Category Archives: OEFFA in the News

In Memory: Gene Logsdon

By Wendell Berry

Gene Logsdon was the first friend I made away from home who loved farming as much as I did. In 1970 I published a book of poems, Farming: A Hand Book. A copy went to the office of Farm Journal where Gene was then working, where he and my book were about equally misplaced, and where he and my book came together perhaps by mutual attraction. Gene, anyhow, read the book and came to see me.

https://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50235/images/Gene-and-his-wife-Carol-signing-books-at-the-2014-OEFFA-Conference.gif
Gene and wife Carol, OEFFA Conference 2014 book signing table

He drove in here on a bright morning in, as I remember, late spring, after my garden was well started. As I would eventually know, he was almost a perfect gardener. He also had been properly brought up and had good manners. He noticed politely that my strawberries were not quite as good as his. But as we stood looking and talking at the row-ends, I deduced easily that he was in general a better gardener then I was. He was in fact a better gardener than I was ever going to be. Like all the incidental differences between us, that hardly mattered.

From the garden, we went down to the rockbar by the river, sat down, and talked a long time. Our conversation revealed further differences, for we had grown up in different places and different cultures. But we had grown up farming, and with close to the same old ways of feeling and thinking about farming, ways that had come to Gene, I believe, mostly from his mother, and to me mostly from my father. And so our talk that day was full f the excitement at discovering how well we understood each other and how much we agreed. That was the start of a conversation that lasted 46 years and was for me a major life-support. It involved much talking face-to-face, much letter-writing, and phone-calling. It dealt with farming, gardening, our families and histories, other subjects of importance, but also unimportant subjects, and it was accompanied always by a lot of laughter. I have needed his writing, and have been especially delighted by his late-coming fiction, but I have needed even more his talk and his company. Gene was a great companion.

I have always enjoyed especially my memory of one of the trips we made together. It was another fine day, and we were driving in northeastern Ohio, looking for a land-restoration project we both were much interested in seeing. But we fell into our ongoing conversation as we might have fallen into a river that just carried us along. We talked intensely on and on about our urgent-as-usual agenda of subjects. When it finally occurred to us to wonder where we were, we found that we were a good many miles inside the state of Pennsylvania. It was a good day.

Gene’s last days were spent at home in the care and company of his family. His participation in this life ended on the morning of May 31. Not long before, when we lasted talked on the telephone, we were still in our conversation, telling our news, remembering things, thinking together, laughing. I’m sure it would be wrong to wish Gene had lived longer, for that would be only to wish him a longer illness. But for me, as I am sure for many others, his absence is large. I won’t cease to miss him. But I’m glad to think that my missing him will always remind me of him.

This article originally appeared in OEFFA’s summer newsletter, with the following editor’s note:

Prolific writer, farmer, and OEFFA member Eugene (Gene) Logsdon, age 84, passed away on May 31 at his home. Gene was born in Tiffin, Ohio and lived the majority of his life in his beloved Wyandot County with Carol, his wife of almost 55 years.

He inspired and entertained many readers and farmers through his collection of written work. He wrote more than 30 books and countless magazine articles on small-scale farming and sustainable living. Beginning in 1974, he wrote a weekly column for the Progressor Times and more recently began a popular blog called The Contrary Farmer.

OEFFA was privileged to have Gene as a supporter, advocate, and member; an annual guest of the conference, and a newsletter contributor. We’re deeply grateful to novelist, poet, activist, and Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry for generously sharing memories of his friend Gene.

Correcting organic misinformation

Rural Life Today, 5/4/16

By Carol Goland, Ph.D

OEFFA Executive Director

COLUMBUS — Don “Doc” Sanders’ question (In his April Rural Life Today column) —“So, what’s better, organic or traditional farming”— is the wrong one to ask. Instead: “What do consumers want?” and “What will benefit farmers?” are the relevant questions.

Dr. Sanders brought up rbST; however, this issue has been decided in the court of consumer opinion. Consumers don’t want milk from cows injected with this drug. Arguing the merits of its benefits is beside the point. When grocery stores such as Kroger and juggernaut dairy processor Dean Foods state they don’t want to buy milk from farmers who use this product, it’s time to acknowledge the marketplace has spoken.

