Category Archives: Farm Tours

Twenty minutes with organic grain farmer Dean McIlvaine

Farm and Dairy
by Chris Kick
8/13/14

WEST SALEM, Ohio — When you think of organic, you probably think of small-scale farms of about 100 acres or less. But that’s not always the case.

2wpmDean McIlvaine, of Twin Parks Organic Farm in Wayne County, has operated an 850-acre organic grain farm since 1985. He welcomed guests to his farm Aug. 1 as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual summer sustainability tour.

He grows organic corn and soybeans, spelt, oats, wheat, rye and clover, and markets them nationally and internationally. His father, Dale McIlvaine, bought the farm in the mid 1970s, and the family farmed conventionally up until 1985.

At this same time, Dale owned the area John Deere dealership and wanted to be more involved with that business, so Dean took over the farm.

Going organic

Dean transitioned to an organic operation, following his college dream and his personal beliefs that organic food is healthier and better for the environment.

The farm name — Twin Parks — comes from the two Interstate rest area parks located on the farm.

Today, Dean farms alongside his girlfriend, Mona Frey, and he’s constantly trying new things and exploring new markets.

During the OEFFA tour, he showed some plots of organic no-till corn that he grew for the first time, and talked about how he’s using cover crops to help control weeds and keep nutrients in the soil.

He also explained some of his farm equipment — like his cover crop roller, which rolls and flattens cover crops prior to planting the main crops, and his organic weed puller — a mechanical attachment that mounts on the front of his tractor and pulls and crimps weeds in between the rows.

Following the tour, Farm and Dairy caught up with Dean to talk one-on-one about his operation and the state of organics:

Q: Why organic? Why did you make the decision to leave conventional?
A: I have had a strong aversion to the health concerns. My father and grandfather (were) both active conventional farmers with lots of exposure to synthetic fertilizers and chemicals and both died early from associated, related illnesses — leukemia and lymphoma. There was lots of exposure there that was toxic to them.

I was never really a fan of processed foods. Once I got a taste of whole grains and real food, I recognized how much better it tasted and how much better I felt.

The contamination starts with our air, our water and our soil. And if we want to live a healthier, more productive life, we need to clean up our environment.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to being an organic grain operator?
A: The biggest challenges begin with finding adequate fertility and learning how to manage the microbial life in the soil to facilitate that fertility. And dealing with the weeds and just learning how the whole system works — that we can do it with the resources that nature has provided instead of from the toxic things that we’ve used in the conventional world.

Q: How have people’s attitudes changed toward what you’re doing?
A: They’re much more receptive. People are very curious anymore. Even in the midst of our under-achievement, there’s lots of interest and curiosity.

People recognize the cost of producing food is ever-increasing as our world’s resources are forever diminishing, and the beauty of the organic system is that we try to recycle nutrients that are available more effectively, and try and enhance the biology of the soil, which can help that transfer of nutrients from the soil to the plants.”

Q: What have been some of your biggest successes as an organic grain producer?
A: Personally, the times we’ve had good corn crops or good, clean soybean fields. But learning how to replicate that over all 850 acres has been the challenge to do so consistently. It is sort of a delicate balance and if you try to short-circuit the system, it will backfire in a hurry.

And, there’s always new challenges with the changing weed pressures and changing climate pressures. What worked last year or three years ago may or may not work this year. So, we have to be forever looking forward, to anticipate what we need, to make things grow the best.

Q: What new things are you trying or what things would you like to try?
A: I’ve always had an interest since college days to have a more value-added production system or vertically integrated system. So adding value to the crops that we grow is of interest. (He does do some of that by cleaning his own grain and dehulling, etc. for specific markets.)

… We’ve really gone out on a limb with (organic no-till in corn). It was one thing to make the leap into organics, but to do so with the row crops is equally challenging. But, it matches the overall goal of enhancing soil life by minimizing soil tillage.

Q: What would you tell others who want to begin growing crops organically?
A: Do your homework. Take a soil test to see where you are and address the long-term needs of your crops. Soil drainage and soil balancing are quite a trick, and an art and a science that are of upmost importance.

