Archive for September, 2011

Attention grows for Kent farm

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

SARAH WILSON
Akron Legal News Reporter

Published: September 19, 2011

Thirteen years of work in the corporate environment left Ami Gignac wanting something more. After graduating from the Colorado School of Mines in 1997, Gignac spent 12 years as a project engineer, was promoted into management, and eventually promoted to general manager of a company in the San Francisco Bay area.

“It was a great career, but something was missing,” Gignac said. “I had high blood pressure, I was 70 pounds overweight. I was just unhealthy.”

Looking for ways to reduce stress and start to live a healthier life, Gignac confided in her longtime partner Tim Fox, owner and operator of Laughery Valley Welding and Rigging in Kent, Ohio about her desires to get back to her roots.

“Living in Kent, I would drive by this vacant, run-down property,” said Fox, referring to what is now Gignac and Fox’s 35-acre farm in Ravenna called Breakneck Acres. “I knew I could get it for cheap and have a farm where I could work the land and make it my own.”

Fox obtained the land at 2743 Summit Rd. he had his eye on in 2006 and Gignac joined him in 2010. Shortly thereafter, Fox’s idea of a no-chemical, organic farm was within reach. Gignac brought her business and finance background to the table and proposed organic certification as an option for the farm.

Now operating as a fully Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) certified farm, Breakneck Acres offers fresh, local garlic, many varieties of lettuce, kale, radicchio, spinach, green beans, watermelons, pumpkins, five varieties of dry beans and much more. The farm will soon offer milled whole wheat flour, custom wheat flour blends and cornmeal fashioned with their handmade stone mill from Austria.

“If you grow it, they will come,” said Fox of customers looking to buy fresh and local. Splitting his time between the business and the farm, he hopes to concentrate more on the farm next year in 2012.

Gignac is looking forward to the next step, which she hopes will be a regional food hub where all farms in the area can come together.

“It’s beyond a co-op distribution link. It’s an educational link, a financial link,” said Gignac. Fox and Gignac have backed much of their effort from their personal finances, and while some investors have offered to get involved, Fox and Gignac have yet to take them up on their offer.

“After our initial investments, we expected to lose money for the first three years or so,” said Fox. “This year, we’re finally breaking even. In the next two years, I expect we’ll be turning a decent profit.”

Breakneck Acres operates under the supervision of Gignac and Fox, who spend their days making sure the chickens are fed and the weeds are pulled. The farm also holds volunteer opportunities for those interested in getting involved with small-scale farming.

“We love volunteers,” said Gignac. Two Kent State University students are involved in a partnership with the farm where they share in the profits and the pitfalls..

“It’s a great way for people to learn what it’s really like operating a farm. Sometimes crops go bad because of the weather. Sometimes you just aren’t going to make money right away, and that’s so important to understand,” said Gignac.

CNN recently contacted Breakneck Acres and spent a few days over the summer filming Gignac and Fox’s pursuits for a special to air this year titled “Return to the Homeland,” about people who chose to leave their corporate jobs and the big city for small-scale farming and a slower pace.

“The whole experience was fun,” said Gignac. “The camera man had a blast riding around with us on our tractors.”

They were also filmed at Haymaker Market in downtown Kent, where their produce is also sold every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May through October at the Haymaker Farmer’s Market.

Gignac and Fox said that they love what they do and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

“It’s not for everybody,” Fox said. “You have to make money to survive, and sometimes that takes time. We prepared in advance, and we’re taking the good with the bad.”

“For us, this farm is just the right thing to do,” said Gignac.

Is it Organic or Not? It’s All in the Label

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Ohio News Service

By Mary Kuhlman

9/26/11

COLUMBUS, Ohio – “Free-range,” “natural,” “authentic” – with so many labels on foods these days, it can be a bit dizzying for consumers to figure out what they all mean. Experts say the “certified organic” label stands out from the pack, because it is the only one that verifies that a product is produced and processed without pesticides, artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation.

Carol Goland, executive director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, explains that farmers and processors have to go through a very involved process on an annual basis to use the label, and it is highly verified.

“‘Certified organic’ is really kind of a prestigious label. By and large, unless it says ‘certified organic,’ it is not organic, and consumers can’t have that assurance.”

Goland says “certified organic” food is grown in healthy soil, and there is increasing evidence that it is nutritionally superior. Because of the emphasis on environmental protections, consumers also know when they purchase “certified organic” they are safeguarding environmental health, she adds.

Adam Welly runs Wayward Seed Farm, Marysville. He says he has been using organic practices since the beginning and felt it was an important step to become verified.

“‘Naturally grown’ is a term that’s just being used so loosely. We ended up certifying organic because we felt it was our strongest step toward creating complete transparency with our customers.”

By becoming “certified organic,” Welly says he has learned more about weed control and pest management. And he says consumers should know that a lot of work goes into organic growing.

