Category Archives: OEFFA in the News

Shagbark Seed & Mill is changing the way restaurants use grains

By Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave, Fall 2015

Brandon Jaeger and Michelle Ajamian sit across from each other at the center of a long table they’ve haphazardly strung together from four-tops at Athens’ hippie Mexican eatery Casa Nueva. One by one, as their friends arrive—a recent college grad in a maxi skirt, a toddler-wheeling couple sporting dreadlocks—Jaeger and Ajamian jump up and smile with arms outstretched. Every guest is treated with an enthusiastic hello or a strong-armed embrace that lingers with familiarity.

The convivial air carries through dinner. Familial teasing is directed at the father figure of the group. Remember that one time Jaeger had to learn to drive a combine on the fly, and then it ran out of gas on a hill? Or when, having never operated a forklift before, he had to reverse it off the bed of a truck?

The goateed Jaeger laughs along as he takes it in stride, adding to the stories with hand gestures that mimic gear-shifting. Amused, Ajamian sips on a can of Jackie O’s beer as she good-naturedly disputes small details in every tale.

Among the baskets of tortilla chips and sauce-covered enchiladas that decorate the table, the real reason for this dinner takes shape. The staples of this meal—chips, black beans, tortillas—would not be possible without this ragtag group of community do-gooders who learned how to run an organic grain and seed mill on the job. Since opening in 2010, Shagbark Seed & Mill has become a source to which organic farmers can sell corn that turns into food, not feed, and from where area chefs find grains, beans and flour grown and processed in Ohio.

Brandon Jaeger at the Shagbark mill in Athens

That’s a tougher feat than it may seem. Until Shagbark began selling black turtle beans, Northstar Cafe had to look to the West Coast to buy the essential ingredient for its veggie burger. One corn farmer confesses he had never tasted his own crop in a product before Shagbark began making tortilla chips.

“Brandon and Michelle are really, in a very direct way, changing the world and Ohio for the better,” says Darren Malhame, partner at Northstar Cafe. “People like to talk about organic like it’s some sort of elitist thing. There’s nothing elitist about providing healthy food for everyone. They’re using corn for really what it should be.”

Sustaining the masses is exactly how the idea of the mill started. At the peak of the local food movement, as consumers began obsessing over heirloom tomatoes and kale grown nearby, Jaeger fixated on a single question: Why are we looking elsewhere for staple foods like corn and beans?

“We’re just not going to survive on tomatoes and lettuce and kale and heirloom squash. We’re going to need to rebuild our staples,” says Jaeger, who calls this conundrum his existential anxiety. “Someone needs to be focusing on organically producing the foods that have been a staple in our diets for so long.”

That someone, it turned out, is Shagbark.

An Origin Story

Shagbark Seed & Mill was never intended to be a business. It was an experiment that started with a two-year grant application to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a U.S. Department of Agriculture organization that promotes agricultural innovation.

At the time, Jaeger was on a monastic training retreat at the San Francisco Zen Center. Ajamian, a community activist with a design background, came out to stay with Jaeger—planning the getaway to work on a grant proposal to support a perennial-annual education lab. But after Jaeger first uttered the phrase “existential anxiety,” Ajamian suggested a second proposal.

The question that won them the $5,800 grant in 2008: Could they create a model staple food system that would make high-nutrient grains and beans local again? It started as test plots on four farms to identify which ancient grains—quinoa, amaranth, millet—and beans would grow well in Appalachia. But as they conducted studies and consulted with members of the collaborative they’d created, Jaeger and Ajamian found one glaring piece missing from the staple food network: a processing facility. Even if a farmer wanted to grow black turtle beans, Jaeger says, he’d have no outlet through which to process them.

“We were ready for a blissful life with our hands in the soil and walking through test plots with clipboards noting pollinator activity and stem girth,” Jaeger says. “But we realized there are plenty of farmers around us with the soil and equipment and know-how to grow the right crops. But they need a reason for it.”

If you wanted to open a coffee shop, you could walk around a single city block, find a handful of java-slinging storefronts and get a feel for how the business is run. But, five years ago, if you wanted to start a regional organic grain mill, you’d come up short with examples to follow.

That was a big challenge in the beginning as they launched their prototype regional mill, Ajamian says. They consulted with any experts they could find, cobbling together the necessary equipment. An organic farmer in Oregon recommended the kind of French mill they needed. They found a seed cleaner for sale in Westerville. The wooden Austrian sift box they use now to grind polenta, grits, spelt flour and buckwheat flour is still technically on loan from a farmer.

And of course, they needed to persuade area farmers this would work—and it would be worth working with the little guy who needed a few hundred pounds, not tons, of corn.

