Category Archives: Annual Conference

‘Safe, cheap food’ is a big myth says OEFFA keynote speaker Alan Guebert

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

GRANVILLE, Ohio – When Alan Guebert was a farm boy in southern Illinois, Cokes came in six-ounce bottles, there wasn’t much “junk” food, and most of what his family ate came fresh from the farm or from other farms 10 miles away.

“We were skinnier and healthier,” he told his Saturday audience at the 2015 OEFFA conference on Ohio organic food and sustainable agriculture.

“No wonder there’s a foodie culture today,” he added. “These foodies just want to eat like we used to.”

A lot of life has changed, the award-winning agricultural columnist told his audience of several hundred Ohio farmers and local food enthusiasts.

“But something that hasn’t changed is good, healthy food.”

While he sees the appetite for that food increasing, he also sees a greater backlash from industrial agriculture. He cited the millions recently spent in western states on defeating campaigns on labeling genetically modified food.

“Are they trying to educate me, or are they telling me what to think,” he asked.

“A lot of people in agriculture don’t want you to succeed,” he told the group. “Somehow they see your success as their failure.

“Corporate agriculture would love to say, ‘Sit down and eat, and shut up.'”

Guebert rebutted the message that industrial agriculture provides our country with the safest, cheapest food on the planet.

“Maybe ‘cheap’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he said, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that 24 percent of cut up chicken parts carry salmonella bacteria. He also mentioned a Consumer Reports study that showed one third of bacteria on chicken was resistant to antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the pathogen causes 1.5 million illnesses each year, 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

“When did eating become such a gamble,” he said, “and not even a good gamble.”

With all the subsidies from tax monies, Guebert said “big ag is not interested in giving up its dominant role.” But he believes the tide is turning in Washington, D.C., and that the next farm bill might just be a “food bill.”

“Are you ready for that,” he asked. “Are you ready for a member of Congress to ask you how important sustainable agriculture is to the health of America, and can you answer it in five minutes? What would you say? Do you have a vision? If not, you’d better get one.

“Good luck, Godspeed, and I mean it.”

Research funding stacked against sustainable agriculture, says OEFFA speaker

By Debbi Snook, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/30/15

When Doug Gurian-Sherman gears up to talk about sustainable agriculture versus industrial agriculture, he pauses to consider the farmer in the middle.

“It’s important not to demonize big ag farmers,” said the senior scientist for the advocacy group, Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. “They’re stuck in the system, too.”

When those farmers cut back on chemicals to reduce their environmental impact, they risk being less competitive with similar farmers.

But, Gurian-Sherman adds, farmers who practice sustainable agriculture – a process of conserving and enriching the soil more organically – can have similar yields and many more ecological benefits.

“It requires 30 percent more labor,” he said of the ecologically principled farm, “but that’s not necessarily a problem, since more money goes to farmers. And it can reduce the need for chemicals by 90 to 95 percent, which is better for our water and soil.

“But the money for research is stacked against us.”

Gurian-Sherman, who is working to change that, is one of the keynote speakers at the 36th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, a statewide support and certification group holding its36th annual meeting Feb. 14-15 in Granville.

His talk will be part of a weekend of events that include a film about genetically modified organisms, a marketplace of sustainable goods and more than 75 workshops on everything from growing hogs in pasture to gut health to understanding the Farm Bill. A pre-conference event on Feb. 13 focuses more deeply on poultry production, udder and plant health. Two-day conference costs are $225 for adult non-members, with discounts for fulltime students, OEFFA members, one-day registrants, and online purchases before Jan. 31. Costs for the Feb. 13 pre-conference sessions peak at $95.

Gurian-Sherman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on the effect of genetically engineered plants on human health, doesn’t dismiss the potential benefits of genetically modified organisms or GMOs now regularly used on the country’s largest corn and soybean farms. Transplanting genes from one plant to another can sometimes make plants more disease resistant. But they can also transfer hidden allergens.

He says more regulation and research is needed to sift through new GMOs and the growing concern over their potential to adversely affect people and the land.

If Gurian-Sherman could, though, he’d turn the argument away from GMOs.

“Part of the problem of that debate is that it focuses too much on potential health risks. Yes, all the major scientific bodies have admitted that some GMOs could be harmful to eat, but right now our research system is not robust enough to detect the risk in those crops.”

His real worry is that other, more important issues are ignored.