“Just because it’s becoming more mainstream to have ‘certified organic’ vegetables, we shouldn’t take for granted the fact that there is a lot of due diligence. In fact, in this climate that we have here in Ohio, there are a lot of challenges.”

Ohio has more than 500 “certified organic” operations and nearly 53,000 acres of “certified organic” pasture and cropland.

New livestock rules don’t address all the issues

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

By Carol Goland, OEFFA Executive Director

Appeared in the Columbus Dispatch 9/24/11

There has been much recent media attention focused on the “sweeping” new Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board regulations affecting farm animals (“All sides hail new livestock-care rules,” Dispatch, Aug. 29).

With all sides declaring victory, Ohioans may think all the problems of industrial agriculture have been resolved. Unfortunately, as usual, the devil is in the details.

The new standards do require some significant changes, including banning tail-docking in dairy cattle and prohibiting veal-calf tethering, except under very limited circumstances. And, thanks to the commitment of the board and the Ohio Department of Agriculture to welcome all sides to the table, the new standards protect the interests of small-scale, organic and sustainable farmers.

These are important achievements, which required stakeholders with divergent viewpoints to find common ground on polarizing issues.

However, the standards do not address numerous issues at the heart of many consumer concerns with today’s animal agriculture industry.

The routine use of antibiotics and indoor confinement are examples of standard practices associated with industrial agriculture not addressed by the new standards. These practices will remain commonplace.

Additionally, some of the reforms in the standards have been mischaracterized or overstated by the media and by proponents.

The Dispatch reported that veal crates would be eliminated in 2018. However, individual pens still may be used for the first 10 weeks of life.

Since bob veal are generally marketed at 3 weeks of age, calves may still spend most, if not all, of their lives in individual pens.

And, although animal-welfare representatives claim the regulations “prohibit new egg operations from confining laying hens in cages” and place a “moratorium on the construction of new battery-cage facilities,” the standards grandfather in existing poultry farms in perpetuity, allowing them to expand the use of conventional battery-cage systems.

For new facilities, cages still are permitted, but they must be “enriched” with some feature, such as a perch. In either case, these cages must provide only 67 square inches per bird, two-thirds the size of a standard sheet of notebook paper.

Although the new standards help establish a minimum bar for the treatment of livestock, Ohioans who want confinement-free meat, dairy and eggs still must seek them out from alternative sources.

Those options are available. Certified organic products require farmers to emphasize preventive health care and accommodate an animal’s natural nutritional and behavioral requirements, which include documented, inspected access to pasture for a minimum of 120 days a year.

Select restaurants and grocery stores offer organic and pasture-raised products. Consumers also may shop at farmers’ markets and other direct-market outlets, allowing them to get to know the farmers who raise their food.

Organic Farm in Salem Recognized by State

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

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.

The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011
For years I’ve been asked, “Since you wrote Diet for a Small Planet in 1971, have things gotten better or worse?” Hoping I don’t sound glib, my response is always the same: “Both.”

As food growers, sellers and eaters, we’re moving in two directions at once.

The number of hungry people has soared to nearly 1 billion, despite strong global harvests. And for even more people, sustenance has become a health hazard—with the US diet implicated in four out of our top ten deadly diseases. Power over soil, seeds and food sales is ever more tightly held, and farmland in the global South is being snatched away from indigenous people by speculators set to profit on climbing food prices. Just four companies control at least three-quarters of international grain trade; and in the United States, by 2000, just ten corporations—with boards totaling only 138 people—had come to account for half of US food and beverage sales. Conditions for American farmworkers remain so horrific that seven Florida growers have been convicted of slavery involving more than 1,000 workers. Life expectancy of US farmworkers is forty-nine years.That’s one current. It’s antidemocratic and deadly.

There is, however, another current, which is democratizing power and aligning farming with nature’s genius. Many call it simply “the global food movement.” In the United States it’s building on the courage of truth tellers from Upton Sinclair to Rachel Carson, and worldwide it has been gaining energy and breadth for at least four decades.

Some Americans see the food movement as “nice” but peripheral—a middle-class preoccupation with farmers’ markets, community gardens and healthy school lunches. But no, I’ll argue here. It is at heart revolutionary, with some of the world’s poorest people in the lead, from Florida farmworkers to Indian villagers. It has the potential to transform not just the way we eat but the way we understand our world, including ourselves. And that vast power is just beginning to erupt.

The Work

In a farmworker camp in Ohio, a young mother sat on her bed. She was dying of cancer, but with no bitterness she asked me a simple question: “We provide people food—why don’t they respect our work?” That was 1984. She had no protection from pesticides, or even the right to safe drinking water in the field.

Twenty-five years later, in Immokalee, Florida, I walked through a grungy, sweltering 300-foot trailer, home to eight tomato pickers, but what struck me most was a sense of possibility in the workers themselves.

