Category Archives: OEFFA in the News

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

Ohio Group: Food Labeling Shouldn’t be Controversial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than 70 workshops

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

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

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

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

Organic Farming News Almost Too Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton County farmer honored at OEFFA conference

By Gary Brock, 2/15/16, Rural Life Today

GRANVILLE — Clinton County farmer Jim Croghan was named the 2016 recipient of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Stewardship Award during the organization’s 37th annual conference Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the next generation involved in organic agriculture

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Next generation

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Transitioning to organic

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

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

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

USDA update

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

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

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

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

Five great local food and farm ideas from the OEFFA conference

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/16/16

This year’s annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Granville wrapped up on Sunday with a speaker who believes the local food movement isn’t just about freshness and taste, it’s part of a revolution back to the moral center of agriculture.

The sustainable food gathering also saw a hefty dose of Northeast Ohio presenters, more than 90 workshops on growing and using food, a marketplace of products and more.

If you weren’t among the 1,200 there, the program and its sources are still online, and recordings are available for a fee online or at 1-800-233-3683, ext. 122.

Here are some of things we learned:

  • Since young farmers need affordable land, OEFFA sponsored a matchmaking session with landowners. Halle Kirsch, 23, of Middleburg Heights was one of them. When our story on the session appeared online, a nearby alpaca farm owner stepped forward to offer her a few acres. Kirsch said she’s optimistic about the possibility.
  • It isn’t just dirt. A day-long session on soil health emphasized the need for organic matter and all the minute life forms that come with it. Ohio State University researcher Xia Ye said that organic matter is “the eye of the needle” through which all growth takes place. Soil without it, said Michigan educator Jerry Grigar, becomes addicted to fertilizer. Attendees got a free packet of cover crop seeds from Walnut Creek Seeds, which keeps soil moist, adds organic matter and nutrients. Farmer David Brandt said there are mixes just for the home gardener.
  • One undocumented presenter was a 12-hour-old lamb diapered up and brought to the conference by Marianne Trotter of Granny B Farms in Knox County. The lamb’s mother rejected her, so Trotter must bottle feed. Jen Kindrick of the Columbus area held it in her arms for long stretches, during which the lamb slept soundly.
  • Gary Gao of Ohio State University led a workshop on growing nutrition-packed berries such as goji, aronia and elderberry. The secret to harvesting elderberries, he said, is to freeze them and then thaw, when they will practically fall off the stems. He also suggested growing many berries in containers that give good drainage and can be brought into a garage during rough winters.
  • Ben Bebenroth of Spice Kitchen + Bar in Cleveland took on the culinary wonders of kohlrabi and daikon radish. The latter was touted in soil workshops as an effective aerator, protector and fertilizer for soil. Bebenroth told his audience, “it’s also good for you . . . and deer don’t like it.” He suggested farmers market managers in his audience pickle it or dress it up with vinaigrette for sampling. His favorite cookbooks? The classic “Joy of Cooking” for its wide-range of recipes, and “Culinary Artistry,” for its flavor pairing suggestions. He gave a tour of the palate for children and adults (very different), and a recipe for making roasted garlic oil: An ovenproof cup of cloves covered with olive oil, wrapped in foil, baked at 320 degrees for 45 minutes, or until tender. Pluck out cloves for other dishes. Store oil in fridge.
  • Several Greater Cleveland folks showed up for the marketplace this year: Storehouse Tea, Green Field Farms, Tunnel Vision Hoops.
  • In his talk, veteran agricultural educator John Ikerd called industrial agriculture a grand, failed experiment that has not answered its original claims to feed the world. Something “radical” is required, he said, that involved the reclaiming of the moral center of today’s food production. He’d like to see the return of regional farms and food processors, a fair wage for farmers, food grown responsibly for future farmers, and everyone nutritionally fed. “I think the hungry people of this country will be fed when we say they have a right to be fed, and when we take the responsibility to say they have a right to be fed,” he said. “It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a privilege that makes our life better.” Click here for the notes for Ikerd’s Speech.

