Category Archives: Annual Conference

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

Farming is a public service and we need more of it, says TedX talker Lindsey Lusher Shute

By Debbi Snook

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/1/16

Lindsey Lusher Shute returns to Ohio next weekend to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Granville. She farms with her husband, who is a self-taught grower, and she now leads the National Young Farmers Coalition, a group that hopes to make the career of farming more possible for more people. She answered a few questions and a follow-up by email this week.

This year’s OEFFA conference will include a free session (with registration by Feb. 7) that hopes to match young farmers with landowners seeking their skills.

Tell us about your ties to Ohio and Ohio farming.

My earliest and most joyful childhood memories are of our Ohio farm in the rolling hills of Southeast Ohio. My grandfather Charles Lusher was a minister, but always considered himself a farmer. He grew the sweetest melon, and my grandmother served halves of it with vanilla ice cream in the middle and salt on top. My grandmother’s father, Henry Clerkus Sheets, was the last farmer in our family. Henry produced dairy, pork and tobacco, but all of his children moved on to other careers.

I grew up near Columbus, where my dad was a public school teacher and my mother a nurse. Other than visits to my grandfather’s farm, the state fair and an overly shaded vegetable plot, I had little exposure to farm life.

Why did you become a farmer?

I became a farmer because I fell in love with one. My husband Ben and I met in New York City,  where we built a community garden in Brooklyn. He had just returned from a farming apprenticeship in Oregon and eventually decided to start his own farm upstate. I was so inspired by Ben and the innovative and entrepreneurial farmers in the region that I eventually moved up. But in all honesty, outside of occasional chores, I do very little farming these days. With the National Young Farmers Coalition and our girls at home, the farming is left to Ben and our incredible crew.

What is your farming philosophy?

Farming is public service. That means nurturing our land; protecting our water; respecting our workers; and growing the best food for our communities.

Why is there a shortage of farmers?

For several generations, we have been losing young people in agriculture. With farm incomes declining and better prospects elsewhere, many farm families encouraged their kids to look to other careers.

The good food movement has reversed this trend somewhat, by bringing kids back to the farm as well as inspiring thousands of newcomers, but structural obstacles get in the way. With land prices on the rise, student debt and market challenges, it’s extremely difficult for many young people to get started and succeed in agriculture.

Who should be a farmer?

Everyone. If we are going to save our farmer population, every kid should contemplate a farm career. Even growing up here in Ohio, no one ever talked to me about the possibility of becoming a farmer. That’s no good. Farming is the opportunity to make a decent income, serve a community, be your own boss and get outside. Kids should put ‘farmer’ right up there on their lists with doctor, teacher and President of the United States.

What do you mean by “decent” income? What about those declining farm wages?

With affordable land, access to capital, appropriate scale and strong demand, a farmer can make a good living. The National Young Farmers Coalition believes that farmers should be in the position to support themselves and their families while farming full-time.

What’s the best thing government can do to create more farms?

Protect the affordability of farmland. One of the most difficult obstacles for young farmers is finding affordable farmland, and the problem is only growing worse. Governments can take action by conserving farmland with working farm easements and creating new tax incentives to help transition land.

What’s the best thing consumers can do to help create more farms?

We’ve all heard it a million times, but buy local. Where I live here in New York, it’s estimated that we only purchase 2 percent of our food from local sources. If demand increases, there will be more farms. Consumers can create demand by making the trip to their local farmers market, selecting locally grown at the grocery store, joining a CSA, and demanding that schools and institutions buy from farmers. Consumers are already driving change, but they can do much more.

February’s Statewide Sustainable Food Conference to Feature Cleveland Chef and Farmers

By Debbi Snook, 1/26/16

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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 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.

Land, Money Obstacles for Next Generation of OH Farmers

Ohio Public News Service

By Mary Kuhlman, 1/14/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The aging farm population in Ohio needs a new generation to fill its shoes, but young farmers face many obstacles getting off the ground.