He lists the emergence of “superweeds” that have become resistant to herbicides, and are now reported in Southern Ohio. Farmers who grew food crops resistant to herbicides, but raised superweeds instead, are now returning to older herbicides to wipe them out.

“They’re going back with a vengeance,” said Gurian-Sherman, “and those older herbicides cause more health problems. There’s a lot of epidemiology to show a connection between one of those herbicides and higher rates of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in farmers.”

Also, he says some of today’s herbicides have likely contributed to the estimated 90 percent decline in Monarch butterflies because they’ve wiped out the insect’s main source of food, a variety of milkweed.

The trouble, Gurian-Sherman says, is the style of agriculture itself. Better soil health can be achieved with crop rotation, cover crops to enrich the soil coupled with no-till methods that curb nutrient runoff.

One is not as good without the others, he said, especially if you’re looking to tackle the algae-causing runoffs in places such as Lake Erie.

“Growing single crops without a sustainable agriculture process is in a nutshell why phosphorus is going into the lake,” he said. “Also, climate change with bigger storms.”

No-till reduces erosion and runoff, he said, but a lot of phosphorus stays on the surface, doesn’t bind with the soil and can get washed away. Growing cover crops helps prevent that.

“If no-till is implemented in a piecemeal way, you won’t see the real benefits,” he said.

Getting the word out is hard when the playing field is tipped in favor of big agriculture, he said.

“Over the last several decades, as we’ve reduced money for university research, private industry has stepped in. Now 60 percent of agricultural research money comes from industry. A lot of scientists are beholden to companies for research funds. Even if they are not directly beholden, their universities are. I know from talking to a lot of them that there is pressure to say the right thing. I’m not saying they’re making things up, but if you don’t ask certain questions, all you have is the answers to other things.”

Expert to Examine Ways to Build a Successful, Sustainable Farming System

Public News Service
By Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO:Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety, Doug Gurian-Sherman, will speak in Ohio about possible ways to building a successful, sustainable agriculture system. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
PHOTO:Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior
Scientist at the Center for Food Safety,
Doug Gurian-Sherman.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the nation’s agriculture industry is productive, a leading scientist and biotechnology expert says it’s not sustainable. Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman says the industrial model of farming, focusing on methods rather than the whole system, has contributed to loss of biodiversity, as well water and air pollution.

He suggests moving toward an agroecological approach that takes into account the ways farming interacts with the environment.

“To use natural processes that are more and more understood through the science of ecology in a way that enhances production and preserves scarce resources and reduces the impacts and pollution from farming,” says Gurian-Sherman.

He says no-till farming is an example of focusing on only a method. While it reduces soil erosion and saves water, it has increased the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Gurian-Sherman will discuss the relationships between biotechnology and agroecology, and how they can combine to build a successful, sustainable agricultural system when he speaks at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference in February.

Gurian-Sherman points to the toxic algae pollution in Lake Erie as another example, because it is linked to the runoff of excess nutrients from no-till farming.

“It illustrates dangers or risks of relying on piece-meal solutions without taking a more holistic, systemic view of agriculture as an endeavor and as a system in the environment as opposed to a series of methods,” he says.

Another problem, says Gurian-Sherman, is the uneven playing field when it comes to social, political, and regulatory views of agriculture.

“Maybe about two to five percent of our agricultural research budget goes to ecologically-based and sustainable farming systems and the rest goes towards reinforcing the industrial model including improving its efficiency,” he says.

Gurian-Sherman adds, research has contributed tremendously to the success of industrial farming, and with better support, sustainable farming systems would become more efficient as well. He’s scheduled to speak at the conference in Granville on Feb. 15th.

Genetically Modified Crops Continue to be Controversial

All Sides with Ann Fisher

Ohio farmers have now joined a nationwide lawsuit against a Swiss agriculture company for selling genetically modified corn before it was approved by China, a major corn importer. Ann explores the larger issue of genetically engineered crops, the concerns over health and environmental risks, and the role they play in feeding the world with guests:

  • Ellen Deason, professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
  • Doug Gurian-Sherman, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at the Center for Food Safety, and Featured Keynote Speaker at OEFFA’s 36th Annual Conference on Sunday, February 15
  • Douglas Southgate, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at The Ohio State University

Listen to the hour long conversation here.

