Category Archives: Annual Conference

OSU ag researchers send a valentine to Mother Nature

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
by Debbi Snook

Ohio State University agriculture specialists spent Friday talking about cover crops, no-till methods, integrated pest management, and every which way farmers can avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

It was music to the ears of the organic farmers who gathered to hear them.

“This is news,” said Harv Roehling, 76, operator of Locust Run Farm near Cincinnati. “Twenty-five years ago, people from OSU were on the wrong side of the podium. They didn’t know anything except the chemical approach.”

Steve Edwards of Earth-Shares CSA in Loveland, also near Cincinnati, agreed with Roehling.

“There was a time when organic farmers were seen as kooks,” he said. “We’ve been saying for years that organic farming works. Now they’ve got the data to show it does.”

Six educators from OSU Extension across the state, and two researchers from the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster presented the workshop, “Eco-Farming, Biodiversity and Soil Health: A Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity” at Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark. The program preceded a two-day sustainable agriculture conference held each year by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a Columbus-based group with a mission to educate the public and certify organic farmers. The main conference runs Saturday and Sunday in Granville.

One of the classic images of farming is a tractor turning dirt in the field. But that’s exactly what the speakers want to eliminate, since tilling reduces beneficial microbes in the soil, releases more carbon dioxide into the air and sends phosphorus and nitrogen into water systems such as Lake Erie. In the last few years, overloads of phosphorus into the lake has contributed to algal growth, some of it toxic.

Jim Hoorman of OSUE in Mercer County

talked about “ECO-farming,” a method that combines the practice of keeping living plants in the soil as much of the year as possible. Their roots maintain microbial life that feeds crops a lot of what they need.

“If you put 45 pounds (per acre) of nitrogen (fertilizer) on the of the soil, how much goes to the plant,” Hoorman asked. “About 33 percent. If you put 90 pounds, the plants take up 38 percent of that and if you put 98 pounds, the plant gets 50 percent of that.

“So where does the plant get the rest of its nitrogen? From plant matter in the soil. If you increase that, it’s possible you don’t have to add nearly as much fertilizer.”

Phosphorus supplies are dwindling worldwide, said Hoorman.

“They’ve got some big stocks in Florida, but when they run out we’re going to have to go to different parts of the world. And I don’t think we want to be tied to Morocco for our phosphate. Organic matter is the lag screw that will keep fertilizer in the soil.”

In practice, Hoorman has seen a corn farmer use the ECO-farming method and produce higher yields than farmers who only applied chemical fertilizer. And the ECO farmer’s yields stayed high – and higher than the others’ – during a drought.

“He’s growing his own nitrogen,” Hoorman said of the cover crop planting.

Covering an acre of farm with one percent of organic soil matter can save $670 in fertilizer costs, he said.

Other speakers emphasized Hoorman’s program, touting the importance of all players in the soil, including microbes, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and some insects.

Each stressed that there is no one formula that will work for every farm. Two new tools under development were introduced including a soil organic matter calculator that uses software to help plan practices such as crop rotation, and a soil testing kit that can be used on location to measure organic matter and nitrogen.

Brad Bergefurd, an OSU horticulture specialist from Piketon in southern Ohio, promoted the use of plastic mulch and high plastic tunnels to extend the growing season. Black works best as a mulch cover, he said, and farmers should consider using compost-filled agricultural “socks” to grow vertically in the space above a tunnel’s ground plants.

“Tunnels mean higher quality and higher yields,” he said. “And they retain customers. When you sell someone their first market tomato of the year, you’ve basically got that customer for the rest of the season.”

OSU Extension sent out a press release this month touting the number of their educators appearing at this year’s conference – 17 in all.

Rafiq Islam, an OSU researcher also from Piketon, agreed with farmer Roehling that it is newsworthy.

“Historically, not that many people at the university have been thinking about sustainable agriculture,” he said. “But the game has changed. We are thinking about ecosystems and sustainability as we see what’s happening with the fluctuations of the weather or what’s going on in Lake Erie.”

At one time, a strong vein of research money came from the fertilizer companies themselves, said Islam. “They had the money and they could try to push people in their direction,” he said.

Now, he sees a strong push toward sustainable, if not organic, farming from OSU leadership, federal grants and what he calls a smart new generation dedicated to the issue.