And the marketplace continues to speak: consumer demand for organic products has grown by double digits every year since the 1990s, with 84 percent of Americans now reporting they purchase organic food. Fresh produce and dairy are in the highest demand.

Consumers want what organic delivers: farming practices that maintain and improve the soil and water resources on which we all depend; eliminating the reliance on synthetic fertilizers that run off fields and pollute our waterways; enhancing biodiversity; animal health care practices that emphasize prevention; allowing ruminants to forage on grass and exhibit their natural behaviors; traceability from farm to table, and a prohibition on genetically engineered seeds and feed.

It’s unfortunate that Dr. Sanders’ column shared some misinformation about organic dairy production, such as the idea that antibiotic treatment is denied to cows that need it. The National Organic Program regulations require that “all appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail.” If antibiotics are needed, they must be used; the animal must then be removed from the organic herd.

Organic is not about substituting an unacceptable input for an acceptable one. Instead, it’s about managing a system. It is that production system – in which a variety of clever and effective natural practices are used – that allows organic farmers to avoid using synthetic pesticides that, in turn, remain as residues on food.

Organic farmers have access to 25 synthetic active pest control products which have been evaluated for their environmental and human health effects and which are only allowed under a restricted set of conditions; over 900 pesticides are registered for use in conventional farming. It is these contrasts in production systems that produce the demonstrable differences in what Dr. Sanders calls “quality, purity, and nutritive value of organic versus conventional food.”

An organic livestock system relies on preventative health practices to reduce the risk of common diseases, and to ensure animal welfare and productivity.

We need veterinarians like Dr. Sanders to help organic livestock farmers understand what they can do to reduce risks in their farming operations, and help them manage those animals if they do get sick. This approach to livestock farming, and the systems used in organics, can benefit all herds— whether the farm is organic or conventional.

For more information about organic certification and livestock management, go to http://certification.oeffa.org/.

Carol Goland, Ph.D, is Executive Director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Consumer Demand Pushes Cage-Free Egg Production In Ohio

By Sam Hendren • WOSU • 5/31/16

Ohio is the second largest egg-producing state in the U.S., and that means big industry changes as consumer demand pushes more retailers to move to cage free hens.

Several months ago, McDonald’s joined other retailers that want their eggs produced by cage-free hens. The fast food chain has considerable clout – they buy 2 billion eggs every year. Why the shift? Lauren Ketcham of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association says they’re responding to consumer demand.

“The more the public knows about how their food is produced, the more that environmental and animal welfare concerns are brought into the spotlight and industry is forced to change,” Ketcham says.

Hens that live in cage-free operations are fortunate. They live in larger enclosures, feasting on insects and and plantlife they can find.

Most hens used in ‘industrial’ egg production never go outside. Millions live out their lives in cages with about 60 square inches of space. Their warehousing is directly linked, say experts, to consumer expectations for low food prices.

“We have the richest country in the world but yet we pay the least amount of our per capita income for food. And so a lot of our management practices per se have really been driven by what consumers expect or are willing to pay for food,” says Michael Lilburn an Ohio State University animal science professor..

But now it seems consumers are willing to pay more if their eggs are produced under different conditions. In response, egg producers want the Ohio Department of Agriculture to allow them to make changes in their operations. The department’s Kevin Elder.

“There are several facilities that are asking to change their permit to allow them to go construct or remodel to newer styles for the cage free,” Elder says.

Elder says that converting to cage-free egg production will be expensive. Fewer hens can be housed in cage-free buildings so additional housing has to be constructed.

“It will cost a lot of money. The cost is tremendous. Many of these buildings, just to remodel, are millions of dollars for 100,000 birds. So as you get more and more numbers and more buildings and new facilities the investment is pretty amazing,” Elder says.

Those cage-free hens need more heat and eat more feed than their caged counterparts, says OSU’s Lilburn, who says the price-tag for all of this is a mystery.

“I don’t know that we really know what the cost of the cage-free systems are going to be over time,” Lilburn says.

On its website, Versailles, Ohio-based egg producer Weaver Brothers ‘crows’ about building new organic, cage-free farms that will house several million birds. Repeated phone calls requesting an interview went unanswered. I asked the Ohio Poultry Association’s Jim Chakeres about that. He told me, “Mr. Weaver will not be talking.” I asked Chakeres if producers are reluctant to speak.

