Category Archives: OEFFA in the News

Government survey ranks Ohio No. 7

Tribune Chronicle, Virginia Shank, 10/22/17

It’s no surprise to Jonathan Woodford that a new government survey ranks Ohio at No. 7 in the nation when it comes to its number of organic farms.

Woodford, who operates SugarWood Acres — the West Farmington farm his great-grandparents established that his family still owns — has seen evidence that interest in “growing organic” is increasing.

“Just in the past year to year-and-a-half, a lot of people seem to be transitioning to organic from conventional,” Woodford said. “I think a lot of it depends on the type of farming they’re doing, or amount of crops they’re growing and what they’re familiar with.”

Ohio is seeing double-digit growth in the number of organic farms, organic land in production and organic sales, illustrating the role of organic production in economic development, according to the 2016 Certified Organic Survey of U.S. organic farms. The report, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, shows Ohio’s organic sales increased by more than 30 percent since 2015 and the number of certified organic farms in Ohio is up by 24 percent. Since 2015, Ohio moved up from 8th to 7th in the nation in the number of organic farms.

As of Thursday, of the 18,262 farms certified organic, 952 were in Ohio and five were in Trumbull County, according to the USDA. California had the most with 4,903 and the District of Columbia had the fewest with nine.

Overall, the U.S. saw $7.6 billion in organic sales, as well as an 11 percent increase in the number of organic farms. More than 5 million acres of certified organic acreage are in production in the U.S., up 15 percent since 2015.

“The 2016 survey illustrates the strength of organic production and sales in the state of Ohio. Organic production continues to be a bright spot in U.S. agriculture,” said Amalie Lipstreu, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association policy coordinator. “As more farmers move land into organic production, it is important that we make sure we are doing all we can to support their success.”

For Woodford, 34, going organic seemed like a practical approach when he started running the farm about five years ago. Although he was raised on the land his family bought in the early 1930s, he said he “wasn’t really raised farming” and had “little to no” experience farming. There had been about a 15-year-gap from the time his grandfather retired until Woodford resumed operations.

This summer marked his fifth growing hay that is now certified organic by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

“I didn’t have a lot invested in equipment or supplies,” he said. “So, I could start from scratch. I didn’t have much money to put into it, so I just went the least expensive way I could and for me that was organic. I don’t have to add anything, so I don’t.”

Woodford works in maintenance for the Bristol Local School District, where his wife is a teacher.

His grandfather, who grew row crops, was a conventional farmer, using techniques that rely on technology, pesticides, chemicals and other synthetic, or man-made, tools to cultivate.

Woodford’s neighbor introduced him to growing organic, a farming approach that limits or excludes synthetic elements. Woodford uses chicken manure for fertilizer that isn’t chemical based. His farm, spread across 160 acres, where his grandmother, Martha Woodford, still lives, also produces maple syrup — a product his grandfather continued harvesting even after he retired. He has grown small grains like corn, wheat and oats.

To maintain his organic certification, Woodford follows national operating standards with a set of procedures and protocol.

Basically, each year he fills out about 30 pages of paperwork, sends it into the association, which then reviews it and sends out a certified inspector to walk the property and make sure he’s doing what he says he’s doing and following the necessary steps to operate an organic farm.

“I didn’t have fertilizer or the farming equipment you’d associate with conventional farming,” he said. “I was starting out fresh. My neighbor did organic farming and when I saw what was involved with both options I went with that. “

Woodford said his farm is part of the local supply chain, providing hay other area farms need to feed their animals.

“I think growing organic is still pretty new to a lot of people,” he said. “I can tell it’s been growing. You see more and more organic products in stores. There’s a market for it. Some people are afraid of conventional for whatever reason. They like seeing labels that say organic.”

Woodford said four out of five farms he delivers to along the same stretch of road are classified organic.

Despite the growth and strong consumer demand, investments in organic research through USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Institute represent an average of just two-tenths of one percent of overall funding each year and Ohio has no extension educator positions dedicated to serving organic farmers.

“Organic production has not been able to keep up with demand, so this is a good time to review our agricultural funding as well as state and federal agency services to make sure investments are made in this growth industry so more Ohio farmers are equipped with the information, resources, and support they need to take advantage of this economic opportunity,”concluded Lipstreu.

Investments in organic farming could have larger economic impacts as well. According to a Penn State research paper on organic hotspots, on average, county poverty rates drop by 1.3 percent and median household incomes rise by more than $2,000 in counties with high organic activity that neighbor other high organic counties.