“We have to take care of Mother Nature,” he said. “We can’t just use her soil anymore, we have to manage it.”

Local farmer-activist wins award from statewide farm group

The Athens News
By Lori Crook

The largest grassroots sustainable food organization in Ohio presented its Stewardship Award at the group’s annual conference on Saturday to Athens County farmers “Kip” and Becky Rondy, co-owners of Green Edge Gardens in Amesville. Kip Rondy is also one of eight fracking injection well protesters who were arrested on Feb.1 near Coolville.

The protesters were charged on Feb. 3 in Athens County Municipal Court with criminal trespassing for temporarily blocking trucks from entering an injection well site where drilling wastewater from outside Athens County is being dumped by K&H Partners of West Virginia.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference is an annual event that brings together businesses and individuals who are committed to healthy and sustainable food production and distribution. This year the event took place in Granville east of Columbus.

Several Athens County residents took part in the conference, including Michelle Ajamian, co-owner of Shagbark Seed and Mill in Athens, Leslie Schaller of ACEnet in Athens and Master Chef Alfonso Constrisciani of Hocking College, among others. OEFFA presented Kip Rondy, and his wife, Becky, with the Stewardship Award, which honors outstanding achievements in sustainable agriculture. Green Edge Gardens, the Rondy’s 120-acre farm near Amesville, is tended mostly by hand, employing 13 workers and several interns. They produce micro greens and other products year-round.

While the award was related to Green Edge Gardens’ achievements in development of sustainable agriculture, it became clear in his remarks that Kip Rondy’s mind was on the subject of fracking, specifically the dumping of waste-water from the fracking process in Athens County.

Upon acceptance of the award, he delivered a rousing speech to the friendly audience of around 500 on the subject of protecting water and air in southeast Ohio from contamination by energy companies.

He even unfurled a large banner, with the help of several friends, that read “Our Water, Our Lives,” a reference to the risk of groundwater contamination posed by the fracking industry and the dumping of wastewater created in the process.

The Athens NEWS spoke with Rondy after the event.

“When they took the coal, it didn’t bring us prosperity. So why should we believe it will be any different this time?” he asked, referring to natural gas extraction.

“The plague of Appalachia is the cycle of never being able to receive our fair share of the wealth that was taken from us (by extractive industries), and I’ll be doggoned if we allow our area to become the dumping ground for the oil and gas industry,” he said.

Event organizers did not know ahead of time that Rondy was going to turn the ceremony into a raucous anti-fracking rally, but they were not surprised by the importance of the issue among members of OEFFA.

“We are promoting policies that protect landowners’ rights. We work with members and legislators to prevent environmental contamination (by the fracking industry) and make the process more transparent,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for OEFFA. “This is definitely an issue that is important to our members.”

Former USDA chief Merrigan encourages organic fans to get involved in federal policy

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
By Debbi Snook

Kathleen Merrigan, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told her audience at Sunday’s sustainable agriculture conference in Granville that there’s still a lot of hope for organic farming, even with recent court losses against the use of genetically modified seeds.

“I’ve never been anti-GMO,” Merrigan said at the 35th gathering of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, “but the marketplace is demanding it.” She also believes organic farmers should be protected from GMO seed contamination for the financial ruin it could cause. Seeds, and food from such seeds are not allowed under legal definitions of organic food, and proliferating use of GMO seeds on some conventional farms can put organic farmers at risk of not producing a true organic product.

“Contamination can happen by drift, at grain elevators” and other ways, she said.

Yet, federal language has already been written to say the USDA can regulate whether plants can cause economic harm. That language has not yet been finalized, she said, and organic supporters should fight for it.

“You don’t have to prove GMOs are unsafe,” she said. “You just have to show economic damage.”

“We need it as a regulation in a big way.”

Merrigan served at the USDA for four years, helping to craft federal definitions for organic food, and championing the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program (with its website showing farmers and department programs across the country) and the Farm to School movement’s efforts to get fresh, local food to students.

In the next few weeks she’ll become a fixture in Washington, D.C. again, taking the role as executive director of the new sustainability center at George Washington University.

“I did my time,” Merrigan said of her previous federal role. Yet she encouraged participation in Washington with a list of “Ten Reasons People Should Be Engaged in Federal Policy.”