Lindsey Lusher Shute, an Ohio native and executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, says capital is the biggest challenge for beginning farmers, especially those who are under financial constraints such as student loan debt.

Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, says new farmers are critical to the success of the food system. (Shute)

She says it’s also very difficult to access land, particularly near major cities where prices may be impacted by competing developers.

“Areas within 200 miles of cities where a farmer really may have the best chance of success because they can do direct marketing, direct sales, that’s where land is more expensive,” she says. “So land remains one of the major challenges.”

Shute says while the country has grown by 200 million people since 1920, there are 28 million fewer farmers. And she’ll be in Ohio next month to discuss the tools and resources needed to support beginning farmers. Shute is the keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference in Granville Feb. 12 through the 14.

Shute explains many beginning farmers want to give back to the land and sustainability is at the core of their motivation. Some come from a long line of farmers, but she says the majority are starting from scratch.

“Their presence is very welcome in the farm community because many farm kids have not been encouraged to stay on the farm in the past few generations,” Shute says. “And so this influx of new farm entrepreneurs is very necessary and vital for the farm economy.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows almost 30 percent of Ohio farmers are age 65 or older, and just seven percent are younger than 35 years of age. Shute says agriculture needs young people to ensure the growth of local food systems.

“If we don’t do something about this gap we have and to make sure that this beautiful farmland in Ohio and across the nation,” says Shute. “If we’re not sure that’s going to go to another working farm family, then we will not have family farms in the future and we will not have food security.”

And one policy measure that would help, says Shute, is the Young Farmers Success Act of 2016. It would add farmers to a public loan forgiveness program.

Interviews from OEFFA’s Annual Conference

By Seth Teter, Town Hall Ohio, 5/11/15

“Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil” was the theme for this year’s OEFFA Conference. Listen to perspective from farmers and eaters alike on how to keep Ohio growing. Featured interviews include Alan Guebert of the Farm and Food File, Joseph Swain of the Columbus Agrarian Society, Tom Redfern of Rural Action, and Jill Clark of the John Glenn School of Public Policy.

Listen here.

Length: 39:20

OEFFA workshops help promote farmer skills

By Chris Kick, Farm and Dairy, 2/17/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio — If you wanted to learn something new about farming or food production, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference had you covered.

More than 100 educational sessions were presented Feb. 14-15 at the conference in Granville, Ohio, which covered such things as field crops, livestock, specialty crops, business and marketing decisions, and farm policy.

Sessions were led by everyone from small-scale, part-time producers, to full-time farmers and university researchers.

Beginning producers

Ben Jackle, of Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon, talked about what it takes to get started growing vegetables for profit. He and his wife, Emily, have grown vegetables and flowers in the Dayton area since 2007.

Many decisions must be made when starting a produce farm, but Jackle said, “it all comes back to the soil.”

Good soil means considering the chemical, biological and physical properties, Jackle said.

Biologically, producers need to build soil organisms and organic matter. Chemically, they must balance and supply the necessary mineral nutrients; and for good physical properties, they need to install the right drainage to reduce erosion.

Beyond soil, producers need to learn some of the “farmer skills” that it takes to grow a crop. Jackle and his wife did not grow up on a farm, so they’ve been learning things like painting, welding, drilling and cutting, record keeping, and maintenance.

“Even if these things aren’t things that are necessarily interesting or something you yourself want to learn — you’re going to have to be hiring someone to do these things,” Jackle said, because they need done.

Producers also need to consider whether they want to scale up their production, or stay at the same size and become more efficient.

Raising livestock

Choosing the right scale was one of the key points in a presentation about how to raise and manage livestock.

Jesse Rickard and Chelsea Gandy, assistant managers at Fox Hollow Farm, in Knox County, discussed “practical and innovative methods” for raising livestock.

For Fox Hollow, some animals, like the farm’s 300 sheep and 100 beef cattle, are raised on a “production” level, while other things, like the farm’s two dairy cows raised for milk, are kept on a “homestead” level.

Rickard said farms can have a combination of production and homestead ventures, and even a few experimental ventures, if they so choose.