Think broadly about diversifying. And try to incorporate animal components in as much as possible. I think there’s that cycle of life that is helpful for every farm. …It goes along with the idea of recycling and using what’s nearby.

Q: Do you think you would ever go back to conventional?
A: I think about it when the weeds get taller than the crops. But, at the end of the day, I know that things aren’t always better in that camp, either. Especially with the problems with the Roundup and the GMO grains. The costs are outlandish for that technology and the results are short-sighted and short-term. There’s too many long-term costs of going back to conventional.

Q: What is the state of organic farming today?
A: It’s strong, it’s healthy, it’s vibrant, it’s growing. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of and especially to see the new, young people get involved and even poor people who want a better life. This is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways they can do something for themselves that improves their life now and in the long run.

The interest that people have in growing their own food and doing it with a minimum or lack of chemicals is very encouraging. The hard part is replicating it over a bigger area and more acres, and day in and day out.

Ohioans Can Get The “Dirt” on Organic Growing from Farmers

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service
May 27, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Getting organic and sustainable foods from the field to the dinner table takes a lot of knowledge, effort and care, and Ohioans can get an inside look at how it all happens. This summer, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is sponsoring 15 tours and six workshops across the Buckeye State as part of the group’s 2014 farm tour series. Spokeswoman Lauren Ketchum says it’s a unique opportunity.

“The great thing is that farmers know all the dirt, so during this summer series they’re sharing that knowledge about how sustainably produced food is grown. The tours are also designed to help farmers and gardeners learn from each other so that they can improve their production and marketing techniques,” Ketchum says.

Beyond just seeing how food is grown, consumers can learn about rooftop gardening, sustainable flowers, solar-electric use, farming with horses, and more. Most of the tours and workshops are free and open to the public and will take place rain or shine.

Fulton Farms in Miami County is among those opening its gates, Ketchum says, allowing people to glimpse its operation.

“They’re a diverse, family-owned, organic vegetable farm that is operating a pretty large community supported agriculture program, which feeds more than 400 families. People will have a chance to see more than 30 acres of organic field production,” she explains.

Ketchum says they see great turnout at the tours as demand for fresh, local foods grows, and consumers want to make informed choices.

“We really encourage growers, educators and conscientious eaters to attend the tours. They can learn about sustainable agriculture in a real-world setting from farmers with years of practical experience,” she says.

The tours have been offered for more than three decades, and this year the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Team is sponsoring 10 additional tours.

More information on the tours is at www.oeffa.org.

Creamery is first stop in series of farm tours

 
By Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch
6/8/13

Consumers’ quest for more locally produced food is sending them back to the farm.

This year’s Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, which starts today at Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy, offers learning opportunities for both consumers and farmers.

“As consumer demand for fresh, locally produced food and farm products has grown, there has been a desire to reconnect with the farm and understand how that food gets from the field to the table,” said Lauren Ketcham, communications coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which has run the tours for more than three decades.

In addition to the Meigs County dairy, this year’s organic- and ecological-farms stops include a sustainable cut-flower farm in Franklin County, a Licking County organic-vegetable farm, a Fairfield County beef farm that markets its jerky and snack sticks directly to consumers, and an organic farm that is doing a canning workshop.

Most of the tours are free and open to the public; a few charge fees and require registration.

This year, Ohio State University Extension and the Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts will offer seven of the 24 stops on the tour, while OEFFA will handle the remaining 17 stops, Ketcham said.

“We feel that consumer education is an important part of our mission,” she said. “The more consumers know about how their food is grown, the better prepared they are to make informed choices about who to support with their local food dollars.”

The tours also are designed to help farmers and gardeners “learn from each other so they can improve their production and marketing techniques, and grow their operations,” she said.

Ketcham is looking forward to the July 28 tour of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm in Columbus, and to the July 21 tour of Northridge Organic Farm in Johnstown. Mike and Laura Laughlin are turning their farm over to young farmer Joseph Swain.

The tour series is all about offering farmers alternatives, said Mike Hogan, an OSU Extension educator in Fairfield County.