“Maybe reluctant’s not the right word. They’re just not sure how all of this is coming together and so there’s just not a lot to discuss at this time,” Chakeres says.

It’s unclear what the cage-free conversion means for Ohio’s economy. Ohio produces approximately 9 billion eggs a year.

Cage-free is also not a panacea says the agriculture department’s Kevin Elder.

“The cost per bird is a lot higher with the cage-free. The loss of eggs is higher because there’s more of a chance for damage. There’s potentially more exposure to Salmonella and other diseases because of those changes,” Elder says.

Experts say the cost of cage-free produced eggs will be more expensive, but still affordable.

Canal Market could be game changer for county farmers

By Anna Jeffries, 5/24/16, The Newark Advocate

NEWARK – The last few weeks have been busy on Janell Baran’s farm.

She’s working to get hundreds of logs ready for mushroom season while also harvesting new crops of shiitakes. As she prepares to plant her next crop of herbs, she’s also working on drying plants and organizing her inventory.

She loves what she does. But there’s nothing cute or whimsical about it. It’s hard work, and it’s how she makes her living.

A regular vendor at the Granville and Worthington farmers markets, she’ll start selling her herbs, teas and mushrooms at the Canal Market District in a few weeks.

She’s hoping new clients will increase her bottom line. If the market is a success, it can make a big difference for her business, Blue Owl Garden Emporium, and many other small businesses in the area.

“Licking County is one of the largest agriculture counties in the state, and we have a lot of small farmers, especially in the eastern part of the county,” she said. “I see small farmers (at the market) having the opportunity to get their foot in the door.”

An opportunity for smaller farms

Licking County has strong roots in agriculture, which is a major driver in the local economy. But in a more urban area such as downtown Newark, that isn’t always clear, said Jeremy King, sustainability coordinator for Denison University and a board member for the Canal Market District and Enterprise Hub.

“It’s a huge industry here, and I don’t think people always fully comprehend that,” he said.

But the current economic system focuses on large farms growing commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans.

Smaller farms have to diversify their crops to stay afloat. And the Canal Market gives those businesses a chance to get their products directly to consumers, said Carol Goland, executive director of Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and a member of the Canal Market board.

“Farmers markets are a great outlet for small scale farmers who have relatively small volumes of produce, compared to an enormous distributor,” she said.  “I think it potentially helps people stay in farming. But the economic benefit goes beyond the farms and farmers themselves.”

There’s a perception out there that farmers markets are quaint experiences or tourist attractions. But Bryn Bird, director of the Canal Market, said the vendors at the market have a different perspective.

“(Farming) is our lives, and with this market, Newark is putting local food as a leader of economic development,” she said. “We want people to see us as small businesses.  A lot of citizens act like farm markets are ‘cute.’ We are saying this is going to revitalize Newark.”

Benefits beyond the market

The success of the Canal Market will do much more than just increase the availability of fresh food, Bird said.

Permanent markets have many “spinoff benefits” for their communities, including job creation and increased revenue.

A 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture study on local food marketing channels found that farms that sell some of their produce locally offer more full time jobs than farms with no local sales.

Another study by Arizona found that farmers markets and other forms of “agricultural tourism” generate $1 million a year, which lead to additional economic activity of $900,000 in each county studied.

And those positives don’t include the benefits to other downtown businesses near the Canal Market.

Goland cited a 2003 study from the Project for Public Spaces, which surveyed 800 farmers market shoppers across the country

About 60 percent of the people surveyed said they visited nearby stores the same day they visited the farmers market. Those shoppers said they visited those stores only on the days they went to the market.

Harder to measure, but equally as important, is the ability for small farmers and businesses to come together at the market, Goland said.

“A farmers market is low risk, almost like an incubator for an entrepreneur or farmer to grow their business and test out new products,” she said. “They learn from their customers and they get feedback.”

When Baran was just starting out, going to farmers markets helped her realize she wanted to continue to grow her business.

“It’s a tough economic decision to decide to expand,” she said. “(A market is) a great place to figure out if they want to do that. They can make connections and figure out what’s involved and see if they want to do this for a living.”

Focus on the future

Another reason Baran was drawn to the Canal Market was its board’s commitment to thinking about the future.

“They are thinking the right way of making it a local food economy, not just a tourism economy. The tourism economy is going to come if they do it right,” she said. “They are making it about people.”