They are among the 4,000 mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, formed in 1993—more than two decades after Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers’ victorious five-year grape strike and national boycott. In the 1990s, CIW’s struggle over five years, including a 230-mile walk and hunger strike, achieved the first industrywide pay increase in twenty years. Still, it only brought real wages back to pre-1980 levels. So in 2001, CIW launched its Campaign for Fair Food. Dogged organizing forced four huge fast-food companies—McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway—to agree to pay a penny more per pound and adhere to a code of conduct protecting workers. Four large food-service providers, including Sodexo, were also brought on board. Beginning this fall, CIW will start implementing these changes at 90 percent of Florida tomato farms—improving the lives of 30,000 tomato pickers. Now the campaign is focused on supermarkets such as Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop and Giant.

The Land

In Brazil, almost 400,000 farmworker families have not only found their voices but gained access to land, joining the roughly half-billion small farms worldwide that produce 70 percent of the world’s food.

Elsewhere, calls for more equitable access to land in recent decades have generally gone nowhere—despite evidence that smallholders are typically more productive and better resource guardians than big operators.

So what happened in Brazil?

With the end of dictatorship in 1984 came the birth of arguably the largest social movement in the hemisphere: the Landless Workers Movement, known by its Portuguese acronym MST. Less than 4 percent of Brazil’s landowners control about half the land, often gained illegally. MST’s goal is land reform, and in 1988 Brazil’s new Constitution gave the movement legal grounding: Article 5 states that “property shall fulfill its social function,” and Article 184 affirms the government’s power to “expropriate…for purposes of agrarian reform, rural property” that fails to meet this requirement. Well-organized occupations of unused land, under the cover of night, had been MST’s early tactic; after 1988 the same approach helped compel the government to uphold the Constitution.

Because of the courage of these landless workers, a million people are building new lives on roughly 35 million acres, creating several thousand farming communities with schools serving 150,000 kids, along with hundreds of cooperative and other enterprises.

Nevertheless, MST co-founder João Pedro Stédile said early this year that the global financial crisis has led “international capitalists” to try to “protect their funds” by investing in Brazilian “land and energy projects”—driving renewed land concentration.

And in the United States? The largest 9 percent of farms produce more than 60 percent of output. But small farmers still control more than half our farmland, and the growing market for healthy fresh food has helped smallholders grow: their numbers went up by 18,467 between 2002 and 2007. To support them, last winter the Community Food Security Coalition held community “listening sessions,” attended by 700 people, to sharpen citizen goals for the 2012 farm bill.

The Seed

Just as dramatic is the struggle for the seed. More than 1,000 independent seed companies were swallowed up by multinationals in the past four decades, so today just three—Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta—control about half the proprietary seed market worldwide.

Fueling the consolidation were three Supreme Court rulings since 1980—including one in 2002, with an opinion written by former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas—making it possible to patent life forms, including seeds. And in 1992 the Food and Drug Administration released its policy on genetically modified organisms, claiming that “the agency is not aware of any information showing that [GMO] foods…differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”

The government’s green light fueled the rapid spread of GMOs and monopolies—so now most US corn and soybeans are GMO, with genes patented largely by one company: Monsanto. The FDA position helped make GMOs’ spread so invisible that most Americans still don’t believe they’ve ever eaten them—even though the grocery industry says they could be in 75 percent of processed food.

Even fewer Americans are aware that in 1999 attorney Steven Druker reported that in 40,000 pages of FDA files secured via a lawsuit, he found “memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food,” including the possibility that they could contain “unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.”

Yet at the same time, public education campaigns have succeeded in confining almost 80 percent of GMO planting to just three countries: the United States, Brazil and Argentina. In more than two dozen countries and in the European Union they’ve helped pass mandatory GMO labeling. Even China requires it.

In Europe, the anti-GMO tipping point came in 1999. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, expects that the same shift will happen here, as more Americans than ever actively oppose GMOs. This year the “non-GMO” label is the third-fastest-growing new health claim on food packaging. Smith is also encouraged that milk products produced with the genetically modified drug rBGH “have been kicked out of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Yoplait, Dannon, and most American dairies.”

Around the world, millions are saying no to seed patenting as well. In homes and village seed banks, small farmers and gardeners are saving, sharing and protecting tens of thousands of seed varieties.

In the United States, the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, estimates that since 1975 members have shared roughly a million samples of rare garden seeds.

In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh—known as the pesticide capital of the world—a women-led village movement, the Deccan Development Society, puts seed-saving at the heart of its work. After the crushing failure of GMO cotton and ill health linked to pesticides, the movement has helped 125 villages convert to more nutritious, traditional crop mixes, feeding 50,000 people.

On a larger scale, Vandana Shiva’s organization, Navdanya, has helped to free 500,000 farmers from chemical dependency and to save indigenous seeds—the group’s learning and research center protects 3,000 varieties of rice, plus other crops.