“I think many people go with what they know,” Woodford said. “If I were raised in conventional farming, and I was invested in that, I might have chosen that option. I’m not saying that conventional isn’t safe. I think a lot depends on what you’re farming, growing, producing and the amount.

“I personally stay with organic because it is natural. I can see the benefit. Hey, the earth has made it this far taking care of itself naturally. Why would I want to interfere with that?”

Ohio ranks high for number of organic farms

Akron Beacon Journal, 10/18/17

COLUMBUS: Ohio ranks seventh in the nation when it comes to the number of organic farms, according to a new survey.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2016 Certified Organic Survey shows Ohio’s organic sales increased by more than 30 percent since 2015 and the number of certified organic farms in Ohio is up by 24 percent. The Buckeye State also moved from eighth to seventh in the country for the number of organic farms.

“The 2016 survey illustrates the strength of organic production and sales in the state of Ohio,” Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association policy coordinator Amalie Lipstreu said in a prepared statement. “Organic production continues to be a bright spot in U.S. agriculture.”

Overall, the U.S. saw $7.6 billion in organic sales, as well as an 11 percent increase in the number of organic farms. More than 5 million acres of certified organic acreage are in production in the U.S., up 15 percent since 2015.

With the growth, the government needs to invest more in organic farming, the association said. The USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Institute spends an average of two-tenths of 1 percent of overall funding each year on organic farming, and Ohio has no extension educator positions dedicated to serving organic farmers, according to the association.

“Organic production has not been able to keep up with demand, so this is a good time to review our agricultural funding as well as state and federal agency services to make sure investments are made in this growth industry so more Ohio farmers are equipped with the information, resources and support they need to take advantage of this economic opportunity,” Lipstreu said.

OEFFA releases food safety planning guide

Farm and Dairy, 11/2/17

COLUMBUS — A publication released by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) will help produce farmers understand what it means to develop a farm food safety plan and meet new federal food safety rules.

Food Safety Planning Down on the Farm: Examples from Ohio Certified Organic Farms features eight vegetable and fruit farms of various scales and serving diverse markets.

OEFFA Education Program Director Renee Hunt said they hope these case studies will help produce growers be less intimidated by food safety planning.

FSMA. Produce farmers face new regulations with the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

While the law exempts the smallest farms (those selling less than $25,000 in covered produce, such as lettuce, strawberries, and radishes), some buyers may require those operations meet FSMA standards as well.

The publication identifies challenges and discusses changes that reduce risk.

“Many times, farmers are already doing the right thing,” said OEFFA Sustainable Agriculture Educator Eric Pawlowski. “It is just a matter of codifying their practices and documenting the actions they have taken.”

The new report, along with additional resources, are available at policy.oeffa.org/foodsafety.

New report helps farmers with food safety planning

OCJ, 10/27/17

A publication released by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) will help produce farmers understand what it means to develop a farm food safety plan and meet new federal food safety rules.

Food Safety Planning Down on the Farm: Examples from Ohio Certified Organic Farms” features eight vegetable and fruit farms of various scales and serving diverse markets.

“Our hope is that farmers, whether or not they are certified organic, will see themselves in these profiles,” said Renee Hunt, OEFFA Education Program Director. “We want these case studies to give produce growers ideas of what they can do and make food safety planning less intimidating.”

Produce farmers face new regulations with the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). While the law exempts the smallest farms (those selling less than $25,000 in Covered Produce, such as lettuce, strawberries, and radishes), some buyers may require those operations meet FSMA standards as well.

“Food safety is everyone’s concern,” Hunt said. “But it shouldn’t mean farmers have to quit raising fruits and vegetables because they find the compliance process confusing or think it will be too costly to meet the standards.”

The publication identifies challenges and discusses changes that reduce risk. For example, Jorgensen Farms in Westerville, Ohio, had built its packing area prior to FSMA. The open sides of the packing area — where produce is made ready for restaurants or to take to the farmers’ market — posed a contamination risk. The farm addressed the situation by enclosing the area with half-inch hardware cloth sides and doors.

“Many times, farmers are already doing the right thing,” said Eric Pawlowski, OEFFA Sustainable Agriculture Educator. “It is just a matter of codifying their practices and documenting the actions they have taken.”

The new report, along with additional resources, are available at OEFFA’s food safety web page.