“Our goal is to give people ideas to make their farm operations more sustainable,” Hogan said. “ We give them ideas about alternative enterprises, alternative production systems, like grazing or no-till, and alternative marketing systems.”

The July tour of Berry Family Farm in Pleasantville shows how one producer has added facets to its operation, Hogan said.

“They’re adding value to beef products, selling jerky, summer sausage and snack sticks directly to consumers, as well as marketing freezer beef.”

At Snowville Creamery, owner Warren Taylor put his workers through their public speaking paces yesterday in preparation for today’s open house from 1 to 4 p.m.

Snowville supplies milk, cream, yogurt and creme fraiche to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus and select grocers from Ohio to Virginia.

“This year, we have organized ourselves into a dozen functional areas, each of which will have a Snowville Creamery team member explaining that area,” Taylor said.

Taylor spent a career designing and engineering milk-production facilities around the world for the nation’s largest dairy companies. He said he started Snowville as a reaction against the few large dairies, which he thinks are too powerful.

“I have long since decided that Snowville Creamery’s purpose goes far beyond milk,” Taylor said. “It goes to advocating for representative democracy in America.”

For a full tour listing, visit www.oeffa.org.

Go Behind the Scenes of Ohio’s Sustainable Growing

 
May 28, 2013
Ohio News Service
Mary Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – All those who have ever wanted to see how their food is produced can get a sneak peek in Ohio this summer. Over two dozen sustainable and organic farms are being featured as part of a farm tour series.

According to Lauren Ketcham, communications coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the more consumers know, the better prepared they are to make informed choices about who to support with their food dollars. And, she added, the participating farmers are more than happy to let Ohioans see the inner workings of their operations.

“It’s really a lot to ask of a farmer to take the time during the growing season to hold these farm tours, but we’re always encouraged by the willingness of farmers to really want to open up their doors and let consumers know how they’re raising their food,” Ketcham said.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association has been offering the tours for more than three decades. This year’s series includes tours and workshops on a variety of topics including: dairy farming and processing, composting, specialty crops, cut flowers, urban farming, food preservation, and farm business skills.

Lauren Ketcham said that as the popularity of local and organic food has grown, so has interest among young farmers in getting into the business. She remarked that the tour is a great networking opportunity for aspiring and beginning farmers and even backyard growers.

“Farmers and gardeners see first-hand how their colleagues are incorporating sustainable agriculture methods on their lands, ask questions of each other, and take home information that they can put to use on their own farms or in their backyard gardens,” she said.

Ketcham said the tours can also be a fun experience for families, couples or anyone interested in Ohio’s agriculture system. Last year, more than 600 people attended.

More information is online at OEFFA.org.

In addition to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the tours are also sponsored by Ohio State University and the Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts.

Kenyon College uses local foods

Mansfield News Journal
September 15, 2012
By Kaitlin Durbin

Jane Simonson, of Cincinnati, selects her lunch at Kenyon College from the salad bar, of which some items have been procured from area farms.

Jane Simonson, of Cincinnati, selects her lunch at Kenyon College from the salad bar, of which some items have been procured from area farms. / Dave Polcyn/News Journal
 

GAMBIER — Most college campuses are known for dining options that fall far short of “home cooking, just like mom makes it.”

But for many students at Kenyon College, the dining hall is shopping at the same supermarket as mom: local farms.

Close to 40 percent of total food purchases for the Kenyon cafeteria are from local producers, according to John Marsh, AVI’s sustainability director.

“This matters to them (the students),” Marsh said. “They can tell what’s local and what’s not.”

Chad Wilkoff, a sous chef for the college, said the fresh produce has made all the difference in the way the kitchen prepares meals.

“We have more flexibility in what we’re able to make,” Wilkoff said. “We’re always changing our vegetable of the day.”

“The quality doesn’t get any better than this. We’re the real deal,” Wilkoff said.

Kenyon has been sourcing part of their meat, dairy and vegetable demand from central Ohio growers for seven years through its local food program with AVI.

Friday, the college opened its kitchen to several growers from the area for an Institutional Sourcing of Local Food Tour. Attendees toured the kitchen, ate fresh produce in the cafeteria and heard from Marsh how the partnership works.