Fox Hollow Farm is nearly 300 acres and includes 180 acres of managed pasture. The farm also produces chickens and pigs.

Livestock on a grazing operation require less infrastructure and to a great extent, the animals manage on their own, and that includes nutrient recycling.

“Animals are basically employees, if you manage them correctly,” Gandy said. “If you use them right, you can really get them to build your soil fertility, build your organic matter and they just do a fantastic job.”

In addition to deciding what animals to raise, livestock producers need to think about equipment needs, water availability, nutrition, marketing, labor and safety of farm workers.

“These are all things that will make or break your operation,” Gandy said.

Good record keeping is also a must, and so is being profitable.

“Sustainable farming is only sustainable if we can continue doing it,” Gandy said.


OEFFA presented its stewardship award to Bill Dix and Stacy Hall of the Brick Dairy Farm, of Athens County. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community.

In 1992, Dix and Hall started Big Rumen Farm, a 300-acre pasture-based dairy farm in Athens County with a small herd of Jersey heifers and a milking parlor.

In the years that followed, they joined a regional network of dairy farmers known as “Prograsstinators,” which, in conjunction with Cornell University, helps producers compare financial information to improve the management and profitability of grass-based dairy operations.

John Sowder, of Franklin County, received the Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service to OEFFA.

Sowder served on OEFFA’s board of trustees from 1992 until 2015, including multiple terms as treasurer.

He lends catering skills to OEFFA by helping to organize farm-to-table events and OEFFA’s conference meals, which are locally sourced and made from scratch.


Breakthrough in varieties make organic apples easier to grow in Ohio

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/16/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio — Having trouble finding an organic apple grown in Northeast Ohio? You’re not alone. Most are from the state of Washington, clear across the country.

Yet apples grown in our soils and shaped by our weather happen to taste better. If we could buy organic versions more easily, we could also support our local farm economy.

Apple scab is the main reason for the lack, a fungal infection that thrives in more humid climates and leaves apples disfigured. Most scab is controlled by chemicals that do not meet standards for organic certification.

But there’s new hope to increase organic apple production in our region, and two of its proponents are orchardists Don Kretschmann and Tim Gebhart from Rochester, PA, about 40 miles southeast of Youngstown. The farming duo appeared at the recent 2015 OEFFA sustainable food conference and said there are a lot of reasons to start growing organic apples, at home and on a commercial farm.

Here are five of them:

More scab-resistant varieties are on the market. Gebhart listed a few of his favorites: Pristine (yellow, tastier than most early apples); Liberty (MacIntosh style flavor); Crimson Crisp (a good keeper, Gebhart’s favorite) and Gold Rush (flavorful, keeps in refrigeration for many months). Each is resistant to scab and many other diseases, and there are more hybrids like them coming out each year. Some of their favorite sources Cummins Nursery near Ithaca, N.Y. and Adams County Nursery near Gettysburg, PA. The duo recommends dwarf rootstocks for easier access, and spreading the roots fully when planting, not curling them into place.

More information on growing organically is available. Cornell University recently released its Organic Apple Production Guide, available online. The two farmers also recommend the web site and books by New Hampshire organic orchardist, Michael Phillips, which can also be found online.

More supplies are readily available. Organic apple growing still requires lots of specific soil conditions, serious pruning, good drainage and foliar spraying to fight off pests and diseases that like fruit as much as we do. A list of certified organic suppliers can be found online. Surround, a mudlike organic pesticide sprayed on trees to fight plum curculio that causes fruit drop, is available at Ohio Earth Foods in Hartville (330-877-9356.)

More is known about the harm caused by conventional pesticides and herbicides. Beyond effects on human health, they can kill the very beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that provide a biologically healthy soil web. Find more information in the sources previously listed. Also, commercial growers might consider the duo’s technique for warding off deer: Setting up a 6,000-volt wire around the orchard, attaching an occasional metal mesh covered in peanut butter. Once the deer get shocked, said Kretschmann, they rarely come back.

