The Dispatch’s description of a new “superweed” spotted in Ohio’s agricultural fields is alarming but not surprising (“Agricultural Armageddon,” Oct. 20). As pesticide use has increased, the number of correlated pesticide-resistant insects, pathogens and weeds has risen dramatically.
Today, an estimated 500 species of insects are resistant to at least one insecticide, and insecticide resistance continues to grow. Pesticide-resistant plant diseases and weeds are following the same pattern. As a result of the inevitable and inescapable biological facts of genetic variability, selection and resistance, farmers are caught on a “pesticide treadmill,” using more toxic synthetic chemicals or chemicals in greater quantities to try to stay ahead of pests and weeds.
Because of the increasing impotency of Roundup in the face of superweeds, agri-chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are seeking approval for corn, soybean and cotton varieties engineered for resistance to the herbicides 2, 4-D and Dicamba, which are susceptible to drift and pose a serious threat to sensitive fruit and vegetable crops.
Weeds, pests and disease are significant problems for every farmer. Yet some have chosen alternative ways of controlling them that do not lead to superweeds or pollute our air, water and soil. Organic farmers control pests through agro-ecological systems that rely on crop rotations to break pest cycles, well-nourished soils to grow crops resistant to diseases and management practices that reduce weed pressure. This approach not only protects the environment and public health, but reduces costs and increases returns per acre.
Our experience with resistant pests, be they insects, pathogens or weeds, demonstrates the truth of ecologist Paul Ehrlich’s observation that “nature bats last.” Organic farmers have chosen to get on the same team as nature, rather than attempting to overcome it with synthetic chemicals.
Executive DirectorOhio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Every Tuesday, Sylvania resident Amy Ormsey picks up her bushel bag of mixed vegetables form the Gust Brother’s Farm stand at the Sylvania’s downtown market.
For $375, her family receive various in-season vegetables, picked that morning. For $31.25 a week, the Ormsey family has enough vegetables from kale to squash to feed the five-member family.
This week’s supply brought them broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, yellow zucchini, summer squash, and green beans, just to name a few.
The arrangement is called community supported agriculture, where people subscribe for the right to buy fresh produce and other products from nearby farmers.
Part of the exchange of dealing directly with the brothers of Gust Farms in Ottawa Lake, Mich., which has been in the Gust family for 100 years, is building a strong relationship with her farmer and food producer.
“Jake Gust has knowledge about the vegetables and also gives me recipe ideas,” she said.
Participating in a monthly or seasonal subscription for the seasonal crops of a local farm has economic benefits for the farm and patrons. Such community support agriculture has a “we’re in this together” attitude, said Lauren Ketcham, communications coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
She explained that it helps out local farmers because they receive a payment early in the growing season when they make a bulk of their farm investments and because they have a guaranteed market for some of their products.
Subscribers for the produce feel connected to the farmer and aware of how the season’s region, weather, and soil can impact food production, she said. There are 94 such community supported agriculture programs in Ohio, she said.
There are 22 participants in the Bust Farms’ community supported agriculture program, and more than half are from Sylvania. The 12-week program began in June with customers receiving the ripe vegetables of the week. Past weeks were kale, Swiss chard, and broccoli.
The five members of the Ormsey family spend Tuesday nights learning about the latest batch of vegetables, and preparing them together. The Ormseys supplement grocery story items with locally grown food.
“It’s amazing to have my children see the plants after they’ve been pulled out of the ground,” Mrs. Ormsey said. She grew up in the country so was familiar with the origins of the food she ate. But for her children, who live in Sylvania and Toledo, had never seen a celery stalk in all its leafy splendor before, she said.
“Now they know where celery comes from and that peas don’t come from a can.” she said. For her son Adam, 14, the family ritual of cleaning and cooking the fresh food together has turned him onto produce. “He is the picky one, but since we have been in the CSA, he said the food has more flavor than what’s in the store. He’s eating more vegetables.”
The Bust Farm allows customers to come to their stand and fill either a bushel for $375 or a half-bushel for $200 with that weeks vegetables. Mr. Gust expects eggplant, onions, potatoes, and lettuce to be ripe in the next weeks.
Because each program is run different and includes different types of produce, it is hard to the cost of buying such food through the program versus going to a grocery store, Ms. Ketcham said.
Mr. Gust harvests the vegetables, which are sprayed once to save the crop from invasive insects and animals the day they are sold.