Ohioans Can Rub Elbows with Sustainable Farming Experts

Ohio Public News Service
COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s a chance to rub elbows with sustainable farmers, growers and experts in Ohio. Registration is open for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 36th annual conference, to be held in February.

This year’s theme is “Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil,” said Lauren Ketcham, communications manager for OEFFA. How people care for the soil, she said, is connected to the quality of their food and water, how future generations are fed and who will be raising that food.

“Soil health is at the very core of sustainable agriculture,” Ketcham said, “but by building the connections between eaters and farmers, we’re also renewing the heart of our community-based food systems.”

More than 1,200 people from Ohio and beyond are expected to attend the event, including experienced growers, backyard gardeners and local food enthusiasts. The conference will be held Friday through Sunday, Feb. 13-15, in Granville.

The event features close to 100 workshops on a range of topics – from sustainable farming and gardening, to cooking and business management. Ketcham said the presenters include farmers sharing their practical wisdom, as well as researchers, business and community leaders.

“We really bring the best and brightest from Ohio and around the country,” she said, “and try to offer a nice balance between academic and research perspectives and tried-and-true field techniques direct from the mouths of farmers.”

With word of mouth, Ketcham said, the conference has grown each year. Many people leave feeling inspired and energized to start a new season or project, she said, “whether that’s because they’ve attended a workshop that’s really enlightened them on something, or they’ve made a personal connection with a presenter or fellow attendee that’s built a bridge for them and their business.”

Ketcham said they also will have children’s activities, a teen conference and musical entertainment, so families are encouraged to attend.

More information is online at

OEFFA workshops offer wealth of information

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — From livestock production to field crops and horticulture — this year’s Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference offered guests more than 100 workshops in just two days, Feb. 15-16.

In the Feb. 20 edition, Farm and Dairy focused on the two keynote speeches by author and organic consultant Atina Diffley, and former U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

However, there was a wealth of information presented by farmers, university professionals and industry experts. Most of the sessions were recorded and are now available for purchase at

Backyard poultry

In the area of backyard poultry, producers were reminded about the importance of selecting good, productive stock, and replacing animals that behave poorly.

“You never need to put up with a mean rooster,” said author and homesteader Mary Lou Shaw, who led a workshop called Creating Sustainability for Your Backyard Poultry.Shaw told about a rooster she once owned named Hotshot, who was mean and spurred her. So, she replaced him with a much gentler rooster.

While that may seem too simple — the solution really is that simple.

Jim Adkins, poultry specialist with the Sustainable Poultry Network, said producers should start with good stock. But if they get a mean bird, the best thing to do is to get rid of it. Otherwise, it will create more birds just like it.

OEFFA workshop

“An aggressive daddy produces aggressive sons,” he said.

This is one advantage small-scale producers have over large hatcheries, Adkins said, because small-scale producers have the time to cull their birds.

Selecting good birds

Adkins led a talk on selecting heritage poultry, or historic poultry breeds.He gave five criteria for selecting productive birds, as adopted from the 1914 book The Call of The Hen.

The first thing is to select birds with wide skulls, which usually leads to wide bodies and more meat. Other considerations include the size of the heart girth, back flatness, body depth, and straightness and quality of the breast bone. The back of the bird should be wide and long, which indicates growth potential.

He told producers that to be profitable, they should seek at least $6 a pound on a four-pound carcass. That may seem like a lot, but it takes that much to cover all the expenses.

“I think that’s incredibly do-able in our country,” he said. “People who will pay for that bird live where you live — you’ve got to find them.”

Local foods compass

In other workshops, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan led a talk on accessing government grants for local foods projects. She walked producers through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass — an online mapping tool that shows producers where grants and projects are taking place.

Be persistent

Merrigan said not as many people are using the compass as she had hoped, but said it’s a valuable tool nonetheless. She encouraged farmers to be persistent when applying for grants, and to seek help with the grant-writing process.

“If you don’t get it the first time around, you might get it the second,” she said.

Many of the projects awarded funding actually end up failing, but Merrigan said that’s part of the process and part of taking chances.

“You know a lot of these are not going to succeed because what we’re doing is cutting-edge,” she said.

At the same time, she said it’s important to “intelligently learn from our failures.”

Food trends

In a separate workshop, Mike Hogan, OSU Extension educator from Fairfield County, outlined the top 10 emerging marketing trends for 2014.

The No. 1 thing is that local will be big — whether it’s local meats or local produce. He cites the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, which lists local foods as the top trend for the year.

