the five-member family.
This week’s supply brought them broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, yellow zucchini, summer squash, and green beans, just to name a few.
The arrangement is called community supported agriculture, where people subscribe for the right to buy fresh produce and other products from nearby farmers.
Part of the exchange of dealing directly with the brothers of Gust Farms in Ottawa Lake, Mich., which has been in the Gust family for 100 years, is building a strong relationship with her farmer and food producer.
“Jake Gust has knowledge about the vegetables and also gives me recipe ideas,” she said.
Participating in a monthly or seasonal subscription for the seasonal crops of a local farm has economic benefits for the farm and patrons. Such community support agriculture has a “we’re in this together” attitude, said Lauren Ketcham, communications coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
She explained that it helps out local farmers because they receive a payment early in the growing season when they make a bulk of their farm investments and because they have a guaranteed market for some of their products.
Subscribers for the produce feel connected to the farmer and aware of how the season’s region, weather, and soil can impact food production, she said. There are 94 such community supported agriculture programs in Ohio, she said.
There are 22 participants in the Bust Farms’ community supported agriculture program, and more than half are from Sylvania. The 12-week program began in June with customers receiving the ripe vegetables of the week. Past weeks were kale, Swiss chard, and broccoli.
The five members of the Ormsey family spend Tuesday nights learning about the latest batch of vegetables, and preparing them together. The Ormseys supplement grocery story items with locally grown food.
“It’s amazing to have my children see the plants after they’ve been pulled out of the ground,” Mrs. Ormsey said. She grew up in the country so was familiar with the origins of the food she ate. But for her children, who live in Sylvania and Toledo, had never seen a celery stalk in all its leafy splendor before, she said.
“Now they know where celery comes from and that peas don’t come from a can.” she said. For her son Adam, 14, the family ritual of cleaning and cooking the fresh food together has turned him onto produce. “He is the picky one, but since we have been in the CSA, he said the food has more flavor than what’s in the store. He’s eating more vegetables.”
The Bust Farm allows customers to come to their stand and fill either a bushel for $375 or a half-bushel for $200 with that weeks vegetables. Mr. Gust expects eggplant, onions, potatoes, and lettuce to be ripe in the next weeks.
Because each program is run different and includes different types of produce, it is hard to the cost of buying such food through the program versus going to a grocery store, Ms. Ketcham said.
Mr. Gust harvests the vegetables, which are sprayed once to save the crop from invasive insects and animals the day they are sold.
This is the first year the Gust brothers, Joe, Nate, Dave and Jake have dedicated about 1.5 acres of land on a farm that was once the home of their late grandma Marian to the food given to subscriber vegetables.
Also on the land, are two pregnant Berkshire pigs, a rare prized breed, which after they give birth will be humanely-slaughtered for pork that will be added as a meat option in the fall to the Community Supported Agriculture, Joe Gust said. Cows also are being raised for the same purpose.
For more information about Gust Farms and the Community Supported Agriculture program, visit www.gustbrothers.com
Watch this highlight video featuring OEFFA Executive Director, Carol Goland, and Mike Laughlin of Northridge Organic Farm. They joined Jack Lessenberry on WGTE’s Deadline Now on August 16, 2013 to talk about organic food and farming issues. The full 30 minute interview is available here.
You’ll find plenty of sweet corn in local markets this summer. You may even find some Ohio-grown corn on local farm stands as early as this week.
Just don’t hang your hat on finding it everywhere, or at windfall prices.
It’s a bit early to solidly predict the 2012 harvest of local sweet corn. Extended periods of high heat can be beneficial to corn crops. But low rainfall could prove destructive.
“We are thinking it may be one of the earliest seasons on record,” says Paula Szalay, whose family operates Szalay’s Farm in Peninsula.
Corn likes heat, Szalay says. Coupled with the higher water levels available on her family farm on Riverview Road in the Cuyahoga Valley, “the corn is using [both] to its advantage,” she says.
But if the recent dry weather persists, it could herald big problems, farmers agree.
Statewide, according to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Columbus, this year’s sweet corn crop could end up being “only 50 or 60 percent of normal yields,” according to spokeswoman Lauren Ketcham.
