Monthly Archives: February 2013

OEFFA Announces 2013 Stewardship and Service Award Recipients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 18, 2013
Carol Goland, OEFFA Executive Director—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 202,
Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 203,

Mardy Townsend of Marshy Meadows Farm and Rev. Charles Frye Recognized for Contributions to Sustainable Agriculture

COLUMBUS, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has named the 2013 recipients for the Stewardship Award and Service Award. Mardy Townsend of Marshy Meadow Farm in Ashtabula County received the Stewardship Award and Rev. Charles Frye of Ashland County received the Service Award.

The announcements were made on Saturday, February 16 as part of OEFFA’s 34th annual conference, Growing Opportunities, Cultivating Change. The Stewardship Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the cultivation of sustainable agriculture and the Service Award recognizes outstanding service in support of sustainable agriculture.

2013 Stewardship Award Winner—Mardy Townsend

Mardy Townsend raises grass-fed beef cattle at Marshy Meadows Farm in Ashtabula County, near Windsor, Ohio. Portions of the 226 acre farm has been in the Townsend family since 1972 but it wasn’t until 1993 that she transitioned to grass farming to better suit the farm’s wet, erodible land conditions and the area’s long, cold winters. Marshy Meadow Farm’s land has been certified organic through OEFFA since 1996 and the beef herd is in transition to organic.

Townsend graduated from Wilmington College in 1978 with a degree in animal science and biology and received a master’s degree in agronomy from Ohio State University in 1997. She was a horticulture agent at the OSU Extension Geauga County office from 1994 to 1996.

In 2000, 175 acres of the farm were put into a permanent conservation easement held by the Ashtabula County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. In 2002, Mardy and her mother Marge received the Outstanding Cooperator Award from the Ashtabula County SWCD. The farm is also enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Security Program.

Townsend has served on the OEFFA Board, along with two stints on the North Central-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program Technical Review Committee. She is a founding member of OEFFA’s Lake Effect Chapter and has hosted several OEFFA farm tours. She has become increasingly active in environmental issues related to fracking.

“With almost 20 years of farming experience on her family’s farm in northeast Ohio, Mardy has developed a successful, sustainable, and organic model for grass-fed beef production,” said Molly Bartlett, a 2007 recipient of the Stewardship Award, who nominated Townsend. “A natural steward, Mardy’s keen affection for her animals and the land and wise knowledge of her farm have guided her holistic management practices.”

“Mardy’s contributions to sustainable agriculture go beyond her farm. She is not only active in both OEFFA and the Ohio Farmers Union, but she has been involved in her community and drawing attention to the problems associated with fracking,” said Mick Luber, who shared the 2007 Stewardship Award with Bartlett and presented the award to Townsend at the Saturday evening ceremony.

2013 Service Award Winner—Rev. Charles Frye

Rev. Charles Frye served on the OEFFA Board for more than 30 years and has held both the President and Vice President offices. Rev. Frye is a retired United Methodist Church pastor who served local churches for 37 years. Frye began his involvement with OEFFA after spending seven years of his ministry life involved with the Rural-Urban Gardening Project, creating community gardens by encouraging collaborations between diverse communities. He and his wife, Rev. Nancy Hull live on 40 acres in Ashland County, which includes a garden and 40 heirloom fruit trees, blueberries, and asparagus plants.

Rev. Frye and his wife are the parents of a blended family with nine living children and fourteen grandchildren. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Kent State University in 1955 and  a master’s in theological studies from Perkins School of Theology in 1958.

“I cannot think of a person more deserving of this award than Charlie. His work in the areas of sustainable and organic agriculture, grower support, and farm worker advocacy, along with his efforts to get good, wholesome food to all people have been major contributors to the advancements we have made over the last 30 years,” said Mike Laughlin, the 2010 recipient of the Stewardship Award who presented the award to Frye at the Sunday afternoon ceremony.

Frye is the first recipient of the Service Award, which was created in 2013 to recognize outstanding service in support of sustainable agriculture.

“Both Mardy and Charlie care deeply about creating a sustainable food system. We should all be sincerely grateful for what they have done to advance sustainable agriculture in our community,” said OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland.

Risky consumption of genetically modified organisms continues

By Laura Scheer

Though Athens offers an abundance of all-natural, locally grown food options, it is hard to avoid consuming potentially dangerous genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs.

There is a national debate surrounding the labeling of foods that contain GMOs, and as an agricultural state, Ohio would be greatly affected by genetic engineering legislation.

Some of the dangers of genetically engineered foods include seed and crop contamination, the risk of contaminating organic farms, reduced consumer choice, the rise of “super weeds,” and negative health effects on humans, said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, in an email.