“(This partnership) is good for people working on a relatively large scale or just getting started,” Marsh said. “We’re willing to help local growers get started.”

The college is always looking for new growers and produce items, Marsh told the crowd.

The majority of red meats are bought locally, as is a variety of vegetables, apples, butter, honey and some dairy products.

“Just about everything on the salad bar is locally grown,” Marsh said. “Including the yogurt, eggs, black beans and shredded cheeses.”

Most lettuce and spinach is sourced elsewhere, though, Marsh said, because local farmers are not able to produce enough to meet needs.

The cafeteria goes through 144 pints of cherry tomatoes in one day, Marsh said. The cafeteria serves about 1,500 people daily.

Last year, Kenyon students ate 22,000 pounds of potatoes, 20,000 pounds of apples, 6,000 pounds of onions, 4,000 pounds of broccoli, 4,000 pints of cherry tomatoes, 5,000 pounds of slicing tomatoes, 29,000 pounds of beef and 10,000 pounds of pork from local growers, according to Marsh’s records.

“Labor is the biggest problem,” Marsh said. “We can’t find enough local growers to provide what we need. It’s hard to entice people to grow something specifically for you.”

That’s why Marsh says building a relationship with local farmers is the most important part of his job.

“If you make a deal with a local farmer, you have to honor it,” Marsh said. “This is somebody’s livelihood.”

“I know I better take care of my grower because if I don’t, I won’t have any,” Marsh said.

Creekside Produce farmer Jonathon Byler is one of the many local farmers supplying the college with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, summer squash, cherry tomatoes, winter squash and beets.

Byler said his partnership with AVI has “been a big help to income. About 50 percent (of our produce) goes to retail and the other 50 percent goes to AVI.”

The company funded construction of two greenhouses on Byler’s property so he could continue growing for the college all year.

AVI picks up fresh produce from the farm four days a week, Byler said.

The success stories from area farmers had California residents Dan McLeod and Caitilin Bergman “encouraged” that farming can be a business. The couple is looking to move back to McLeod’s hometown of Mount Vernon within the next year to buy some land and start a farm.

“We want to make the transition over to farming education,” McLeod said. “We hope to make the facility a demonstration site and a site to produce a sustainable product.”

“Kenyon should be a model for other schools,” McLeod said.

Helen Sites, of Delaware County, said she just bought a 28-acre farm last year in Coshocton County. She attended the meeting to find an outlet to sell her crops.

“Last year I grew a lot of kale, but there was no market for it,” Sites said. “Most of it ended up going to chicken feed, so I’m looking for an outlet for whatever.”

Marsh said he is “most desperate” to find five items locally; basil, oats, lettuce, chicken meat and early potatoes that can be picked by the start of school in August.

As for winter crops, Marsh said, the need is “wide open.”

Ohio Organic Farmers Open Their Gates for Free Tours

Ohio Public News Service
May 8, 2012
Mary Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohioans have a chance see the ins and outs of some of the state’s finest sustainable and organic farms.
More than a dozen farmers are opening their gates to show people firsthand how food gets from the field to their dinner plate. The free public tours are offered as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 2012 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series.

OEFFA Spokeswoman Lauren Ketcham says the series offers a unique learning opportunity to see, taste, feel and learn what sustainable food and fiber production is all about from the farmers themselves.

“Consumers who are interested in local foods, farmers and market gardeners who want to learn more and network with other farmers, aspiring and beginning farmers, really anyone interested in learning more about the production and marketing techniques of sustainable farmers, are encouraged to attend.”

OEFFA has offered such tours for 30 years, and Ketcham says they are growing more and more popular as consumer demand for fresh, locally-produced food and farm products continues to grow.

“People are increasingly wanting to have that connection with the farm, and the more consumers know about how their food is grown, the better prepared they are to make choices that are right for themselves and their families about who to support with their food dollars.”

Children and families are welcome to the tours and workshops. Ketcham says it’s a great opportunity for kids to see what their food looks like before it gets to their dinner plates.