More people want organic apples. Krestchmann admits that also means more education. Organic apples can look as pristine as grocery store apples, but that is not always the case. Still, they sometimes get three times the price for whole apples by the bushel compared to the same amount they once used only in cider. The education is worth it, he says. “I can produce quality fruit to an educated customer,” he said. “I always say that using a paring knife (to trim unwanted parts of the fruit) are always better than using chemicals. Chemicals, you can’t pare off.”

Guebert tells OEFFA members ‘big ag’ is unsustainable

By Chris Kick, Farm and Dairy, 2/16/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio — Bemoaning the ways of “big agriculture” and many of the trade groups that represent it, Illinois writer and columnist Alan Guebert encouraged a return to affordable, sustainable agriculture during his keynote address Feb. 14 at a state meeting of organic and sustainable farmers.

“Twenty-fifteen is going to be a big year both for sustainable and a big year for unsustainable agriculture,” he told a crowd of about 1,100 people, at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association annual conference, held at Granville schools.

On the “unsustainable” side, he expects farmers will continue to face steep financial burdens.

“How sustaining is it to plant a $350 bag of seed corn on $10,000-an-acre ground, with a $250,000 tractor,” he asked.

Government support

The only way such farmers will sustain their operations, he said, is with tax breaks and subsidies, including government-subsidized crop insurance.

“The way they farm won’t succeed and, in fact, on its own, it’s never going to succeed,” he said. ”Throughout American history, American agriculture, left to its own devices, has produced itself smack dab into poverty.”

Aside from the financial challenges, Guebert said modern farming practices are destroying fertile soil, which results in $400 billion in lost food production every year.

“American farmers and ranchers are going to have to change,” he said, noting that all generations of farmers have had to change in order to survive.

But some things don’t change, like the demand for good-tasting food that is fresh, safe and high quality, he said.

He recalled growing up on his family’s crop and dairy farm in southern Illinois, when most of their food came from within 10 miles of their home farm. The term “junk food” was unheard of, people were thinner and healthier, and there were more neighbors and neighborhood businesses.

Original foodies

Guebert said he and his rural neighbors were “foodies” long before the movement began.

“With almost perfect ignorance, we ate from farm-to-table,” he said, adding, “Our farm, to our table.”

He said some of the things “big ag” is promoting, like its claim of feeding the world and producing the safest food supply in the world, are myths.

He pointed to recent salmonella cases and foodborne illnesses, as proof.

Guebert said corporate agriculture tries to tell people what to think, when it should be informing them about the facts.

Challenging ag

If left unchallenged, big ag’s message, would be to “sit down, eat and shut up,” according to Guebert.

Guebert has definitely been a challenger throughout his career, which has mostly centered around ag journalism and a syndicated column, called the Farm & Food File, which is carried by Farm and Dairy.

Many of his columns are critical of large farm organizations and government leaders, and commodity checkoffs, especially the National Cattlemen’s Beef Checkoff, which he faults for not doing a proper job of auditing its spending.

His brother, Richard Guebert, has taken a different approach to farming. Richard is president of the Illinois Farm Bureau and now serves on the national Farm Bureau board — organizations that Alan Guebert criticizes for promoting myths and misinformation.

Guebert said the kind of agriculture he expects to survive is that which is “sustainable,” betting against things like genetically modified organisms and certain soil amendments.

“If I was to bet on the food production scheme most likely to succeed in the next 50 years, I’d bet on the scheme that has succeeded for the last 50 centuries,” he said. “I’d bet on sustainable food production.”

Organic checkoff

In a morning session, he moderated a panel discussion about a proposed organic checkoff program. The checkoff has been in the works for the past couple years, and the 2014 farm bill contains language that could move it forward.

In favor of the checkoff was organic dairy farmer Gene DeBruin, of Fayette County, Ohio. And opposing the checkoff was Carmen Fernholz, an organic crop farmer from Minnesota.

DeBruin said he supports creating a checkoff because it would help promote and distinguish the organic brand.

