Category Archives: Annual Conference

Incentivizing Organic Farming

By Andrew Flinn, Brownfield Ag News, 2/13/17

A former USDA official says the upcoming farm bill needs to provide incentives to help conventional farmers who want to shift to organic farming. Jim Riddle is a past chairman of the USDA National Organic Standards Board.

“That allows a conventional farmer just to make a choice based on economics and provides technical assistance so they have people they can go to but also a financial safety net so they’re not risking the farm by going organic,” says Riddle.

He tells Brownfield there are additional rules and regulations for farmers shifting to organic operations before they can be certified as organic.

“You’re signing up to be regulated at a level that a lot of farmers haven’t been in the past but it needs to pencil out,” says Riddle.

Riddle says the certification is necessary for the industry to maintain its relationship with consumers.

“There have been ideas floated like we need to weaken the standards to make it easier to get into organic, and that would kill the market. The consumers demand rigorous standards and that’s what it’s all based on” says Riddle.

Brownfield spoke with Riddle at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Conference in Dayton Ohio.

Audio: Jim Riddle, Organic Farmer, Former Chair, USDA National Organic Standards Board

Organic farm leader Jim Riddle seeking common ground with Donald Trump, conservatives

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/7/17

OEFFAJimRiddle.jpg


While organic farming groups are moving an arm’s length from President Donald Trump’s views, from immigration to an agriculture secretary nominee, Jim Riddle is leaning in to the new administration with a corn-huskers’ handshake.

Riddle, a 60-year-old who grew up on an Iowa farm and now raises berries in Minnesota, says there’s an unclaimed common ground between organics and conservatives.

His own perspective is certified organic. For 20 years he was an organic inspector, one of those folks who show up at least once a year to determine if certified farms really do merit the federally approved organic label by avoiding harmful pesticides and genetically modified seeds, among many other strictures.

After co-founding a farmers market, he served five years on the National Organic Standards Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then he has been appointed chair of Minnesota’s organic advisory board. This weekend he comes to Dayton as a keynote speaker at the 38th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. He’ll talk 3:45 p.m. Friday at the Dayton Convention Center. More information online.

Politics were heavy in the air when we talked to him by phone two weeks ago.

“In part, I want to talk about how organic values are conservative values,” he said. “At its core, organic farming is pro-life. From the ground up, it’s about keeping things alive – the seeds, the soil health, pollinators and wildlife. It embraces all species at all levels of farming.”And I also want to say that organic farming is really free-market farming. It’s farming the land in response to consumer demand. The demand for organic products is skyrocketing by double-digits each year. But because organic crop rotations are more complex methods, there typically aren’t government subsidies. That matches really well with the conservative agenda.

“The organic community went to the government and said it wanted standards that protect the word organic, and it worked really well. We’re really a model for self-regulation with clear, strong, transparent standards and protection of the word organic.”

Riddle believes organic food corresponds to the perceived conservative values of heightened personal responsibility.

“We are what we eat,” he said. “If it’s junk, you have lots of health problems. If you eat clean and live a smart life, your health improves and you’re less of a cost to society.”

Still, Riddle would like to see some changes, especially in what he calls loopholes to the organic trade laws.

In 2014, he said, Minnesota was one of the biggest producers of organic soybeans, selling more than $7.5 million a year. That same year, he said, India sold $75 million in organic soybeans to the United States. India got permission to sell here in a “magical, not transparent,” process during the George Bush administration, Riddle said. “India wanted access to the U.S. organic market, and it was granted as part of a nuclear arms agreement.”

While India has its own certifying groups to grant the use of USDA Organic labels, Riddle says the there’s no U.S. oversight on how they are being certified. In fact, Indocert.org, the site for a national certification body in India, says that because of forged certificates, buyers should double-check with Indocert first.

“Maybe it’s all totally authentic,” said Riddle, “and good for India if that’s true. But we don’t know. There’s no transparency, no U.S. audits, no reviews.”

Right now, he said, we import 70 percent of the organic soybeans we use, and 40-50 percent of organic corn.  Many of those grains are coming not only from India, but also from Turkey, Romania and the Ukraine. Those three, he said, are inspected by a Turkish agency which lost its accreditation to sell in the European Union and Canada two years ago. The USDA tried, but failed, to suspend the Turkish agency’s accreditation. From Riddle’s point of view, this means we are letting in questionable imports.