Agri-Culture

In all these ways and more, the global food movement challenges a failing frame: one that defines successful agriculture and the solution to hunger as better technologies increasing yields of specific crops. This is typically called “industrial agriculture,” but a better description might be “productivist,” because it fixates on production, or “reductivist,” because it narrows our focus to a single element.

Its near obsession with the yield of a monoculture is anti-ecological. It not only pollutes, diminishes and disrupts nature; it misses ecology’s first lesson: relationships. Productivism isolates agriculture from its relational context—from its culture.

In 2008 a singular report helped crack the productivist frame. This report, “The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (known simply as IAASTD), explained that solutions to poverty, hunger and the climate crisis require agriculture that promotes producers’ livelihoods, knowledge, resiliency, health and equitable gender relations, while enriching the natural environment and helping to balance the carbon cycle. Painstakingly developed over four years by 400 experts, the report has gained the support of more than fifty-nine governments, and even productivist strongholds like the World Bank.

IAASTD furthers an emerging understanding that agriculture can serve life only if it is regarded as a culture of healthy relationships, both in the field—among soil organisms, insects, animals, plants, water, sun—and in the human communities it supports: a vision lived by many indigenous people and captured in 1981 by Wendell Berry in The Gift of Good Land and twenty years later by Jules Pretty in Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature.

Across cultures, the global food movement is furthering agri-culture by uniting diverse actors and fostering democratic relationships. A leader is La Via Campesina, founded in 1993 when small farmers and rural laborers gathered from four continents in Belgium. Its goal is “food sovereignty”—a term carefully chosen to situate “those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations,” says the declaration closing the group’s 2007 global gathering in Nyeleni, Mali. La Via Campesina connects 150 local and national organizations, and 200 million small farmers, in seventy countries. In 2009 it was included among civil society players on the UN Committee on Food Security.

And in the urban North, how is the food movement enhancing agri-culture?

For sure, more and more Americans are getting their hands in the dirt—motivated increasingly by a desire to cut “food miles” and greenhouse gases. Roughly a third of American households (41 million) garden, up 14 percent in 2009 alone. As neighbors join neighbors, community gardens are blooming. From only a handful in 1970, there are 18,000 community gardens today. In Britain community gardens are in such demand—with 100,000 Brits on waiting lists for a plot—that the mayor of London promised 2,012 new ones by 2012.

And in 2009 the Slow Food movement, with 100,000 members in 153 countries, created 300 “eat-ins”—shared meals in public space—to launch its US “Time for Lunch” campaign, with a goal of delicious healthy school meals for the 31 million kids eating them every day.

An Economics of Agri-Culture

Agri-culture’s unity of healthy farming ecology and social ecology transforms the market itself: from the anonymous, amoral selling and buying within a market structured to concentrate power to a market shaped by shared human values structured to ensure fairness and co-responsibility.

In 1965 British Oxfam created the first fair-trade organization, called Helping-by-Selling, in response to calls from poor countries for “trade, not aid.” Today more than 800 products are fair-trade certified, directly benefiting 6 million people. Last year the US fair-trade market passed $1.5 billion.

The Real Food Challenge, launched by young people in 2007, is working to jump-start a US swing to “real food”—defined as that respecting “human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability.” Student teams are mobilizing to persuade campus decision-makers to commit themselves to making a minimum of
20 percent of their college or university food “real” by 2020. With more than 350 schools already on board, the Challenge founders have set an ambitious goal: to shift $1 billion to real food purchases in ten years.

Farmers’ markets, the direct exchange between farmer and eater, are also creating a fairer agri-culture. So rare before the mid-’90s that the USDA didn’t even bother to track them, more than 7,000 farmers’ markets dot the country in 2011, a more than fourfold increase in seventeen years.

Other democratic economic models are also gaining ground:

In 1985 an irrepressible Massachusetts farmer named Robyn Van En helped create the first US Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which eaters are no longer just purchasers but partners, helping to shoulder the farmer’s risk by prepaying for a share of the harvest before the planting season. On weekends, “my” CSA—Waltham Fields, near Boston—is alive as families pick and chat, and kids learn how to spot the yummiest strawberries. Now there are 2,500 CSAs across the country, while more than 12,500 farms informally use this prepay, partnership approach.

The cooperative model is spreading too, replacing one dollar, one vote—the corporate form—with one person, one vote. In the 1970s, US food cooperatives took off. Today there are 160 nationwide, and co-op veteran Annie Hoy in Ashland, Oregon, sees a new upsurge. Thirty-nine have just opened, or are “on their way right now,” she told me.

Funky storefronts of the 1970s, famous for limp organic carrots, have morphed into mouthwatering community hubs. Beginning as a food-buying club of fifteen families in 1953, Seattle’s PCC Natural Markets has nine stores and almost 46,000 members, making it the largest US food cooperative. Its sales more than doubled in a decade.