“The hot, dry weather really affects pollination, but it is sometimes hard to forecast yields until farmers start picking and see the condition of the ears,” wrote Ketcham in an email.
Conditions are less than desirable east of Cleveland, says Craig Sirna, owner of Sirna’s Farm & Market in Auburn.
“As far as I know, everyone out in these parts is behind because of the drought,” says Sirna.
“We haven’t had ANY rain to speak of,” he says. “I think I’ve had less than a quarter-inch of rain over the past three weeks — and other [growers] are measuring by the tenths of inches.
“I don’t even know how my corn is growing,” Sirna adds.
According to OEFFA, a membership-based, grass-roots organization whose mission is “promoting and supporting sustainable, ecological and healthful food systems,” early plantings of corn generally fare better than later plantings. Residual water in the ground from winter snowfall and spring rains is a boon to initial seedlings, but it must be replaced by seasonal rains.
“But [corn crops are] all under stress right now,” Ketcham writes. “Those farmers who can irrigate their crops are spending a lot of time and money to get water to them.”
Irrigation is a salvation of sorts for Pochedly Farms in Mantua, says family member Jeff Pochedly. But it costs significant money to move water to fields, he adds.
“So far this year we’ve spent about $2,000 on diesel fuel, just on irrigation alone,” Pochedly says. “And you have all the wear-and-tear on the irrigation equipment.
“But still you can’t cover everything — and it’s not like having natural rain,” he adds.
Critical stages of development, such as when the corn starts to tassel and when the ears begin to fill with enlarging kernels, are when significant rainfall matters most.
But rain also has to span several, staggered plantings. Most farmers plant sweet corn in phases to ensure a steady supply of the crop through a season that extends into early fall. Those “critical stages” repeat several times each season for subsequent plantings.
Which means forecasting this year’s harvest involves equal parts agricultural expertise, hope and guesswork.
The Pochedlys, who sell corn to the Heinen’s supermarket chain, are several days from picking the 80-acre spread the family cultivates in Portage County. They just wrapped up their eighth and final planting of the season. For now, it’s a matter of sitting back and hoping for a few stretches of good rainfall.
“There won’t be a lot of volume until the first week of August,” says Pochedly. If all goes well, he adds, the days surrounding Labor Day will be a big weekend.
Szalay of the Peninsula family farm remains philosophical.
“The best-laid plans don’t always come through,” she says. “But right now, we’re hopeful.”
It’s not easy to start a farm, especially if you’re young and money is tight.
On Monday night, Granville High School Environmental classes, in conjunction with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Heart of Ohio Chapter, presented a meal, a movie called “GROW!” and a panel discussion of half a dozen local young farmers to showcase the challenges young farmers face in getting started in the business.
Shopping at local farmers markets, joining community-supported agriculture food subscription suppliers and urging local and national legislators to support policies and programs supporting beginning farmers were suggested as ways to help them.
“Also, if people have land they aren’t using, there are farm programs they can lease or property out to young farmers,” said Bryn Bird, of Bird’s Haven Farm near Granville.
The movie “GROW!” showed the rewards and the challenges of farming. It was a look at the new generation of sustainable farming though the eyes of 20 “passionate, idealistic and fiercely independent young growers.”
In the movie, young farmers from various parts of the country made comments like, “I feel like it’s doing something real” and “Real jobs are hard to come by these days, and I feel like this is the realest job of all.”
Another concluded: “I can only imagine a world where farmers are upheld like doctors and where every fourth person is a farmer again.”
Jim Reding, the environmental science teacher at GHS and the person in charge of the school’s organic garden, echoed that thought afterward.
“One of the things we discuss in class is if we’re going to feed the world, we need to get more people involved,” he said. “Whether that means you’re a farmer or you’re gardening in your backyard, both of those are going to be necessary.”
“We need to go back to where most of the population grows food,” Reding said. “Whether it’s something they consume themselves or put out there on the market, it doesn’t really matter.”
The panel members all were local young farmers. When asked about the biggest challenge to young farmers, Anton Sarossy-Christon, owner of Terravita Farm, said, “A lack of mentors. We read a lot of books, we read a lot of blogs, and we make a lot of mistakes.”