New Bill Could Help Ohio Farmers Sprout New Business

Public News Service, Mary Kuhlman, 10/10/2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio lawmaker is leading the charge on new legislation that could help sprout new business opportunities for local farmers. Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced the Local FARMS Act – FARM standing for Food and Regional Market Supply. It would enhance three current grant programs that help expand business opportunities and build sustainability for local farmers.

One of the programs is the Value-Added Producer Grant, which Ann’s Raspberry Farm in Central Ohio was awarded in 2014. Co-owner Daniel Trudel says it provided funding that enabled their business to establish a presence in other states and propel online sales.

“I cannot speak enough of how much this has helped us,” he says. “We were able to write a grant ourselves, and put a plan together and it was accepted. So it really, really has helped us enter new markets that otherwise would have been impossible or very difficult.”

The legislation also funds and modifies the Local Food Promotion Program, which invests in local food production, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program, which helps farmers sell products to local consumers. A companion bill was introduced in the House.

Trudel says these are programs that are essential to building sustainable local food systems. And he notes they are also helping to create micro-economies in rural communities.

“We have a print shop that we now use for all our labeling,” he adds. “We have a local supplier for our jars, local ingredients. We partner with a local farmer to grow some of our agricultural commodities, namely peppers for us. Not to mention the staff that we had to hire.”

Sen. Brown said the legislation can help Ohio farmers grow their bottom lines and sell more product at home. According to the USDA, in 2015 over 167,000 farms in the U.S. produced and sold food through farmers markets, food hubs, and other direct market channels resulting in over $8.7 billion in revenue.

Young Farmers Get Helping Hand From New Ohio Program

WOSU, Debbie Holmes, 6/28/2017

It’s estimated that 10 percent of small farmers across the country leave farming every year. With a program called Begin Farming, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is trying to help beginning farmers with the challenges that come with running your own business.

Ohio currently has about 27,000 “beginning farmers,” which the USDA defines as those on the land less than 10 years. But program coordinator Kelly Henderson says the average age of farmers in the state is 56 years old.

“Which means we’ve got a retiring group that are going to be leaving farming here real soon,” Henderson says. “And we’re trying to get some of these beginning farmers on the land that these retiring farmers are going to be leaving.”

Begin Farming aims to not just help younger farmers purchase land, but also pass along knowledge from more experienced farmers. That’s necessary, Henderson says, because family-owned farms are finding that children aren’t interested in keeping up the trade.

“A lot of this interest in farming is coming from folks who are either coming on as a second career farmer, leaving previous occupations, or you know, folks that are coming from the city that are really interested in a new lifestyle,” she says.

That transition, though, is not an easy one. Henderson says that business planning and financial management, as well as how to access farm land and capital, are skills young farmers need to learn to be successful.

Henderson says training Ohio’s next generation of farmers needs to start early.

“I think the first wave is getting especially aspiring farmers, getting them on the land as apprentices and interns and getting their hands in the soil and getting a feel for what that work is really going to be like,” Henderson says. “Because I think a lot of people do romanticize farming. And while it is a lifestyle choice that makes a lot of people happy, and they choose it for that reason, it’s hard work.”

Community feature: Organic farming exhibit pops up at Central Ohio markets

Columbus Alive, Erica Thompson, 7/12/2017

The “Growing Right” project provides an oral history of Ohio’s ecological food and farm movement

Imagine moving to the Golden State to live like a Quaker. That was Columbus native Jess Lamar Reece Holler’s experience during 2011 and 2012 as an instructor at the Woolman Semester School in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California.

“We taught sustainability and environmental science and social justice and peace studies,” Holler said. ”[We] also had a one-acre organic … garden that fed almost everyone at the school.”

You could say the passion for organic farming runs in Holler’s family, though her grandfather might not have described it that way.

“My grandpa was a green grocer and did all kinds of organic gardening in his backyard, [but] he didn’t call it that,” Holler said. “He got [Rodale’s Organic Life magazine] … and fed my mom’s family with everything from the garden, but he didn’t talk about it a lot. So I grew up with that, but in more of a taciturn, old-man-Ohio sort of way and not like hippie California organic.”

“I liked Kentucky a lot but so many of my friends and people I know are a part of the food and farm movement here in Ohio,” she said. “I want to know the specific story of how this all came about [here].”

And so the “Growing Right” oral history project was born. In partnership with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), Holler is documenting the history of the state’s ecological food and farm movement, which began in the 1970s. Since 2016, she has driven to more than 40 farms in approximately 20 counties in her 1997 Honda CR-V, or “fieldwork mobile,” recording audio interviews with farmers and taking photographs. The content is being archived on growingrightproject.com, and presented via pop-up installations at farmers’ markets and grocery stores in Central Ohio. The next stop on the tour is Raisin Rack Natural Food Market in Westerville on Friday, July 14.