Though the industry claims genetic engineering is harmless, Jeffrey Smith, spokesperson for the Institute for Responsible Technology, a non-profit based out of Iowa that works to educate policy makers and the public about genetically modified foods and crops, said the toxins that genetically modified crops acquire have been found to damage human cells.

Genetic engineering was first used in 1996 when Monsanto engineered plants to be resistant to their weed killer Roundup, Bailey said in an email. This allowed farmers to spray Roundup on their fields during the growing season without harming the crop.

“Today, more than 80 percent of the soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets and canola grown in the U.S. contain Monsanto’s patented genes,” she added.

Although most genetically engineered crops, like corn and soy, are used for feed for livestock, some food that humans consume still contain GMOs, said Smith.

Bailey said genetically engineered ingredients are commonly found in substitute meat and dairy products, frozen meals, canned foods, baking products, soft drinks, infant formulas and baby foods.

“At least 35 countries have laws in place that impose labeling or import restrictions on (genetically engineered) food, including the European Union, China, Australia, Russia and Japan, which receives 20 percent of U.S. food exports,” Bailey said.

She added that within the first few years genetically modified crops were introduced, almost the entire $300 million in annual U.S. corn exports to the European Union disappeared and the U.S. share of the world soy market decreased.

David Rosenthal, assistant professor in the department of environmental and plant biology, said that though he has not conducted research on GMOs’ effect on people, he has not read any studies that indicate GMOs are dangerous for humans to consume.

Smith said Roundup itself is known to be linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, tumors, organ damage and reproductive disorders. He added that pregnant women, young children and sick individuals are more at risk of effects from consuming GMOs.

Though Smith said the Institute for Responsible Technology would support legislation requiring GMO labeling, the organization would like to see a complete removal of all GMO foods until the research and studies have been done to prove they are safe.

After studies came out in 2009 that revealed the potential dangers of consuming GMOs, researchers urged doctors to prescribe patients with reproductive issues or immunity problems with non-GMO diets, Smith said. He added that thousands of doctors said that patients prescribed non-GMO diets have a “dramatic and quick recovery.”

Both Smith and Bailey said that the best way to avoid eating genetically modified foods is to buy certified organic products.

George Siemon wants to fix America’s food system

February 12, 2013
By Dan Neman
The Toledo Blade

When George Siemon looks at the food system in America, from the soil to the way we eat, he sees problems.

The soil is contaminated with chemicals, he said in an interview last week. Farmers are trying to survive on the smallest of margins. Far too much food is wasted. And too many Americans suffer from food-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity.

The food system is broken, he said, though “a lot of people would not agree with me.”

Siemon, 60, is CEO and one of the founders of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools, an agriculture co-op that produces dairy products, eggs, and similar foods under the Organic Valley and Organic Prairie brands. It is the largest organic farming co-operative in North America.

On Saturday, he will be in Columbus at a conference sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. He will deliver the day’s keynote address, “Organic: Changing a Broken Food System.”

His co-op is made up of more than 1,800 organic farmers in 31 states; each farmer owns a share of the company and receives a portion of the profits. They produce food they consider to be better for the environment than from conventional farms, and possibly healthier for consumers.

Though the number of people eating organic food is rapidly growing, they are still bucking a national trend. Conventionally grown foods are cheaper than organic, and some government policies — Mr. Siemon specifically cited the push for ethanol — seem to favor using chemicals in farming, he said.

“If you get involved in food, you very quickly learn that farm politics are controlled by big corporations whose main concerns are the the same as the people’s,” the Wisconsin-based former dairy farmer said on the phone from Florida, where he was taking a vacation.

“Food is a complicated subject, and a lot of our policies are very simplistic,” he said.

One of the perceived problems with organic farming is that the farmers’ yield is often thought to be smaller than that of conventional farmers, who use chemicals and pesticides specifically formulated to help boost the farms’ output. Mr. Siemon countered that organic farmers actually can match the average yield of conventional farmers in some produce such as corn, though not every year.

Instead of pumping nutrients into the soil, organic farmers have to rotate their crops in the traditional manner, for instance planting corn, alfalfa hay, small grains, and soybeans in successive years.

“Ideally, you have livestock involved, and you have manure,” he said.

Pastures are not just an important way to rest the soil, it is also good for the health of livestock, he said. It gives them exercise and allows them to eat something other than corn feed.

While last year’s drought affected farmers everywhere, he said that organic farmers actually made it through better than conventional farmers.

“There is no question that organic farmers do better during a drought because we have more diversity in crops. The more diversity you have, the more options you have for rain helping you,” he said, explaining that rain generally helps the crops that need it most.

“We have a loose, viable soil. Because it is not a chemical agriculture, it encourages more roots. And roots are a big part of organic farming,” he said.