The first priority is to get the Canal Market up and running. But the district also is focused on long-term planning through its enterprise hub, Bird said.

She’s hoping to add a bulk market for people looking for large quantities of produce. She also is working toward starting a wholesale market so local restaurants can do their shopping downtown.

The board is working on a feasibility study to try to open a food processing facility in Newark that would include cold storage and equipment to package and process produce, King said.

That would be a game changer for local farmers in many ways, he said.

Large buyers, such as schools or hospitals, need lots of produce every day to meet their needs. Most small farmers don’t grow enough on their own to fulfill those requests.

But if 10 farmers each sell 100 pounds of potatoes to the processing hub, they could be combined there and made in to hash browns to sell to a larger business.

That’s just one example of how the hub could be a win for the farmers and local businesses, King said.

“You can set up relationships with other farmers or a large entity,” he said. “You can set up a business relationship between farms.”

Access to a processing facility would help Baran expand her inventory. She could start making new dehydrated items, mustards, oils, vinegars and other items that her customers would be excited to buy.

“Right now I can either build my own (facility) or go to one in Columbus, and for me that’s too far,” she said. “It’s not really cost effective, and I can’t make forward progress.”

But first, she’s looking forward to setting up her booth at this year’s market and seeing how things progress through the season.

“They are focused on evolution, on innovation and change,” she said. “That’s what our markets nowadays need to be doing.”

A First-Hand View of Sustainable Agriculture in Ohio

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service
May 16, 2016
A summer farm tour in Ohio features operations that use sustainable and organic practices. (OEFFA)
Photo: Mile Creek Farm

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Dozens of farmers and growers around the state will kick off summer by opening their gates and sharing their agricultural know-how with Ohioans.

Thirty-two farm tours and 10 workshops will be featured between June and November during the 2016 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is sponsoring 21 of the events, and communications coordinator Lauren Ketcham says it’s a chance to see, taste and experience life on a farm and learn about where food comes from.

“Consumers gain a greater understanding of how food gets from the field to the dinner table,” says Ketcham. “Seeing can be a more powerful experience than reading something in a book or on a website.”

The tours include opportunities to see sustainable beekeeping, as well as operations that produce grass-fed beef, poultry, vegetables and herbs. And Ketcham notes they are free and family-friendly.

Ketcham says consumer interest in sustainable, local foods continues to grow, and those who attend the tours will get an inside look at organic practices at some of the farms.

“Operations that are using chemical-free production methods, who are raising heritage-breed livestock and pasturing those animals rather than raising them in confinement,” says Ketcham. “Implementing sustainable production practices like cover crops and crop rotation.”

The tour series has been offered by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association for more than 40 years, and Ketcham notes the farmers and growers have developed a support network.

“They’ve made life-long connections,” she says. “So it’s a great chance for farmers and gardeners to share that production and marketing know-how; to share the wisdom that they’ve developed through their hands-on experiences.”

A tour guide is available online at oeffa.org.

Ohio Group: Food Labeling Shouldn’t be Controversial

By Mary Kuhlman, Ohio News Service, 3/7/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the issue of genetic engineering is controversial, some Ohio groups say giving people honest information about the foods they consume should not be.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version of what opponents call the DARK Act, which stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know.

It essentially would block any mandatory labeling of food that contains genetically modified ingredients.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, argues the bill denies consumers information about the food they eat and feed their families.

“Any legislation that codifies voluntary labeling fails to respond to the will of the American people, who reiterated in numerous surveys that they want this information,” she states.

Those in favor of the measure say mandatory food labeling would be expensive for both businesses and consumers.

The legislation introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) also would call for the Department of Agriculture to promote the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

Lipstreu contends that would create an uneven playing field that would hinder organic farming practices.

Lipstreu explains that consumers are concerned about the use of pesticides, and want to know more about the nutritional value of the food they purchase. She says these opinions are reflected by changes in the marketplace.

“As they become more educated, they can see some of the negative effects of the corporate industrial food system and have been increasing their purchase of food that is organic, local, and sustainably grown,” she points out.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is among food and farm policy groups pledging to fight the DARK Act. And Lipstreu is hopeful Ohio’s congressional leaders do not succumb to pressure.