Ches Stewart, an apprentice at Bird’s Haven Farm, said, “I’m broke. I think that’s the best way to describe a young farmer.”
Bird described how she dealt with a corporate food supplier who was reluctant to start a local food line, calling it a “trend.” Bird, recalling that her mother remembered a day when grocery stores were not the dominant food source in society, said, “This isn’t a trend. The trend is the grocery store.”
The Birds, she said, just were accepted into the National Farmer’s Union Beginning Farmer’s Institute, one of 10 chosen nationally to travel around country to learn from other farmers.
Monday night’s event was attended by about 100 people in the high school cafeteria area.
“We wanted to interest young people to farm,” said Chuck Dilbone, the business manager for Granville schools and, most recently, a farmer. He and his family started Sunbeam Family Farm in Alexandria.
“I think also one of my main reasons is to get the community to support young farmers, maybe open up somebody’s land where people can farm, or to mentor young people. I think that’s my number one goal,” Dilbone said.
When we asked the question—What is Local Food?—a few weeks ago to our friends and colleagues in our community, we received thoughtful, compelling responses. The question emerged in celebration of Local Foods Week. But as we said—every week is local foods week.
We hope you enjoying their ideas as much as we do. What is Local Food to you?
“There’s no standard definition of a “local” food system; instead, it’s a nuanced continuum, which can be measured less in miles than by the results it achieves.
The biggest advantage to buying locally is that it helps create a sense of community and establishes regional food systems which keep money in the community, protect farmland, create local jobs, and support alternative, innovative farming systems. Supporting local farmers also helps consumers get to know who raises their food, enabling them to better understand food production. This relationship also helps keep farmers tuned into the needs of their customers.
Freshness and variety is another aspect of local. When you buy food grown locally that is fresh, flavors will be at their peak. But, for fruits and vegetables, buying locally grown food may also help preserve crop biodiversity. The produce we get through conventional channels are chosen because they ship well and have a relatively long shelf life. In contrast, farmers who sell their products locally have the freedom to choose varieties because they taste good. That’s one reason why, when you go to the farmers market, you can see a mind-blowing variety of tomatoes and other produce!Local doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable, however. Method of production is critical. You could purchase sweet corn grown within 5 miles of your house, but if it was grown using GE seed and Roundup, while you may be strengthening your local economy, you’re do so at the expense of the environment and the health of the soil.
Surprisingly, transporting food accounts for comparatively little of the energy used in our food system. Production practices, specifically the use of chemical inputs, dwarfs the impacts of transportation distance. So, for consumers concerned about the environmental impacts of their food choices, it is important to consider not just shipping distance, but the method of production as well.”
~~Lauren Ketcham, Ohio Ecological Food & Farming Association
“My own very personal opinion regarding the definition of “local” when it comes to a food product depends on the product itself. Some products travel better than others. In general, we try to support Ohio grown, produced and manufactured products. After that, made in the USA is preferred to imported products.
I understand the need to define the term, and I frankly resent companies that are not even regional calling themselves local. I have heard someone (Joel Salatin, maybe?) describe “local” as any place that can be reached with a round trip in one day. This is how we justify having our milk in the DC area. If we used the 100-mile radius criteria, we would barely make it to Columbus; Cincinnati and Cleveland would be out of bounds.
There are many products that we use which can not be produced locally or even regionally: coffee, cocoa, tea, quinoa, and oranges, to name but a few. Having said that, I do try to get products that were produced closest to home or produced under the most ethical conditions.
Here in the Athens area we are blessed with a wonderful year round Farmers’ Market. Most of our food bill is spent there on fresh local fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and eggs. The quality and variety of vegetables and seasonal fruits compete with the selection at any grocery store. Our Farmers’ Market even has a coffee roaster from the next county who sources her coffee beans only from ethical producers, Lorraine Walker of Silver Bridge Coffee Co. We also have the Tea Lady, Maureen Burns-Hooker from Herbal Sage Tea Co. who makes a variety of exceptional tea blends. There are now growers of staple crops, Shagbark Seed and Mill Co., who are growing corn, spelt and beans. Both Laurel Valley Creamery and Integration Acres make wonderful cheeses, and thanks to Shade Winery we only have to pop over a few hills to get a really decent bottle of wine. Needless to say, we get our milk even closer to home.