Advocacy makes a difference, she said, and has helped build food hubs and get more research done on organic agriculture.

“Your congressional delegation rocks,” she said of Reps. Marcia Fudge and Marcy Kaptur and Sen. Sherrod Brown. She encouraged the audience to continue to “populate the halls of power . . . with people who care about these issues.”

Public comment helped modify some of the upcoming food safety regulations that would have caused hardship for some smaller farms, she said.

“You didn’t even see the earlier versions,” she said. “There was a rule that farmers wouldn’t spit or chew gum. The government can do real harm if the regulations don’t really fit the needs.”

Merrigan reminded listeners that the USDA “is not the only game in town” and that gains in better food quality can come from the transportation and health departments. And she encouraged more applications for governmental grant money.

“Even if there’s more competition, we can all be lifted by it.”

The number of farmers in the country is dwindling, she said.

“The USDA shows that 50 percent of farmers will be eligible for retirement soon,” she said, “and half of those intend to retire.” New efforts must be made to pave the way for younger farmers, especially with financial help, new research in the organic field, tax policies and farmland preservation.

Having been a government employee, Merrigan asked the group to stop thinking of a federal agency as a group of people with one mind.

“There are 110,000 people working there,” she said. “Do you really believe they all think the same thing?

“One person can make a difference,” she said, both inside government and outside it.

Merrigan was introduced by Bruce McPheron who is in his second year as dean of Ohio State University’s College of Agriculture.

While it’s rare to have such a high-ranking Ohio agriculture official at the organic conference, McPheron promised he’d be more visible to the group.

“Ohio is an incredible place to be engaged in the food system,” he said. “And we’re all batting on the same team, hoping to provide abundant, healthy and safe food to support Ohio and America.”

Ohio sustainable agriculture conference feeds many appetites

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
By Debbi Snook

The definition of organic food may be food grown without pesticides, herbicides and other controversial chemicals, but talking about organic food involves a whole stew of additional issues.

That was the case Saturday in Granville, where the first of Ohio’s two-day sustainable agriculture conference took place.

More than 1,000 farmers, shop owners, consumers, chefs and university educators confronted food issues relating to job losses, fracking, government policy, creativity and health. The news of drought situations in California, where many plantings are on hold for a lack of water, seemed to heighten the purpose of the event inextricably tied to the concept of raising food locally.

But the overriding issue was knowledge as keynote speaker Atina Diffley petitioned farmers to take their status as heroes among local food lovers and become leaders  educating consumers about land stewardship and working for policy change.

Her own court victory against an oil pipeline planned to run through her organic farm – augmented by thousands of letters from her consumers – led to a change in language in Minnesota law that declared an organic farm could be seen as equal to a “sensitive environmental area.”

“Now Wisconsin and New York are looking at it,” she said of the language.

Preceding Diffley’s talk, a stewardship award program opened the door to an anti-fracking statement including a roll-out banner calling for an end to pushing natural gas out of the ground with deep chemical injections. In the audience was one of last year’s stewardship award recipients, Mardy Townsend, a grassfed beef farmer from Ashtabula who has been fighting fracking waste wells in her county where she fears it may affect the groundwater she uses to feed her animals.

Saturday’s and Sunday’s schedules are packed with at least a dozen choices per session, including growing Shiitake mushrooms, learning food safety regulations and starting honeybee colonies.

Members of Our Harvest, the Cincinnati food hub, talked about building a worker-owned local food distribution system based on a model in Mondragon, Spain.

“There are so many farmers markets, we thought, ‘Why not grow enough food for schools, universities and hospitals, where people really need it,” said Ellen Vera, one of the founders. The group has secured more than $500,000 in local loans and started a farm subscription program that has grown over three years to include 200 customers. They hope to build a coterie of local farmers to supply larger accounts.

Annie Warmke, who lives in a classy looking house built from recycled trash and depends on water supplied from rainwater off the roof, led a session about living a sustainable life. Stressing family, friends and community, she asked attendees to think less about shopping as therapy, and more about nature. Once she and her husband Jay chose a lifestyle without traditional jobs, they turned their home near Zanesville into a teaching lab for raising goats and solar power installation classes.

Marissa Kruthaup of Morrow, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, outlined  the experiment she did with a $5,574 federal sustainable agriculture grant, comparing eight types of sweet corn varieties through organic and conventional methods.