The second trend is healthy foods, which includes dark greens and more plant-based protein, as well as healthy beverages.

The third and fourth are signature foods and ugly foods — both being products that stand out and that are unique to specific farms.

Snacking trend

The fifth is that people are snacking more. He shared research that revealed one out of every five of today’s eating occasions is for a snack — not a meal. These on-the-go consumers want something that is bite-sized or hand-held, creating new demand for snack-size portions.

Snacking is especially popular among millennials (18-34). And, many of the snacks they demand are actually healthy — replacing high-sugar, high-fat snacks.

Social media

No. 6: social and mobile will continue to be big. This includes all major forms of social media, as consumers look to click their way to recipes and ingredients, and to read about a product.

7. Food packaging is changing, with more sensory-stimulating packages that tell the story of the product, and more packages that are edible.

8. Consumers want foods that are sustainable and that produce less waste.

9. Consumers will continue to fall into market segments, and you’ll need to know the behaviors of each. A big one to watch will be baby boomers, who by 2015, are expected to control more than half of grocery sales

10. Technology will continue to grow, whether it’s robotics, aeroponics or growing indoors.

Ohio farmers consider their next steps now that the Farm Bill is law

WKSU Quick Bites
By Vivian Goodman

The former deputy secretary of the USDA, Kathleen Merrigan, shared good news about the Farm Bill at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association‘s annual conference last weekend in Granville.

“We’ll see more money for farmers’ markets and food hubs, beginning farmers and ranchers, more money for organic research. And those gains would not have happened had it not been for grass-roots advocacy across the countryside.”

It took two years to get the bill passed, and now, Merrigan says, the big game in Washington is implementation.

“This Farm Bill is nearly 1,000 pages. I’m sure you’ve all read it, but it’s a huge amount of work to implement. So everyone wants to get their provision on the short list. That’s what’s going on now.”

More help for small and family farms and local foods
The bill triples funding for the USDA’s Farmers’ Market Promotion Program.

Downtown Columbus’s Pearl Market hopes to use its new money to help food-stamp recipients buy more fruits and vegetables.

The bill also helps farmers stretch their growing seasons with plastic, temporary greenhouses called high tunnels or hoop houses. Beth Knorr of the Akron area’s Countryside Conservancy’s Farmers’ Markets says they’ve been a real help through this brutal winter.

“Everybody’s being really hard hit and even in some of the high tunnels the products are freezing. I can say without a doubt that without hoop houses, our growers would be bringing no fresh produce.”

Another provision of the bill allows research into industrial hemp production. It’s high time for that according to E. R. Beach, a hemp snack maker from Athens. He’s circulating petitions in the exhibition hall for a fall ballot issue to legalize cultivation of hemp for non-drug purposes.

“There’s 20 states right now that are talking about it in their legislative bodies. Now, with the passing of the newest Farm Bill and the president signing it, … the federal government has officially reclassified industrial hemp. And so that’s really going to open up the doorways.” 

Inequities remain
But some doors remain closed. Former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says small farms are still at a disadvantage.

“This is not any game change. It is slightly regressive on some of the subsidy issues or the structure of traditional Ag programs. It’s just not where the American public is. I think that there’s a real … hunger for change across this country and Congress just hasn’t caught up.”

While there’s $1.2 billion for sustainable agriculture, there’s $7 billion in crop subsidies for Big Ag’s factory farms. 

Mardy Townsend’s biggest beef with the new Farm Bill is about crop insurance. She raises grass-fed cows in Ashtabula County.

“I’m very disappointed in the fact that most of the Farm Bill commodity programs have switched to a reliance on crop insurance. I cannot get crop insurance because my farm does not fit into the parameters that they want. Smaller farmers who have a much more diversified system do not fit the model that’s basically made for corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and wheat.”

Most new Farm Bill subsidies are for those who grow single crops rather than the variety of fruits and vegetables small farmers bring to farmers’ markets.

More protection for the soil
But Shavaun Evans of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says at least now there’s a string attached to crop subsidies for the big guys.

“Farmers will actually have to have some sort of conservation plan in place to conserve our soil and protect the land.”

Phil Nabors of Blueberry Hill Family Farms in Loudonville came to a workshop at the conference to see if his soil, now growing berries, might also be good for hops, now that so many locally owned microbreweries are popping up. Nabors says change is coming thanks to consumer demand.