I have been a “health nut” all of my adult life but had never found such high quality raw ingredients until we moved here. Who could have known that living in Appalachia would allow us to eat like kings?
So, I guess I would have to say that a round trip in one day is local; one way in one day is regional.
How fast do you drive?”
~~Victoria Taylor, Snowville Creamery
“Local food is a study in community and all the elements involved in community. It’s a study in local economy, land stewardship, education, nutrition, health, and fun. It’s not a new phenomenon although it did fall off of the landscape for quite some time in our urban communities. Local agriculture is back at the forefront of American culture. It doesn’t need to be complex or cute. It needs to effective and serve its purpose of feeding our community highly nutritious and healthy food. It’s an American tradition and should simply be supported and celebrated. . The idea is to help our urban communities live healthier lifestyles while adding to the vitality of our rural farmers and urban artisans.”
Carol Goland & Laura Zimmerman
August 3, 2011
This Week Clintonville
A good dinner can satisfy more than just your appetite.
Farmers markets are a critical part of creating sustainable food systems which nourish our bodies, our communities, our local economy and our environment.
On any given Saturday, if you visit the Clintonville Farmers Market in Columbus, you’ll see streams of families with wagons, baskets and reusable bags brimming with meats and cheese, local produce and fresh baked goods; farmers under shade tents, chatting with customers; bouquets of flowers in every color of the rainbow; and chef demonstrations and workshops showcasing how to enjoy and preserve the tastes of the season.
National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 7-13, gives us an opportunity to celebrate this important and rapidly growing segment of the agricultural economy in Ohio.
Since the nonprofit Clintonville Farmers Market opened in 2003, the number of producers, customers and space has quadrupled. An estimated 40,000 or more customers visit the market each year, generating close to $750,000 for the local economy. A record 67 producers are part of the market’s 2011 season, bringing fruit, vegetables, cheese, honey, grains, grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range meat of all kinds, eggs, maple syrup, mushrooms, sprouts, artisan breads and baked goods, jams, flowers, plants and more to area residents.
According to the USDA, the Clintonville Farmers Market is just one of at least 288 farmers markets in Ohio, up from 213 just one year ago. Since 1994, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has grown from 1,755 to 7,902 in 2010 – a 350-percent increase. Nationally, these markets generate more than $1 billion in sales.
The boom in farmers markets parallels a larger trend in consumer demand and growth in the organic foods and products. The organic industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010. While the rest of the economy is in a slow-down, the organic industry continues to grow, supporting 14,540 organic farms and ranches in the U.S., many of which continue to expand and add employees to keep pace with growing demand.
Although Ohio has lost more than 6.9 million acres of farmland to development over the past five decades, or about 15 acres an hour for the last 50 years, Ohio’s farmers markets are helping to preserve Ohio’s farmland and rural heritage by providing low-cost entry points for small, mid-size and beginning farmers to incubate their businesses. With the help of farmers markets, more farmers are choosing to stay in agriculture, and by selling direct to consumers, these farmers keep more of their profits and are able to make a better living from farming.
At the Clintonville Farmers Market, one-quarter of the farmers are under 40 years old and approximately 90 percent of the market’s producers are start-up and small farming operations.
Farmers markets are about connection. At farmers markets, customers can meet and talk with the farmers who grow their food. Customers tell the farmers what they want, what they enjoy eating, and how they prepare food; farmers tell the customer what grows in Ohio, how it was grown and when it was harvested. The community of farmers, customers, neighboring shops and residents, cooks, and musicians join together in the timeless celebration of the harvest that comes from our surrounding land.
Farmers markets also deliver some of the freshest, most delicious ingredients available for food lovers of all stripes. Locally grown organic fruits and vegetables found at farmers markets are usually harvested within 24 hours of being purchased by the consumer. Produce from California can’t be that fresh and it doesn’t taste as good, either.
At the height of the season, now is a great time to experience one of Ohio’s farmers markets, which are helping farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system one meal at a time.
It was spitting rain on an overcast, windy Saturday in mid-April when we reached the State Street exit to Athens, off Ohio 33.