Thankfully, the right farmer followed Ajamian out into the hallway. She had just delivered her stump speech to a group of grain farmers at an Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) meeting.

“I’d like to come down and see what you’re doing,” said the anything-but-shy Chris Clinehens. More than a decade earlier, the third-generation Bellefontaine-area farmer had his conventional 210-acre farm certified organic. Shagbark intrigued him.

That first trip, he brought 150 pounds of corn. Now, he supplies the more than 100,000 pounds of corn needed annually to make Shagbark’s signature tortilla chips and corn crackers. Talk to him about his commitment to Shagbark, and he speaks as if he’s a partner in the business, wishing his farm wasn’t 250 miles away so he could help more day to day.

“They’ve got a lot of guts,” Clinehens says, admitting he’s given them a lot of leeway on when they pay for product. But it’s worth it, he says, because he believes in their mission. “I can see where they’re headed. It’s pretty outstanding that they’ve accomplished what they have.”

For a company that runs on part-time employees and volunteers, Shagbark’s growth has been explosive—from selling corn meal and spelt berries at the Athens Farmers Market to tortillas and chips at Columbus-area Whole Foods. Clinehens is one of eight farmers—a mix of certified organic and Amish—who supply the mill with high-nutrient organic goods to produce roughly a dozen products, including buckwheat flour, spelt, popcorn, stone-ground grits and polenta and pinto and black beans.

Shagbark went from selling $10,000 worth of product its first year to $125,000 the next. By 2013, they reached $321,000 in sales. It’s leveled out a bit, Jaeger says, but is still on an upward swing. This year, they’ll go through about 150 tons of Ohio bean and grain crop—with corn for chips, crackers and tortillas making up 60 percent and black beans another 30 percent.

Much of this growth is owed to Shagbark’s ability to diversify products and adapt a wholesale business that distributes product around the state.

Jaeger and Ajamian created their three-ingredient tortilla chips (corn, sunflower oil and sea salt) in 2011 to help one of their favorite restaurants, Casa Nueva, which didn’t have the manpower to make chips in house. Now lovingly referred to as their “gateway product,” the chips have become their most recognized creation.

The chips first attracted Katalina’s owner Kathleen Day to Shagbark in 2012. After sampling their chips at a Dine Originals event, Day persuaded them to sell her individual-sized bags she could serve alongside sandwiches at her Harrison West cafe.

“Once you eat their chips, you are a convert for life,” says Day, who also uses Shagbark black beans. “You can taste the difference in the corn. It’s what Michael Pollan would call heritage corn. It’s much more filling and good for you, and it’s not overly processed. It’s what real corn chips should taste like.”

Shagbark’s latest product is just as everyman-friendly—corn tortillas, which they started producing at the Koki’s Tortillas plant in October 2014. Shagbark tortillas stand out not just because organic corn is used, but also because the corn is soaked in an alkaline solution before it’s hulled—an ancient process known as nixtamalization that’s been proven in some scientific studies to increase nutritional value, flavor and aroma in corn. (The corn for their chips is also nixtamalized.)

It’s also a nod to the way corn has been treated in Mexican culture for centuries, Ajamian says. The two had a chance to experience this process first hand. Earlier this year, she and Jaeger traveled to Mexico with the owner of Koki’s to visit her family. There water was electric blue, rich with limestone. This is the water in which corn is soaked before it’s ground into maize for tortillas.

When the food culture relocates, Ajamian says, swiping through pictures of her trip on her phone, a lot of people bring the food, but not the cuisine. “We’re doing our tortillas the traditional way—calcium added into the water and pressed into the tortillas,” Ajamian says.

“It was a really nice reinforcement of the concept—how important food is to culture,” Jaeger adds. “Maize is the perfect example of culture of food. Nixtalimization in tortillas and chips—it’s a process that’s community-oriented.”

The tortillas, which will be on retail shelves later this summer, are becoming popular with chefs at area restaurants including Skillet, Casa Nueva, Acre and The Worthington Inn.

The product is twice as expensive as conventional tortillas, admits chef Tom Smith of The Worthington Inn, but it’s worth it. “You can taste they’re doing the right thing,” Smith says. “It’s good corn they’re using. It’s processed well and fresh. Like in the tortillas, you don’t get that fresh corn flavor unless it’s just been milled.”

When he started using Shagbark tortillas on his pork tacos earlier this year, Smith says the whole dish came together. “It’s very rare you bite into your own food and go, ‘Wow.’ ”

Shagbark polenta at The Worthington Inn

Personalized Products

It’s no surprise why Jaeger is so trim as he effortlessly limbers up and down a flight of wooden stairs. He disappears into the scaffolding, and then re-emerges with a gray tub of heirloom corn. Tipping it over, the red and yellow kernels buzz loudly like a hive of bees down into the funnel at the top of a blond wooden mill.