Her results showed that consumers could not taste the difference, but that using the organic chicken manure fertilizer gave her higher yields and produced less pollution than conventional fertilizer.

Urban farm consultant Brad Masi of Oberlin screened his new film, “Network Theory,” an affectionate look at the growth of the local food movement in Athens, southeast Ohio. Principals of the town’s local food web – which includes a commercial kitchen, worker-owned restaurant Casa Nueva, and grain and bean growers’ cooperative, Shagbark Mill – talked about the necessary sense of community in local food. Food naturally brings everyone to the table, said one. Weaving a network from that, “doesn’t mean you have to love each other or hang out together all the time . . . It just means that by working together you can do something bigger and more fabulous than working alone.”

Annual conference teaches sustainable farming

The Newark Advocate
By Joe Williams

GRANVILLE — Katrina Bush visited Granville’s middle and high schools Saturday to learn about beekeeping, using herbs for medicine and community supported agriculture.

Bush raises chickens, eggs and produce on her 30 acres near Mount Sterling. She works full-time for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, in Columbus, but hopes to retire soon and expand her agricultural efforts. On Saturday, she attended the 35th Annual Conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association to learn about sustainable food and farming.

“I just went to a bee workshop. That’s my next thing,” she said.

Bush recently slaughtered her hens, which were getting too old to produce eggs, but she will accept delivery of 27 more early next month. She raises them mostly for their egg production for herself, family and friends, but doesn’t make much money off them, for now.

She grows produce in her garden and donates the excess to her local food bank. She sets aside 14 acres as a quail habitat.

On Saturday, between workshops, Bush browsed the exhibits in the Granville Middle School gym and spoke with vendor Charles Prince about raising barley sprouts during the winter to help feed her chickens.

Prince, of Granville, co-owns Do It Yourself Sprouts, which sells sprouting trays, racks, timers and related equipment. Prince’s partner, Amish dairy farmer Robert Mast, of Charm, uses the system to feed his cows barley sprouts during the winter. Customers use the sprouts to feed their goats, sheep, trophy deer and chickens, Prince said.

“To date, the vast majority of our customers are Amish,” Prince said, “because you don’t need electricity.”

Prince and Mast started the company in 2012, Prince said, to feed cows during the winter, when forage is unavailable. An Amish farmer in Holmes County makes the molded trays for them.

While Mast only grows sprouts through April, Prince said, other farmers can grow them year-round, using air conditioning to control the growing temperature and humidity to protect against mold.

“The value of sprouts during the summer is considerably less than during the winter because of the availability of pasture,” Prince said.

Carson Combs and his wife, Dawn, co-owners of Mockingbird Meadows, near Marysville, attended this weekend’s conference, selling their products and hosting workshops. Carson maintains 35 beehives, while Dawn, an herbalist, uses the honey for spreads and herb-infused honeys. They also make and sell wound cleaners, bug repellants and poison ivy kits.

“You can take a spoonful of honey instead of taking a pill or tincture,” Carson Combs said. “A lot of people don’t want to take pills.”

Their business is now full-time. Carson formerly worked as a city planner in Dublin; Dawn worked in information technology for Chase Bank. They sell their products year-round at farmers markets and at their farm, where they also teach classes.

“For us, it goes back to Hippocrates and ‘your food should be your medicine,” Combs said.

The conference continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. [Sunday] with a variety of workshops, including Cooking and Eating GMO-Free Meals, Food Safety and Post-Harvest Handling, and Solar Electricity for the Very, Very Beginner. Presenters come from across Ohio and several other states.

Organic activist Atina Diffley to speak at Ohio food and farm conference

By Debbi Snook
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Old MacDonald had a farm, and a whopping good story to go with it. Atina Diffley had a farm, and she believes that every organic farmer needs to find his or her own stories and sing them aloud.

Here’s one of hers: When plants in her Minnesota greenhouse became infested with damaging aphids, she noticed one of her field crops was covered with ladybugs, the aphids’ natural enemies. She trucked her aphid-infested plants out to the ladybug area and let them sit overnight. In the morning, the aphids had been devoured.

It’s the classic story of integrated pest management, she says, one of the hallmarks of organic solutions. No pesticides were necessary.