We had heard that the Athens Farmers Market was one of the best open-air food bazaars in the Midwest, and despite our muted expectations for fresh produce this early in the season, my family and I decided to make the hour-and-a-half trek from Columbus.
We found the market in a strip-center parking lot along an uninspiring drag strewn with big-box retailers and fast-food joints that looked like Anytown, USA. There was an Arby’s across the road and a Walmart down the street, but nary a farm in sight. Yet we came to realize, while spending a couple of days in this Appalachian enclave, that one of Ohio’s poorest counties is a blossoming destination for food lovers and a glimmer of hope for sustainable living.
Thanks partly to an endeavor dubbed the “30 Mile Meal,” Athens County has fast become a shining example of local-food sourcing, making a visit a feel-good exercise in conservation.
Rena Loebker of Crumbs Bakery, a regular at the Athens Farmers Market, serves pizza topped with vegetables purchased from the market.
It’s about a meal at Casa Nueva, a trendy restaurant in downtown Athens that sources most of its ingredients from nearby purveyors. It’s a drive through Southeast Ohio’s Appalachian foothills to a microwinery for a sip of organic elderberry wine. It’s a tour of Snowville Creamery, a local farm that produces nonhomogenized, fresh milk and cream.
But mostly it’s about the market, a colorful exchange featuring the bounty of nearby farmers and other merchants hawking fresh eggs, produce, honey, baked goods, meats and cheeses.
We pulled up on the paved lot near a Goody’s department store and strolled over to see two rows of vendors offering bunches of carrots and French breakfast radishes just plucked from the garden, pretty jars of golden, maple syrup and barbecue sauce made with local honey and peppers.
The 30 mile meal
Audubon Magazine named the market one of the nation’s best. It’s open every Saturday year-round and on Wednesdays during the summer.
“I like supporting the local farmers, and I love coming to the market,” said Elizabeth Atwell of Athens, who was carrying a box of spinach and kale plants for her garden. “It’s a great atmosphere, and it’s delicious.”
Our first market stop was a coffee kiosk and drive-through that exceeded our expectations for a hot cup of java. Brew du Soleil Espresso Cafe, run by Ken and Maria Jackson, had a chalkboard chock-full of espresso-based drinks, smoothies and teas. My husband opted for a Muddy Monkey, a double espresso laced with the cafe’s own banana syrup and topped off with chocolate sauce drizzled over a thick heap of crema made from milk supplied by Snowville Creamery in nearby Pomeroy. I had a Snowville Mud Puddle, a similarly rich concoction. We quickly downed the perked-up potions and joined the diverse crowd perusing the market stands.
We encountered a farmer selling free-range eggs from the back of a van, a barefoot patron walking on the rain-soaked pavement with a bouquet of broccoli in her hand, and a fellow playing harmonica while collecting donations in a flower pot. “Be a hero for $2,” he said, adding that the money is used to help provide healthy food to local school cafeterias, homeless shelters and food banks.
We packed a picnic at the market, which included a yummy vegetarian pizza from Crumbs Bakery. The business is located in the ACEnet Community Kitchen, where entrepreneurs share space, techniques and ambitions. Crumbs owner Jeremy Bowman told me he used ingredients he purchased from other vendors at the farmers market to make our lunch, like cornmeal from Shagbark Mill in Athens and feta cheese from Integration Acres in Albany.
It’s a prime example of the 30-mile meal concept, which highlights the advantages of local-food harvesting. Developed by the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), and based loosely on the growing “100 Mile Meal” movement, it features foods from more than 130 local producers.
A visit to 30milemeal.com reveals an interactive map to locate food purveyors of many types.
“As citizen eaters, we make choices of what we put on our forks each day,” said Leslie Schaller of ACEnet and a Casa Nueva co-founder. “It’s really essential for our economy, our planet and our social cohesion in our communities to be more conscious of where that food comes from.”
We then headed to Shade Winery, Athens County’s only winery, where owners Neal and Oui Dix produce wines from vidal blanc, chardonnay, cabernet franc and syrah grapes. Neal Dix is especially proud of his elderberry wine, which, as he describes, is “a serious, dry wine — not Kool-Aid.”