The more roots a plant has, the more able it is to absorb moisture in the ground.

“It’s kind of like if a human got spoon-fed food, they wouldn’t be very fit, as opposed to a human who has to go out and hunt for his food.”

Ohio Food and Farming Conference Draws Near

By Jerry Kenney

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a statewide, grassroots, nonprofit group that  was founded in the late 90’s.  Farmers, gardeners, and folks who were thinking more about the foods they were  eating began working together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system.

On February 16-17, Granville, Ohio, in the heart of the state, will be home to OEFFA’s 34th annual conference,  Growing Opportunities, Cultivating Change.  It’s Ohio’s largest sustainable agriculture conference, an event  which draws more than a thousand attendees from across Ohio and the Midwest.

Renee Hunt is the Education Director at the Ohio Food and Farm Association. We talk with briefly about the OEFFA and the conference.

One of the keynote speakers at this year’s conference is Nicholette Hahn Nieman, she’s an Attorney and rancher who writes and speaks about improving our food and farming system.  She also spoke to us by phone from her home in Northern California.

Listen to the interviews here.

The Intersection of Food and Public Health

All Sides with Ann Fisher

We live in a world where one billion people are undernourished while another billion are overweight. On this hour, we’ll hear about the role of public health in achieving both local and global food security. Can we change how we make our food?


  • Nicolette Hahn Niman, a rancher, attorney, and author of Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms
  • Lynne Genter, co-founder of the Clintonville Farmers Market, practicing nurse and serves on the OSU Wexner Medical Center Food Advisory Council

Listen to the podcast here.

Lots of Ohio milk in Organic Valley brand, says CEO George Siemon

By Debbi Snook
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
February 6, 2013
Organic Valley chief

OEFFA Conference 2013

  • What: Ohio’s largest organic food conference for home and commercial growers. Workshops on raising organic food, exhibition hall, talks by Organic Valley leader George Siemon and rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman.
  • When: Saturday, Feb. 16, and Sunday, Feb. 17, with pre-conference work shops Friday, Feb. 15, on food safety and animal grazing.
  • Where: Granville Middle School and Granville High School, Granville.
  • Cost: $205 for nonmembers; member, student and volunteer discounts avail able.
  • Contact:, 614-421-2022.

Milking cows at night, shoveling you-know-what during the day — who wants to be a dairy farmer these days?

Not many, if you look at the plummeting numbers nationwide.

It’s been a long time since George Siemon did it. But the head of Organic Valley‘s dairy farmer cooperative hasn’t forgotten how it works. His 1,814 member farmers from 35 states, including 174 farmers in Ohio, supply a third of the organic milk in the country.

He’ll give the keynote speech Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association‘s annual conference in Granville. We talked to him by phone from his office in Wisconsin, where he says he still sees things looking up for farmers, consumers and cows.

Did you grow up on a farm?

I did not. I was one of the odd ones who just became interested in organic farming. I have some beef cattle now, but not cows. I milked for 20 years and enjoyed it. I raised my kids on a farm, which is an awesome thing. It’s a lot of work, and I became dissatisfied with the conventional milk market, which is why I helped start the co-op.

Why did you decide to farm organically?

That’s easy. I was always a bird watcher and nature lover. As I got into farming, organics fit in better with the belief structure I had. Certainly the use of chemicals is hard on wildlife and bird life.

We’ve lost more than half of our American dairy farms since 1992.

The numbers are going down, down, down. Conventional milk has not been profitable. It might be a little better now than it has been. But farms are facing the challenge of going big or going organic, which has more profit than conventional. We’ve been a lifeline for some farms. In Maine and Vermont, 10 percent of the dairy farms are organic.

Is it hard for the co-op to find farmers?

We have an active staff searching for them. Most are existing farms or farms taken over by the next generation. Only about 1 percent are new farmers, because of the start-up costs. Also, someone has to be really passionate about it to go down that road. It’s a lifestyle of hard work for sure. In Ohio, one-third of our farmers are Amish or Mennonites, mostly in the Holmes County area.

Are we in an era of food enlightenment?

We’re definitely in a place where food is important to people. I see a lot more younger people cooking, and people looking for the healthy effects of quality food. Consumers are making their own decisions about food, based on what they read on the Internet, and not on information they’ve been spoon-fed. You always see real changes in food trends made by young females and mothers. When you have only one or two children, you want to make decisions that don’t endanger them. It really is an exciting time.

Will organic prices ever equal conventional?

It’s probably never going to happen. To start, the organic animal feed is more expensive. But social justice is a big part of what we believe in. We believe in food that should be good for the land, good for the people who eat it and also good for the farmers. The price paid for conventional milk is close to a bankruptcy price. We try to make it sustainable for our farm families.

