Category Archives: OEFFA in the News

Visitors to Hirzel Farm view high-tech ag systems

By Bill Ryan

Sentinel Tribune, 8/23/16

Visitors from across Ohio gathered at Hirzel Farm in rural Luckey on Friday for a tour of the farm. After meetings, lunch and the tour there, they traveled to the company’s composting facility in rural Pemberville to see that operation.

The tour was part of the 2016 Farm Tour by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

At the Luckey site, the visitors were shown the grain movement, grading and storage facility which uses state-of-the-art equipment, which maximizes the value of the crops to food buyers.

Hirzel composting

The movement of grain uses no augers, but rather paddle conveyors, which minimize damage to the beans, for example.

It was explained that a split bean loses all its nutrient value and lowers the value of the entire lot of beans. The conveyor moves the crops slower but the speed of traditional augers is what can damage them and lower the commercial value to food buyers.

The organic crops carry a higher price tag, but also require a higher standard of quality to be met.

The visitors also were able to see a new sophisticated optical scanner that can grade the beans, even down to subtle differences in colors. Again, it is all part of the commercial grade needed to sell to the buyers for the optimal price. The equipment also provides for full traceability of each lot.

From the farm, the group visited the composting facility.

Mike Chandler is the site manager of the facility. He explained he is a geologist by trade and works the composting as a scientist.

One of the primary sources for their compost is scrap vegetables, including cabbage and tomatoes from their own farms as well as cucumbers from Hartung in Bowling Green.

Joe Hirzel Sr., though somewhat retired, is still active in the operation and was on hand for the tour.

Though there was initial resistance to the composting as well as switching over the processes to organic, he said the success has “proven how wrong we were.”

His sense of humor showed when he talked about the work involved in maintaining a healthy compost facility. He said, “I love work. I can watch people work all day.”

Chandler explained, “Compost is an art form. It’s a living organism and needs attention.”

He added that the changing weather along with the high moisture content in the food waste used provides challenges.

“For me, it’s a lot of trial and error, but he said by maintaining the proper mixture of carbon and nitrogen in the materials used, they can have the “compost cooking” to 160 degrees within two to three weeks.

Aside from the food waste, they also include bulking agents such as manure, grinding hay and fodder, along with such odds and ends as coffee, and egg waste from Hertzfeld Poultry.

Hirzel said they are proud of their Class 2 certified organic facility.

“It’s very costly to develop and maintain such a facility,” Hirzel said, noting for the permit it is $2,300 a year compared to $100 a year for a canning facility permit.

He noted the stack of paperwork required, not as a complaint, but rather as a warning device.

“These are the laws and we simply must follow them,” Hirzel said.

Clay Hill brings kale and more to farmers market

The Sentinel Tribute, 8/16/16

Today’s Downtown Farmers Market vendor profile comes to us from Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill.

Clay Hill is located just north of Tiffin and specializes in produce and flowers. This is the third year Clay Hill has appeared at the Clay Hill Farmsmarket.

“We are a certified organic vegetable and cut flower farm. We specialize in greens, bring lots of kale to the market every week,” Buskirk said. “We are certified organic by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association.

“We are a small family farm in its third year of production. We have gone through the organic certification process to show our commitment to providing the healthiest food for you, your family and the environment. We take care to bring the highest quality products to market every week.”

Buskirk said she loves that the market is in downtown because it “makes it feel like part of the community.”

When asked if she shops from other vendors while at the market, Buskirk said, “Absolutely! I mainly pick up fruit from Haslingers, since fruit is something we don’t grow yet. I also get bread from Bella Cuisine and if there is an item I don’t grow, I generally pick it up from Rheims.”

Buskirk said there are many reasons people should visit the Downtown Farmers Market.

“Attending the farmers market is a weekly celebration of food and community. I believe that supporting local farmers is an important part of citizenship. The food and goods available at the market all stream dollars into local businesses and are the freshest and generally tastiest available. The prices are comparable to what you find in the grocery store and can be more affordable, not to mention superior in quality.”

“There is always music at the end of the market, which is an enjoyable way to spend summer afternoons,” Buskirk said.

The Downtown Farmers Market is open rain or shine every Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. through Oct. 12. A variety of vendors bring fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, flowers, home-baked goods, artisan crafts, and more. The market is in the parking lot on the corner of Main and Clough streets. Keep in mind that metered parking is enforced until 5 p.m. Visit the website at bgfarmersmarket.org.

 

USDA awards more than $1 million in grants for beginning farmers, aquaculture boot camp

By JD Malone

Columbus Dispatch, 8/18/16

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded grants to Ohio State University and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

The grants, part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, are meant to help farmers start and sustain businesses. The USDA hopes these programs encourage the growth of younger farmers as the average age of America’s farmers has reached 58 years old.

The OEFFA will use $566,000 over three years to train farmers starting out in organic and sustainable farming. The organization hopes to help people not only make the leap into organic farming, but to also build a profitable business that can last for years.

Ohio State plans to use its $599,000 grant to fund the second part of an aquaculture “boot camp” to help farmers start sustainable aquaculture and aquaponic businesses. The first phase was funded last year through the same grant program.

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.