Dix, originally from Westlake, opened a tasting room last fall in a newly built, comfortable lodge. He offers cheese and crackers made by Integration Acres and welcomes visitors to bring along their own meals to his “simple and original” winery.
After our lunch, we checked into our room for the night at a local B&B. It took some patience and expert navigation by my husband, Mike, to find Sand Ridge Bed and Breakfast in Millfield, but it was worth the effort.
Owner Connie Davidson showed us around her restored 19th-century farmhouse set on a seven-acre plot landscaped with native plants and a butterfly garden. She offers two bedrooms with full baths and a library, and she serves a breakfast boasting local ingredients.
We headed back into town for dinner at Casa Nueva, amid the hopping strip of nightlife that Athens, home of Ohio University, is known for. A crowded bar on one side of a dividing wall melds seamlessly with a narrow, lively restaurant on the other. Schaller calls the Mexican-inspired cuisine “slow food,” built around ingredients from about 50 local producers.
Casa Nueva opened in 1985 as a cooperative owned by its workers, who serve a seasonal menu. In the height of the growing season, they flash-freeze local produce to preserve its taste, color and nutrients. All the entrees and baked goods are made from scratch, and the bar features several brews from Jackie O’s, a microbrewery a couple of streets over.
Laid-back people,unhurried food
The establishment’s unhurried pace reflects the careful preparation of the food as well as the laid-back attitude of the people who live in the area. Athens, after all, is a college town in rural Appalachia, and there’s evidence of the ’60s back-to-the-land vibe.
“Now you can’t really tell the hippies from the fourth-generation farmers,” Schaller says.
Our meals had locally grown black beans and cornmeal. Most of the ingredients in my refreshing rice salad, with vegan soy sesame dressing, also were grown locally. Berries used in some of the salsas were frozen at ACEnet’s facilities.
Schaller says many of her suppliers belong to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a statewide group of organic farmers. The quality is evident, and it’s easy to see why Casa Nueva has such a dedicated local following.
After dinner we drove back to Sand Ridge, where a chorus of peeping frogs on the property’s pond interrupted the country quietude. Their shrill filled the nighttime sky as we entered the house.
We climbed under quilted covers, and before long awoke to the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. Davidson, dressed in a colorful, apron-topped outfit punctuated by spunky cowboy boots, greeted us cordially and offered us cups of Silver Bridge Coffee, produced by a mom-and-pop company based in Gallipolis.
Davidson cracked brown eggs — “from the farmer down the road” — into a frying pan and began to scramble them. She topped them off with her own homegrown herbs and goat cheese from Integration Acres. The cheese is made of milk produced by a herd of grazing goats on a farm known for its pawpaw trees, which are native to the area.
Integration Acres lays claim to producing more pawpaws than anywhere else in the world. It ships pawpaw products around the United States and sells them at the local farmers market. Athens celebrates the papaya-like fruit each September during the Ohio Pawpaw Festival.
I spread some spicy pawpaw jelly on a piece of bread that Davidson purchased the day before at the farmers market. Delightful.
Before heading back to Columbus, we visited the Village Bakery and Cafe in downtown Athens to take a bite of Appalachia home with us.
Inside is the Undercover Market, bulging with local farmstead cheeses, grass-fed meats and Snowville Creamery milk — tastes that are well worth the drive. Just don’t forget to bring along a cooler.
Want to know nearly everything there is to know about local, sustainable, organic agriculture? Look no further than right here in Columbus, at the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA). I had a chance to chat with its Executive Director, Dr. Carol Goland, about the organization and its goals.
Michael Daniels: What is OEFFA in a nutshell? Carol Goland: Formed in 1979, the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) is a grassroots coalition of nearly 3,000 farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers, and others who share a desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, helps preserve farmland, offers food security for all Ohioans, and creates economic opportunities for our rural communities. OEFFA developed and began operating an organic certification program in 1981, and is currently one of the largest USDA-accredited certifying agents, last year certifying over 600 organic farms and processors. OEFFA provides education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic food systems, helping farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system, one meal at a time.