“Today, people take for granted that organic is available at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and it really wasn’t that way back in 1979 when our organization was formed,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “We’re really excited to be able to capture [the farmers’] stories and engage that next generation of not just people who are consuming the food but that next generation of farmers.”

At the pop-up exhibits, attendees can listen to multimedia shorts featuring audio and slideshows (full oral histories are online), as well as study posters created using Holler’s photos and read stories in print.

Hunt and Holler were thrilled to receive funding from Ohio Humanities and the Greater Columbus Arts Council, considering “Growing Right” is not a traditional arts project.

“In the past, people who get these grants might be the big cultural institutions: the art galleries, libraries [and] museums,” Holler said. ”[The funding] shows a really deep commitment to access [and] to a new type of public humanities and arts programming … that’s also concerned about environment and health.”

Holler’s interviews not only touch on the foundations of the organic movement, but also the farmers’ current challenges.

“You’ve got someone like Mick Luber in Harrison County doing small-scale, diversified vegetable production … totally surrounded by fracking. [He’s] fighting a completely different battle than someone like the Greggs, who are in Knox County, which is still the capital of no-till chemical farming,” Holler said. “So the stories look really different.”

Although the pop-up tour ends in August, the “Growing Right” project has opened up future areas of research for Holler, pending access to grant money.

“I’m looking at documenting more organic farmers who are trying to farm in counties impacted by fracking in eastern Ohio,” Holler said. “Another big issue that’s come up has been women in farming and … what’s accessible to them and possible for them in mainstream agriculture versus organic farming.”

Holler also acknowledges the gaps regarding cultural diversity in the “Growing Right” project, which is missing “black and brown faces,” due, in part, to the areas of research.

“Just because the folks who were at those founding meetings of OEFFA in the 1970s may have been white rural folks, it doesn’t mean there weren’t consonant movements that are part of this story happening in other places, too,” said Holler, who makes efforts to collect stories from diverse communities visiting the pop-up exhibits. She’s also considering new signage to pose questions about “missing voices.”

“I’m excited to connect those dots,” she said.

Holler hopes the installations are also starting points for visitors to put more thought into the “ecology behind their food.”

“We want to … have people think about that history and think about the entire world that’s behind the piece of corn or the peach they might buy,” she said. “Farmers’ markets, at heart, are about making choices, and we want to showcase some of what goes into the choice to buy something that’s certified organic.

Highland County home to Old Dutch Hops

Times Gazette, Michael Williamson, 8/1/2017

On a back road in Highland County, behind the Old Dutch Cemetery — a graveyard that dates back to the American Revolution — sits the Wilson family farm. The 250-acre plot of land, which has been in the family for more than 75 years, is home to two generations of farmers.

The elder, John Michael “Mike” Wilson, oversees the traditional farming practices such as harvesting corn and hay, carrying on the tradition of his parents who purchased the farm in the years preceding World War II.

However, Wilson’s daughter, Amanda, and her husband, Brady Kirwan, occupy a 2-acre stretch of that land where they hope to both carry on the torch as third generation farmers and start something new — organic hops production.

Journey home

Kirwan and Wilson operate the state’s first Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Certified Organic hops yard. Named after the neighboring graveyard, Old Dutch Hops is home to six varieties of hops plants including Cascade, Chinook, Magnum, Nugget, Columbus and Centennial.

“We were deciding on coming back here and started doing some research on what to start with,” Kirwan said. The two met in Kirwan’s home state of California while working as park rangers at Yosemite National Park. Kirwan had been working as a laborer for the park and Wilson was exploring an interest in park services after receiving her degree from Ohio University.

She found that she had a growing interest in farming and for being back home.

A growing trend

Kirwan began research into the subject of hops farming, particularly with regard to the work that Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with The Ohio State University, was doing into the subject. Bergefurd and his team operate a number of test hops yards at the OSU South Centers in Piketon.

According to Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences website, “The Ohio Department of Liquor Control handed out more alcohol-manufacturing permits in the first six months of 2011 than it did all of 2010.” This spike started a trend that has continued in some capacity in the subsequent seven or eight years.

Many brewery, pub, tavern and bar patrons might see the effects of these statistics on the menus of their favorite beer-serving establishments. Craft and microbreweries are competing for page space with many of the nationally-recognized beer brands.