This is the first year the Gust brothers, Joe, Nate, Dave and Jake have dedicated about 1.5 acres of land on a farm that was once the home of their late grandma Marian to the food given to subscriber vegetables.
Also on the land, are two pregnant Berkshire pigs, a rare prized breed, which after they give birth will be humanely-slaughtered for pork that will be added as a meat option in the fall to the Community Supported Agriculture, Joe Gust said. Cows also are being raised for the same purpose.
For more information about Gust Farms and the Community Supported Agriculture program, visit www.gustbrothers.com
Dairyman Perry Clutts with one of his organic milk producing jerseys
More small farmers are turning to the production of organic meat and dairy products. But a looming shortage of organically certified animal feed might be limiting the expansion of the organic market.
On a central Ohio dairy farm, 20 jersey cows stand patiently inside the milking parlor.
“So all the milk is coming down that pipeline from the cows,” says dairyman Perry Clutts. “It goes from the cow into this big pipeline here. It gets chilled and every other day the milk truck comes and picks the milk up. It’s a special dedicated milk truck; organic milk only.”
Clutts is a former North Carolinian who returned to Ohio and the family farm near Circleville. Clutts designed and built a modern dairy parlor that can milk 100 cows per hour. While they’re milked, the cows munch on certified organic feed.
“They always get organic feed which means no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, no added hormones to make them produce more milk,” Clutts says.
Converting to organic farming is a lengthy process. So is obtaining organic certification. But there’s a new challenge facing producers. As Clutts and others scale up production of organic milk and meat they face a looming shortage of organic animal feed. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association – known as “OEFFA” – is an Ohio based group that does organic certification. OEFFA’s Eric Pawlowski says there are too few acres devoted to growing organic grains and other feed components.
“Right now the demand exceeds the supply here in Ohio. We have more of a demand than what our producers can grow,” Pawlowski says.
Take the 3 million acres of corn that are grown in Ohio to feed livestock. Pawlowski calculates that less than 100,000 of those acres is certified organic.
According to another dairyman, the demand for organic feed is driving prices up.
“If you’re willing to pay the price at this point in time you’re able to find feed. It is a lot more expensive. It is getting harder to find,” says Ernest Martin.
Martin runs a 55-cow dairy farm northwest of Mansfield. He says that several years ago, there was not much of a price difference between organic and conventional hay. But that’s changing. And as feed becomes more difficult to find, Martin says he’s had to search for suppliers outside the Mid-West. And there’s yet another problem, says Martin.
“There’s been a reduction in organic acres which has hurt dairy or any organic livestock producers.”
It makes sense, then, that organic meat and dairy producers raise their own organic feed. Again Eric Pawlowski.
“They have seen a greater challenge of sourcing as they have been trying to grow their business if they aren’t already producing their own feed for their livestock which the vast majority of our farmers do, they view their farm as a complete organism so that the less that they have to input from off their farm the more stable their business model is,” Pawlowski says.
Dairyman Ernest Martin says he sees a bright spot in the not-too-distant future.
“I think that it’ll eventually straighten out again. With the feed prices as high as they are right now it’s a little hard to make a profit but I think that if we’re steady at it, I think things will turn around again. I think things will look better in the near future,” Martin says.
WOOSTER, Ohio — When the new federal produce safety rules become effective — a process likely to happen in the next 12 months — they will do so at an additional cost to the farmers who must comply.The Food and Drug Administration estimates that its new rules, which meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, will prevent 1.75 million foodborne illnesses, with about $1.04 billion in estimated benefits.At the same time, the new rules will cost the produce industry about $460 million annually and $171 million annually for foreign farms that export to the United States.The rules, which are available for public comment in the Federal Register until Sept. 16, are estimated to cost a “very small farm,“ about $4,700 a year. Small farms would pay nearly $13,000 a year, and large farms, will pay $30,500.
A very small farm, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is a farm that sells more than $25,000 worth of food but less than $250,000, as an average of the previous three years. Small farms are slightly larger, and sell up to $500,000.And large farms are those that sell above $500,000 a year. Farms that sell less an average of less than $25,000 the previous three years would be exempt.For growers like Don Bessemer of Akron, the new costs are too much. He figures he could spend nearly $100,000 just to come into compliance, and would see the $30,000 fee for every year thereafter.He and his wife Carol, decided to lay off 30 workers this year and exit the produce industry, over what they say are too costly regulations.“You just can’t afford to farm,” he said. “The smaller growers are being put out of business.”The farm was started 117 years ago by Don’s grandfather, William Bessemer. The Bessemers said their age also is a factor. Don is 70 and Carol is 66. Although they’re in good health and don’t want to quit the produce industry, they say the investment in new equipment would not be a good business plan for their age.Instead, they’re planning for an auction in November.Don Bessemer said the farm’s workers already followed Good Agricultural Practices designed to keep the food safe. Now, the Bessemers fear they would need to hire separate staff to fill out the stacks of records and documents being required from the federal government.“What they want you to do is hire somebody to document this,” he said. “We’ve been here 117 years; we’ve never poisoned anybody.”