MD: What are the advantages to sourcing food locally for both grocery consumers and restaurateurs? CG: The number one advantage of buying food grown locally is that it is fresh – flavors will be at their peak, so the bottom line is: they taste better. But there are some other important advantages, ones that may be less obvious. For fruits and vegetables, buying locally grown food may help preserve crop biodiversity – that vast array of varieties of each and every crop that was planted a hundred years ago but not so much anymore. The reason is that the varieties of produce we get through conventional channels are chosen because they ship well and have a relatively long shelf life. In contrast, farmers who sell their products locally have the freedom to choose varieties because they taste good. That’s one reason why, when you go to the farmers market, you can see a mind-blowing variety of tomatoes and other produce! Buying locally grown food also allows you to support your neighbor, keep money in your community, and help protect farmland by making farming more profitable.
MD: What’s so special about certified organic food? Is it really better for you than non-organic certified? Is it worth the cost differential? CG: I don’t think I’m in a position to tell anyone whether or not it’s “worth” the cost differential. That seems to me to be a personal decision for each individual. For myself, I’d rather spend my money on organic food for my family than for cable television or the latest fashions, but that’s about my values, and I’m not going to impose them on anyone else.
I feel more comfortable answering your question about what’s special about certified organic and what it’s benefits are. I think most people, think of organic food simply as “food grown without chemicals.” That’s a good start, but it’s incomplete. In general, the national organic regulations allow the use of natural materials and prohibit the use of synthetics in food production. There are a few exceptions, however. Strychnine is natural, but it’s not allowed in organic production. Some synthetic materials are allowed but only after they’ve been carefully reviewed with respect to their effect on human health and on the farm ecosystem, their level of toxicity, availability of alternatives, probability of environmental contamination during manufacturing, use and disposal, and so on. So aspirin, though synthetic, is allowed to reduce inflammation in organic livestock, and newspaper, likewise not ‘natural,” can be used for mulch in production.
Many people also know that organic production prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms. But less apparent, I think, to many consumers is that it’s not just about what you can or can’t use. Organic farmers are required to maintain or improve the condition of the soil, minimize soil erosion, promote biodiversity, and protect other natural resources such as air and water. The definition of organic agriculture used by the National Organic Standards Board makes this clear: “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”
Organic farmers yearly must develop an organic system plan that shows how they are going to achieve this. That plan is reviewed by a USDA-accredited certifier (there are about 50 in the country) who determines whether or not the plan is in compliance with the rules of organic production. If so, then the certifier sends out a third party, independent inspector to verify that the information on the plan is accurate. The inspector may spend 4 to 6 hours on the farm. The inspector then writes a report to the certifier, who makes a final determination and issues an organic certificate. Or not. And the farmer has to do this every year.
So what’s so special? First, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the label “organic” is the most highly verified eco-label out there. That reflects the grassroots origins of organics, which persists today, and how strongly the people involved with organics care about the integrity of the label. Organics is also, hands down, the gold standard of environmental stewardship for agricultural production. Looking at our own health, the average American is exposed to 10 to 13 pesticide residues each day from food, beverages, and drinking water. And while the levels are quite low in most cases, this isn’t always the case, and is of special concern during particularly vulnerable phases, such as during pregnancy and in the first years of life. Consuming organics is a special opportunity to protect our babies and children. Finally, there is mounting evidence that organic foods may be more nutritionally dense, which makes sense given the attention to building healthy soil.
MD: Is the local and organic model viable in large metropolitan areas? Can available farmland, using organic and alternative methods of raising food (both vegetable and livestock) meet the demand, or is some factory/large-scale farming necessary? CG: Viable? Absolutely. In fact, I think Ohio is perfectly positioned for this development. We have more metropolitan areas than any other state in the country. Each one of those is surrounded by productive farmland. This is the perfect geography for developing a locally-based food system. And as far as organics goes, there’s no reason why it can’t be a viable way of feeding our urban populations. In fact, I would argue it’s the only way, given that the alternative, with all the environmental degradation, reliance on fossil fuels, and human health impacts, simply is not sustainable. Organic yields are often – though not always – equivalent to those of conventional production systems. And if our research institutions and federal agencies would devote more research attention to organic production (right now funding of organic research is less than 1% of all agricultural research), there’s no telling what organics could achieve. I don’t think that scale necessarily has to be the defining characteristic here – “large scale” is not, inherently, a good or bad thing. Rather, we need to be making choices based on what kind of system is capable of producing food that is best for the environment, for farm animals, for our communities, and for the people who consume its products.