He bounds down to the concrete floor, flips a switch and put his nose to the now-grinding mill stone. Soon, granules of corn that have been pumiced into grits and corn meal begin to fill up large bags. This is the most processing any of Shagbark’s products receive. There’s no stripping of nutrients for shelf stability, or re-enriching. To ensure freshness, they mill and bag products to order.

It’s Tuesday, and a big production day inside the Athens mill. The warehouse space they rent might be small, but it’s efficient, Jaeger says. With gravity on their side, they could unload a ton of grain in 30 seconds if they’re not careful.

Today, a few part-time employees will help sort and bag 2,000 pounds of black beans as Jaeger grinds corn. On the floor at his feet are a few scattered red hulls, remnants of the buckwheat flour freshly milled for Taste of Belgium the day before.

Two years ago, when Whole Foods stopped carrying the brand of flour the Cincinnati-based restaurant needed to make their signature buckwheat crepes, owner Jean-François Flechet turned to Shagbark.

“I didn’t realize you could mill things so many different ways,” says Flechet, who expects to source up to 20,000 pounds of buckwheat flour this year. “Brandon sent us maybe 15 samples of buckwheat flour with different coarseness. It’s like a custom mill.”

Flechet speaks highly of the quality. He brought in the best flour he could find in France, and then made two crepes—one with the French flour, the other with Shagbark’s. The result was a draw. “For our application, it’s perfect,” he says.

Chefs throughout Central Ohio share similar experiences of Shagbark’s willingness to produce the product they need—and they say working with the company is as much about believing in the people behind the concept.

“They’re just characters. They are amazing, unique people, and they have these wonderful, optimistic, energetic personalities,” says Malhame, of Northstar, which has been buying Shagbark black beans for all its restaurants for three years and committed to buying 14,000 pounds this year. “They are just really great people who want to change the world for the better.”

Organic farm tour to make stop in Lindsey

By Larry Limpf, The Press, 8-3-15

A tour of sustainable and organic farms in Ohio will make a stop Aug. 7 in Sandusky County.

Turnow Ventures, which began operation in 1980 with 600 acres, will be featured during the 2015 tour and workshop series sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

The farm is located at 2956 County Rd. 92 near the Village of Lindsey. The tour stop will be at the farm from 1-3 p.m.

Steve Turnow began experimenting with growing organic crops in 1998. Within five years, he certified all 1,500 acres of his farm to comply with certification standards set by the National Organic Program.

Presently, 600 acres are dedicated to alfalfa production, which is a vital cog of a value-added supply chain of dehydrated chicken feed pellets – a part of the operation managed by extended family members.

The stop will also feature the farm’s rotation practices for corn, soybeans, wheat and black beans.

Turnow said he decided to try growing organically after he realized there was a market for the crops and he wanted to get away from using pesticides.

“I guess I felt more comfortable farming that way – to produce a fuller feed that didn’t have so much pesticide residual,” he said. “It’s been good up to this year. Without the use of herbicides it’s hard to kill weeds and it’s hard to kill weeds when it’s raining nearly every day.”

Chances are if you eat organic eggs they may come from chickens raised on Turnow’s grains.

“A lot of my products go to feed use,” Turnow said. “Some of it goes to food use. If you wanted to buy an organic corn chip, for example.”

The organic black bean market appears to also be expanding, he said, noting the Chipotle restaurant chain and others have adopted policies to buy from organic growers.

The tour stop is free and open to the public. For information contact Turnow at 419-283-1450 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”>

Other nearby stops on the tour, include:

• A hops production workshop Aug. 25 at the Agricultural Incubator Foundation, 13737 Middleton Pike, Bowling Green.

Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with The Ohio State University, will discuss the latest research on hops planting, including production techniques, insect and disease control methods and harvesting. Marketing strategies that can be adopted by farmers wanting to provide hops for Ohio breweries will also be discussed.

The workshop will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The $50 registration fee includes materials and a meal. Register by Aug. 18 at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”>

• An organic and sustainable agriculture field day Sept. 10 at the foundation. The Organic Food and Farming Education Research program is co-sponsoring the event, which will be from 5-7 p.m.

Organic grain production, soil research, and other OFFER projects will be featured. A meal will be provided at no cost. Register by Sept. 5 at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”>

• A sustainable living farm tour Sept. 19 from 2-4 p.m. at Schooner Farms, 14890 Otsego Pike, Weston, O.

