Archive for May, 2012

Growing organically suits Banzhaf Garten just fine

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
By Connie Lechleitner
May 8, 2012
Ohio’s Country Journal

For Dave Benchoff, of Ashland, what began as a backyard garden has grown into a full-time business with Banzhaf Garten Organic Farm.

Dave Benchoff checks his parsley plants in the high tunnel.

“We weren’t always health conscious, but having kids made my wife and I study where our food comes from,” Benchoff said. “My wife has food allergies to MSG and other preservatives, and our kids were starting to have them too. Our oldest son would break out into hives if he ate eggs from the store, but yet when we raised our own, he had no problem.”

The Benchoffs have three children, a son (21), daughter (16) and son (10). Benchoff and his wife, Lori, were living in Mansfield, where he was working as an EMT instructor and firefighter, handling 911 calls.

“When we turned 40, we decided it was time for a change, and we moved to the country in 1999. We got a good deal on a 20-acre farm, and I wanted to find something to do with the land besides mow it. I started out with a garden, but it got out of control,” he said with a laugh. “Then I realized that I might be able to make a living at it.”

Soon, the Wooster native with a masters in history found himself immersed in the study of organics. His research led him to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

“The OEFFA began in 1979, and had been certifying organic production since back in the early 1980’s,” Benchoff said. “They started well before the national movement, and it wasn’t until 2002 that the USDA developed its own certification program.”

Benchoff received organic certification for his farm in 2003.

“At that time, the national standard was new,” he said. “I had several people tell me I was crazy for pursuing it, but I knew there was an interest in naturally grown produce, and it has only increased since then. It is a good marketing tool for produce growers.”

The certification process was initially extensive.

“The inspectors look at everything from your seed packets, to invoices, to harvest records and sales receipts,” he said. “You have to maintain records and document everything that goes into or out of the ground. And you have to use substances approved by OEFFA or the Organic Materials Review Institute. The first inspection took a whole day here at our farm.”

Benchoff developed his own recordkeeping system that has been well received by inspectors as well as other growers.

“I’ve actually taught my system at OEFFA workshops,” he said. “I create forms in Word that can be printed out with a computer, but you don’t have to have a computer to do this system. In fact, some people have taken my system and tweaked it to meet their own needs. The inspectors love it because they don’t have to take all day to do their records audit.”

He credits his EMT/fireman training for helping him develop the system.

Dave Benchoff shows his customized system for feeding fish emulsion fertilizer through his drip irrigation system.

“When you do EMT work, you learn to look at things in a logical way, and put it into a matrix as you survey the scene,” Benchoff said. “I like to keep things simple, so I basically took that mindset as I developed my record system for the plants.”

On a recent farm visit in late April, outdoor planting was just beginning. Cabbage and snow pea plants were in the ground in the outdoor planting beds, as well as garlic. Mown grass was already being used as mulch.

“We use it to help keep weeds down, and it breaks down into organic matter that goes back into the soil,” he said.

In addition to its outdoor planting beds, the farm is using a high tunnel structure.

“2011 was the first year of production with it, and we were still learning what we could grow in it,” Benchoff said.

The farm received a cost share grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA) to build the structure. During the farm visit, the high tunnel housed bok choy, kohlrabi, lettuce, beets, Swiss chard, oriental turnips, kale, radishes and parsley.

“What I like about the high tunnel structure is the ability to control everything from water, to nutrients to temperature,” he said. “In 2011, we had such a wet spring, where it rained for two months and there was no sun. It really hurt our production, but what we grew in the high tunnel really saved our production last year.”

Benchoff said the farm achieved 5,000 pounds of produce in 2010, however the growing conditions in 2011 dropped production in the same beds to about 4,000 pounds.

“The high tunnel gave us about 700 pounds of produce, which essentially kept us even with the year before,” he said. “Without it we would have been hurting.”

To get the most efficient production, Benchoff employs a succession planting system.