Producer co-ops have also made huge gains. In 1988 a handful of worried farmers, watching profits flow to middlemen, not to them, launched the Organic Valley Family of Farms. Today Organic Valley’s more than 1,600 farmer owners span thirty-two states, generating sales of more than $500 million in 2008.

The Rules

The global food system reflects societies’ rules—often uncodified—that determine who eats and how our earth fares. In the United States, rules increasingly reflect our nation’s slide into “privately held government.” But in rule-setting, too, energy is hardly unidirectional.

In 1999, on the streets of Seattle, 65,000 environmentalists, labor and other activists made history, blunting the antidemocratic agenda of the World Trade Organization. In 2008 more citizens than ever engaged in shaping the farm bill, resulting in rules encouraging organic production. The movement has also established 100 “food policy councils”—new local-to-state, multi-stakeholder coordinating bodies. And this year, eighty-three plaintiffs joined the Public Patent Foundation in suing Monsanto, challenging its GMO seeds’ “usefulness” (required for patenting) as well as the company’s right to patent seeds to begin with.

Even small changes in the rules can create huge possibilities. Consider, for example, the ripples from a 2009 Brazilian law requiring at least 30 percent of school meals to consist of food from local family farms.

Rules governing rights are the human community’s foundational guarantees to one another—and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave access to food that status. Since then, nearly two dozen nations have planted the right to food in their constitutions. If you wonder whether it matters, note that when Brazil undertook a multifaceted “zero hunger” campaign, framing food as a right, the country slashed its infant death rate by about a third in seven years.

Food Power: Only Connect

This rising global food movement taps universal human sensibilities—expressed in Hindu farmers in India saving seeds, Muslim farmers in Niger turning back the desert and Christian farmers in the United States practicing biblically inspired Creation Care. In these movements lies the revolutionary power of the food movement: its capacity to upend a life-destroying belief system that has brought us power-concentrating corporatism.

Corporatism, after all, depends on our belief in the fairy tale that market “magic” (Ronald Reagan’s unforgettable term) works on its own without us.

Food can break that spell. For the food movement’s power is that it can shift our sense of self: from passive, disconnected consumers in a magical market to active, richly connected co-producers in societies we are creating—as share owners in a CSA farm or purchasers of fair-trade products or actors in public life shaping the next farm bill.

The food movement’s power is connection itself. Corporatism distances us from one another, from the earth—and even from our own bodies, tricking them to crave that which destroys them—while the food movement celebrates our reconnection. Years ago in Madison, Wisconsin, CSA farmer Barb Perkins told me about her most rewarding moments: “Like in town yesterday,” she said, “I saw this little kid, wide-eyed, grab his mom’s arm and point at me. ‘Mommy,’ he said. ‘Look. There’s our farmer!’”

At its best, this movement encourages us to “think like an ecosystem,” enabling us to see a place for ourselves connected to all others, for in ecological systems “there are no parts, only participants,” German physicist Hans Peter Duerr reminds us. With an “eco-mind” we can see through the productivist fixation that inexorably concentrates power, generating scarcity for some, no matter how much we produce. We’re freed from the premise of lack and the fear it feeds. Aligning food and farming with nature’s genius, we realize there’s more than enough for all.

As the food movement stirs, as well as meets, deep human needs for connection, power and fairness, let’s shed any notion that it’s simply “nice” and seize its true potential to break the spell of our disempowerment.

Sense of Place

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

New restaurant inside the Wexner offers palette of regional flavors

By  Denise Trowbridge For The Columbus Dispatch Tuesday September 20, 2011 8:13 AM

CHRIS RUSSELL | DISPATCH PHOTO

John and Kimberly Skaggs offer breakfast and lunch items throughout the day in their new restaurant inside the Wexner Center for the Arts. The focus will be on freshly made food using locally grown produce and other items from the region.

Foods locally grown and produced are a natural fit for the owners of Heirloom, the restaurant that opened at the Wexner Center for the Arts last week.

As the name suggests, ‘We plan to source ingredients locally and seasonally as much as possible, using small Ohio farms and heirloom vegetables to produce flavorful and affordable meals,’ said John Skaggs, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Kimberly.

Kimberly Skaggs’ first job was at an orchard. Her husband took a hiatus from his culinary career several years ago to grow and harvest organic vegetables at the North Ridge Organic Farm in Johnstown. The two also briefly operated their own organic farm.

“We loved it, but we decided to get back into the restaurant business,” he said.

The two have worked for Northstar Cafe, the Top Steakhouse, L’Antibes and RJ Snapper’s, among others. The two also currently own My Catered Table, a meal home-delivery service. The experiences have prepared them for the launch of their first full-scale restaurant and has informed Heirloom’s menu, which is simple but rich.

Breakfast options, which are served all day, include sweet rolls, homemade granola and yogurt; egg sandwiches with cheddar cheese served on wheat sourdough buns baked in-house; and the “ eye-opener” burrito consisting of eggs, potatoes, chorizo and cheddar cheese served on a wheat tortilla.