Tour participants will visit Schooner’s classrooms and sundry shop, mound gardens, aquaculture facilities, and a community supported agriculture program pick up, apiary and more.

For information call 419-216-0908 or visit

To contact the OEFFA call 614-421-2022.

Improving Ohio’s Food System One Meal at a Time

By Foodtank,  Foodtank, 7/14/15

For more than 30 years, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has used education, advocacy and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic food systems. In addition to their annual conference and workshops, OEFFA has an organic certification program, organizes farm tours and promotes sharing knowledge and investment in farmers.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Lauren Ketcham (LK): OEFFA presents the state’s largest sustainable agriculture conference, offers workshops and webinars for farmers, publishes a quarterly newsletter and online directory of sustainable farm and food businesses called the Good Earth Guide, provides organic certification services and technical assistance to growers and advocates for policies that protect and benefit sustainable agriculture.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of? Please explain.

LK: In 2014, we organized 15 free farm tours drawing more than 2000 people who were able to see, touch, and smell what sustainable food and farming is all about. Consumers were able to gain a better appreciation for how food travels from the field to their dinner table and farmers were able to learn valuable production and marketing tips from fellow growers with years of practical on-farm experience.

That same year, we organized more than 1,500 members and supporters to take action on the food and farming issues that they care about, including genetically engineered food, fracking, the Farm Bill, and more. These actions included calling legislators, signing petitions, meeting with elected officials, and more.

We also certified 831 operations, including vegetable and grain farms, family dairies, and processors, to the National Organic Program standards. One of the oldest and most respected programs in the nation, OEFFA’s Certification program ensures that organic crop and livestock producers meet the high standards established for organically grown food.

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond?

LK: We will continue to build on past success and maintain our commitment to our existing programs, staying true to our founding mission. In 2015, we’ll be expanding our on-farm workshops and webinar offerings–including offering a robust series of events designed specifically for veterinarians and other livestock professionals working with organic livestock and poultry–working with Ohio State University to expand on-farm research opportunities that serve organic farmers, and more.

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

LK: Support organic and sustainable family farmers by shopping at your local farmers’ market or farm stand or by becoming a member of a community supported agriculture program, and by contacting your legislators to tell them you support policies that protect your right to know and access safe, local food.

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

LK: Go to or visit us on social media. Individuals can become members of OEFFA and find out about all the exciting programs and services we’ll be offering in the year ahead.

Download the 2014 Good Food Org Guide HERE.

Submit your suggestions for the 2015 guide HERE.

Can’t curb her enthusiasm

By Gary Brock, News Democrat, 7/2/15

There is no way to curb the enthusiasm of Winchester farm woman Gayla Fritzhand.

Ask her a question about farming – any question – and you can hear the excitement in her voice, a passion in her words.

Gayla Fritzhand is a woman who loves what she does.

And what she does it own and operate the 126-acre JZN Goat Farm near Winchester. On her farm she raises meat and dairy goats and also does a thriving goat cheese business.

While she is passionate about many things, what she thinks is most important for a farmer today is for the farmer to “get involved. You need to be informed and to always network. And, you need to be more than just members of the farm organizations, you need to read the newsletters and reports they send you.”

She practices what she preaches.

She is a member of the Ohio Cheesemakers Guild, now in its second year and she is one of 16 women in Ohio who are licensed by the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture to make and sell cheese. She is also an active member of the Ohio AgriWomen organization. “When I went to their convention last November, it made me feel really good. It made me feel like … I can do this.”

She is active in the Ohio Ecological Farm and Food Association. “I have been a member of OEFFA from the beginning,” she said, and likes the organizations education programs and views on organic food.

She is active in the Adams County Chamber of Commerce as well as the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau. She said the local business people are “our colleagues. You can learn from them business practices.”

On her farm, as a supporter of agri-tourism, she conducts tours by appointment for “about six to eight people.” She has on her farm the third longest zipline in Ohio. She said it was prepared by the same person who set up the zipline in the Hocking Hills.

“If people call to make appointment, I will conduct free tours on the farm.” However, she said they may charge for the tours at some point in the future.

A walk on her farm

Fritzhand loves showing visitors her farm and the goats she loves to raise.

Walking through her rolling fields, Fritzhand talks about her dairy and meat goats and points out the goats by name. She knows all of them. “That’s Johnny Cash over there looking at me, there’s Princess, Bambi…Fancy…Clove… there is Latte…” she shouts out their names, and they begin running from a back field. She is proud of her goats, talking to them and describing the personalities of each.