“I do very little direct seed planting,” he said. “It’s mostly snow peas, green beans, garlic and potatoes. Everything else gets started in the greenhouse, with the heirloom tomatoes being from my own seed stock.”

The successive planting concept goes to work when harvesting begins.

“It’s all in the timing,” he said. “For example, when cucumbers go into the ground, it’s time to start the next set of seeds. I know that it will take two to three weeks for those seeds to germinate and be ready, and I will have harvested the existing plants in the mean time. I’ll pull them out and plant the newer plants. It maximizes production.”

A drip irrigation system runs throughout the farm.

“It’s more labor up front, but it is so easy once it is in place,” Benchoff said.

He has also incorporated a system to run his fertilizer — fish emulsion — through the drip irrigation system as well, getting just the right nutrients to the plants.

“I use very little chemical input on the farm,” he said. “I’ve consulted with the researchers at OARDC on specific issues, and I do have corrective measures that are organic approved. For example, I use copper hydroxide for tomato blight. It is a mild fungicide that is an approved treatment.”

Benchoff produces more than 40 species of organically grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a wild-crafted raspberry and blackberry stand, and a wood sales operation.

Most of the farm’s marketing efforts have concentrated on farmers markets, which has also led Benchoff to other leadership roles, including volunteering at the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy in Peninsula and Akron. The Countryside Conservancy advocates community agriculture through markets, networking and workshops to help guide new farmers.

Initiatives like the Countryside Conservancy fit well with Benchoff’s strong belief in building local economies.

“The small entrepreneurs, the cottage industries, are what America is supposed to be about,” he said. “It’s sad to me that so many of us are no longer making a living off our land.”

That passion for entrepreneurship has also led Benchoff to become involved in local producer causes. He served as an original steering committee member in 2009 when the Wooster Local Roots store was formed. The food store is open daily and features produce, textiles and crafts from local growers. The store also includes a café, which features menu items that are seasonally based on the local produce available at the market.

Now, an Ashland Local Roots store is on the horizon.

“For now, we’re holding a farmer’s market every Saturday in the building, but we’re waiting for permits and approval of the architect’s rendering,” he said. “Eventually, we’ll have a second store in Ashland based on the same concept as Wooster. And we’ve already had requests to develop a Local Roots store in Mansfield and New Philadelphia.”

Back on Banzhaf Farm, there is more to do.

“There’s always something to learn,” Benchoff said. “You have to be dynamic and adapt to change. The world is changing. Our economy is changing. And we have to be ready.”

Silencing Communities: How the Fracking Industry Keeps Its Secrets

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
May, 8 2012
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout

The “Rogers” family signed a surface-use agreement with a fracking company in 2009 to close their 300-acre dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania. That’s not the end of the Rogers’ story, but the public, including the Rogers’ own neighbors, may never learn what happened to the family and their land as drilling operations sprouted up in their area. The Rogers did not realize they had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the gas company making the entire deal invalid if members of the family discussed the terms of the agreement, water or land disturbances resulting from fracking and other information with anyone other than the gas company and other signatories.

“Rogers” is not the family’s real name, it’s a pseudonym offered by Simona Perry, an applied anthropologist who cannot reveal the family’s identity. Perry has been working with rural families living amid Pennsylvania’s gas boom since 2009. Mrs. Rogers initially agreed to participate in a study Perry was conducting on rural families living near fracking operations. She later called Perry in tears, explaining that her family could no longer participate in the study because of the nondisclosure clause in the surface-use agreement. She told Perry she felt stupid for signing the agreement and has realized she had a good life without the money the fracking company paid them to use their land.

Perry has been working with and collecting data on rural families living amid Pennsylvania’s gas boom since 2009 and she told Truthout that the Rogers were not the only family who could not share their experiences due to nondisclosure agreements. Perry said the nondisclosure agreements prevent doctors and researchers from gathering valuable data on the health and environmental impacts of fracking and have a chilling effect on people and communities living near the rigs.