“The whole local foods movement is happening no matter what the government does or doesn’t do. Local foods is exploding. Look what’s happening in California, the 500,000 acres won’t be planted this year because of the drought in California. That creates great opportunity for Ohio growers.”

Today’s farmer is no bum — almost heroic

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — When Atina Diffley was a child in the 1960s and ’70s, she wanted to grow up to be a farmer or a bum.

The two lifestyles seemed similar. The farmer and the bum both worked outdoors, they both set their own rules and made their own way in life.

But as Diffley matured and later became a farmer herself, she found the role of farmer evolving into something more similar to a “hero.”

The author, activist and organic foods consultant gave a keynote address at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association’s annual conference Feb. 15 in Granville.

Diffley was raised in rural Wisconsin, where her family grew and canned most of their own fruits and vegetables. They also sold sweet corn alongside the road.

Turning point

But her career in agriculture evolved in 1985, when she joined organic farmer Martin Diffley on his farm in Eagan, Minn.

She described their first meeting during a road trip when she was looking for produce. She saw a sign that read “Turn Here, Sweet Corn” and when she pulled in the drive, she found “everything she was looking for.”

That included sweet corn and tomatoes, but also “a really handsome farmer.” The two were married and have farmed and worked together ever since.

In 2012, she released a memoir about their experience, Turn Here, Sweet Corn.


The book focuses on relationships between community, family and farming. A central theme is land use and development.

The couple faced urban pressure in 1988, when 20 acres of the Diffley family’s 120-acre farm were needed to build an elementary school. Sewer and water infrastructure crossed the remaining land to serve the school, and assessments were placed against the rest of land.

The Diffley family sold the rest of the farm for development and from 1989-1993 it was bulldozed for housing projects.

They were allowed to continue to farm the land until it was developed — but each day they witnessed an erosion of the land they loved.

On the go

During this period, Atina and Martin farmed on 18 different properties within a 30-mile radius to meet their certified organic production needs.

She recalled how this difficult time affected their lives, causing deep anger and frustration in her children.

“We were farming on land that was immediately adjacent to land that had no life,” she said.

A new beginning

In 1991, they purchased a new farm in Eureka Township, Minn., and began the three-year process of converting it to organic production.

Educate others

During her speech, Diffley encouraged organic farmers to educate others about what they do — something she and her husband have done their whole career. They teach other growers, but they also educate politicians and members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I encourage you to talk about it through your own experience,” she said. “We have to be educators.”

Defend yourselves

She also encouraged farmers to view organic certification as a line of defense against criticism and legal fights. She said certification can serve as evidence and is a federally registered document.

“Certification not only helps us in the marketplace, but it actually protects us in matters of drift and matters of eminent domain,” she said.

Stewardship award

Before Diffley’s speech, OEFFA officials presented the Stewardship Award to Kip and Becky Rondy of Green Edge Organic Gardens in Amesville, Ohio.Stewardship award

The Rondys farm 120 acres of certified organic, including microgreens, salad mix, mushrooms, greens and other seasonal produce. They use high tunnels and sell their produce at the Athens Farmers Market, two CSAs, and at stores and restaurants in Athens and Columbus.

Kip Rondy said he and his wife take stewardship seriously and that stewardship does not stop with the soil. He is also an outspoken critic of the shale gas drilling industry — particularly the disposal of waste drilling materials.

“Our region — southeastern Ohio — is under attack,” he said, referring to billions of gallons of “radioactive poisonous fracking waste” being stored beneath the ground.

He and a group of helpers carried in a large banner during his speech that read “Our water, our lives.”protestors

He said the people of southeastern Ohio have worked to reclaim their land from the coal industry, timber cutting and oil and gas, and have no reason to believe the current drilling will be different.

“We of Athens County — we ain’t going to take it,” he said, adding that “when our work is done, the forests will echo in laughter.”

In early February, Rondy participated in blockade effort to block the drive leading to a fracking waste disposal site. He and seven other activists were peacefully arrested for trespassing.

Former USDA official urges sustainable farmers to get involved

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan encouraged farmers to get involved with government and the policies that affect their industry during a keynote address Feb. 16 at the annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference.

Merrigan served as deputy secretary from April of 2009, to her resignation on March 14, 2013. She was known as an advocate for local foods and organic farming, having helped to write the National Organic Program, and later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program.

