By Debbi Snook, 1/26/16
Northeast Ohio will have a strong presence at next month’s statewide organic and sustainable food and farming conference in Granville. More than a half-dozen farmers and food producers from this area – from chef Ben Bebenroth to farm manager Maggie Fitzpatrick (Ohio City Farm) – will lead workshops at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
The two-day affair runs Feb. 13 and 14 with a third day on Feb. 12 for in-depth pre-conference sessions on beginning farming, soil health and grain marketing. Programs are geared to farmers, gardeners, retailers and consumers interested in sustainable methods of growing food.
OEFFA and national organic leaders held a news conference in November to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the standardized rules that define the federal government’s certified organic label. OEFFA, in addition to embracing sustainability in general, is also one of Ohio’s certifying organizations for the USDA label.
Organic food is now 4 percent of national food sales, but research on organic food is only one-tenth of one percent of the money set aside for research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Abby Youngblood, executive director of the National Organic Coalition.
Research is necessary to keep the country’s soils healthy, many said, and to attract new farmers.
“OEFFA has been working on this for a number of years,” said Mike Laughlin, a southern Ohio farmer from Johnstown. “We’ve been developing young farmer educational programs, mentorships, and we even have a couple of different loan programs to help individuals get started. We’re starting to see some energy from that program and it really gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Farmers and homegrowers can also get advice at the conference from these principals among many others in more than 100 workshops:
- Ben Bebenroth, farmer and chef of Spice Kitchen & Bar, who will talk about growing, marketing and cooking unusual vegetables.
- Elizabeth Kucinich, Rodale Institute board member, on going beyond the issue of genetic engineering to focus on soil-healthy agriculture.
- Laura DeYoung Mannig of Urban Shepherd and Spicy Lamb Farm, Peninsula, on producing consistent meat quality.
- George Remington of Morningside Farm (Hinckley) on a panel discussing biofertilizers.
- Jake Trethewey, Maplestar Farm (Auburn Township), on avoiding pesticide drift from nearby farms.
- Maggie Fitzpatrick of the refugee project at Ohio City Farm (Cleveland) on expanding the ethnic crop market, and Jacqueline Kowalski of Ohio State University Extension in Cuyahoga County on a topic to be determined.
- Matt Herbruck of Birdsong Farm (Hiram) on the potential of community supported agriculture programs (CSAs).
A former southern Ohioan will deliver the keynote address on Saturday. Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition, now a New York State farmer, will talk about lobbying for more help for young farmers. John Ikerd speaks on Sunday. The farming advocate and critic of confined animal feeding operations wrote several books, including “Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture, and The Essentials of Economic Sustainability,” and taught at universities in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia and Missouri.
More registration information is available at oeffa.org. The deadline for the discounted early registration fee is Jan. 31. The highest price for advance registration is $205 for the two-day event for adult non-members, with tickets available separately for one-day or pre-conference attendance.