“As communities struggle to contend with these impacts and risks in their daily lives, citizens are forced or sometimes unknowingly sign a nondisclosure agreements, [and] they have lost their freedom to speak and share their knowledge and experience with their neighbors,” Perry said. “As a result, whole communities have been silenced and repressed.”

Doctors Demand Access to Fracking Data

Controversial hydraulic fracturing oil and gas drilling methods known as “fracking” involve pumping water and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release oil and gas. Advanced techniques have facilitated an oil and natural gas boom across Pennsylvania and beyond in recent years and brought the drilling close to homes and farms.

Besides air emissions standards recently introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency,  fracking remains largely unregulated by the federal government and has been linked to earthquakes and air and water contamination across the country. Fracking companies disclose some of the chemicals used in fracking fluid, but others – and their concentrations – are often exempt from disclosure because they are considered trade secrets. Other exemptions buried in state and federal law allow drillers to avoid disclosing contents of fracking fluids after they return from deep underground.

Dr. Jerome Paulson, a physician and director of Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, said that the fracking industry has told the public that the drilling procedure is safe, so there is no reason to hide information on health impacts from public view. Nondisclosure agreements with private landowners and disclosure exemptions, Paulson said, are preventing doctors from doing their jobs and protecting the public.

“How do we provide appropriate treatment recommendations to who are ill?” Paulson asked during a press conference last week. “For the population of individuals who are healthy, how do we provide prevention recommendations when we don’t have the information?”

A spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group that represents fracking companies in Pennsylvania, was not available for comment.

Headaches, Nosebleeds and Sealed Records

Chris and Stephanie Hallowich and their children thought they had found their dream home when they moved onto a farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, but they did not know the prior owner had leased the gas rights to a fracking company, according to Matthew Gerhart, an attorney for the group Earthjustice. The family soon found themselves surrounded by gas development as fracking companies exploited the gas-rich Marcellus Shale that runs under much of the state.

The Hallowich family became outspoken opponents of fracking and said that they and their children began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds, burning eyes and sore throats as drilling operations expanded on their land and in their neighborhood. The family tried to get the attention of the media, state regulators and the gas companies, but ended up filing a lawsuit in 2010 and abandoning their home.

The lawsuit was settled in last year. The settlement hearing was closed to the press and the gas companies persuaded a common please judge who approved the settlement to permanently seal it from public view, according to Gerhart, who assumes the settlement includes a nondisclosure agreement. Two area newspapers, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer Reporter, have since sought access to the court records, but were initially denied. Last week, the newspapers appealed the judge’s decision denying them access to the records to the state’s Superior Court.

Dr. Paulson joined Earthjustice, Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other groups in filing a brief in support of the newspapers’ appeal, arguing that the public deserves access to crucial information about the potential health impacts of fracking.

“We’re involved in this case because the gas companies insistence on confidentiality is the tip of the iceberg, for one example of a pattern of secrecy and in other contexts,” said Gerhart, who hopes that the effort to unseal the records will be a step toward greater industry transparency. “… We need real data and access to the real people that are affected by fracking.”

The brief filed by Earthjustice and the doctors’ groups lists 27 cases in heavily fracked states such as Colorado, Arkansas, Texas and Pennsylvania where details of the case or the settlement are being held out of public light due to sealed court records and nondisclosure agreements.

For farmers, fracking means salvation or ruin

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
By Mary Esch
May 20, 2012
Albany, N.Y. —When Dan Fitzsimmons looks across the Susquehanna River and sees the flares of Pennsylvania gas wells, he thinks bitterly of the riches beneath his own land locked up by the heated debate that has kept hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of New York.

“I go over the border and see people planting orchards, buying tractors, putting money back in their land,” said Fitzsimmons, a Binghamton landowner who heads the 70,000-member Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. “We’d like to do that too, but instead we struggle to pay the taxes and to hang onto our farms.”