“We hope as this bill advances to the full Senate, Sens. (Sherrod) Brown and (Rob) Portman do not support that bill,” she says. “There are options to find common ground and to advance some legislation that truly reflects the will of the American people. ”

Brown is on the Senate Agriculture Committee and did not support the bill in committee.

The endangered young farmer: Farm advocate sees rough road ahead, but also opportunities, for young farmers

By Gary Brock, Rural Life Today, 3/4/16

Gary Brock photo Highland County resident Analena Bruce talks with Troyce Barnett, State Grazing Specialist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service at the trade show area during the annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s convention in Granville Feb. 13.
 

Gary Brock photo Lindsey Lusher Shute, one of the keynote speakers at the annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s convention in Granville Feb. 13, talks about the risks and challenges facing young farmers in America today, and in the future.

Gary Brock photo Ohio State University students Bailey Delacrez, left, and Mizuho Tsukui enjoy samples of the jams and jellies on display at the booth of Ann’s Raspberry Farm in Knox County at the annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s convention in Granville Feb. 13.
 

GRANVILLE – Lindsey Lusher Shute remembers fondly her time spent as a child on her grandparents’ farm near Gallipolis on the Ohio River.

It was a farm of more than 150 acres passed down for generations.

“I have so many happy memories. It is where I grew my love for agriculture,” she told an audience of more than a thousand at the Feb. 13 Ohio Environmental Food and Farm Association annual conference in Granville. She was the organization’s keynote speaker.

“This farm is what brought our family together,” she said.

But that farm isn’t the same today, and is now less than 10 acres.

Co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition, an advocacy group with 30 chapters in 29 states, she told the audience that the most endangered group of workers in America today is the young farmer.

Why endangered? She said young farmers face huge obstacles of personal debt, high cost of farmland and lack of resources to grow their farms. But she hopes spreading the word through her organization can reverse the decline in young people going into farming.

“Our mission is to create a viable career path for young people in agriculture. This means people getting into farming as their first career. It is important for young people in their 20s and younger to know that there is a career path for them,” she said.

“If your call is to farm at an early age, you shouldn’t have to have another career in order to farm. That is not sustainable.”

Shute said beginning farmers are the future of Ohio agriculture, but they face many hurdles. “Beginning farmers are a rare bread,” she pointed out.

She said farmers make up 1 to 2 percent of the American population. “But only one tenth of one percent of the American population is made up of farmers making a living on the farm earning, say, more than $50,000 income on the farm.”

Shute added that if you are looking for a young farmer, say in the under 35 age category, you are down to 36,000 Americans. “We are 319 million Americans looking at 36,000 young American farmers to steward the future of the food system of the United States. Let me tell you — that’s a problem.”

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack challenged America to bring 100,000 new farmers to the land. “We’re going to fall short of that goal,” she said. “Even the smartest, most experienced young farmers are running into obstacles too big to carry on.” In the last two census of agriculture, 2007 and 2012, the farming population fell by about 90,000 farm operators, she pointed out.

She said the need for American farmers has never been greater. “We as farmers steward about 1 billion acres of land – about half the land area of America. and about 63 percent of that land is farmed by farmers age 55 and older. So you can say that at least that much land in the next 30 years is going to need to be transitioned to another farmer,” she said.

“What we will see in the future is more consolidation of farms, more development of farmland, fallow land and farm insecurity,” Shute warned.

Getting new farmers to join in this career is no small task. Some are hanging on, she said, but many are going into other careers, especially those who are getting into the age when they would like to have kids, or save for retirement.

“The average small scale farmer is barely surviving. If we as a farm community want to succeed and bring new farmers into our fold, we have to find ways to deal with these issues,” she cautioned.

One of the biggest obstacles involves student loan debt. What does she believe can be done to solve this problem?

Her group’s proposal is to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This is an existing program designed to help those wanting in careers such as teaching and nursing by having their debt forgiven. “We would like to have farmers added to that list of public servants that quality for this list of loan forgiveness,” she said, to a round of load and enthusiastic applause from those in attendance.

She said her group has a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to add the “farming” category to the list of public service jobs. “It is a bipartisan supported bill,” she said. She urged people to call Sen. Rob Portman and members of Congress to support this proposal.

“My philosophy of farming is that farming is a public service. That is why all of you are here today. You are here because you believe that what you are doing on your farm is contributing positively to the community, you are feeding people, you are helping the soil, protecting the air and clean water,” she said.