“If we’re going to protect our premium market, we’re going to have to put some effort into it,” DeBruin said.

Fernholz, who also holds a position with the University of Minnesota as organic research coordinator, said he’d rather see the work of a checkoff be done through a land grant college, with public tax money.

Fernholz said he’s “never seen what I would call a good story from checkoffs.”

As an organic farmer, he finds himself paying to checkoffs that already exist, but that don’t do research into organic practices.

“If I’m not getting organic research on those dollars, who’s getting it,” he asked.

One of the challenges to creating an organic checkoff, Fernholz said, is that organic producers can’t really claim it’s any better than conventional food.

“What are we going to promote?” he asked. “What promotion can you really say, other than ‘look for the organic label.’”

Organic exemption

Fernholz said he’s in favor of “complete organic exemption” from all checkoffs, and more emphasis on public research.

But new funding, even for food research, can be a tough sell for taxpayers.

“I’m just afraid that ain’t going to happen,” DeBruin said.

Guebert concluded the checkoff discussion by talking about the challenges of operating a checkoff and the responsibilities of its members.

“They’re (checkoffs) not hard to start, but they’re really hard to monitor,” he said.

A federally supported checkoff would have U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight, and certain budgeting and auditing requirements.

Guebert said organic producers still need more information, to “ensure that if this is what you want, it’s done in the manner that you want.”

Middlefield plant growth guru says strong plants make strong soil

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/14/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio — We try pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, compost, integrated pest management and crop rotation – even in our littlest yards.

But do we really know what plants want?

John Kempf, a Middlefield consultant on plant health who has clients across the country, said we are not going to get the best out of agriculture and the environment if we don’t start paying attention to the distinct needs of plants.

“They have immune systems, just like we do,” Kempf told an audience of mostly organic farmers Friday at a pre-conference session of the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

And, like ours, those immune systems need to be fortified over a life cycle. Kempf revealed his own food pyramid for plant nutrients, and a diagram of the stages of growth when it’s necessary to administer the right minerals in the right balance.

Herbicides and pesticides are a relic of our “warfare mentality” he said. Pests have sharpened sensors that will always draw them to a weakened plant.

“You can spray insecticide, kill the pests, and you’ll still have a weak plant,” he said.

A strong plant will not only fend off pests and disease, he said, it will also help build up the soil, assuring a stronger future for both.

Kempf says he’s not offering new information, just a synthesis of findings lost in a rush to chemical solutions and the fragmentation of plant study.

“Farmers used to be generalists,” he said. “Now there are so many specialists, and they don’t always talk to each other.

“An incredible amount of information never gets applied to the field.”

A member of the Amish community who set down his straw hat before his presentation, Kempf said much of what he’s saying can be obtained by Internet searches. He recommended a Google search for the words “nutrient requirements of” before adding the Latin name of the plant to be grown. Also helpful, he said, is the online bookstore operated by .

He recommended that home gardeners start with seeds from good sources (such as Baker Creek, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco), well-composted soil and then follow a proper schedule of nutrient application.

Over-application of certain elements can inhibit plants from accessing nutrients, with potassium and calcium frequently at odds. He advocates the analysis of sap from living plants rather than the more common practice of testing dried plant matter for nutritional content. When the crop is still alive in the ground, he said, there may still be time to improve it. He relies on the Bellville company, Crop Health Labs (1-800-495-7938).

Kempf said he got interested in plant health when he noticed a patch of cantaloupe on his family farm planted on two kinds of soil, one with a long history of chemical use, and one without. The latter had fewer pests and disease, which sent him into a self-education and eventually a consulting business. He operates Advancing Eco Agriculture at 4551 Parks West Road, Middlefield, 44062, where he sells nutrients for both commercial and home use.

At OEFFA, Kempf recounted numerous cases of strong plant health trumping bad growing conditions and pests. This spring, he will establish his own demonstration farm on 160 acres in Orwell, Ashtabula County, where he’ll grow food that will develop into a community supported agriculture program by 2016.