The three quiche options — spinach and feta, bacon and Swiss, and a quiche of the day — stand alone or come with a side of fresh fruit or greens.

Prices for breakfast items range from about $2 to $7.25.

The lunch menu consists of a handful of salads and sandwiches. The “spirugala” salad of spinach, arugula, cranberries, toasted pecans and goat cheese is priced at $8. The “big” salad of mixed greens, arugula, pasta, broccoli, sunflower seeds, raisins, carrots and cucumbers with a white balsamic and maple vinaigrette dressing is $8.25.

The “Gila monster” headlines the sandwich menu. It’s a combination of turkey meatloaf, green chile, pepper jack cheese and Southwestern aioli. Heirloom is serving Luna vegan burgers and a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich as well. They range in price from $5.75 to $9.

Ingredients come from Ohio businesses, such as nuts and peanut butter from Krema and coffee from Stauf’s, both of Grandview Heights; goat cheese from the Blue Jacket Dairy in Bellefontaine; and oats, cereal and grains from Stutzman Farms in Millersburg.

“I’m a firm believer that local is not only trendy, but becoming more and more of a necessity,” John Skaggs said. He likes being able to shake hands with the people who have grown or made the restaurant’s food. “It’s about having a connection with a local purveyor and promoting local businesses.

“Organic and sustainable will always be trending up or down,” he said, “but local is becoming the new normal.”

Heirloom is on the lower level of the Wexner Center and is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sidewalk Sustainability: The Crazy Genius of Edible Lawns

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

By Kate Liebers

Published September 1, 2011

(614) Magazine

Two front yards in Clintonville taste much better than any manicured grass lawn ever could.

Compared to the plots in front of homes nearby – where decorative flowers reside in tidily planted pots alongside freshly mowed grass – at first glance, these untamed yards look like they’ve been ignored for years. Yet the mass of twiggy branches and spindly vines hides a growing salad bar of vegetables, fruits and edible flowers.

Even the compost pile generates so-called “mystery melons.”

To keep a yard any other way, the owners say, would be crazy.

“The whole system just makes sense,” said Justin Rooney, 38. “Produce no waste and reap a harvest and share with each other – all those things seem like they should be logical.”

His girlfriend Allison Collins, 39, said that they did not have much luck with plants before teaming up with neighbors Kelly and Michael Sandman to create their lawn garden.

Now, Collins says she cannot believe she ever bought bags of dirt.

“It was pretty enlightening,” she recalled with a chuckle. “Or embarrassing, however you want to look at it.”

The couples attended a local permaculture class in 2008 before beginning the weeklong process of converting their plots of grass into an edible garden.

“The whole thing was like, ‘Oh, right. Why do I spend so much time and effort mowing stuff that I don’t care about?’” Kelly Sandman said. “It’s not like I’m a cricket player.”

So the neighbors ditched their noisy, polluting lawnmowers and embarked on a fruitful journey of organized chaos and haphazard experimentation.

“We get everything kind of thrown in together,” said Rooney. “Some things thrive. Some things get buried and forgotten about.”

Ultimately, as Collins said, the seeds know what they’re doing.

One season, the households had more black cherry tomatoes than they could keep up with. In the summer, Sandman said they are “swimming in tomatoes and peppers.” In the spring, she never needs to buy salad greens.

The growers get more than free food; they get food that tastes better than any they could buy.

“That’s the biggest downside of the garden – it makes everything bought in the store taste not nearly as good,” said Sandman.

Rooney agreed. She was surprised to learn how different naturally grown celery tastes from the grocery store variety. Rooney’s yard-grown celery is dark green, flavorful and not stringy at all. When folks only have access to grocery store produce, Sandman said “it’s no wonder that people hate vegetables.”

Developing a sustainable ecosystem with the land one has available is not a new idea, the couples pointed out. It was a no-brainer for their farming ancestors, and now it’s a no-brainer for them.

“It’s funny to look around the neighborhoods now and think that little slope on that little lawn would be the perfect place to just let strawberries go crazy,” Collins said. “I don’t know why the front yard is considered to be some mostly barren place where only grass is allowed to make an appearance.”

Yet the permaculture concept is not without controversy.

This summer, for example, Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan, reportedly faced about three months in jail for growing vegetables in place of her lawn. Although her garden was contained in raised beds, her neighbors reported it as an eyesore. The local government contested her yard needed “suitable live plant materials” instead, such as grass, flowers and shrubbery.

Fortunately for Bass, the charges were eventually dropped. And fortunately for the folks on Como Avenue, the feedback they’ve cultivated has only been positive.

For them, the celebrated grass lawn has officially lost its luster.