Shute said in a recent survey, 78 percent of young farmers said they struggle getting capital. Student indebtedness is a major part of this. Students who graduated in 2008 from college and went into agriculture had an average of $11,000 in college debt four years later. “It is difficult to farm and pay back this debt at the same time. Student loans are holding back all young Americans across the board, not just young farmers. It becomes even more difficult for young farmers because we are trying to leverage capital to buy land. If we let student debt stand in the way of young people getting into farming careers, we will have very few farmers. We cannot ignore this problem.”

Another obstacle for young farmers, she said, is land access. “The reason our group was founded was over the issue of land access. The National Young Farmers Coalition came out of this need for young farmers to advocate for ourselves on such core issues as access to land.

Farm prices have been rising since the 1980s. The amount of farm land has been decreasing. Growing up here I have seen this development. This has put a tremendous amount of pressure on farmers to sell their land. Expanding conservation land trusts – working farm easements – for farms, would help make them more affordable, she said. The amount for that was cut in half in the last farm bill. “I want to remind you that it comes up for renewal in 2018.

“We need to say that in the next Farm Bill, this land conservation funding is important to us. The land needs to be affordable to farmers. We will have quite a lot of work to do.”

Shute said one of her favorite sayings is: We don’t need mass production; we need production by the masses. “To me, that is exactly right. The nation desperately needs more young farmers. New farmers to step into the shoes of our family farmers, we need family farmers who will love the land, bring fresh food to the market, build local food securities and strengthen the local economy. It is up to all of us to pass on this desire for farming.”

Shute said that she is very hopeful for the future of farming in what “I see in the young farmers in this audience and those in Ohio. There is great potential in this room.”

Shute and her partner now operate an upstate New York organic vegetable farm. They provide food to a 900-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

The second speaker at the conference was John Ikerd, one of the nation’s leading agriculture economists. He grew up on a Missouri dairy farm.

In his speech before the OEFFA audience, Ikerd discussed how the growing demand by consumers and concerns about the nation’s food system are creating opportunities for organic farmers to create “lasting and fundamental change.”He discussed the growing “good food revolution” in America and emphasized how this will impact young American farmers in the future.

More than 70 workshops

Over the weekend of the 37th annual conference, themed “Growing Right by Nature,” there were more than 70 workshops and training sessions held at the Granville High School complex. They included session on pesticide drift concerns, aquaponding in Ohio, agritourism, vegetable gardening, creating income from an urban homestead, advocacy and sustainable farming and cover crops.

Rural Life Today will focus on some of these training session in our next edition.

In addition to the training sessions, there was a trade show for guests with more than 100 vendors and organizations in the exhibit hall.

OEFFA works for sustainable farming and also is licensed to certify organic farms. OEFFA has more than 3,800 members across all 88 Ohio counties.

Organic Farming News Almost Too Good

By Gene Logsdon, 2/24/16, The Contrary Farmer

​I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food And Farm Association recently and as usual it really lifted my spirits. We are so barraged by doom and gloom these days as presidential candidates yell insults at each other, that we tend to over-emphasize the bad news and ignore the good news. In farming, mainstream agriculture is mostly full of bad news right now, but although I sympathize with the farmers caught in the jaws of a declining industrial agriculture, that is sort of good news to me. For instance a report just out says that a huge corn-ethanol plant in Kansas is declaring bankruptcy and leaving millions of dollars it owes grain companies unpaid. That’s bad news but good news in the sense that farmers just might start to realize what a bad idea it is to grow corn for ethanol especially on hills and prairies where annual cultivation is very destructive. Ironically, the farm paper, Farm and Dairy, recently quoted Monte Shaw, head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, saying that even though Iowa has the highest production of ethanol from corn (3.8 billion gallons per year) “we still have excess corn.” Think of how tragic that is and yet how it might bring some sanity back into commercial farming.

​But all I heard at the OEFFA conference was good news, even jubilant news as the pioneers of a new kind of farming march forward into a future we have no name for yet. One dairyman told me it was “just embarrassing how much money I’m making right now.” He is a certified organic milk producer on a small farm with a relatively small herd, his land planted mostly to grass and clover, growing the grain he needs for his cows, not having to buy outside organic grain which is selling around $10 to $12 a bushel.