Diffley wants organic farmers to use stories like this to help make the world healthier and less chemical-dependent.

Diffley, 54, will be the keynote speaker Friday-Sunday, Feb. 14-16 at the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, or OEFFA, the state’s leading organic advocacy group and one of its major farm certifying agents. The conference draws hundreds of attendees to Granville, southeast of Columbus, with nearly 100 talks and workshops with topics that range from growing and marketing to making a living from small-scale organic farms and gardens.

Diffley spent decades as a farmer and wrote books about it, including “Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works” (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) — part romance (with her husband and co-farmer, Martin), part war (legally, with a utility trying to run a pipeline through her land) and part organic creed. She has since left farming for work as a consultant and advocate.

The organic movement is a small part of agricultural America, but its sales are growing much faster than sales from conventional farms. Even the supermarket industry is predicting organics will have a 14 percent growth over the next five years.

Diffley spoke by phone about the optimism – and proper storytelling — necessary for the organic movement to pick up greater speed and meet what she calls greater needs.

She misses farming, she says, “but I wanted to be feeding people through their minds.”

Why do farmers need to be organic advocates?

I really want farmers to recognize their role as a connection between the land and the people who eat their food. They really have this opportunity to activate the people they’re feeding toward making policy changes. We are a hero culture and eaters are interested in what the farmers are doing.

The way we eat is really important, and we need to take the next step. Agriculture is 40 percent of our planet and the leading cause of habitat degradation, species extinction and greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. When you change agriculture, you make all the difference in the world.

How so, exactly?

Organic farms, statistically, sequester 15 percent to 28 percent more carbon than conventional farms. That’s significant. That’s equal to hundreds of thousands of cars off the road. Instead of bringing in fertilizer from off the farm, you’re growing it on the farm by building soil health. Organic farms change the hydrology of their soil, and they change where the water runoff goes. If you add 1 percent of organic matter to the soil, an acre can hold an extra 16,500 gallons of water. That also will get you through six weeks of drought. The service provided to the community by an organic farm goes beyond food. Another is the practice of biological diversity on a farm, which supports pest and disease management and the protection of native pollinators. We take trees and wildlife for granted, but we cannot survive without them. We can survive without our computers but not without nature.

Who should farm?

It’s not for everyone. You have to like being outside. You have to have some tolerance for physical discomfort, and you have to have good stress-management skills. I encourage anyone to take a look. When we were farming, people would show up every year, wanting to work for us. One said he definitely wanted to have a farm, but never did. Other people said they were doing it because they didn’t know what else they wanted [to do]. And they became farmers. People should just go and try it. They should go work for someone else’s farm, or multiple farms, and at places bigger than they ever want to be. If you’re going to make it, you have to learn systems of economy. I’ve seen high-quality farms not make it because they couldn’t figure out that when they said they’d be at a meeting at 7 a.m., they needed to be there at 7. You’ve got to know how to be in a business relationship, and how to repair those relationships. I see people with a marketing background thriving as farmers, and growing more quickly than those who don’t have that background.

You’ve talked in your book about running away from home at 17, being in an abusive marriage and finally “stepping out of the victim role.”

I was caught in a situation where I let other people define me. But you can’t be 50 and living as a 2-year-old would see the world. When I see people acting irrationally, I think that what they’re doing is going back to their hurt 2-year-old self. It’s nice if you can get professional help or find friends to catch you when you’re stepping out of reality, thinking you’re not smart enough, strong enough or good enough. One of my best gifts was being able to write my “Turn Here” book. I had to say what happened, how I felt about it, and what I know to be true now. In that process I learned a lot of things.

You’ve said cities need to plan for their food futures.

If you took out the bridges to cities, most of them would run out of food in three or four days. It’s important to decentralize food for stability. If you have a drought, you need another system to move to.

I like to think regionally. The word “local” food is not clear enough. It’s an abused word. There was a summer in the 1880s when summer never really came. There was massive starvation in Europe and America. Now we have the luxury of shipping food long distances, but just because we have the capacity, doesn’t mean that’s what we should always do to be economically viable and environmentally sound. That will take a maturation of growers’ skills and it will bring the price of food up.