The couples’ yards are instead flourishing with raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, ground cherries, yellow brandy tomatoes, speckled Roma tomatoes, orange bell peppers, hot peppers, asparagus, rhubarb, “mystery squash,” broccoli, zucchini, peas, artichoke, red Marconi, celery, apricots, kale and cabbage – to name a few. The lack of lawn also hosts herbs like fennel, sage, parsley, oregano, lemon balm, various mint plants, sage and lovage. Useful pollinator-attractors and soil replenishers such as Echinacea, nasturtium and sunflowers complete the ecosystem.

The shrubbery planted by prior residents is gradually being weeded out to make room for more herbs and vegetables. As Rooney said, “If it doesn’t taste good, it’s not in here.”

He and Collins even found a use for the backyard, which is too shady for most plant life. There, Rooney began raising honeybees.

Terracotta pots left over from tamer days are stacked near the edge of this edible jungle. If nothing else, they seem to serve as an inspiring reminder to dig deeper.


Environmental & Agricultural Success at Marshy Meadows

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
August 21, 2011 By

Federal budget cutters may want to think twice about slashing USDA conservation programs

When most Americans think about federal dollars spent on agriculture, they envision big ticket (and controversial) items like ethanol subsidies and direct payments. Most of us don’t realize that the USDA – through divisions like the Natural Resources Conservation Service – also administers programs that allow family farmers and small producers to make improvements to their land helping them to build their business while protecting natural resources for the rest of us.

We know that the actions of some farm and livestock operators can have consequences outside the boundaries of the acres they plant or graze. Just ask the folks who live near Grand Lake St. Mary’s here in Ohio. The toxic algae problem at the Grand Lake is attributable, at least in part, to runoff from area farms.

Mardy Townsend surveys her herd at Marshy Meadows Farm in Ashtabula County.

One NRCS program that helps to mitigate environmental degradation and supports small operators who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford environmentally-friendly improvements to their property is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). I had the opportunity to see EQIP in action at Marshy Meadows Farm near Windsor, Ohio.

Marshy Meadows is a grass-fed beef operation run by Mardy Townsend with the help of her mother Marge. Marge Townsend has been farming since the early 1970s in Ashtabula County. Although Mardy spent part of her varied career in Central America, she came home for good in 2001 to turn Marshy Meadows into the peaceful collection of hills, wetlands and pastures that it is today.

The Townsends are Ohio Farmers Union members of more than 30 years and are devoted to making their farm work economically and ecologically. After getting her master’s degree in agronomy from Ohio State University, Mardy set goals for Marshy Meadows that included assessing the topography of the land and finding the best agricultural fit for the rambling collection of hills, wetlands and valleys.

“All of the farm is classified as wetland or highly erodible,” Mardy told me. “It didn’t make sense to keep tilling up highly erodible land.”

Mardy chose to abandon the production of crops and began converting fields to grasslands. Previously, erosion had been a problem on the hilly areas of the farm. Grassland holds everything in place and provides prime real estate for the grazing of cattle.

Since 2002, the Marshy Meadows herd has grown to around 130 head of the Hereford-Angus cross Black Baldies. This past spring was a good calving season with 33 calves born without losing a single one.

Converting Marshy Meadows Farm to grassland has been good for the environment in Ashtabula County and provides a way for Mardy to make a living from what she loves – farming. Over the past nine years she has only had to work at off the farm jobs twice as she’s built her business. Her grass-fed beef is also becoming popular in the region. Through the good work of the Geauga Family Farmers Cooperative it has even made its way onto the table at the Cleveland Clinic.

Work is nearly complete on Marshy Meadows’ new water system.

EQIP has been a part of that success. Funding for a system to deliver water to different pastures around the farm has been supported by EQIP grants. From the policy point of view, USDA wanted to help beginning farmers and those willing to be more environmentally conscious with how they use their land. From Mardy’s point of view, she has been able to get needed infrastructure onto the farm much more quickly than she could have without USDA support.

“Implementing a new environmentally friendly practice can be costly and not affordable based on the cash flow of an operation. EQIP helps farmers over this economic hurdle,” Mardy said.

Marshy Meadows also is in the eighth year of a ten year grant program with the Conservation Stewardship program. This is another USDA program that helps defray the costs incurred by using environmentally-friendly practices. The grasslands of Marshy Meadows supports thriving bird populations of eastern meadowlark and bobolink, both of which are in danger due to loss of habitat. CSP payments make up some of the farm income lost by protecting these ground nesting birds’ habitats.

However, Townsend is worried about what she’s hearing from Washington regarding Congressional budget-cutting and just where the budget axe may fall.

Her concern is that across the board draconian cuts at USDA are going to shut down EQIP, making it difficult for farmers to continue to implement environmentally friendly practices at the necessary rate. Also, CSP contracts may not be honored through the end of the contracts. In her case, she said she’s almost through with her contract and she’ll make it financially if funding dries up. She does question the fairness of the federal government entering into contracts with family farmers and subsequently making hurried budget decisions that essentially leave farmers in the lurch.