“Even if they are authentic, we are rewarding farmers in foreign lands rather than supporting organic farmers in America who are protecting water quality, preventing soil erosion, enhancing biodiversity, and growing good clean food. We need to do everything we can to preserve organics here. And, hello, if anything can grow here organically, it’s corn and beans.”

But who will grow it? Riddle admits that while organic food sales have spiked, the number of U.S. organic farmers has not increased. He himself turned from annual to perennial crops after some severe storms.

So, beyond blueberries, who will grow our vegetables? Riddle says produce is still a good, quick-turnover crop for beginning farmers, although he encourages diversification for biodiversity and future profit.

Organic farmers still face “a huge barrier” economically in the required three-year transition period from conventional farming methods to organic certification.

“There’s no safety net to help conventional and beginning farmers convert to organic,” he said. “While a country like Denmark is behind that transition 100 percent.

“As a result, we become more dependent on imports. The farther we get away from our own gardens, community supported agriculture programs, farmers markets, there’s a larger danger of not being authentic.

“There are container ships arriving here with 450,000 tons of “organic” grain at a time. It’s really difficult to think about traceability on that grain.”

Riddle, along with major players in the organic community, also worries about the rise in hydroponically grown products being labeled as organic.

“It’s right in the law that the term organic means it enhances the health of the soil. If there’s no soil, how can you apply the term? It’s misleading to the consumer. It’s fine if they want to label the products as pesticide-free, but hydroponic growers shouldn’t be cashing in on the organic market.”

Riddle worries about the current immigration crackdown, fearing that people will forget the contributions to agriculture made by Hispanics, Somalians, and, in his neck of the woods, the Hmong of Laos.

He’s hoping Ohio will create its own organic advisory board, to help bolster the movement. He may find ways to shake hands with the new administration, but he wants them to feel an organic grip.

“This whole movement toward organic food and farming happened outside the political sphere,” he said. “And it’s not going to go away.”

Grow Home: 38th Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conferences moves to Dayton Convention Center

By Tara Pettit, Dayton City Paper, 1/31/17

Collaboration, ideation, and innovation on statewide practices in sustainable food and farming practices will be “homegrown” this year at the 38th annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) Conference, “Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow.” For the first time, Ohio’s largest sustainable food and farm conference will be hosted on Dayton soil, transforming the Dayton Convention Center into what will become the new “brainstorming headquarters” of OEFFA’s kick-off food and farming event of the year.

Previously held in Licking County’s Granville school building for 11 years, OEFFA’s continuously growing conference prompted leaders to seek a larger space to accommodate increased participation and diversify programs, speakers, workshops, and banquets. OEFFA is excited that conference attendance continues to increase as a result of the nation’s growing awareness and interest in sustainable farming and food production.

“The local and organic audience is very different than what it was 38 years ago when we first started,” says Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA Communications Coordinator. “When we first started holding the conference, ‘the O-word’ [‘organic’] was a dirty word. Since then, our work has become much more mainstream and the demand from consumers for organic foods has grown tremendously.”

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As the conference has grown since its inception in the early ’80s, OEFFA has tailored programs for multiple audiences, incorporating a wider variety of workshops and sessions that appeal to both the agriculturalist and the food enthusiast. OEFFA designed many sessions to stimulate public discussion on food and farming issues, policies, and best practices—with current-focus topics at the community and state level. As these legislatures address issues around food production and farming practices, OEFFA has continued to play an influential advocacy role.

Work for the farm, you

Since its establishment in 1979, OEFFA has used education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic food systems, help farmers and consumers reconnect, and work to build a sustainable food system. The organization aims to bring prosperity to family farmers, meet the growing consumer demand for local food, create economic opportunities for rural communities, and safeguard the environment in Ohio and beyond. The organization also supports several key initiatives that have made a real difference in Ohio’s local and organic food systems: an investment fund to create access to affordable capital for local farmers, direct assistance for small farmers through promotion and support of their businesses and products, diligent state and federal policy advocacy, annual free public farm tours and workshops, and publicly accessible local food and farm resources.

Additionally, OEFFA operates one of the oldest and most respected organic certification programs in the nation. The annual conference serves as the culminating event where results from OEFFA’s past year of activities are featured, directly connecting individuals from the Ohio communities in which it invests.

Family style

Responding to the expanding interest and involvement in food and farm policy, OEFFA has restructured the conference’s programs to accommodate a wide spectrum of agricultural knowledge and expertise, even for the non-farmer.