She said her goats, she has about 18 dairy and 18 meat goats, were all born on her farm and are breed-quality stock. “I know all of them, and know their needs, I monitor them and make sure they have what they need.”

Fritzhand says she does not sell any of her goats’ milk, since the processing and labeling is too costly for the size of her farm.

Walking toward her farmhouse, she points out the nearby cheesehouse. “This was originally an old steel building at Armco in Middletown,” she said. “I asked the dairy inspector even before I started if I could fix it up and be able to meet the regulations to turn it into a cheese processing facility. He said yes, he thought I could if I worked hard enough and spent enough money to fix it up. So I did that.”

She said she met all the regulations after installing all the special lights, drains and metal sinks. She milks in the barn, then brings the goat’s milk down to the cheesehouse for straining and processing.

“My dairy inspector has been absolutely marvelous to work with. He cautioned me, saying, ‘Gayla, are you sure this is what you want to do?’ and I said yes, since moving back here I did the research and this is what I want to do,” she said.

“If it had not been for the good help of the ODA, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, I certainly could not have developed the business or the farm. My dairy inspector is one who only goes to cheese processing facilities,” she said.

“Now, the younger generation, they have decided they want to eat whole foods. They don’t want GMOs, they want everything to be natural and good. They have found us cheesemakers,” Fritzhand said. She said the Cheesemakers Guild is a way for the cheesemakers to network, talk to each other and get help when they need it and share ideas.

In a recent issue of Cleveland’s “Edible Ohio” magazine, she and her fellow women cheesemakers were featured in an article about women cheesemakers throughout the state.

She took courses in cheesemaking that were offered by the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture. “They hired an instructor from Vermont, very well known, to teach farmers to make cheese from their own milk on the farm.” She pointed out that the ODA regulations are strict and necessary. “It takes a lot of diligence and you must be conscientious in following the regulations,” she said.

Active and involved

“I have to say that during the last couple of years, it is obvious the state of Ohio is encouraging small farmers. You can feel it. Even though there are a lot of regulations, you can still feel that they want to help you. They don’t want to put you out of business.” She said that “it helps” that ODA Director Dave Daniels from Greenfield is from a rural community.

She said marketing is important for her small farm operation. “Ohio Proud is another group that has helped. I am a member, and on their website they market and support small farm businesses.”

Last fall, she traveled to Highland County to attend the Highland Farm Bureau’s first “Farm to Fork” dinner on a local farm. She said she really enjoyed that and wanted to learn about how other counties were progressing. “They were a little more sophisticated and progressive in Highland County,” she said.

She is active in the Adams County Farm Bureau, and says, “I like that Farm Bureau has these events on farms. It takes a farmer willing to open up and have visitors on the farm for the event. She said not all farmers feel comfortable doing this.

“I am a member of Adams County Farm Bureau and would be willing to have a farm to dinner event here. I thought I would volunteer to host, so come and visit,” she said.

A love of Adams County

Born and raised near Winchester, her mother Helen Shaw was a teacher and father Harold Shaw was a farmer and operated a local feed mill. She was one of eight siblings. “We were tobacco farmers then. That was our life and bloodline. But the tobacco industry, as you know, changed.”

Her father owned the Pillsbury Feed Mill. “It was pretty big and thriving. Most of my friends at school in Winchester, their families were dairy farmers back then. The dairy industry was very big back then and the farmers did well,” she said.

After high school in 1965, she attended the University of Cincinnati and received her degree in nursing. She spent a year in Colombia at a missionary as a nurse. She said this was where she was first exposed to goat cheese and goat milk. She then returned and received her Master’s Degree at Xavier University. She also taught nursing, and work in health services, including work for United Health Care.

But the draw of the farm continued to tug at her. “I said to my sons, I want to do what I really want to do. I told my sister that I am coming back to do what I love in a place that I love.”

She has owned her farm for the last 10 years. “My sons, Jeremy, Nicholas and Zachery, were very supportive. They said mom, get back to the country.” I had looked around about a year and half. I knew this region and drove around looking for farms. I told my sister, I think I will just start knocking on doors and telling them I am looking for a farm.”

She said she knew she couldn’t have machinery, tractors are expensive. “I knew I needed a place I could grow, and was warning about spending all of my capital on the farm and equipment” She needed a farm where she could grow alfalfa and support a herd of dairy goats. She grows about 40 acres of alfalfa today. “You have to be self-sufficient when you can’t afford to buy alfalfa when the price is so high.”

Making the cheese

One of her greatest pleasures is making cheese.

Inside her cheese production house, she describes step by step how the goat cheese is made. She starts with the goat’s milk, which she then strains. She then waits 24-48 hours with the milk kept at about 40 degrees. She then puts the stock pots of milk on burner until it reaches 78 degrees.