29 tours and workshops will be held from June through September as part of the series, 13 of them sponsored by OEFFA. They will feature a variety of topics and operations, including organic berry production, commercial composting, natural goat health, raw-milk cheese-making, and Ohio farm history. The schedule is available online at oeffa.org.

Jackie O’s expands locally grown menu selections

April 30, 2012
By Kaylyn Hlavaty

Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery started a farm on owner Art Oestrike’s land 14 months ago to further expand sustainability by growing its own crops to incorporate into the bar’s dishes and drinks. Jackie O’s hired an additional chef to create dishes surrounding the locally grown produce. (Sam Owens | Staff Photographer)

Known for handcrafted signature ales and pub-inspired dishes, Jackie O’s is taking the meaning of locally produced goods a step further.

The brewery, which is located at 24 W. Union St., started a farm 14 months ago to further expand sustainability.

Quality and the use of locally produced food has been a commitment for Jackie O’s owner Art Oestrike, who said the farm was always something he eventually wanted to start in partnership with the business.

“I thought it was the right time to grow our produce and incorporate our crops into our beer and dishes we serve here,” Oestrike said. “I wanted to know where my ingredients were coming from, and by using produce from our farm, the fresh ingredients will reflect in our dishes.”

Jackie O’s hired an additional chef to create dishes surrounding the locally grown produce.

Because it’s only the second growing season, the restaurant is still testing which crops grow best and which to use in the restaurant and brewery.
Melissa Christen, an agricultural expert and grower at the farm, said plants such as fruit and nut trees have to mature before there is a crop worthy of selling or incorporating into the menu.

“As of right now we are harvesting the cold crops that include broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as hearty greens like spinach and kale,” she said. “I have planted them in six sessions so there will be a constant availability of produce we can use at Jackie O’s and sell at the market instead of relying on other farmers.”

Jackie O’s currently grows raspberries, lemon verbena and mint that are added during the brew process to give ales subtle hints of flavor.
“We just got approved to design a high tunnel, which is an unheated plastic structure that will help us extend our growing season without the cost of a greenhouse,” Oestrike said. “I’m excited to announce that we will have bees coming on May 14th that will allow us to decrease the amount of herbicides used.”

In partnership with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Jackie O’s Farm will provide a tour and potluck on Sunday to increase awareness about sustainability among farmers, educators and conscientious eaters.

“I want to convey the work that goes into planting produce in such a fluctuating climate while still growing a large amount of crops,” Christen said. “This farm is unique in the reason that unlike most farmers who have to find a business to sell to, we already have Jackie O’s.”

Organic Farm in Salem Recognized by State

By WKBN Channel 27

Watch video here.

A farm in Salem is being recognized as one of the most sustainable and organic farms in the state of Ohio. And on Tuesday, the public got a chance to see exactly why during a free tour.

The Heritage Lane Farm in Salem made it on the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 2011 series of free public tours for being one of the finest sustainable and organic farms. Each year, OEFFA promotes sustainable agriculture with about 20 different farm tours all around the state.

“Today we are hosting one here at our farm, showcasing our herd of American bison or buffalo, as well as our garden in which we grow produce and cut flowers. And behind me, the two high tunnels we use for season extension,” said Sarah Swope, owner/operator of Heritage Lane Farm.

The farm is family operated and Swope said their farm is unique to Ohio because there are very few farms that raise American buffalo, and most of their produce is done in what they call a sustainable manner.

“Which means that we don’t use any herbicides or chemical fertilizers. We produce all of our own compost here on the farm with either the vegetable matter or with some of the manures and bedding from the animals,” Swope said.

Those who came out for the tour were impressed with what they saw.

“My cousin told me about this tour. And my parents were raised on farms, but it was nothing like this. And it’s just such an ambitious endeavour that they’re doing. Isn’t it amazing,” said Francine Burlingame of Salem.

The Swope family also markets all of their produce and meat locally, and said their meat and produce sales are doing extremely well.

“Folks are beginning to discover the unique benefits of meat and produce grown locally, as far as the economic benefits, and even the taste and health benefits,” Swope said.

The Swopes plan to increase their herd size to meet the demand for meat, and are also looking into expanding their produce crop.