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“We have really designed this year’s conference to have something for everyone,” Ketcham says. “If you are a farmer, gardener, participate in a community garden, or just like to shop at the local farmer’s market and care about local food, the conference has a lot to offer.”

With Dayton hosting this year, several local OEFFA members and organizations will lead a variety of workshops and sessions to educate the community on innovations and best practices in the sustainable food and farming field. Local workshop and session leaders include Krista Magaw of Tecumseh Land Trust leading “Farmland Access 101: Options for Landowners and Growers”; Lisa Helm of former Garden Station co-op leading “Low-Tech Farm Hacks and DIY Infrastructure”; Mary Lou Shaw of Milk and Honey Farm leading “Chemical-Free Home Orchards”; and Ben Jackle of Mile Creek Farm leading “Old MacGyver Had a Farm: A Forum for Sharing On Farm Innovations.” In addition, OEFFA Stewardship Award winners Doug Seibert and Leslie Garcia of Peach Mountain Organics will engage in a live interview as part of the Ohio Humanities’ newly launched OEFFA multi-media oral history project.

As key players in Dayton’s sustainable food and farming efforts, each local leader involved in this year’s conference will share her or his own expertise and lessons to educate and engage participants on ways they can contribute to a local sustainable movement.

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Shaw points out that OEFFA’s conference “gives attendees the information they need for a changing future… the tools and resiliency to survive a changing climate, weakening global food system, and threatened water sources.” She advocates for personal food production beyond the U.S. population’s 2 percent of industrial farmers, stating, “It is for all of us, wherever we live, including urban areas like Dayton. Nothing is more healthful and satisfying as growing our own food.”

Each workshop leader is excited to be part of this statewide event and to bring OEFFA members from all over Ohio to Dayton for a weekend dedicated to what they are most passionate about and to present a diverse, but united, farming community right here in our city.

“The conference serves as an open community space to allow people with a shared passion for food and sustainable agriculture to come together,” Magaw says. “It will expose more newcomers to OEFFA and the great local food resources we already have in the Dayton region. Our hope is that people leave with a greater connection to the larger community working on these issues that, hopefully, continues beyond the conference to help throughout the year.”

This year, in addition to the traditional lineup of innovative food and farming key note talks, brainstorming sessions, open discussions, and do-it-yourself (DIY) workshops, OEFFA has scheduled several additional special programs to boost the conference’s renown as an intimate setting for networking, learning, and fellowship. With the conference’s new home in Dayton, these events will also allow participants to become more intimate with Dayton’s local food culture.

On Thursday evening, in remembrance of Ohio’s “Contrary Farmer” Gene Logsden, a brand new Contrary Farmers Social will be held at 2nd Street Market for a special, small plate sampling provided by market vendors. The social will also feature a fine assortment of Ohio and other domestic cheeses and craft beer as conference-goers gather to remember Logsden and reflect on where agriculture was in 1995 when his seminal book (“The Contrary Farmer”) was published.

Also new is the Cream of the Crop Banquet, held on Friday evening, a specially prepared meal comprised of local and organic food coupled with a program featuring insights from Ohio Senator Steve Maurer, former Ohio Department of Agriculture director and executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in Ohio from 2009-2017.

With a greater focus on free events to increase exposure of the conference across the city, this year’s event will introduce morning yoga and Chi Kung exercise, open to the public, as well as free extended trade show hours on Thursday, from 4-7 p.m. and Friday, from 5-6:30 p.m.

“We have been heartened by how welcoming the Greater Dayton community has been to implement some of these community events,” Ketcham says. “We have been lucky to have received such a warm embrace by local organizations and look forward to building on those relationships in the future.”

Each year, OEFFA invites recognized leaders to present lectures on key topics in sustainable agriculture and food. This year, the organization brings two nationally-renowned individuals whose work has transformed standard practices within the larger food and farming industry.

Jim Riddle, former chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board and founding chair of Winona Farmers’ Market in Minnesota, and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), will present his lecture titled “Transform Organic Today, Grow with Integrity Tomorrow” on Friday afternoon. Riddle will speak to the group about making “personal, societal, and political transformations during challenging times, in order to preserve human life on earth by transforming our agricultural systems to support life at every level,” as he tells Dayton City Paper. Riddle will focus on the role we all must play to advance sustainability and protect America’s future in farming and agriculture.

“I hope that audience members will hear my wake-up call, combined with suggestions for positive change, and leave with a sense of empowerment and concrete ideas they can incorporate in their daily lives,” Riddle says.