She then takes the pot off the burner and adds French cultures through a Canadian dairy. She then adds an animal rennet. After about 12 hours the curd and whey separates. She pours away the whey and places the curd in molds. After a number of other steps, the molds are left to age for at least 60 days, when they can be legally sold.

However, Fritzhand says most of her cheese is aged at least a year, when the flavor is at its best.

But once the cheese is made, she says the most important step is actually selling it, as well as her goat meat.

Excitedly, Fritzhand talked about the upcoming religious Ramadan holiday. “You need to get your meat goats ready to send to the producers, processors. She described ways of making the most out of knowing about these specialty markets and what consumers want – and when they want it. “You have to watch the market always if you are going to make it.’

By using her website, she can get to know her customers. She ships her cheese to customers or they can pick it up at her farm. “And get signature confirmation,” she advised.

Words of wisdom

As a woman who has operated her own successful farm for the last 10 years, what advice would she gives others just starting or considering starting to operate a farm, and what lessons has she learned over these years?

“You have to love what you are doing. You have to enjoy what you are doing. The joy and satisfaction you get from what you are doing can sometimes far outweigh the amount of income you get from that activity,” she said.

“If you really love the outdoors. If you really love animals, which I do – I love the barn, I love the animals. I like working in the business where science is an important part of it. Your animals have to be in good health – so you have to monitor them. You have to feed them well. Their housing as to be kept clean. If you enjoy all of those things, then it is not work,” she said.

On the other side of that, there is a very large amount of capital that goes into setting up something like this, she pointed out. “It is hard. You have to run it as a farm. It has to be self-sustaining. In other words, you have to grow your own alfalfa or you can’t do what I do here. You have to be able to know math, to do your own books. You must keep good records, the accounts and your investment records. You have to test the soil regularly. You need a good understanding of soil management. You have to know how to extract the samples, send them to a reliable laboratory and then be able to understand the data so if necessary you can fix the soil so you can grow what you want to grow.”

She said, “You may love the work, but remember that you are working to produce a product. You also have to find the market, and find that market before you start, at the beginning. You don’t want leftover product without being able to sell it or get it to market. You need to know who your consumers are.”

She is hard-working, but realizes that she needs to balance work with rest. “I make cheese seasonally rather than all year. That’s for my goats and for my health. The winters here are cold. It’s a good time for me to rest and re-evaluate, take care of myself, take care of the taxes and paperwork, find the market, spend time with the family. If I had more help and more hands, I could have a bigger herd and sell more.”

Is she happy with the decision she made 10 years ago to start her own farm?

“I love it. I love nature, and love what I do. Look at this view I have,” she said, gesturing to the west where the rolling hills of her farm seem to go on forever. “I love the vegetation… I can walk through the woods here and tell you names of most all of the plants. I just love all of this.”

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.

Tours Shine Light on Ohio Sustainable Food Production

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service, 5/26/2015

PHOTO: The 2015 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series kicks off in June offering  people across Ohio the chance to experience life on the farm and learn new skills. Photo courtesy of Sunseed Farm.

PHOTO: The 2015 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series kicks off in June offering people across Ohio the chance to experience life on the farm and learn new skills. Photo courtesy of Sunseed Farm.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A lot of work goes into the production of fruit, vegetables and other fresh food sold at markets and grocery stores, and this summer Ohioans can get an up close and personal look at the process.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is sponsoring 15 tours and nine workshops during its 2015 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series.

Communications coordinator Lauren Ketcham says it’s a unique experience for both adults and children.

“To see a tomato ripening on the vine in the field, or to be able to pull a carrot out of the ground and really tangibly see how that food gets from the field to their dinner table,” she says.

Tours this year offer a variety of activities including the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of a shepherd, view organic dairy production and sample local meats, cheeses and preserves. As part of the series there will be a one-day Women Grow Ohio event at 17 locations, and a benefit dinner in the fall.

Ketcham says OEFFA has offered the tours for more than 35 years to give growers and non-growers the opportunity to learn about sustainable foods produced in Ohio communities.

“The more consumers know about how their food is grown the better prepared there are to make informed choices about who to support with their food dollars,” says Ketcham. “The tours are a good way to gain this knowledge.”

Ketcham says Ohio’s sustainable farmers and producers use innovative practices and techniques, and during the tours they will share their experiences. She says the workshops allow folks to delve even deeper.

“Some of those topics this summer are going to include learning how to design and install your own solar photo voltaic system, small plot market farming, urban agriculture, dairy herd health, farm machinery,” she says.

The Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Team and the Clintonville Farmers’ Market are sponsoring additional tours.