While New York state has had a moratorium on shale gas development for four years while the Department of Environmental Conservation completes an environmental impact review, thousands of wells have gone into production in Pennsylvania.

Both states, along with Ohio and West Virginia, overlie the vast Marcellus Shale deposit, which has been made productive by the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking.

In the middle of the debate over whether the gas unlocked by fracking is worth the risks of drinking water contamination and adverse health effects are the landowners who must decide whether to sell their mineral rights. Many are dairy farmers and many struggle under heavy debt.

While Fitzsimmons and others in his coalition look south and see the land of milk and honey, other farmers point to Pennsylvania as a case history for how the shale gas boom can be disastrous to agriculture.

Pennsylvania dairy farmers Carol French and Carolyn Knapp travel to other shale gas states giving talks on gas drilling. They tell of methane-contaminated wells; contractors destroying valuable timber for access roads; pipelines making cropland inaccessible; years of agricultural production lost and uncompensated; road damage that isolates families for weeks.

“I never in my wildest dreams envisioned the industrialization that comes along with this process,” Knapp told an audience in Pittsboro, N.C.

Siobhan Griffin, who raises grass-fed cows in Westville, N.Y. and sells organic cheese, doesn’t see gas as the answer. Rather, she fears for her cows if drilling comes to neighboring leased land. She points to Pennsylvania, where 28 cows were quarantined  from sale after they drank wastewater, and Louisiana, where 17 cows died after drinking contaminated water.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators cited East Resources with a violation in 2010 in connection with the state Agriculture Department’s quarantine.  Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality fined Chesapeake Energy and Schlumberger Technology $22,000 each in connection with the 2010 cow deaths.

“I can’t blame dairy farmers for signing,” Griffin said, “because of the cheap food policy in this country. Farmers are stuck in the middle. They don’t make enough margin to pay their bills.”

While conventional dairy farms struggle, sustainable agriculture is growing, thanks to demand from New York City. Ken Jaffe raises grass-fed beef in the western Catskills and sells it to co-ops and high-end restaurants in the city, 160 miles to the southeast. He said gas drilling could destroy the livelihood of thousands of small farmers who cater to that market.

The Park Slope Food Cooperative, which buys upward of $3 million worth of products from upstate farms, has told farmers its members won’t buy products from any area that allows fracking, because they fear contamination. Chefs for the Marcellus, a group of restaurateurs, is calling for a ban on fracking.

Members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York passed a resolution in January calling for a ban on fracking.

But the 30,000-member New York Farm Bureau supports natural gas development “as long as it can be done safely,” said spokesman Jeff Williams. “We’ve been working with DEC to get them to craft the strongest regulations in the nation.”

Landowner coalitions say they’re not relying solely on the state to protect their land, but have built extensive protections into their leases.

“I turned down an offer of $700,000 because the lease was really bad,” said Jim Worden, who raises cows, corn, soybeans and oats near Binghamton. “We won’t sign a lease that jeopardizes our family’s future. It’s not so much about money as about protecting yourself and the environment.”

Fitzsimmons and other coalition members traveled to Albany recently to proclaim the rights of landowners to profit from their mineral resources and seek a halt to a growing movement of local drilling bans.

Dairy farmer Jennifer Huntington in Otsego County sued the town of Middlefield over one such ban because it prevented a planned conventional gas well on her land. A judge upheld the ban but Huntington plans to appeal.

“We would have used the royalties to update the anaerobic digester  that we installed in 1984,” Huntington said, referring to technology that produces methane fuel from manure. “We would have purchased a better oil seed press to more efficiently press soybeans for biodiesel. We would have invested in our farm, our land, and our employees.”

With gas prices at record lows, Worden doesn’t expect drilling to expand rapidly in New York even if the DEC decides to allow fracking. If he can’t profit from gas, he said he’ll find another way to make ends meet.