With the growing trend of micro-breweries popping up around the state comes the demand for more hops being grown locally. That’s where people like Wilson and Kirwan come in.

They are part of the Ohio Hops Growers Guild (OHGG), an organization formed in 2014 with the goal of uniting Ohio hops growers and creating a standard of quality and practices. Since that formation, the group has grown to more than 80 members whose primary focus is bringing information about locally-sourced hops to fellow growers and the general public.

On July 22, the OHGG sponsored an open house for nine hops yards around the state. Those interested in the subject could tour their local yards and learn about the whole subject of hops farming. Among the stops was Old Dutch Hops and their Hillsboro yard.

The process

“I think we like the idea of bringing diversity back to the way farms used to be,” Wilson said. Rather than solely focusing on the large crops of the surrounding fields, the couple decided to try their hand at something different. “I think that’s what drew us to it, also. It’s such an odd crop,” Kirwan said.

The set-up of a hops yard with its trellis system is an interesting sight among the traditional fields of soybeans and corn. With the exception of the height difference, the process is not dissimilar to the makeup of a grape vineyard.

The hops are grown on vines which crawl up strands of rope made of coconut fiber, and the ropes dangle from metal wires which are attached to 20-foot, wooden poles. They are planted in long rows, divided by open patches of grass. For Wilson and Kirwan, they use two of these open rows to house chickens.

“We are interested in the idea of sustainability and as much organic farming as we can,” Wilson said. “The chickens feed off the land and help to fertilize it.”

The technique of pasteurizing the chickens in this way is attributed to Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer known for his unique approach to the world of farming. That approach and thought-process is something that appeals to Wilson and Kirwan.

“A lot of people mis-characterize hops as an easy crop to grow,” Kirwan said. “It is and it isn’t.” Once the crops are in the ground and growing, weeding and watering is about their only maintenance. However, the accessibility of the crop leaves it open to insects.

“We’ve had some problems this year with bugs, especially the Japanese beetles,” said Kirwan, referring to the torn leaves of the hanging plants. For the most part, other growers are having the same issues.

Growing a business

Wilson and Kirwan sell their Old Dutch Hops products at two farmer’s markets, the Northside Farmers Market in Cincinnati, and the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market closer to home. They also sell to the Fibonacci Brewing Company in Cincinnati, a company with which they have a good working relationship. Wilson and Kirwan sell their hops at $6 per pound for wet hops and $15 per pound for dry hops.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has recently complicated the process by changing the rules for the pelletizing process with regard to water content in harvested crops. The state has also shut down the Ohio’s only commericial-sized hops pelletizing machine, which makes the hops grower’s ability to begin selling more problematic.

“It’s slowed down the process. But we have made more this year than we’ve put in,” Kirwan said. “But with harvesting labor and transportation, it’ll take more time to actually see a profit.” As with any type of farming, the profitablity lies in the process of learning how to grow their yield.

The Old Dutch Hops adventure is a more than two-year project for the couple and something they hope to continue.

“We haven’t figured out how to do it 100 percent,” Wilson said. “But we’d like to get to the point where it’s more sustainable.” Wilson works as a paramedic and Kirwan an EMT, both part-time.

“We mostly do it to help pay for supplies and the animals,” Wilson said. They split their time between the hops yard, work, and learning how to farm.

Eventually, they would like to learn enough about it to make farming their lives. They hope to keep the hops yard part of the process and to incorporate the ideas of true, sustainable farming intact. For them, it starts with experimentation and discovery. According to Wilson, they are still working on finding their place in the world of farming.

“That’s the part we haven’t quite figured out yet,” she said.

Green Corps plants seeds with teens in urban neighborhoods

The Plain Dealer, Greg Burnett, 7/28/2017

Sixteen-year-old Tamryn Dailey fondly remembers her first gardening experience. It was with her grandmother when she was younger. The elder was teaching her how to plant flowers. Dailey is now one of 50 kids involved with Green Corps.

Green Corps is an urban agricultural work-study program for teens ages 14 to 18. The Cleveland Botanical Garden founded the program in 1996.

Dailey learned about the program through her guidance counselor and wanted to start digging soil immediately.

“I was interested because of my gardening experience with my grandmother,” she said. “During the program, I planted watermelon, basil, tomatoes, scallions and cauliflower. We harvest our own garden and take the contents home. I’ve already taken basil home to my mom.”