Saturday’s keynote will feature former financial and food industry analyst, Robyn O’Brien, who has been considered “food’s Erin Brockovich” for her work focused on transforming our food system and calling out how our foods have been manipulated with additives that can cause allergies, cancer, and other health problems. Her talk, “Building the 21st Century Food System: Capitalizing on the New Food Economy,” reviews the state of our country in terms of health care costs associated with consumption of unhealthy foods, explores the challenges of the organic industry’s lack of support, and poses the larger question of how we would rebuild our food system to promote smarter consumer decisions.

“Progressing the sustainable food production movement is going to require all hands on deck,” O’Brien says in an interview with Dayton City Paper. “It is initiated at the local level with locally-focused individuals who understand the local issues. To be at an event like this where you not only have access to keynotes, workshops, data, but access to network with the local farming community, is so important. It’s the most valuable information you can gather for yourself and your family.”

As in previous years, this year’s conference will continue to promote family-participation. Child and teen conferences will be held, which engage youth in age-appropriate food and farming activities and programs. Childcare is available for children under the age of 6.

Dayton HQ

With the conference’s expansion comes a need for a larger space and accommodations, which spurred OEFFA’s hunt for a larger, more conference-friendly venue.

“We have actually spent years looking into our site options around the state…” Ketcham says. “Many conference venues were just not going to be a good fit for us.”
Dayton was officially chosen as OEFFA’s appointed gathering grounds for the conference, becoming this year’s epicenter for transformative food and farm ideation.

However, what’s most curious about Dayton’s hosting this statewide food and farming event is that it holds a not-so-remarkable ranking as one of the nation’s top 10 worst cities—and worst city in the state—for food access.

Last year, WHIO reported that since Kroger closed its Gettysburg Avenue store in Dayton eight years ago, thousands in the area now lack access to a full-service grocery store. Nearly every urban area in the Miami Valley contains food deserts (areas where there is limited access to both affordable and nutritious food) and local urban farming initiatives, often with the help of OEFFA, have attempted to fill the gaps with their dedicated work. The issue, however, is far too large for small groups to tackle and requires full-on citywide support.

“Maybe this year OEFFA’s presence can have a greater impact on influencing our local government to take sustainable food production more seriously… the city should be supporting efforts like ours, not undermining them,” Helm says.

Despite the obvious need for improvement in the city’s plan for food and farm sustainability reform, the decision to host in Dayton was strategic, nonetheless. In fact, the reason OEFFA decided on Dayton may point to the city’s growing alignment with the organization’s values, its conference, and the aspirations of those who are a part of it.

It was only in Dayton that OEFFA found a willing partner with the Dayton Convention Center to support its goal—nearly impossible to find elsewhere.

OEFFA “walks the talk,” as Ketcham puts it, ensuring the conference provides quality, made from scratch, all locally-sourced meals for its attendees; Dayton Convention Center rose to the call, agreeing to OEFFA’s request.

“We have worked to make sure our chicken and pork are local, but also even down to the butter and individual ingredients in our carrot cake… and that meals are prepared from scratch,” Ketcham emphasizes. “The Dayton Convention Center has been really generous in working with us to accommodate our needs.”

Sherry Chen of Adelain Fields has donated her free-range, slow-growth, and organic-fed chickens to the OEFFA conference for the past four years. She understands how important providing locally-sourced, made-from-scratch meals is to the organization and the statement it makes about the conference, which is why she readily contributes each year.

“I so believe in this organization… not only what they’re doing, but how they do it,” Chen says.

Helm remains hopeful that community sustainability efforts may be reaffirmed and even increase with OEFFA’s local presence in Dayton this year.

“Hopefully, having the conference in our area will encourage more people who have never attended from our area to make the commitment to go and ramp up their production,” Helm says. “We need more than ever to support local and sustainable food production. I would like to see Dayton’s OEFFA partnership bring more credibility and awareness to the sustainable food production efforts in our area.”

Perhaps the choice to host in Dayton is the motivation our city needs to actively join OEFFA in transforming the state’s food and farming system while addressing food security issues here at home. Regardless, it will be more important than ever, at both the state and local level, to build and support a locally focused system that improves access to wholesome foods t a time when homegrown quality is imperative.

OEFFA’s 38th Annual Conference takes place Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 at Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St. in Dayton. The Exhibit Hall is open to the public Thursday, 4-7 p.m. and Friday, 5-6:30 p.m. All other conference events require paid registration. Registration will only be accepted at the door, not online. Thursday’s pre-conferences, as well as all meals, are sold out. Adult member registration weekend tickets cost $165 and non-member registration costs $225. Day passes, student discounts, and teen and kids’ registration will be available at the door. For more information, please visit
OEFFA.org/Conference2017.