“It’s a struggle, you know, but you just do what you need to do,” Worden said. “You sell some trees, do firewood, or do some work for somebody else. Same as we always have.”

Letter to Ohio House Public Utilities Committee, Substitute Senate Bill 315

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chairman Stautberg and Committee Members
House Public Utilities Committee
Ohio House of Representatives

Re: Substitute Senate Bill 315

Dear Chairman Stautberg and Members the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee:

I write to you today on behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) in regards to oil and gas regulations in substitute Senate Bill 315. For more than 30 years, OEFFA has worked to build a healthy, sustainable food and farming system. Today, OEFFA represents more than 3,000 organic and sustainable farmers, small business owners, and consumers.

There are nearly 600 certified organic farm operations in Ohio and much of the organic pasture and cropland is located in areas of the state containing shale deposits.  While the organic sector continues to grow—on average 7.5 percent annually—water and soil contamination resulting from fracking threatens to jeopardize farmers’ organic certification. If farmers lose certification due to contaminated land or water, that land will be taken out of organic production for at least three years, causing economic harm to the farmer who will lose market access while working to regain certification on the affected land.  Ohio legislators have a responsibility to put strong protections in place against the dangers of fracking in order to uphold the integrity of our food system and farmland, and ensure that this growing sector of Ohio’s agricultural economy continues to thrive.

Water contamination is the single greatest threat to our local food and farming systems. Farmers rely on their water supply to keep their produce and livestock healthy. Unconventional fracking requires up to 300 times more water than conventional hydro-fracturing. Each well can be fracked up to 18 times, using millions of gallons of water each time. Waste water, or “brine,” that contains chemicals used in the fracking process, as well as naturally occurring heavy metals and toxic gases, can contaminate ground and surface water supplies through underground fissures, surface spills, and blowouts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has linked water contamination to chemicals used in fracking in Pavillion, WY.  Since 2008, Pennsylvania has identified more than 700 violations of state law related to water, with fines totaling $1.5 million.  Additionally, livestock are attracted to the toxic and salty brine used in fracking and therefore are particularly vulnerable if there is contamination of soil or water.

Air pollution near fracking sites can have a significant impact on a farm’s production. For instance, elevated levels of ground level ozone from an increase in traffic can lower soybean crop yields–one of Ohio’s largest agricultural commodities. Other crops that can be affected include spinach, tomatoes, beans, alfalfa and other forages.

On behalf of our members, I implore you to protect Ohio’s farming community, small business owners, and rural landowners by:

•           Requiring full public disclosure of chemicals by name used in fracking prior to injection. This is necessary to protect the health of Ohioans and help to establish clear lines of traceability if contamination were to occur. Without the release of the chemical names prior to injection, citizens will not know what to test for. Property owners, whether they live inside of the mandatory testing area or not, should have the ability to conduct independent baseline testing. Protecting company “trade secrets” should not come at the expense of the health and welfare of our communities.  Additionally, the “gag order” on physicians must be removed, so firefighters, public health agencies and first responders have the information they need in order to respond to emergency situations.

•           Providing more opportunities for citizen participation by establishing periods of public notice and comment, and a citizen appeals process. Although substitute Senate Bill 315 blocks a citizens’ right to appeal a permit that is granted to an oil and gas company, it allows a company to appeal a permit denial. Corporate interests should not be favored over an American citizens’ constitutional rights. Additionally, the bill provides little opportunity for members of the public to participate in the permitting process prior to the issuance of a permit. Overall the permitting and appeals processes must be transparent and the lines of accountability must be clear.

•           Increasing control at the local level. Ohio law currently gives “sole and exclusive” authority to the state for the permitting for oil and gas projects.  This clause is extreme and should be removed. It fundamentally undermines the rights of local government and property owners to determine the future of their communities. Given that a large amount of infrastructure must be built in order to support a fully operational drilling site, it is important that local entities have the ability to formally weigh in. Local municipalities will incur long-term costs, need to plan appropriately, and must have the authority to make meaningful decisions to protect the interests of their constituents.  A first step should be to ensure that no permit move forward without a road maintenance agreement with the local municipality.