Some growers say they’ll be prepared for the cost, and expect it could be less as the rule is finished. At a public listening session April 30, Raymond Yoder, of Yoder’s Produce Supply in Fredericksburg, said most of what’s being required is “common sense,” and he doesn’t expect much of a burden to the industry.
But Bessemer is not the only grower who is concerned. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association says the costs, as they stand today, could put small farmers out of business.“Maintaining safe food in this country is essential, but it should not create unnecessarily burdensome regulations that put diversified, sustainable and organic farms at risk of going out of business,” MacKenzie Bailey, OEFFA’s policy program coordinator, said during the listening session.“We just can’t compete,” said Mark Bender, an Akron-area farmer who has operated a farm market since 1973. “The costs just got too crazy.”Bender still operates a self-service farm market, but has converted most of his produce farm to raising beef cattle and conventional crops.Mike Laughlin, of Northridge Organic Farm in Johnstown, said, as a small farm, it could cost him $25,000-$27,000 just to come into compliance, and about $13,000 annually thereafter. He fears it will hurt small growers like himself, and favor larger farms that can adapt.“I can’t raise my prices enough to cover that,” he said. “That’s going to cut right into the money I make in my profit. It’s already pretty tight.He said it’s simple math.“If you’re only making $30,000-$50,000 a year and they’re going to take $10,000-$15,000 of that away from you, that’s a huge pay cut.”Laughlin said he’s not ready to make a decision about the future of his farm until the rule is finalized. But if the costs hold up, he said it will be a major challenge to staying in business.“You just have to start thinking, ‘is this worthwhile to do,’” he said.
Serious about safety
Laughlin said he’s not balking at food safety, adding it has always been a “huge part of our operation,” with workers trained on how to handle food and conduct operations. But with the new requirements for new equipment and documentation, it will become more costly.The Bessemers say they want safe food as much as anyone, but that the words “safe food” can be used for a lot of different motives. Don Bessemer said he fears the inspectors will not have a good knowledge of farming and what they’re supposed to inspect.He’s also concerned inspectors will purposefully try to find issues, to keep their jobs.“I just keep thinking they’re (federal government) trying to create jobs,” he said.Carol Bessemer said the news reports about foodborne illnesses often incite more concern than the actual issue. She said when even a couple people get sick, it makes national headlines and legislators want to pass new laws.“That small percentage has got a lot of power, and sympathy power,” she said.One relief for farmers is that when the rule becomes effective, they will have a pre-determined amount of time to come into compliance. Farms would generally have two to four years to comply, with smaller farms given the most time.“They’re giving you time, but then again, how much is it going to cost,” Carol Bessemer said.The proposed rule would cover an estimated 40,496 domestic farms and 14,927 foreign farms.It is available online at www.regulations.gov, and also on the FDA website, at www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA.
PHOTO: Some Ohio growers are concerned that new federal food safety rules are burdensome enough to hurt their business and ultimately, reduce access to fresh, local foods. Courtesy OEFFA
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Some Ohio growers are concerned that regulations they see as overly burdensome are being proposed for reasons of food safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to make changes to its Food Safety Modernization Act that the agency estimates will prevent close to 2 million foodborne illnesses.
However, as a result, small family farms such as Northridge Organic Farm in Licking County could incur expenses that the farm’s owner, Mike Laughlin, said are higher than they can afford – for changes that he sees as excessive.
“The added expense is going to drive an awful lot of farms out of business,” he warned. “At a time when people are asking for more and more local food for their tables, it’s going to mean fewer venders available to sell to farm markets, fewer choices for consumers.”
According to FDA estimates, a small farm would bear an initial cost of more than $27,000, and then an annual cost of nearly $13,000 – figures Laughlin said could wipe out a good chunk of annual profits. The FDA is taking public comment on the proposed changes until Nov. 15.