​In fact the organic farming news is so good even big agribusiness companies like Cargill are reportedly getting into it. Some organic farmers and their organizations are worried that the demand and high prices will mean overproduction. In his speech, John Bobbe, director for Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, worried that the high demand for organic food has conventional farmers “considering organic for the wrong reasons.” It could mean a collapse in organic prices similar to the one in 2008, he said. Right now, a large quantity of organic grain is being imported. Tim Boortz of NForganics was even more pointed in his talk at the conference. “You can’t go into organics because of price. You have to believe in the institution of it.” I know that’s true from personally observing some years ago several eager beavers who “went organic” only because they thought they could make big bucks. They soon got out of it. Organic farming requires long-term, idealistic steadfastness.

​Michael Kline, who works for Organic Valley, one of the larger milk marketers, was particularly upbeat. Right now there is more demand for organic dairy products than Organic Valley can supply, he told me, and the number of farmers transitioning into organic production is increasing dramatically. I know one very good reason for this. Organic Valley’s butter is the best I have ever tasted. Carol, my wife, who is much more discerning about such matters, agrees. It is not available in any of our local stores, which is an example of the challenge Organic Valley is trying to cope with. It can’t keep up with demand.

I asked Michael about the possible dilemma on the horizon of glutting the organic market. Aha, Organic Valley has thought of that already and has built in controls in its contracts with farmers to counter that situation should it arise. It is too complicated to detail here and I wasn’t taking notes, but I plan to get with Michael in the future and spell it out here because overproduction has always been agriculture’s biggest challenge. ​

​What is so striking to me about OEFFA members is the wide disparity in their backgrounds. As I sat there signing books, I was approached by a doctor who grows open pollinated corn. Another man whose main profession I forgot to ask about, wanted to talk about religion even more than he wanted to talk about farming. A retired philosophy professor plopped a whole box of my books on the table for me to sign. A young farmer described how he grows sorghum and sells the syrup as one of his main crops. A farm wife told me her other job was doing design work for a magazine. A food gardener who said he was an animist, wondered if, from my writing, I was too. Several young couples were very excited about getting into small scale, artisanal farming like cheese making and growing salad greens in hoop houses. The only farmers that I didn’t see were the “real” ones who raise thousands of acres of corn and soybeans. When one of them shows up at my table, I’ll know for sure that a new era of farming is on the way.

Clinton County farmer honored at OEFFA conference

By Gary Brock, 2/15/16, Rural Life Today
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GRANVILLE — Clinton County farmer Jim Croghan was named the 2016 recipient of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Stewardship Award during the organization’s 37th annual conference Saturday.

The OEFFA award recognizes outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community.

Croghan and his wife Joyce have a 103-acre organic farm in Liberty Township.

“Jim Croghan is the reason I am here today,” said award presenter Knox County farmer Ed Snavely, himself the 2011 recipient of the same Stewardship Award. “And 20 years later I am still involved in OEFFA.”

He served many years on the OEFFA certification committee and also served as chairman of the committee.

“It is because of him and Rex Spray that we have a grain growers chapter today. It was in 1995 the grain growers were certified with OEFFA and OCIA and there were some that wanted the grain growers to move away from OEFFA,” said Snavely. “But Rex and Jim saw the vision that connections would be lost and the teaching of new farmers would be lost. They found there was a group that wanted to say with OEFFA, and are now the organic Grain Growers Chapter.”

“His farm has stayed organic. He sees the vision and stewardship to keep it that way,” said Snavely.

“It is a real honor to receive this, and I appreciate it,” said Croghan as he took the podium in the Granville High School auditorium where more than 1,200 Ohio farmers had gathered for the two-day conference.

Croghan’s Organic Farm was one of Ohio’s first certified organic farms.

“We bought the farm in 1970,” he told Rural Life Today after the awards ceremony. “We became an organic farm in 1988.”

On his farm, he said, they grow corn, soybeans wheat and hay. They sell their grain both domestically and to overseas buyers.

He retired in 2009 after more than three decades of farming, turning the farm over to his son, but continues to garden and maintain an orchard.

In 2010, organic farmer and OEFFA Little Miami Chapter president Jeff Harris began farming the land, growing organic alfalfa, yellow corn, soybeans, wheat, red clover and rye. Harris told OEFFA that, “He has been a very powerful influence on me… Jim is my neighbor, my friend, and has been my mentor in the organic world.”