Sustainable agriculture supports the long-term economic and environmental health of our rural communities.  We acknowledge the potential economic benefits fracking may bring to some members of our rural communities, but urge caution that short-term prosperity cannot come at the expense of a long-term commitment to stewardship of our natural resources, nor should economic benefit to a small group of people, come at the expense of an entire community. We must protect the integrity of our soil and water and ensure the general health and well-being of our communities and our ability to continue farming for generations.  Our priority cannot be to promote the interests of energy companies over the protection of our citizenry.

Thank you,

MacKenzie Bailey
Policy Program Coordinator
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
41 Croswell Rd.
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 421-2022 Ext. 208

FREE WEBINAR OFFERED FOR SPECIALTY CROP FARMERS: Registration is Now Open for May Session

Friday, May 11th, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 11, 2012

Contact:
Beth Knorr, (330) 657-2542 x 228, farmersmarket@cvcountryside.org
Michelle Gregg, (614) 421-2022 x204, michelle@oeffa.org

Countryside Conservancy and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) are offering a free webinar designed for specialty crop growers later this month. There is no charge to participate, but pre-registration is required.

On Wednesday, May 23 from 7:00 p.m.- 8:00 p.m. the webinar, “Building Relationships with Regional Grocers,” will be presented by Terry Romp.  Romp is the buyer for Heinen’s Fine Foods, a local chain of 17 grocers in northeast Ohio.  Romp has developed the local purchasing program at the store and has nurtured relationships with local and regional growers. Romp previously owned and operated the Danny Boy Farm Market in North Olmstead. A fourth generation produce marketer, Romp will discuss best practices for growers who want to sell to regional grocers, along with information about packaging requirements, billing, volume and delivery to help aid local growers who want to sell their products to grocery stores.

To register for the webinar, go to https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/664497294.

Archived specialty crop webinars in this series, “Improving Efficiency on Your Organic Farm,” “Building Mutually Profitable Relationships with Independent Chefs and Restauranteurs,” “Advanced Weed Management Techniques,” “A Systematic Approach for Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Quality on Your Farm,” and “Effective Cover Cropping Systems for Specialty Crop Farms,” are available to watch online at www.oeffa.org and www.cvcountryside.org.

Partial funding for this webinar series is provided through a grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the State of Ohio, and the United States Department of Agriculture under the provisions of the Specialty Crop Block Grant.

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About Countryside Conservancy

Countryside Conservancy advances the vision of a Northeast Ohio filled with thriving farming and food entrepreneurs: where farms are viable businesses, farmland is a treasured resource, and local food is commonplace. We support up-and-coming farmers, share innovative land-use and business models, facilitate networking opportunities and advocate community-based agriculture.  We connect communities and farmers, provide alternate market choices, and create venues that foster civic engagement through fun and informal education. To learn more visit www.cvcountryside.org.

About OEFFA

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 and is a coalition of farmers, gardeners, consumers, retailers, researchers, and educators who share a desire to build a healthy, sustainable food system. For more than 30 years, OEFFA has used education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic food systems, helping farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system, one meal at a time. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.

Ohio Organic Farmers Open Their Gates for Free Tours

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012
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.

Free Public Tour Series Features Ohio’s Organic and Sustainable Farms and Businesses

Monday, May 7th, 2012

For Immediate Release: May 7, 2012

Contact:
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
Michelle Gregg, Sustainable Agriculture Educator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 204, michelle@oeffa.org

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has announced its 2012 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, featuring free public tours of some of Ohio’s finest sustainable and organic farms. OEFFA has offered this series for the past 30 years, providing unique opportunities for Ohioans to see, taste, feel, and learn what sustainable food and fiber production is all about from the farmers themselves.