MD: What legislation is pending (in Ohio and/or nationally) that OEFFA is following closely and what would be the impact? What legislation, if any, do you plan to propose in the near future? CG: Right now, we’re gearing up for the Farm Bill: every 5 years Congress write a new Farm Bill, which really ought to be called the “Food Bill,” because what gets written there ends up determining, to a surprising extent, what our food choices are. I can’t overstate what its impact is. There aren’t that many farmers in our country and there are even fewer that are producing for local markets using ecological and organic methods. So everyone needs to get involved with that process to ensure that we get policies that promote rather than hinder sustainable family farms and consumer choice.
MD: How can our readers learn more about OEFFA? What resources, programs, and memberships do you offer? CG: I encourage all your readers to check out our website (www.oeffa.org) and follow us on Facebook (www.oeffa.org/facebook) and Twitter (twitter.com/oeffa). We have individual and family membership, as well as discounted student memberships. The benefits of membership include a subscription to the information-packed newsletter (published quarterly), voting privileges in the organization, networking opportunities, access to our apprenticeship program, our local food guide: the Good Earth Guide to Ecological Farms and Gardens, invitations to OEFFA’s educational workshops, summer farm tours, and discounted admission to our annual conference and other educational events. OEFFA has chapters around the state that get together to support each other and collaborate on various projects. Our Capital Chapter, based in Franklin County, is very active and comprised of some really great folks.
Andrea, Off Her Cork
This article originally appeared at Off Her Cork at http://offhercork.com/2011/01/oeffa-winter-warmer-fundraiser/.
Last Saturday night Scott and I had the wonderful chance to attend our first OEFFA event! As you know, I’m a big supporter of the Eat Local movement. About becoming more involved in being aware of where exactly your food comes from, who’s providing, and how they are getting it to you. I’m still extremely new and am constantly trying to learn more about Ohio and what all we have available to us.
It turns out that we have a lot! Being a Midwest state and having a varying climate along with a decent landscape means that not only is Ohio able to support multiple kinds of livestock, it can support agriculture as well. This means that we have access to some of the very best meat and produce in the country.
Not to mention, wine, fruits, and maple syrup.
Ohio has it all and I’m determined to learn as much as I can and pass along that information to you. This way we can all make better informed choices about what we eat and where we get it.
Because I want to learn, I decided that attending an OEFFA event would be a great step in finding out information.
OEFFA stands for, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. From the website, this blurb describes them perfectly:
The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) was formed in 1979 and is a membership-based, grassroots organization, dedicated to promoting and supporting sustainable, ecological, and healthful food systems.
The best way to learn more about the local food scene is to talk to those that provide it, right?
Saturday Night’s Event, called Winter Warmer, provided the perfect opportunity to do just that.
The event was held at Wild Goose Creative, which is a lovely space that can be rented out and used for events such as this, or whatever strikes your fancy. Their website has a list of events that you can check out! If you have never been to an event at Wild Goose, I suggest you attend one that strikes your fancy. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Scott wrote out our nametags while I walked around snapping some pictures.
Along with mingling and making new contacts, this event also featured a silent auction filled with lots of fun local services and a small buffet of appetizer items. This wasn’t just any old buffet though, all the food featured were from local resources. Everything from the cheese to mushrooms.
Being served up was:
Ricotta on toast with honey. The Ricotta was made from Snowville Creamery Milk.
Beef Cheeks in Ancho Chili Sauce.
Oxtail alla Pancetta
Black bean and Chipotle Hummus on Potato Foccacia Rounds
That’s right, goat! What is really interesting is that just the day before I realized I had never tried goat before and was wondering what that would taste like. I thought it might be like lamb which I do not like. Lamb is a very strong meat and it’s not something I can handle. I tried the goat with an open mind and was very surprised by it’s taste, texture, and appearance. It’s a darker meat and it honestly looks like roast beef. It tastes like beef as well. It’s a very mild flavor with a soft texture. Had I not known this was goat, I would have sworn it was some sort of beef or possibly bison.