The teens are paid minimum wage. But they must have a record of stability. After applying for the position, they have to submit a letter of recommendation and attendance from school to get an interview.

“Each summer, we employ youth to work 20 hours a week at the farm closest to where they live,” says Kelly Barrett, Green Corps manager of operations.

The program, in its 21st year, has created five Cleveland urban farms that encompass more than three acres on the East Side.

From 1 to 4 pm. Saturday, in conjunction with Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the 2017 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshops Series will offer a tour at the Midtown Learning Farm, 1945 East 66th St., and the Dunham Tavern and Museum (which is next door). The event is free. Participants will get tours, led by the youths, that will discuss the farm as well as the program. A history of the Little Yellow House, a cooking demo from former Green Corps students, information from Katie Todd of the Ohio State University, who is conducting research on bees at all the farms, and tours of the Dunham Tavern and Museum are also planned.

Dailey’s grandmother passed away in 2013. Before she died, she talked about the two of them creating another garden. “My grandmother and I never got a chance to do another garden. So this experience has allowed me to honor her,” she said.

Researchers put soil balancing to test

Farm and Dairy, Chris Kick, 6/23/2017

WOOSTER, Ohio — Organic farmers have long believed in the benefits of a healthy soil and balancing nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Now, farmers and scientists are working together to look at the scientific differences in organic soils, and help bridge the gap between farmer experience and scientific study.

Researchers and farmers spoke about their collaborative work June 20 during a tour of Raymond Yoder Jr.’s organic farm, known as Artisan Acres. This 17-acre produce farm, part of the Greenfield Farms cooperative, grows vegetables that are sold in grocery stores like Kroger, Meijer and Earth Fare.

Collaborative effort

Yoder opened his farm to Ohio State University researchers to test and document the perceived benefits of soil balancing and organic agriculture.

So far, he said working with the researchers has required patience by both parties, but he said “it’s progress” and something the organic industry needs.

“There’s so much that we don’t know and there’s so much that we can learn by seeing what we look at and observing,” he said. “I think the only way we’ll get anywhere is if we continue doing what we’re doing.”Douglas Jackson-Smith, an OSU natural resources professor with a background in sociology, said the gap between organic farmers and researchers is still wide, but “we’re hopeful in the four years of this project, we’ll at least begin to close that communications gap and get us closer to a common conversation.”

Soil balancing

According to a fact sheet by OSU, soil balancing is a soil and soil fertility management strategy based on the Base Cation Saturation Ratio — or the optimum ratio of plant nutrients, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Soils can be balanced in a variety of ways, but the common method is adding calcium-rich minerals, such as limestone and gypsum, in order to raise the calcium levels.

Balanced soils can be difficult or even impractical in some locations, and usually require some maintenance, according to OSU.

Organic supporters are hoping the scientists will be able to document the benefits of soil balancing.

“We already know the practice works, they (scientists) just need to, through empirical evidence, anoint it as sound science,” said Eric Pawlowski, sustainable ag educator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, one of the project partners.

Results to come

The research at Yoder’s farm is still in the beginning stages, and is part of a larger research effort by OSU scientists, which includes additional private farms, and sites owned by OSU.

In addition to OEFFA, researchers are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide more clarity about the benefits and challenges of soil balancing.

What is clear so far, at the Yoder farm, is that he has achieved a solid produce operation that grows healthy produce and in an efficient, profitable manner.

The tour drew nearly 80 people, who observed a mostly weed-free operation, with loamy soils and lush produce. Many comments were made about the color and health of his plants, and the good progress that they appear to be making.

In the early part of the season, the farm grows cabbage, kale and red beets, and then zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, followed by mid-summer plants like peppers, eggplants and tomatoes, and fall crops of cabbage and kale.

Making sauerkraut

One of Yoder’s specialties is sauerkraut, which he and his employees process and ferment at the farm. He said the fermentation is a simple process, but one that has to be done just right, to make a quality product.

He got into the sauerkraut business to provide a market opportunity for some of Greenfield Farms’ second-grade cabbage. These cabbages are still healthy and safe to eat, but require additional processing, which makes them ideal for making into sauerkraut.

After the tour, Yoder explained some of his horse-drawn equipment and the different tools he uses for planting and cultivating. He said he hoped the people who visited his farm left with a better understanding of sustainable agriculture, and maybe a new idea or two.

“There’s so many things that you can do to get better at sustainable agriculture and my hope is just that somebody picked up a little bit that will help them on their farm,” he said.