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

“Consumer demand for fresh, locally produced food and farm products continues to grow, along with the desire to understand how food gets from the field to the dinner table. Farmers are opening their gates this summer to show consumers how sustainably produced food is grown and marketed,” said Michelle Gregg, OEFFA’s Sustainable Agriculture Educator. “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 food dollars,” added Gregg.

Thirteen tours and workshops are being sponsored by OEFFA and will be held between June and September. These tours feature: organic berry production; high tunnels and hoop houses; commercial composting; permaculture; natural goat health; raw milk cheesemaking; specialty grain production; produce auctions; institutional sourcing; Ohio farm history; fiber production; specialty crop production, and farmers using a wide range of direct-to-consumer marketing strategies, including farmers’ markets, restaurants, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

OEFFA’s events are:

  • Sunday, June 10: Berry trellis systems and high tunnels tour and potluck—Brickel Creek Organic Farm, Jamestown, Ohio (Greene Co.)
  • Saturday, June 24: OEFFA Athens Chapter compost tour—The Compost Exchange, Athens, Ohio (Athens Co.)
  • Friday, July 20: Garden tour and permaculture lecture with Peter Bane—Shaker Heights, Ohio (Cuyahoga Co.)
  • Saturday, July 21-Sunday, July 22: Advanced urban permaculture workshop with Peter Bane—Cleveland, Ohio (Cuyahoga Co.)
  • Saturday, July 28: Natural goat health and raw milk cheesemaking tour—Blue Rock Station, Philo, Ohio (Muskingum Co.)
  • Sunday, July 29: Garlic and hoop house season extension tour—Jandy’s Farm, Bellefontaine, Ohio (Logan Co.)
  • Saturday, August 4: Grain Growers Chapter specialty grain workshop and potluck—Gregg Organics, Bellville, Ohio (Richland Co.)
  • Friday, September 14: Produce auctions and the local food web tour—Owl Creek Produce Auction, Fredericktown, Ohio (Morrow Co.)
  • Friday, September 14: Institutional sourcing of local food tour—Kenyon College, AVI Foodsystems, Gambier, Ohio (Knox Co.)
  • Sunday, September 16: Sustainable living on an Ohio century farm tour—Carriage House Farm, North Bend, Ohio (Hamilton Co.)
  • Sunday, September 16: 2012 OEFFA Stewardship Award winner tour—Peach Mountain Organics, Spring Valley, Ohio (Greene Co.)
  • Sunday, September 23: Ohio farm history tour and potluck—Stone Garden Farm and Village, Richfield, Ohio (Summit Co.)
  • Thursday, September 27: Alpaca fiber production tour—Alpaca Spring Valley Farm, Minerva, Ohio (Stark Co.)

The 2012 farm tour and workshop series is promoted in cooperation with partner organizations—the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau 30 Mile Meal Project, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Team, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and Rural Action—who are sponsoring additional tours. In total, the series features 22 farms and food businesses, two university research centers and colleges, and five educational workshops.

For additional information and a complete list of all farm tours, including dates, times, farm descriptions, directions, and maps, go to http://www.oeffa.us/oeffa/pdfs/farmtour2012.pdf.

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The Ohio Ecological Food and 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.

Jackie O’s expands locally grown menu selections

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
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.”

Would-be farmers find urban oasis

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Shawn Fiegelist recently opened City Folk’s Farm Shop in Clintonville. The shop is geared to those interested in urban farming. The shop is at 4760 N.High Street.

By Kevin Parks ThisWeek Community News

April 27, 2012

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Those who want to grow their own food in an urban setting now have a one-stop-shop for supplies.

It’s called City Folk’s Farm Shop, and while it’s located at 4760 N. High St. in Clintonville, owner Shawn Fiegelist said in the month it’s been open, she’s had customers from all over Central Ohio.