While he agreed food safety is an important matter, Laughlin said smaller operations are already at lower risk due to their size, scope and, for some, alternative farming practices that maintain soil and water integrity. He predicted that the new rules would favor larger farms and hurt the smaller growers who will struggle to absorb the costs of new equipment and documentation required under the changes.
“When you have rules and regulations, they do need to be size-specific,” he said. “It can’t be a ‘one size fits all.’”
Laughlin added it isn’t just farmers who need to weigh in on the matter.
“For the consumers who are out there shopping at the farm markets, if it’s something that’s very important to you then you need to get involved and get a hold of the FDA, and let ‘em know what you think.”
A truck outside Mike Farm Enterprises south of Dayton. A variety of farm and nutrition programs are at risk since the Farm Bill expired Oct. 1.
Remember the Farm Bill? The omnibus law that funds food stamps, crop insurance, and a slew of farm subsidies? At midnight Monday, a nine-month extension of the latest version of that bill expired, which means for the moment, the law reverts to its 1949 version.
MacKenzie Bailey with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association says the ongoing insecurity over the bill makes life harder for organic farmers.
“Farmers rely on programs like farmers market promotion programs that help put investments in our local farmers markets, the national organic cost share program, which helps alleviate the costs of organic certification,” she said.
This expiration won’t immediately affect food assistance or crop insurance. But a safety net program for dairy farmers that keeps down the price of milk, support for seniors to shop at farmers markets, and international food aid in the bill are among the programs to be suspended. If no new bill is passed by Jan. 1, 2014, consumers could see those changes on the shelves.
The two houses of Congress had been playing ping-pong with the bill after the House stripped out the food stamp program, known as SNAP, and sent the Senate two separate bills. The House version of the SNAP program included $40 billion in cuts rejected by the Senate, which proposed around $4 billion in cuts and insisted on keeping the farm programs and nutrition programs in one bill.
The federal-government shutdown and the looming debt-limit fight have dominated the headlines the past week.
But a constituency that includes small farmers has been dealing with consternation caused by a different federal concern. Dozens of programs that create jobs, invest in the next generation of farmers and protect the environment lost their federal funding when farming legislation expired at midnight on Monday.
The most-profound effects could be years away, when new businesses, products or farming innovations fail to come to market for lack of funding.
“Enough is enough,” MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Columbus, wrote in a statement. “Farmers have been without a farm bill for a year.”
Congressional funding for nutrition and crop-insurance programs, which account for about 90 percent of the farm-legislation budget, is permanent and not affected by the lapse.
However, funding for programs that help specialty-crop growers, new farmers and farmers markets, as well as farm-related conservation, must be renewed by a farm bill, typically every five years. The most recent farm legislation expired a year ago, and a nine-month extension expired on Monday.
In spite of a partial government shutdown, some work on a new farm bill is being done in Washington, D.C., said Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
Programs for dairy farmers won’t be affected until the end of the year, and those for farmers who grow commodities such as grain and cotton, next spring.
However, farmers who want to enroll new acreage in agricultural-conservation programs will have to wait for new funding from Congress. So will farmers who use agricultural-export programs.
The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for food at farmers markets, roadside stands and community-supported agriculture programs, also has lost its funding.
Toledo Farmers Market used a grant from the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, now unfunded, to recruit vendors, establish and promote an electronic benefit-transfer system for food-stamp recipients, and build relationships with community partners that provided additional funding and support, said the Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Bailey.
And a three-year, $740,096 grant from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program enabled Ohio State University Extension to help new farmers — many of them women, minorities, immigrants and the disabled — to start tilling tracts of abandoned land in and around Cleveland. That program stopped taking grant applications on Monday.
The OSU Extension Cuyahoga County project helped create the 40-acre Stanard Farm and its Cleveland Crops business, which employs developmentally disabled people to pick, pack and sell produce grown on the farm, said Marie Barni, the project’s director.
The grant also helped establish an incubator farm to train new farmers, build hoop houses that extend growing seasons and set up a food-processing center that soon will employ people to process food grown on the farm and sell it to local schools, restaurants and institutions, Barni said.
“We would be so much farther behind” without the grant, she said.
A $16,000 Value-Added Producer Grant — another farm bill-supported program that has temporarily closed — helped Abbe Turner, owner of Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent, develop cajeta, a Mexican caramel sauce made from goat milk.
“We’ve already been funded,” Turner said, “but it’s going to affect other small, agricultural producers who are trying new, entrepreneurial ventures.