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.

Interviews from OEFFA’s Annual Conference

By Seth Teter, Town Hall Ohio, 5/11/15

“Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil” was the theme for this year’s OEFFA Conference. Listen to perspective from farmers and eaters alike on how to keep Ohio growing. Featured interviews include Alan Guebert of the Farm and Food File, Joseph Swain of the Columbus Agrarian Society, Tom Redfern of Rural Action, and Jill Clark of the John Glenn School of Public Policy.

Listen here.

Length: 39:20

Tyson meats to end antibiotic use by 2017: What it means

By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer, 4/29/15

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Antibiotic use in farm animals got a big push out of the poultry barn this week. Tyson Foods announced it intends to stop feeding human-grade antibiotics to its broiler chickens by 2017.

While antibiotic use once made chickens cheaper to raise by increasing their growth rate, it has also been suspected of creating antibiotic resistance in humans.

The Washington Post reports that antibiotic-resistant infections cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year, more deaths than cause by drug overdoses, cars or firearm assaults.” Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern,” said a statement from Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods.

“We’re confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.”

Smith said the company’s antibiotic use is down 80 percent from a few years ago, following an industry wide trend. Perdue eliminated antibiotic use a year ago and, last month, McDonald’s has pledged to do the same within two years.

But Tyson is the country’s largest producer of chicken.

“This is huge,” critic Gail Hansen, told National Public Radio. Hansen is a member of Pew Charitable Trust’s Antibiotic Resistance Project, which is developing a certification project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for antibiotic-free chicken.Tyson also announced plans to study and possibly reduce antibiotic use in its cattle, hog and turkey farms.

Lauren Ketcham, communications chief for the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, called the Tyson decision encouraging, but not a huge guarantee.

“Given that Tyson is only voluntarily targeting antibiotics used in human medicine — and even then some with exceptions — consumers wanting to avoid eating chicken treated with antibiotics should continue to look for the organic label as the gold standard,” she said in an email.

Medina County meat-animal farmer Jason Bindel said he also worries about the farm use of antibiotics that are not used in human medicine.

“Some animal drugs were not human tested so you have no idea of bad side effects,” he wrote by email. “Animal grade drugs are usually the same formula but sometimes may have additives that are not FDA approved for human use so could be harmful due to allergic reactions.

Ones to watch: Young women in agriculture Thursday, April 23, 2015 by Farm and Dairy Staff

By the Farm and Dairy Staff, Farm and Dairy, 4/23/15

When we planned our eight-week series on women in agriculture, “You Go, Girl,” we knew we wanted to give a nod somehow to the millennials, the next generation of women ag leaders. So we asked you to nominate individuals to be recognized as “Ones to Watch” — and we’re in awe of the agricultural passion and work all the nominees exemplified. Thank you for sharing your nominees, and we look forward to watching these young women, and others, as they propel our great industry forward.

Channing Murphy, 23, Miami County, Ohio

Her passion for animals drove her to pursue an ag-related degree and career, and now Channing Murphy, of Miami County, has both of those things and more. Murphy, 23, earned a degree in veterinary technology — but it was at a part-time job working for Honey Hill Farm Mobile Petting Zoo and Pony Rides that she found her dream job. She climbed the ladder to become regional manager for Ohio, and also manages the petting zoo at the Cedar Point amusement park, in Sandusky. She maintains her farm roots by operating her own farm, which includes 10 sheep, 10 beef heifers, “and big plans for the future.” Cattle genetics and artificial insemination are of top interest, as well as animal nutrition and finding ways to improve the production and health of livestock. The best advice she ever received? “The moment when you want to quit is the moment when you need to keep pushing.”

Kelly Lewis, 24, Grandview Heights, Ohio

Growing up near Columbus, Kelly Lewis and her family always had a community garden plot, which she credits as fostering her personal connection with food and the environment. Now she’s working to create more opportunities for people to connect with their food, with a goal of helping to build a local, sustainable, agricultural economy in the Midwest. Armed with a bachelor of science in agriculture from Ohio State University, Kelly works as a program assistant at Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association where she helps farmers and food processors navigate the organic certification process. Her past experience includes an internship at Blue Rock Station Farm and lab assistant at Ohio Seed Improvement Association. She considers her biggest life achievement, and also her greatest adventure, the time she spent in Czech Republic studying rural sociology and agricultural economics. She was able to connect with farmers and students from across the globe.