“It will have the healthiest plants possible, with the highest immune systems possible, and absolutely no pesticides,” he said.

Paid interns are being sought for this growing season, with information available by emailing Kempf through his web site.

The sold-out OEFFA conference continues through Sunday with more than 100 workshops on sustainable growing.

Granville, C-TEC students team up on food posters

By Charles A. Peterson, Newark Advocate, 2/14/15

Granville High School environmental studies students and a C-TEC Licking County visual communications class are working together on a graphic arts project they hope will end up on Capitol Hill.

Saturday at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference in Granville, the student teams manned a Pop-Up Gallery Show to exhibit the fruits of their labor on seven posters depicting local sustainable foods and farming efforts.

The “fruits” of the students’ efforts had a lot to do with the chief theme for the conference, “Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil.”

The students of Granville environmental studies teacher Jim Reding conducted the research, and the C-TEC class taught by Jennifer Evans Kinsley turned that information into marketing posters.

The project is being conducted through Project Localize, a nationwide food literacy initiative through the California-based Lexicon of Sustainability. Lexicon is an organization that shows teachers and students how to identify, promote and involve themselves in sustainable economic, cultural and social progress in their communities.

The student teams generated seven colorful 48-inch by 32-inch posters displayed at the conference.

Kinsley called the experience an “authentic experience on how to work for a client and a creative team.”

“It’s providing real-life experiences working with a client and working in a design team,” she said, noting that 80 percent of the art careers her students could end up in are in marketing and advertising. “I could not replicate this in the classroom.”

Reding said his students were nominated by Farm to School program to be involved in Project Sustainability. They started the process last year by studying local sustainable food systems and carried the project over to this year.

Students had lists of farmers, food processors and other key stakeholders to visit in central Ohio to begin their research.

“We did a schoolwide field trip to all of these locations,” he said of those represented on the posters. “They interviewed the individuals after doing research and coming up with their questions.”

After taking photos and writing the text, Reding said, “We turned it over to Mrs. Kinsley’s students, who put the posters in place.”

The visual arts students used a template provided by Lexicon to produce the posters. A key challenge was taking numerous photos — as many as 80 — and knitting them together on the poster to make them look like one single photo.

“There’s close to 30 or 40 hours of work on the final posters,” Reding said, all approved by Lexicon.

C-TEC student Grant Harris, of Lakewood High School, helped assemble numerous photos to create a poster depicting the Greener Grocer at the North Market in Columbus.

“I’ve always liked the atmosphere of the North Market,” he said. “Everybody gets together to show their foods and their culture.”

Granville students Bailey Blanchard and Emily Pitcher provided the text and photos.

“What we wanted to drive home here was that (the Greener Grocer) follows a value-driven system,” Blanchard said. Those values, listed on the poster, are “nutrient dense,” “organic” and “affordable.”

Closer to home, Granville students Conner Wallace and Maddy Richardson chose Snapshots Lounge in Granville, where owner Lucas Atwood uses locally grown food and will plant his own garden behind the lounge this spring to grow produce for his menu.

“All food served is sourced within a 3-mile radius of Licking County as part of the ’30-mile meal movement,’ ” states the poster featuring Atwood and his chef, Drew Spurlock.

“They’re trying very hard to locally source their food,” Reding said of Snapshots. “They really tie into that whole idea of community supported agriculture.”

Another poster, headed “Student led and student fed,” featured the Granville High School garden and greenhouse behind the school, maintained by Reding’s classes.

“We walk outside and work in the garden, then come back in to class,” environmental studies student Tyler Thomas told an onlooker.

Kinsley said food and farm association officials offered to host the students’ first Pop-Up Gallery as part of their 36th annual conference, which featured 100 educational workshops, a trade show and locally sourced and organic from-scratch meals. Between 1,100 and 1,200 were registered to attend, an association spokesperson said.

The student teams will learn May 1 whether their posters make it to the nation’s capital, Reding said.

“Events like this weigh in to that,” he said.