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.