Young, urban farmers the focus of OEFFA’s conference in Dayton, Feb. 9-11

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/20/17

Leading organic farmer, Jim Riddle, and a prominent foe of genetically engineered food, Robyn O’Brien, will be keynote speakers at this year’s annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Feb. 9-11 in Dayton.
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Educating and supporting young farmers and urban farmers is the theme of the conference, which offers a series of workshops specifically geared to beginning farmers or those about to expand their operations. Planting and management of crops, water quality, business planning, safe handling of organic approved pesticides and other topics will be discussed in more than 70 workshops.

Others include organic grain production, on-farm poultry processing, soil fertility, bee health, local meat co-ops, foraged food and combating food waste.

“Urban Agriculture has the ability to transform our urban and blighted communities by becoming a practical solution,” said Clarence Bunch, associate director at Central State University’s Cooperative Extension Service.

The annual meeting dedicates all its programming to sustainable farming – done for the health of the environment, the farmers and consumers.

Riddle, a Minnesota berry farmer, has been an inspector for organic certification and spent several years on the National Organic Standards board of the United States Department of Agriculture. He has also devised ways for farmers to better afford organic certifications.

O’Brien is a former financial and food industry analyst and author of “The Unhealthy Truth,” a popular book about the health effects of food additives and manipulations.

This year’s conference moves to Dayton after many years in Granville. Dayton Convention Center will host most of the events. A trade show, meals, kids’ and teen conferences are part of the weekend.

Registration fees are $90 for the intensive, pre-conference session on Thursday, focused on growing high-nutrient food and working smarter on the farm, and $225 for the Friday and Saturday sessions. Discounted prices are available for OEFFA members, students and children. For more information, and for registration through Jan. 23, go online. The OEFFA offices can be reached at 614-421-2022.

Ohio State Experts to Speak at Sustainable Agriculture Conference

By Kurt Knebusch, 1/13/17, OSU CFAES

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ten experts from The Ohio State University will be among the 100-plus presenters at this year’s annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Organizers call the event, which is Feb. 9-11 in Dayton, the largest sustainable agriculture conference in Ohio.

It will have, for example, nearly 80 hour-and-a-half educational workshops, two keynote speakers, a three-day trade show, four full-day intensive preconference workshops, a banquet featuring Ohio-grown foods and “The Contrary Farmer’s Social” honoring the late Ohio farmer-writer Gene Logsdon.

Now in its 38th year, this is the first time the conference is being held in Dayton.

CFAES well represented

The Buckeye presenters — most of them from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — will speak on topics such as cover crops, local meats, food policy and soil organic matter. They’ll be, for example, from the college’s research and outreach arms — which are the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension, respectively — and programs including the Organic Food and Farming Education and Research program.

The college is one of the conference’s many sponsors.

The presenters from Ohio State will be:

A complete list of all the conference’s speakers is at oeffa.org/conference2017.php. Online registration for the event is available at the same URL and is open until Jan. 23. Onsite registration will also be available. Prices range from $95 to $225 depending on full-conference, one-day, student or adult registrations.

Grassroots coalition

OEFFA, according to its website, is a “grassroots coalition of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers and others who share a desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, creates economic opportunities for our rural communities and safeguards the environment.” It was founded in 1979.

Ohio State has made transforming food production and agriculture, and improving people’s food security as a result, one of its university-wide areas of focus. Details are at discovery.osu.edu/focus-areas/infact/.

“Generation Rx” and a “Sick” Food System

Robyn O’Brien with the AllergyKids Foundation says it's time to heal the nation's "sick" food system. (OEFFA)
By Mary Kuhlman, Ohio Public News Service, January 12. 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Food allergies, diabetes and cancer are among the growing health concerns for Ohio families, and a best selling author and mother says the nation’s “sick” food system is partly to blame.

Robyn O’Brien, director of the AllergyKids Foundation, is scheduled to speak about the issue at an upcoming event in Ohio. She says rising rates of diseases are increasing health care costs and giving today’s children the reputation of “Generation Rx.”

O’Brien believes it’s all connected to the use of genetically-engineered ingredients in food.

“People are really struggling in a way that we weren’t 50 years ago,” she stresses. “And all families are being impacted – regardless of what side of the aisle we’re on, regardless of where we live – and it’s becoming one of the biggest issues we face as a country.”