“(These programs) have been really good in terms of helping move people into a more environmentally way of farming,” said Mardy. “The thing that is bothering me at this point is that I’ve heard that the USDA may not be able to honor (existing) contracts … it seems unfair that if you’ve signed a ten year contract with the government that all this messing around in Washington over the budget could have USDA not honoring its contracts.”

Sen. Brown Brings ‘Grown in Ohio’ Listening Tour to Drewes Farm in Custar

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Visit is Part of Brown’s “Grown in Ohio” Listening Tour, Held as Senate Prepares to Draft 2012 Farm Bill, Senator is New Chair of Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth, and Energy

September 2, 2011

CUSTAR, OH — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) brought his “Grown in Ohio” listening session tour to Custar today at Drewes Farm. Brown will be holding a number of these listening sessions across Ohio in the coming months to get input from Ohio farmers as the Senate considers the 2012 Farm Bill. This is Brown’s fourth listening session stop, after previous roundtables in Chesterland, Chillicothe, and New Philadelphia.

“Ohio farmers help put food on dinner tables and fill the tanks of vehicles across the nation. Agriculture remains our state’s number one industry, with one out of every seven jobs tied to this important sector,” Brown said. “It’s with that idea in mind that I’ve brought the ‘Grown in Ohio’ tour to Custar, so that I can receive valuable feedback from farmers and growers in Wood County and beyond as the Senate begins to consider the next Farm Bill. The Farm Bill has to be an energy bill, a conservation bill, a rural development bill, a food bill, and provide a strong farm safety net to benefit Ohio farms and farmers—and I will do all I can to ensure that the feedback I receive in these sessions will help shape the final piece of legislation.”

Producers and individuals involved in agriculture from several counties across Northwestern Ohio attended.  Many of the participants are members of statewide farm organizations including Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Farmers Union, Ohio Soybean Association, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and the Women’s Farm Consortium. Brown held a similar series of listening sessions prior to the last Farm Bill, and at one roundtable, the idea for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program was born and eventually adopted in the final Farm Bill. The ACRE provision allows farmers to choose a new safety net program that protects against drops in yield or prices, which is critical for farmers given the uncertain and volatile farm economy.

In March, Brown addressed the Ohio Farm Bureau in Washington, D.C, where he announced his plans for the ‘Grown in Ohio’ tour. At that speech, Brown outlined priorities for economic development and job growth in Ohio’s agricultural industry. In March, Brown also held a call with nearly 30 Ohio farmers to announce that he will be the new Chair of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth, and Energy. The critical panel is responsible for job creation in small towns and rural communities and the continued development of renewable fuels and clean energy technologies that support rural America.

Brown is the first Ohioan to serve on both the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. Agriculture is still Ohio’s largest industry. As the first Ohioan in more than 40 years to serve on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Sen. Brown is looking forward to working on behalf of Ohio’s agricultural community as the Senate considers the 2012 Farm Bill. During the authorization of the 2008 Farm Bill, Brown traveled around the state to listen to Ohio’s farmers and take their ideas to Washington.  Brown helped secure six major provisions that will improve and reform the farm safety-net, support rural communities, promote renewable energy, encourage healthy diets, and protect natural resources.

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Press Contacts:
(202) 224-3978

To read the original press release from Senator Brown, click here.

FRACKING AND FARMLAND: WHAT FARMERS AND LANDOWNERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE RISKS TO AIR, WATER, AND LAND

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 13, 2011

Contact:

Renee Hunt, Program Director, (614) 421-2022, renee@oeffa.org

Press Release

High-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), also known as fracking, and the impact to farmers and landowners will be the subject of a webinar on Tuesday, September 27 at 6 p.m.

This educational session, organized by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and featuring analysis by the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), will provide information to Ohio farmers and landowners about the fracking process and potential environmental impacts.

“It’s important that farmers understand the risks to their farming livelihood when approached to sign a lease with an energy company,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “It is our goal to give farmers the information they need to make informed decisions.”

“Shale Gas formations underlying farmland are being rapidly explored, as we attempt to satisfy our appetite for energy. Extracting this resource is an energy and resource-intensive process. We will discuss the process and potential risks to the air, land, and water, upon which we all rely,” said OEC Agricultural Programs Director Joe Logan.

For organic farmers, contaminated soil or water can jeopardize a farm’s organic certification status. “OEFFA certifies farms across Ohio and the Midwest,” said Hunt. “Before farmers sign on the dotted line, they need to understand the potential risks to their land and their livelihood.”

This free, web-based seminar will deliver the session through the internet directly to participants’ computers. They will be able to view the presentation through their internet browser and listen to the audio portion through a call in phone number or through their computer’s speakers. The session will be interactive and allow participants to ask questions and communicate with the presenter. The webinar will be recorded and available online in October.

To register for the webinar, go to https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/608082446

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The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters who committed to work together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.

The mission of the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home.  The OEC has a widely respected 40-year history of innovation, pragmatism, and success. For more information, go to www.theoec.org.