But it’s worth it. When abolitionists were fighting slavery they faced the argument that without slaves there would be an economic disaster in agriculture and its economy. That’s the same argument we’re facing today. Basically, when you look at the fruit and vegetable-growing world, you’re looking at institutional slavery. These people are not making a living wage, not getting health care, can’t afford homes.

But people don’t want organics to cost more.

It has to cost more because smaller farms don’t have the same economic advantage. But that will get better as organics grow. I’m upset at people who think of organic food as bourgeoisie. I bought a solar-power system once and a friend remarked that if I had waited two years, it would be cheaper. My response was that it would never get cheaper if nobody bought them now. It takes somebody to make change happen. Gradually, prices will come down. Right now we need to do what it takes to keep these farmers going. Glory be to the people who put their money where their mouth is.

You see the food movement as a social movement?

Absolutely. It took women 70 years to get the right to vote. There were women who didn’t live long enough to see that happen. But it was worth their efforts. Today we wonder, ‘What was the world thinking when they believed that women were too emotional to vote?’ So today we have an agricultural system that’s destructive of the environment. We cannot survive without that environment, cannot replace it. Look at the composition of the body. Essentially, we’re made of the same stuff plants and insects are made of, and soil is made of. And we eat those plants and they become our bodies. Yet we are so fundamentally removed from that realization.

Sustainable Farming Conference Features 17 Ohio State Presenters, Feb. 14-16

OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences
By Tracy Turner

COLUMBUS, Ohio – From stink bug and weed management to recruiting farm labor and agricultural marketing trends, researchers and industry experts from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) will present the latest information on some of the key issues in organic and sustainable agriculture next month during Ohio’s largest sustainable food and farm conference.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 35th annual conference, “Affirming Our Roots, Breaking New Ground,” is Feb. 15-16 in Granville, Ohio. With 13 workshops and a full-day pre-conference event featuring Ohio State scientists, specialists and students, participants will get an updated look at some of the key issues facing growers in organic and sustainable agriculture, organizers said.

“This conference will be rich with information and networking opportunities, drawing on the expertise of both nationally recognized agricultural professionals and local farmers and educators,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “Whether you’re a full-time farmer, backyard gardener or local food enthusiast, this conference has much to offer you.”

The Ohio State presenters are from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, which are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the college.

[In all, the conference features more than 100 workshops plus a trade show; activities for children and teens; locally sourced and organic homemade meals; and keynote talks by Atina Diffley, an organic farmer and writer, and Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

The conference will also feature a daylong pre-conference workshop, “Eco-Farming, Biodiversity and Soil Health: A Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity,” presented by  CFAES experts Rafiq Islam, Randall Reeder, Jim Hoorman, Brad Bergefurd, Harit Kaur Bal, Alan Sundermeier and Vinayak Shedekar.

Other workshops offered by CFAES experts include:

  • Celeste Welty, entomologist with OARDC and OSU Extension, “Stink Bug Management in Peppers, Berries and Other Organic Crops,” Saturday, 9:30-10:25 a.m.
  • Brian McSpadden Gardener, plant pathologist with OARDC and OSU Extension and director of OARDC’s Organic Food and Farming Education and Research Program, “Biofertilizers for Organic Production,” Saturday, 9:30-10:25 a.m.
  • Doug Doohan, weed management expert with OARDC and OSU Extension, and Dave Campbell of Lily Lake Organic Farm, Illinois, “Weed Management Practices for Organic Field Crops,” Saturday, 9:30-10:25 a.m.
  • Francisco A. Espinoza, program coordinator for OSU Extension’s Agricultural and Horticultural Labor Education program, “Recruiting and Retaining Farm Labor,” Saturday, 9:30-10:25 a.m.
  • Mike Hogan, OSU Extension, “Top Ten Food and Agriculture Marketing Trends,” Saturday, 9:30-10:25 a.m.
  • Brad Bergefurd, educator and specialist with OSU Extension and OARDC based at the Ohio State University South Centers, “Hops: A New Specialty Crop for Ohio,” Saturday, 10:35-11:30 a.m.
  • Rafiq Islam, also with OSU Extension and OARDC based at the OSU South Centers, “Use of Cover Crop Cocktail Mix to Sustain Organic Production,” Saturday, 10:35-11:30 a.m.
  • Gustavo Schuenemann, assistant professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, “Dairy Herd Health: Risk Factors and Transition Cow Management,” Saturday, 10:35-11:30 a.m.
  • Jeff Suchy, Ohio State lecturer, and Dee Jepsen, OSU Extension state safety leader, “Small Farm and Garden Safety,” Saturday, 10:35-11:30 a.m.
  • Jim Jasinski, OSU Extension’s Integrated Pest Management program, “Good Bugs and Bad Bugs in the Home Garden,” Saturday, 10:35-11:30 a.m.
  • Alan Sundermeier, OSU Extension, and organic grain farmers Dave Shively and Jake Schmitz of Organic Valley, “Organic Corn Production: Guidelines for Success,” Sunday, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Shirron LeShure, Ohio Statedoctoral student, “Using Grape Pomace as a Natural De-wormer in Sheep,” Sunday, 1:30-2:30 p.m.
  • Mike Hogan, “Utilizing SARE Grants and Resources to Achieve Your Farm Goals,” Sunday, 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Early bird registration ranges from the $65 one-day student member rate to $205 for both days for an adult nonmember of OEFFA. Early bird registration ends Jan. 31, after which rates increase. Meals, the kids’ conference and the pre-conference workshops are purchased separately. Register online at