“It was a hard four years in a lot of ways,” she said. “But I believe I was able to make a lot of changes there. I took my turn — I need someone to step up and take (their) turn.”

During her speech, Merrigan gave 10 reasons why farmers should be engaged in federal policy, including protecting their interests, their way of life and their democracy.

Agricultural renaissance

One of the things she’s noticing is a “renaissance of interest in agriculture.”


As that renaissance takes place, new farmers are being made, including farmers who did not come from farm families. This requires education and resources, she said, as the industry works to grow its next generation.

And, there is renewed interest in government itself — for local foods and regional systems. Merrigan said even other state and federal branches, like the departments of transportation and commerce — are all showing renewed interest in how they can get involved.

“There’s this interest — this hunger across all the federal bureaucracy for local and regional efforts in food production,” she said. “And that’s screaming out ‘opportunity and opportunity.’”

Same goal

Merrigan was introduced by Ohio State University’s Bruce McPheron, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He said he wants to be an open partner to OEFFA and provide the resources the organization and its members need.

“We’re all batting for the same team here and that is a sustainable, healthy and abundant food supply for the people of Ohio, the nation and the world,” McPheron said, to applause.

Nearly 1,200 people attended the conference, which was held inside Granville High School and Middle School.

New farmers

Service award

Before Merrigan’s speech, Ed Perkins, OEFFA Service Award recipient, talked about the joy he gets from working with soil, and the need to attract new farmers. He and his wife, Amy Abercrombie, operate Sassafras Farm in Athens County.

They grow chemical-free vegetables, herbs, and berries on 2 acres, which are sold year-round at the Athens Farmers Market.

“This isn’t just a job — it’s a lifestyle because you’re out there as part of nature’s cycle,” he said.

He challenged young farmers to “pursue that interest because we need new farmers … I need a replacement — a lot of us do.”

Ten reasons to get involved

Here are the reasons Merrigan said farmers should get involved with government.

1. Advocacy makes a difference. Merrigan pointed to the 2014 farm bill as an example, saying the bill is not “game-changing” for local foods, but it does include provisions that are a direct result of producers’ input.

2. The rest of the country is counting on you. She told producers to consider their elected officials in state and federal office and how well they represent the farmer’s interests. These leaders are making a difference not only in Ohio, but across the nation.

3. Defense can be just as important as offense. She pointed to the Food Safety Modernization Act (2011) as an example, noting how the FSMA rules are bringing the biggest changes to food safety in 70 years, while also providing a good defense against foodborne illness. Although it has taken a long time to finalize the rules, Merrigan said they have the potential to be a “real game changer” for the better.

4. Renaissance of interest in agriculture. There is a renewed interest in farming and local systems, including among government officials and government agencies beyond just the USDA.

5. Money is there for the taking. She spoke about the USDA compass tool, which provides a transparent map of where USDA funds have been invested for different local foods projects, searchable by zip code or topic. There are many grant opportunities available that can help specialty crop growers and local producers. The compass is available on, under “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

6. Decreased ability to coexist with farmers growing genetically engineered crops. “The ability to have a GMO-free product is becoming increasingly difficult,” she said. She made it clear she is not against using GMO seeds, but she said farmers who do not use GMO seeds face some real concerns. Those concerns include drifting and co-mingling and contamination of the two different kinds of seeds. “I’ve never been an anti-GMO person but I do believe that there is definitely a marketplace demand for a GMO-free product and if farmers want to produce for that market, then they should be allowed to and there should be procedures in place…,” she said.

7. Uncle Sam needs you. She said there are many good job opportunities within the federal government, especially with some recent retirements.

8. There’s a big event coming.  Most recently, the big event was the new farm bill. But as hard as it was to pass that bill, Merrigan said the next farm bill attempt could be even harder, and may be unsuccessful. “I think we got this one through by the hair of the chinny-chin-chin,” she said. “But I’m not sure we’re going to see farm bills — those big omnibus bills going through anymore. The sand’s shifting and we have a lot of big things at play.” Other big changes include climate change and how to respond, as well as immigration reform. With immigration, farmers are unsure if they will have the labor force they need to be competitive and keep food production in the country.

9. Resources and strategies to re-populate farms. While the Feb. 20 Agriculture Census will tell the numbers, Merrigan is already concerned there is a need for more farmers.

10. We cannot take our democracy for granted. She said each producer has the power to make important decisions and should do his or her part to help make a difference.