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a statewide, grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters working together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system.

Getting the next generation involved in organic agriculture

By Catie Noyes, Farm and Dairy, 2/15/16

OEFFA Conf tradeshow
Around 1,200 people attended the 2016 OEFFA Conference, Feb. 13-14. Conference goers spent some time meeting with organic suppliers, educators and growers in the exhibit hall, Feb. 13, at Granville High School and Middle schools.

GRANVILLE, Ohio — Around 1,200 producers and vendors attended the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) conference, Feb. 13-14, which is billed as the largest gathering of organic and sustainable farming enthusiasts in Ohio.

“There are a lot of things going on here,” said Carol Goland, OEFFA executive director. “Our main priority is to provide education and assistance to organic and sustainable farmers.”

Awards

Two awards were presented to outstanding members of OEFFA and good stewards of the land. The 2016 Stewardship award went to Jim Croghan, of Clinton County, and the Service Award went to Steve Sears and Sylvia Upp, of Pike County.

More than 90 workshops took place at Granville high and middle schools, representing everyone from the backyard poultry enthusiasts, gardeners and foodies to large scale organic grain and livestock producers.

Workshops were presented by researchers and Extension specialists as well as farmers, which Goland explained is reflective of the grassroots organization — “farmers teaching other farmers.”

Next generation

Encouraging young and beginning farmers was a reoccurring theme throughout the conference. Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director and co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition, spoke Feb. 13 about the importance of helping the next generation overcome hurdles in farming.

Of the 1 to 2 percent of the U.S. population that is represented by farmers, a mere 36,000 young farmers (classified as 35 years and under) make up this demographic. “Getting Americans to farm is no small task,” she said.

The coalition has identified the biggest hurdles to young farmers as: the rising cost and availability of land, student loan debt and a lack of money dedicated to preserving farmland.

The coalition is exploring solutions to these problems by rallying young farmers together and encouraging them to work with their area congressmen. Some of their policy initiatives include:

  • Extending student loan forgiveness to young farmers because, “farming is a public service. We’re feeding people, building soil, protecting clean water and air,” she said.
  • In making land more affordable, Shute is asking for an expansion of conservation land trusts. “Land trusts hold the key to making farmland more affordable,” she said.
  • The coalition is also asking more low-cost loans be made available to farmers to make improvements.

“We have quite a bit of work to do before the next farm bill,” said Shute. “We need young farmers.”

Imports

With a rising demand in organic foods, young and beginning farmers are needed to meet that U.S. demand. According to the USDA, from 2008-2014, organic field crop acreage increased by only 2 percent.

John Bobble, director of Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, showed workshop-goers how imports are setting the stage for U.S. market prices. Forty-one percent of organic corn, 72 percent of organic soybeans and 12 percent of organic wheat is imported. Bobble explained a lot of those grains are going toward an expanding organic livestock sector, but is driven by a mixture of demand and cheaper foreign prices.

Organic farmers face the challenge of getting consumers and producers to consciously purchase more U.S.-grown organic food and grain products. “A lot of buyers are using imported price to dictate domestic price,” said Tim Boortz, NForganics agent.

Transitioning to organic

Bobble also said the higher premium for organic products is enticing conventional producers to go organic. “We are just getting back our acreage. Now we have people considering organic for the wrong reasons.”

He warns having a large volume of conventional farmers transition to organic for better prices could mean a market collapse like organic farmers experienced in 2008. “You can’t go into (organic farming) because of the price,” said Boortz. “You have to believe in the institution of it,” adding that organic farming is “tough work” and requires a lot of careful management.

Boortz also said having large companies like Cargill transitioning to organic could mean a dilution of organic standards. “Our preference would be smaller processors and mills,” said Boortz.

USDA update

Miles McEvoy, USDA deputy administrator for the National Organic Program, provided an update on USDA organic programs and projects.

The Sound and Sensible Initiative was created in 2013 to help simplify the organic certification process. “The overall goal of this new initiative is to make organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable for all operations,” McEvoy stated in a USDA blog. McEvoy reported an 11 percent growth in organic certifications in 2015.

“We know that, as a segment of the food industry, organic has a double digit growth,” said Goland.

“It is expensive to get into farming,” she added. “A lot of people are doing the math and it just makes plain old business sense (to go organic).”