The soil health pre-conference workshop will be held Feb. 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cherry Valley Lodge, 2299 Cherry Valley Road SE, Newark, Ohio. Pre-registration is required and costs $60 for OEFFA members and $70 for nonmembers.

Editor: Members of the press can attend some or all of the conference free of charge, but limited spots are available. To arrange a press pass, contact Lauren Ketcham at or 614-421-2022, ext. 203.

Atina Diffley: Ohio Farmers as Leaders of Social Change

Mary Kuhlman
January 14, 2014

PHOTO: An organic-farming expert says Ohio farmers can be role models for social change and the environment. Photo courtesy of OEFFA.COLUMBUS, Ohio – Organic farmers in Ohio face many struggles, including the impacts of agricultural policies, urban sprawl and pollution on their land.

But one expert in the field says as stewards of soil and water, organic farmers can be powerful advocates for the environment.

Atina Diffley ran one of the Midwest’s first certified organic produce farms and led a successful legal and citizen action campaign to reroute a crude-oil pipeline to protect organic farmland in Minnesota.

She says it wouldn’t have happened without efforts to educate policy leaders about how organic farming works.

“We ended up not only accomplishing all our goals, but the judge understood organic systems well enough, and the Department of Agriculture then understood organic systems well enough that they made recommendations that supported organic farms and non-organic farms beyond what we had even asked for,” she explains.

Diffley says organic farmers have a responsibility to protect the land, and it’s crucial for them to stand together and work on policy matters that can create social change.

She adds as the link between the land and the food, organic farmers need to reach out and engage the customer as well.

Diffley says in her case, by educating her customers, more than 4,600 people wrote letters to the pipeline company, which resulted in the creation of a statewide organic mitigation plan.

Diffley points out organic farmers manage soil, water and habitat on a daily basis and understand the balance needed to keep an ecosystem thriving.

She says organic farmers can be role models and leaders for the community.

“Organic, it’s not just a way to make money or a day job,” she maintains. “We live in these relationships so it’s really crucial that we stand for them and take that information and that knowledge that we are gaining through our work beyond the property lines of our own farms.”

Diffley will speak at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 35th annual conference, Feb. 14 and 15 in Granville.

A ‘climate’ of ecological farmers meet in Granville

Farm and Dairy
February 19, 2013
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — More than 1,100 people filled the Granville Middle School Feb. 16-17 to hear about the latest climate in organics and local foods production.

Climate was a literal part of the discussion, as multiple speakers spoke about the ways that cover crops and crop rotation can help reduce global climate change. They gathered for the 34th annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference — a statewide event.

Jim Hoorman, OSU assistant professor and extension educator, gave a compelling talk about all the different ways climate change could affect agriculture at all levels.

On the plus side, he sees a longer growing season. But it will likely come with increased precipitation events, more insects, heat and heat damage.

More time

A longer growing season means farmers can plant and harvest later. But a better solution, he explained, is to plant and harvest as they’re doing now, while adding more cover crops during the off-season.