“This is a store for people who like to grown their own food in the city, and people who like to be self-sustained,” the Tiffin native said.

Fiegelist, who moved to Columbus in the early 1990s and initially worked in ad sales for the Columbus Dispatch, said she’s like many small-business entrepreneurs: When she couldn’t find what she wanted in any store, she decided to open that store.

Like the customers City Folk’s is attracting, Fiegelist said she’s interested in having some control over her source of food, and knowing better what’s in the food she and her husband eat.

“I think it’s a growing trend,” she said.

But finding supplies for those following the trend wasn’t that easy. Fiegelist said she wound up doing a lot of shopping online or having to travel to farm-supply stores well outside of Columbus.

Now, people who want to provide organic feed to chickens they’re raising in their back yards can find it right in the city.

“That stuff’s hard to keep on the shelf,” Fiegelist said.

The three main product lines at the store are garden tools and supplies, feed and supplies for back yard animals, and “homesteading” supplies, she said.

Fiegelist said the store aims to be there for urban farmers in every season, from organic and heirloom seeds, soils and fertilizers for planting in the spring to supplies used in preserving food for the winter.

Joseph Swain, owner of Swainway Urban Farm in Clintonville, said he thinks the shop is a great benefit.

“It’s just pushing the back yard garden movement forward and giving people accessibility to supplies that aren’t readily available to people growing their own food,” he said.

Fiegelist said the store is a big supporter of buying local, working with Columbus- and Ohio-based companies such as One20 Farm, Swainway Urban Farm, Gregg Organics, Livingston Seed, Ohio Earth Foods, Price Farm Organics, Rain Brothers and Conrad Hive and Honey to provide products and supplies needed to live a greener and more sustainable lifestyle.

“One of the pillars of the business is we offer classes and education,” she said.

Recently, urban homesteading blogger Rachael Tayse taught 16 or so participants the ins and outs of raising chickens in the city.

The next class is set for 7 p.m. May 29 and will feature Marne Titchenell, a wildlife program specialist with Ohio State University Extension Service. Its title: “Attracting Bats to Your Back Yard.”

After her ad sales experience with the Dispatch, Fiegelist worked for some radio stations and ad agencies. Most recently, she was a research director for Time-Warner Cable.

“I’ve always been interested in how small businesses work,” she said. “I will tell you, you’re never prepared for it until you do it.”

Despite the challenges that have arisen in the 18 months to two years since Fiegelist began considering the idea that grew into City Folk’s Farm Shop, the owner said she’s glad she took the plunge – and glad she decided to do it in her own neighborhood.

“Clintonville seems to be a hot spot for it,” Fiegelist said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s gotten good response. The people have been so nice and welcoming, and they’ve offered good suggestions.”

Feds back down on farm work rules

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Associated Press
By Rick Dandes
April 27, 2012

WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure from individual farmers and rural organizations, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday that it would be dropping an unpopular plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms.

The proposed rules would have banned children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment; it would also have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feedlots, grain bins and stockyards.

Labor officials claimed the goal of the regulation all along was to reduce the fatality rate for child farm workers, but it had quickly become a popular political target for Republicans who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.

“It was a ridiculous regulation,” said Clarence Reilly, a farmer from lower Augusta Township. “Riding farm equipment is how I learned to farm and it’s how my son is learning. And by the way, he loves it.”

“Isn’t that the point?” said Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The regulations would have jeopardized the role parents play in teaching children the value of on-the-farm work.

The decision is a major victory for farm families in Pennsylvania and across the nation, he continued. “The proposal brought into legal question whether children of farmers, whose business was part of a family partnership, LLC (Limited Liability Company) or family farm corporation, could allow their own children to perform typical farm chores, such as milking cows, if they were under the age of 16.”

PFB was also troubled by a proposed rule that would have severely restricted non-farm youth involved in FFA and 4-H programs from working with any livestock for the purposes of agriculture education.