One in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy; nearly 1 in 4 people under age 20 are estimated to have diabetes; and cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death under age 15.

O’Brien contends that healing the food supply can protect the nation’s health.

She’ll deliver the keynote address Feb. 11 at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference in Dayton.

Genetically-engineered ingredients are said to be found in 80 percent of processed foods sold in the U.S. And O’Brien says other parts of the world have placed a higher value on people’s dietary health.

“Other countries tend to exercise precautions,” she states. “They do not allow things into the food system until they have been proven safe where we take an approach and we say, you know, ‘It’s not yet been proven dangerous, so we’ll allow it.'”

O’Brien notes that with growing demand for organic products, many food companies are stepping up and working to eliminate artificial ingredients. But she says the farmer’s role in creating a healthier food system needs to be elevated.

“Our biggest constraint is that about 1 percent of our farmland in the United States is organic, and we have a bottleneck,” she points out. “So, what can we do, how can we have these conversations, how can the farmers’ voices be heard? What can companies do to support the farmers? Because our federal policy is sort of stuck in 1995.”

Things to Love About the 2017 OEFFA Conference

By Claire Hoppens, Edible Columbus
Illustrations by Kevin Morgan

The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association has been hosting their annual conference for the farming community for over 35 years. This year they celebrate their 38th gathering in Dayton from February 9 – 11. Read more about highlights for this year’s conference, and purchase tickets at oeffa.org.

From Granville to Dayton

This year’s move to the Dayton Conference Center allows for growth and added amenities, but won’t sacrifice any of the charm or programming that have become synonymous with the conference. “We’re excited to have new partners and reach a new part of the state,” says OEFFA Communications Coordinator Lauren Ketcham. The conference, previously held in Granville, will celebrate its 38th year with the theme “Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow.”

Convenience and Comfort

Even a late winter optimist can appreciate the tunnel connecting the Dayton Conference Center and all OEFFA activities to the on-site hotel, the Crown Plaza Dayton. Parking is complimentary, and be sure to ask for the special OEFFA rate when booking.

For Farmers and Advocates

Workshops cover a wide range of topics including organic and sustainable agriculture, food policy, home cooking, business tactics and certification. Whether you’re a farmer seeking organic certification or a local food advocate, there are topics suited for all interests and occupations. All workshops are 1½ hours long and feature prominent leaders, teachers, authors or instructors.

Family Friendly

The OEFFA Conference offers unique programming for kids ages 6–12 and teens ages 12–15, in addition to on-site childcare for children 5 and under. Teens may adhere to customized programming or overlap with the main sessions as they wish, and kids will have opportunities to get their hands dirty, take on a project and learn on a level that best suits them.

Three Days of Trade

Exhibitors participate in a trade show from Thursday to Saturday, offering a chance for attendees to connect and research sustainable businesses, products and farms. Explore the trade show during schedule breaks or between sessions to learn about innovative new products and tools of the trade, sample food and beverages and meet individuals from all over the state.

Foods’ Erin Brockovich

This year’s keynote speakers are Robyn O’Brien, former financial and food industry analyst and author of The Unhealthy Truth, and Jim Riddle, an organic farmer, inspector, educator, policy analyst and activist. Robyn founded and served as the Executive Director of the AllergyKids Foundation, and advises companies making changes in the food industry. She’s been called “foods’ Erin Brockovich.” Jim served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board from 2001 to 2006. He remains engaged in organic issues and operates Blue Fruit Farm, a five-acre farm in southeastern Minnesota.

Local Meals Made with Love

Conference attendees have the choice to include lunch and dinner options on their ticket. Meals are made from scratch and feature as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible, some from the farms of conference sponsors or attendees. The meals offer a chance to mingle and connect over food prepared lovingly and in the spirit of the conference.

Dayton is Worth the Trip

Dayton is home to vibrant neighborhoods, historical explorations and family activities in every season. The 2nd Street Market is a year-round farmers market open Thursday–Saturday in close proximity to the Dayton Conference Center, RiverScape MetroPark opens a seasonal ice rink to the public and microbreweries, like Warped Wing Brewery, are scattered across the city.

Community Connections

Gathering diverse and passionate people for a food and farming conference makes for abundant networking opportunities. Newfound farmers can garner wisdom from their more experienced counterparts. Interns might connect with future employers. And throughout the conference, OEFFA will host designated networking sessions and a reception.

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
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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.