OEFFA stages ‘speed-dating’ session for Ohio land owners and young farmers without land

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/14/16

Matchmaker, matchmaker bring me . . . Old MacDonald’s Farm.

The lyrics made sense Friday night at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Granville. Some 50 hopefuls, wearing tags saying “seeker” or “land owner,” introduced themselves to the group and then stepped into “speed-dating” sessions to try and match up.

“There are so few opportunities like this,” said moderator Amalie Lipstreau, also policy coordinator for the statewide sustainable farming group. “But it makes complete sense.

“The average age of farmers now is 58, and they’re aging out of the agricultural system. Then you have all these young people who want to farm, but not as many resources.”

That includes Halle Kirsch, 23, of Middleburg Heights who works a half-acre at home, but wants a good 10-20 acres of her own. The graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College discovered that farming feeds her need to work outdoors in fresh air, and answers her interest in the sustainable biology she studied in school.

“I want to provide healthy, wholesome food for people and make a commitment to community and work,” she said. She’s already put together a business plan and would consider leasing, although she knows farming – a field shaped by weather – has few guarantees.

Marty Kerns of the Vermilion area worked for years as a certified public accountant and retired early. The 4-H training she had as a child started calling to her.

“I’d like access to a couple of acres to grow vegetables organically,” said Kerns, a rosy-cheeked 61. “I’d buy or rent, and I’m willing to drive.”

On the other side of the room stood Rich Bistritz, an internet technology specialist from Chagrin Falls whose family still owns a 54-acre farm in Bainbridge Township with house, barn and sugar house that they’d like to see functioning like it was until the 1960s.

“We’d also like to see a CSA going there,” he said.

“I just don’t have the energy and time. And I know it’s a lot of hard work.”

Similar stories poured forth: New dairymen looking for business partners; a sixty-something farmer who owns no more than a rototiller; a conventional farm owner who wants her farm to go organic; an aging woman farmer who wants to see her hilltop farm “beautiful again;” a young couple from Oregon seeking other young help.

And there was Joe Logan of Ottawa who has 50 acres in Trumbull County he wants in use again, but doesn’t have time for it. He’s now president of the Ohio Farmers Union, running a group of farmers seeking independent markets for their goods rather than going to auctions or signing on to corporations. He, too, has set up meetings like this, but is still looking for the right tenants.

When the introductions were over, participants started talking. Sheila Calko of Warren made a beeline to Rich Bistritz to talk about his Bainbridge farm.

“I LOVE Chagrin Falls,” said the young mother with a husband who has experience in livestock and grain. The couple wants to start a “full-diet” community supported agriculture program, or CSA.

Halle Kirsch’s first stop was at the couple from Oregon looking for young help. They talked about building portable, sustainable housing.

What will come of it? Lipstreau hopes to follow up with each party to see if OEFFA can help knit up a few relationships, and make the matchmaking complete.

Young farmers endangered, says OEFFA speaker Lindsey Lusher Shute

By Debbi Snook, 2/14/16, Cleveland Plain Dealer

GRANVILLE, Ohio – We may love our fresh, local food, but the dreams of young farmers who want to grow it are too easily dashed, says Lindsey Lusher Shute.

The rising cost of land, lingering student loans and a declining amount of money dedicated to preserving farmland are getting in the way of a new generation of growers, the farmer and activist told her audience at Saturday’s annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. The event drew 1,200 farmers and consumers to educational workshops this year.

The struggles of young farmers are “muddying the heroic glow cast around our food producers,” she said. “The average small farmer is barely surviving. And if we want to get young people involved in agriculture, we’ll have to fix the major hurdle that is land access.”

Shute said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s goal of fostering the careers of 1,000 new farmers with the last Farm Bill is not going well.

“We’re going to fall short of that goal,” she said. “Even the most experienced young farmers are running into obstacles too big to carry on.”