“That’s the sad thing,” she said. “If this program doesn’t get funded, then we won’t see these fantastic and important projects come to fruition.”
Watch this highlight video featuring OEFFA Executive Director, Carol Goland, and Mike Laughlin of Northridge Organic Farm. They joined Jack Lessenberry on WGTE’s Deadline Now on August 16, 2013 to talk about organic food and farming issues. The full 30 minute interview is available here.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – This summer, Ohioans can find fresh, locally grown food by using their computer or smartphone. The Good Earth Guide is a searchable, online directory that connects consumers to growers and food producers in their own communities.
Maplestar Farm in Geauga County has been featured for several years in the guide, which is newly updated. Maplestar owner Jake Trethewey said the listings include sources for almost anything – from vegetables, fruits and herbs to flowers and plants.
“The Good Earth Guide gives consumers out there a one-stop shop to find not only growers, but people who are raising poultry and beef,” Trethewey said, as well as a whole range of products that are close to them and grown and raised organically.”
This year’s Good Earth Guide includes information on more than 400 farms and businesses in Ohio and surrounding states, including 180 certified organic operations. Each listing states contact information and products sold, and many also include locations and maps.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association has been compiling the guide for more than 20 years. It began with just a dozen listings. Trethewey said its growth speaks to the increased demand for sustainably grown, local foods.
“Every year it gets better and better. More people are interested – not only in the organics, but in cultivating that knowledge, that relationship with the farmer, knowing who it is that’s growing your food and how they are growing it,” he said.
Besides helping people find local producers, the guide connects those in the farming community. Trethewey said he has used it to network, find supplies and hire apprentices to work at his farm.
“One of the primary resources is getting together with other growers, finding out what worked for them and passing on the ideas, techniques and products that work for you to other growers, as well,” he said.
Consumers’ quest for more locally produced food is sending them back to the farm.
This year’s Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, which starts today at Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy, offers learning opportunities for both consumers and farmers.
“As consumer demand for fresh, locally produced food and farm products has grown, there has been a desire to reconnect with the farm and understand how that food gets from the field to the table,” said Lauren Ketcham, communications coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which has run the tours for more than three decades.
In addition to the Meigs County dairy, this year’s organic- and ecological-farms stops include a sustainable cut-flower farm in Franklin County, a Licking County organic-vegetable farm, a Fairfield County beef farm that markets its jerky and snack sticks directly to consumers, and an organic farm that is doing a canning workshop.
Most of the tours are free and open to the public; a few charge fees and require registration.
This year, Ohio State University Extension and the Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts will offer seven of the 24 stops on the tour, while OEFFA will handle the remaining 17 stops, Ketcham said.
“We feel that consumer education is an important part of our mission,” she said. “The more consumers know about how their food is grown, the better prepared they are to make informed choices about who to support with their local food dollars.”
The tours also are designed to help farmers and gardeners “learn from each other so they can improve their production and marketing techniques, and grow their operations,” she said.
Ketcham is looking forward to the July 28 tour of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm in Columbus, and to the July 21 tour of Northridge Organic Farm in Johnstown. Mike and Laura Laughlin are turning their farm over to young farmer Joseph Swain.
The tour series is all about offering farmers alternatives, said Mike Hogan, an OSU Extension educator in Fairfield County.
“Our goal is to give people ideas to make their farm operations more sustainable,” Hogan said. “ We give them ideas about alternative enterprises, alternative production systems, like grazing or no-till, and alternative marketing systems.”
The July tour of Berry Family Farm in Pleasantville shows how one producer has added facets to its operation, Hogan said.
“They’re adding value to beef products, selling jerky, summer sausage and snack sticks directly to consumers, as well as marketing freezer beef.”
At Snowville Creamery, owner Warren Taylor put his workers through their public speaking paces yesterday in preparation for today’s open house from 1 to 4 p.m.
Snowville supplies milk, cream, yogurt and creme fraiche to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus and select grocers from Ohio to Virginia.
“This year, we have organized ourselves into a dozen functional areas, each of which will have a Snowville Creamery team member explaining that area,” Taylor said.
Taylor spent a career designing and engineering milk-production facilities around the world for the nation’s largest dairy companies. He said he started Snowville as a reaction against the few large dairies, which he thinks are too powerful.
“I have long since decided that Snowville Creamery’s purpose goes far beyond milk,” Taylor said. “It goes to advocating for representative democracy in America.”