Sarah Stocks, 31, Medina, Ohio

Although Sarah Stocks officially serves farmers as an independent dairy nutritionist with Barton, Keifer and Associates, she also often serves as adviser, arbitrator, management consultant and friend to those dairy family clients in Ohio and Michigan. The Massachusetts native and current resident of Medina, Ohio, is a graduate of Cornell, the University of Wisconsin, and Michigan State University, where she earned her Ph.D. in animal science/dairy nutrition. “The people in agriculture are passionate about what they do and how they do it,” she says, which is what drives her enthusiasm about serving the farm community. She is quick to engage with friends or relatives about what farmers do, sharing the positives — but also the difficult issues — of farming and dairy production. “We know why we do what we do, but being able to share that with the public has been difficult.” And she’s proud to claim that role, too.

Jess Campbell, Waynesville, Ohio

Jess Campbell, Farm Credit Mid-America agri-consumer loan officer, is not a “farm girl” in a traditional sense. She grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, but was always involved in 4-H and raised small animals. Campbell’s extended family also had a hog operation, which helped form much of her early knowledge of — and passion for — agriculture. A 2009 Ohio State University animal science graduate, Campbell is also president of the Warren County Farm Bureau and operates the 55-acre Carroll Creek Farms in Waynesville with her husband, Adam. Casey Ellington, Campbell’s Women to Watch nominator, called her one of the local farming community’s “biggest ‘agvocates’.” The agriculture industry needs to help young people who are passionate about farming gain access to the resources needed to get started, Campbell said. “My role will be not only to grow and succeed as a young farmer, but to advocate for others and help them access what they need.”

Katie Esselburn, 27, Shreve, Ohio

Katie Esselburn grew up in Wayne County, Ohio, on a farm that produced corn, soybeans and wheat. The family operation also had a commercial feedlot. That early experience made Esselburn’s career choice easy. “There is such a small percentage of people who have ties back to agriculture, (that) agriculture needs to keep telling its story,” the 27-year-old Shreve, Ohio, resident said. Esselburn, who graduated from Denison University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, earned her master’s in animal science from Ohio State University, and currently works for Purina Animal Nutrition as a dairy nutritionist. “I work with dairy farms across central and northeast Ohio,” Esselburn said, adding that the best advice she has ever received is “take ownership and pride in your work.” “I love working with people in the dairy industry,” she said. “It is great working with people who share common interests.”

Emily McDermott, 25, Riverside, California

Emily McDermott didn’t grow up on a farm, she grew up in a touristy beach town in New England. She said she knew almost nothing about farming until she attended Ohio State University. At Ohio State, agriculture was all around her. It was here she became intrigued by invasive crop pests and vector-borne crop pathogens. She graduated from Ohio State in 2012 with a bachelor of science in entomology and a minor in plant pathology. She is pursing her doctorate in veterinary entomology at the University of California, Riverside, California. Currently, she is researching vector-borne livestock diseases, specifically bluetongue virus and the biting midges that transmit it. Protecting livestock from diseases is something that will become increasingly important in the future, and she plans to be a part of the solution. Emily sees herself as becoming a leader in the agricultural sciences community. She said the enthusiasm the agricultural community has is infectious, and it motivates her to do the best work she can.

Laura Ringler, 30, Shelby, Ohio

Growing up the youngest of 14 children on a 200-acre grain farm, Laura Ringler had her fair share of “learning by doing,” both on the farm, in 4-H and in FFA. Today, the 30-year-old agricultural educator is sharing those life lessons in her classroom and as FFA adviser at Plymouth High School in Shelby, Ohio. She guides her students in managing the school’s 30-acre farm field, a 4,500-square foot vegetable garden and 900-square foot memorial garden. “People tend to fear the unknown,” Ringler said. “I hope to remove the fears about agriculture and excite the passion, as we build a strong and educated generation of agricultural advocates.” This year she was named the Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators’ Outstanding Young Member. “She’s an amazing person who is passionate about agriculture and student success,” writes her nominator. “She isn’t on the farm full time, but her work in educating the agriculture and civic leaders of tomorrow is invaluable.”

Danielle Burch, 27, Winona, Ohio

At just 27, Danielle Burch has earned two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s in education — and she’s employed as a high school teacher and dairy farmer. But her biggest accomplishment — in her own words — is her family: husband, Andy, and their son, Doyle. Together, Danielle and Andy operate a dairy where she puts her love for agriculture to work. Burch grew up on her family’s farm, where she learned responsibility and work ethics — things like “the animals get fed first” and “hard work and dedication is the key to success.” Burch, who teaches government and psychology/sociology at United Local High School, is a Columbiana County Farm Bureau trustee. She loves farming because farmers “are a friendly group.” They work hard and get dirty, but at the end of the day, “they are a group of people willing to give, help and go beyond their own to help someone else.”