As founder and director of the National Young Farmers Association (as well as co-owner of an upstate New York farm), Shute has been exploring solutions such as:

  • Alleviating college loan debt for young farmers, giving them the forgiveness extended to other professions such as doctors and nurses. “Farming is a public service,” she said. “We’re feeding people, building soil, protecting clean water and air.” She says she’s received positive responses from legislators so far.
  • Expanding conservation land trusts for farms, which would help make them more affordable. “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.”
  • Making more low-cost loans available to farmers for improvements.

“We need new farmers to step into the shoes of older farmers,” she said, citing record losses of farm acreage, along with the rising average age of farmers, now around 58.

OEFFA is both a support organization for sustainable farming as well as one of a few organizations in Ohio licensed to certify organic farms. The Columbus-based group now has 3,855 members according to director Carol Goland, with representation in all 88 Ohio counties.


At Least 4 Good Reasons to Boost Soil Organic Matter, and a Chance to Learn How to Do It

By Kurt Knebusch, OSU CFAES, 2/1/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The key to successful, sustainable farming is found in the ground — or should be, says soil scientist Rafiq Islam of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“Soil organic matter is the cornerstone of soil health,” said Islam, a member of a regional research team that’s spent the past 15 years studying soil organic matter, its benefits to crops and the best ways to boost it on farms run organically.

“As with any agricultural production system, maintaining a healthy and productive soil is the foundation of sustainable organic farming,” he said.

On Feb. 12, Islam and other team members will share their findings in “The Dirt on Organic Matter.” It’s a special preconference workshop being held before the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Feb. 13-14 annual conference in Granville.

OEFFA calls the conference the largest such event devoted to sustainable food and farming in Ohio.

Rafiq Islam, soil scientist based at the Ohio State University South Centers in Piketon, will be part of the team presenting “The Dirt on Organic Matter.” (Photo by Ken Chamberlain, CFAES.)

Islam said the workshop is for farmers, people who work with farmers, and anyone who studies, teaches about or has an interest in sustainable farming.

More broadly, so is the conference, whose theme is “Growing Right by Nature.”

Both events are at Granville High School, 248 New Burg St.

Benefits microbes, pH, moisture, more

Soil organic matter is made up of plant, animal and microbe residues — possibly from manure or cover crops, for example — in various stages of decomposition. Islam said its benefits include:

  • Providing food, energy and enzymes for soil microbes. The microbes boost plants’ growth and health.
  • Providing a reservoir of essential plant nutrients that support good-yielding, high-quality, nutritious crops.
  • Being a catalyst for regulating the soil’s ecological functions. The functions include buffering the soil’s acid-alkaline balance, or pH. They also include improving the cation exchange capacity, which helps the soil store nutrients until needed by plants and microbes.
  • Improving the soil’s structure and moisture retention. Better soil structure improves drainage during rains and wet times. Better moisture retention helps plants during drought.

Big picture, soil organic matter also takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stores it in the soil. Excess atmospheric CO2 is one of the causes of climate change.

All about tools and best practices

Islam said people who take the workshop will learn how to increase soil organic matter levels by using, among other things, compost, manure, cover crops, and soil amendments such as gypsum, zeolite and leonardite, or black carbon. They’ll also get instruction on how to use an online soil organic matter calculator to monitor those levels.

The knowledge “can help greatly improve soil organic matter content and, consequently, soil health,” he said.

“Organic farmers are striving to reduce their operating costs, maintain soil organic matter and increase farm profits,” Islam said. “Often this results in intensive tillage-based practices that provide short-term yield gains but lose soil organic matter and productivity over time.”

The workshop is meant to reverse those losses, he said, with the goal being organic farms that aren’t just good for the environment but are viable and profitable — or even more so — as businesses.

The research team’s members include farmers; experts from the college’s outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center; and experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan.

How to register

Registration for the workshop, which is separate from conference registration, is $75 for OEFFA members and $90 for nonmembers. The costs include lunch and resources that participants can take home. The deadline to register is Feb. 8.

Registration for the conference is $160 for OEFFA members and $220 for nonmembers, with lower-priced child, teen, student and one-day options available, too. Meals cost extra and can be reserved at registration.

Details about the workshop and conference and a link to online registration for either or both events are at