Cover crops are a proven way to keep soil and nutrients in place, loosen soil and reduce compaction, and they also are known to absorb and sequester a substantial amount of greenhouse gases — one of the causes of climate change.“We have a tremendous ability to help moderate some of these climate events,” he said.

Hoorman said rain events are going to be more intense. Instead of 1-inch rains, he said to expect 2- to 3-inch rains.He also predicted a continuous shrinking of the planting window, which means farmers will have fewer suitable days to get in and out of fields. He expects advanced tractor technology will help get things done quicker, including robotically operated tractors.

More organic

Hoorman said organic agriculture and cover crops has shown a “tremendous decrease in the amount of fertilizer and herbicides needed,” and predicted the nation will become “more and more organic as time goes on.”

In the afternoon, keynote speaker and Organic Valley CEO George Siemon discussed the success of CROPP — one of the nation’s largest organic farming cooperatives — which he helped to found in 1988.He also talked about the challenges he still sees in the food industry.

“The world needs changed very badly,” he said. “If you don’t acknowledge something, you can never fix it.  We’ve got lots of problems in the food world and we need to address them.”

Siemon said he and his partners started the parent company — Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools — to provide some market security for organic producers.

“We really felt that if we were going to have organic food, we needed to have a fair price for farmers,” he said, so they could “know” what they were getting paid, and avoid the ups and downs of the market.

Under attack

He said he’s concerned that genetically modified organisms — GMOs — have gone too far and pose a threat to organic interests.

Siemon also challenged what he called were “measured attacks” on the organic industry, including the claim that conventional farming feeds the world.

According to Siemon, more people are fed by peasants and gardeners than modern, conventional agriculture.

“The peasants of the world and the gardeners of the world feed us,” he said.

He also questioned whether conventional food can really be considered safe, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration approve chemicals based on risk level — not safety.

“It’s not ‘safe,’” he said. “They never will use the word ‘safe.’”

Siemon said he’s seeing more and more land go into large agribusiness use, which he also criticized.“They’re (industrial farmers) pushing people off the land in bringing in 12-row corn planters,” he said.

From a health perspective, Siemon reminded the audience of the rising rate of obesity and life-threatening diseases — and the potential for good eating to lead to good health.

Healthy living

In a separate talk, Jay and Annie Warmke talked about the health and life benefits they experience from sustainable living, at their Blue Rock Station — a sustainable living center that encourages participants to experience a month of living without energy and money.

Participants cook their own meals in wood ovens, learn to reuse, repurpose and recycle as much as possible.The Warmkes also store up food during good times, so they can be prepared during difficult times.“It’s just amazing what a sense of security it gives you,” Annie Warmke said.

(Read about the service and stewardship award recipients.)

Innovation, cooperation on display at OEFFA conference

Buckeye Farm News
February 19, 2013
By Seth Teter

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s recent annual conference highlighted dozens of innovative ways to grow food and bring products to market. Many of these efforts emphasized the value of increased coordination among both farmers and consumers.

I talked with a few of this year’s presenters and attendees.

Here’s what they had to say:  

Organic Valley CEO George Siemon described how farmers have found success working together through the producer-owned cooperative.

“The dream of every family farm is to have it to go to the next generation.  And so we know who we want to be, we want to serve the next generation of family farms.  And that’s the beauty of a cooperative, is that it does represent or serve the community.”

Hear more from Siemon about Organic Valley’s approach.

Bob Cohen of the Cooperative Development Center at Kent State University shared his thoughts on the feasibility of the cooperative model in today’s business climate.

“Particularly small and medium scale farmers often can’t compete in the marketplace on their own and so they’re finding that by banding together they’re able to negotiate a better price and sometimes create the mechanisms and infrastructure that enable them to be competitive and more profitable.”

Hear more Cohen.

Another example of farmers cultivating unique business models came from Marissa Kruthaup of Kruthaup Family Farm. The farm has a Community Supported Agriculture program where each year customers buy a share of the farm’s products.

“People who are especially concerned about how their food is being grown, they can come to the farm and see where it’s grown and see how it’s grown and interact with us.”

Hear Kruthaup explain how the program works.

No matter the model, Richard Stewart of Carriage House Farm showed how farmers are always pursuing new opportunities. In addition to growing a wide variety of crops, Stewart is working to convert a former gravel mine into productive farmland.

Hear more about Stewart’s unique farm and his progress on this project.