You served on the National Organic Standards Board for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What’s your view of it now?

I served five years. We faced very difficult, complex scientific issues. It’s a unique committee that actually has legislative authority. I didn’t agree with all the decisions, but it was pretty small stuff. It’s more disappointing that we don’t always have all the science to make decisions. We need to study things like methionine, an amino-acid nutrient in chicken feed. It’s used in very minute amounts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at it. I just wish the USDA would fund more scientific studies to help us make those decisions.

How do you feel about the recent controversial aggregating study that claims organic food is no more nutritious than conventional?

The study was a well-funded public relations effort by the opposition. You can find plenty of individual studies showing a nutritional difference. Our milk, for example, has twice the omega-3 fatty acids that conventional milk has. When you start out with an organically based, nutrient- and mineral-rich soil, how could food not be better?

Has the consumer’s interest in local food eclipsed organic food, as some surveys suggest?

The field is often portrayed as organic versus local, which is absurd. It’s a natural marriage. People are most concerned about organic food in their own backyard. It’s why we make a big effort to supply local milk to the region that produces it. We try hard to have Ohio milk sold to Ohio customers. We bottle at Smith [Dairy] in Orrville and process when we can at Miceli’s. Ohio is one of our hub sites for distribution.

The title of your conference talk is “How to Fix the Broken Food System.” Can you give us a preview?

I don’t know if I like that title. I’m a pretty positive person. I’m hoping to talk about the alternatives to the conventional food system. It can be tiresome to hear about the negatives, but we do have a crisis in this country. The food system is not a fair system when it’s dominated by interests. What’s the purpose of the food industry? To bring profits to the chemical industry or to take care of the environment? Those of us in organics just don’t think the system reflects a fair, holistic view of food.

Farmers in Ohio divided on ‘fracking’

By Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday, February 2, 2013

The growing amount of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” being performed in Ohio as part of a booming oil and gas industry is causing a split in opinion among the state’s farmers.Some see the movement as an economic opportunity, while others see the practice as a threat to their livelihoods.

High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing is being heralded as an economic engine in Ohio because it can exploit deeply buried reserves of natural gas and other petroleum products.

Fracking could generate 65,680 jobs and $4.9 billion of investment in Ohio by 2014, according to a 2012 report by researchers at three Ohio universities and sponsored by the Ohio Shale Coalition, a pro-fracking group aimed at maximizing the economic impact of shale-gas production in the state.

Some farmers foresee financial windfalls from leases with oil and gas companies, which according to the economic impact report averaged $2,500 an acre, as well as royalties — continuing income of 15 percent of the value of gas extracted on their properties.

But other farmers see fracking as a threat to their way of life because it injects millions of gallons of water, toxic chemicals and sand deep underground to break apart shale formations and release the gas. These chemicals could put their land off limits for organic farming, which has strict certification standards.

Although the state’s two general farming associations, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Farmers Union, are concerned that fracking could contaminate farming soil and water, neither has a current position on the growing natural gas drilling practice in the state.

“We do not have a stance on hydraulic fracturing,” said Dale Arnold, director of energy services at the Ohio Farm Bureau. But Arnold has traveled the state for years to educate the farm bureau’s 60,000 members about the right things to do and the questions to ask before leasing mineral rights to oil and gas companies.

Last year, the farmers union called for a moratorium on fracking until a long-expected report on the drilling practice by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was published. The union has 5,000 members, many small, family owned farms.

The union backed off its call for a moratorium this year not because the EPA report has been issued — it hasn’t — but because income from oil and gas leases is the only thing keeping some of its members on their family farms, said Ron Sylvester, external relations director.

“We are realizing the inevitability that fracking is going to happen, it’s going to become a part of the rural fabric in many counties,” Sylvester said. “Do you want to sit on the outside throwing rocks, or do you want to be inside the tent, working with Gov. Kasich, the General Assembly and the industry to make things better?”

Only the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a grass-roots coalition of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers and others, continues the call for a fracking moratorium until the EPA report is released, said MacKenzie Bailey, the association’s policy program coordinator.

“Fracking comes with real risks to public health, our food shed, and the water, soil and air resources that we all share,” Bailey said. “Ohio’s current fracking regulations give the green light to gas and oil companies, and leave farmers and consumers vulnerable to the potential dangers of fracking.”

Farmers depend on clean soil, water and air for their livelihoods, so they are among those who could suffer most from the negative impacts of fracking. “Ohio policymakers need to re-examine these risks and take action to require full public disclosure of chemicals, and give local governments and property owners meaningful opportunities for involvement and the right to determine the future of their communities,” Bailey said.