Monthly Archives: December 2013

No matter how you slice it, Ohio’s cheese makes the cut


Friday, December 20, 2013
by Vivian Goodman
“Cheese is a very popular product. Everybody likes cheese.”

Brian Moran of Lake Erie Creamery says holidays are great, but Ohio cheese makers are of good cheer all year long.

Moran’s creamery has won national awards for its Blomma.

Which is a blooming rind goat cheese, aged at about three to four weeks before it comes to market, similar to a Camembert or a brie. ”

A cheese boom
Moran’s Cleveland operation was Ohio’s first artisan cheese creamery. It opened in 2006. By 2007 he had five competitors, and today there are 20.

And I know for a fact there are at least three or four getting ready to open either at the end of this year or the beginning of next. The big boom is the local food. People want to know where their food comes from, and I think that is the biggest driver for it.”

A Specialty Food Association survey shows “local” is the biggest cheese trend of 2013.

And Ohioans don’t have to travel far for award-winning cheese.

Hiram’s MacKenzie Creamery claimed 13 national awards in its first four years in business.

Owner Jean MacKenzie is proudest of the goat cheese she makes with cognac and figs. 

“Our little star we call her. Courvoisier cognac and dalmatia figs. And this little cheese has won five of our 13 awards, this one cheese.”

More local cheeses at the grocers
West Point Market stocks MacKenzie’s product along with many of Ohio’s artisan cheeses.

Its cheese shop carries 350 varieties from all over the world, and in the last five years has doubled its supply of locally-made cheeses.

Diana Bole ran the quality grocer’s cheese shop for 27 years. She thinks customers are getting more discerning.

“A lot of them would never taste a goat cheese, not ever. And now with the sampling that we do, washed-rind cheeses which are strong and stinky, where five years ago you couldn’t sell, people will try it now.”

Amanda Zazo and John Griffith of West Akron came to the cheese-tasting ready for adventure. Griffith hadn’t expected so many locally-produced cheeses.

“But come to think of it, with all of the local farms and cow farms, sheep, the fantastic products are there. So why not?”

“My favorite was the goat cheese coated in espresso and lavender,” said Zazo.

But that one came from Wisconsin, the mecca of American cheese-making.

On Wisconsin, but Ohio’s not far behind
Bob Dilcher of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board brought it to the tasting from the state that produces nearly half of America’s specialty cheese. But he has respect for Ohio cheese.

“There’s some great goat cheeses, some great sheep’s milk cheeses from Ohio. Brewster Cheese in Brewster,

Ohio, one of the largest Swiss cheese manufacturers in the country. Terrific Swiss cheese.”

People are eating more cheese, period. In 1970, the average American ate 8 pounds a year. Today it’s 23 pounds.

But what is this “artisanal” cheese?

It’s produced by hand in small batches from cow, sheep and goat’s milk  and often has to be aged and ripened.

One-woman show
Some producers raise their own animals, like Kristyn Henslee of Seville’s Yellow House Cheese. Hers is a farmstead operation.

“That means that everything happens start to finish on our farm. I milk the sheep myself, we make the cheese there, we age it there and sell everything from the farm. I’m kind of a one-woman show. I also have a husband whose a sixth-grade science teacher, so he’s home during the summers to help out. And I have two little girls 8 and 9 who are my absolute super-star helpers.”

Her sheep’s milk blue cheese won an American Cheese Society award in August. And she only started her business two years ago.

Of the 20 artisan cheese makers in Ohio, 16 are women.

Small but award-winning
Henslee’s farm is small and so is  Brian Schlotter’s in Defiance. His  family has been dairy farming for six generations.

Six years ago, after graduating college, Schlotter started making cheese.

His Canal Junction Charloe, winner of an American Cheese Society award, is his own creation.

The first bite tastes buttery and sweet, but then it gets nutty.

“We don’t have any peanuts in the production whatsoever. It is from the milk and the way we handle the cheese afterward in the aging.”

He’s optimistic about the future of artisan cheese making in Ohio. He knows Wisconsin has years on Ohio, and admits that’s a challenge. 

“If you look at the cheese makers in Ohio, the small cheese makers in Ohio most of them are complete newbies to the industry both the dairy and the cheese-making side.”

But he thinks Ohio will catch up. Wisconsin has long had a Master Cheese Maker program.

But in Ohio, where do you find the way — and the curds? 

The Cheese Guild
MacKenzie Creamery’s Jean MacKenzie found herself asking that question.

She worked in real estate for many years before she started making cheese. Her business sense told her a trade organization was needed. So she recently founded the Ohio Cheese Guild.

“We have a representative from a distribution company; we have a chef; we have a retailer. We have cheese makers from small creameries and from large companies. We want to include, we call them the big boys, because we can learn a lot from them.”

Kristyn Henslee of Seville’s Yellow House Cheese was one of the first to join the new guild. She’s not turning a profit yet but…

“We’re working on it. We’re making really great cheeses, and we’re just really hopeful that this is going to work out.”

And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next week our topic is the mislabeling of fish.

Sustainable Ag Org. in Ohio Sees Increased Role in Supporting Influx of New Farmers

December 11, 2013
By: Marianne Peters
Source: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

Ohio farmers new to sustainable agriculture can get a leg up on the learning curve with the help of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

The non-profit organization, established in 1979, works to promote and support the sustainable agriculture community in Ohio from producers to consumers including those new to farming. OEFFA assists new farmers through a variety of networking events, an apprenticeship program, and an investment fund created to encourage the expansion of sustainable farming practices.

Renee Hunt, Education Program Director at OEFFA, has seen an increase in the number of farmers who choose to manage their farms sustainably in the past several years, and has expanded educational programming to meet this need.

“It’s great when newer farmers don’t have to go through the learning curve,” says Hunt. “I recently overheard a workshop presenter comment, ‘It took me ten years to figure this out.’ He’s sharing his knowledge, so the people learning from him don’t have to wait those ten years.”

Sustainable and organic farmers in the Buckeye state connect annually at OEFFA’s two-day conference, which features keynote speakers, educational tracks and workshops, and a large trade show. The 2014 conference will take place February 15-16 in Granville, Ohio.

Ohio farmers also network through a dozen OEFFA-sponsored farm tours throughout the year.

“We tap different types of farming operations—urban, grain growers, product growers, value-added, livestock, and dairy,” Hunt said. “The farm tours are a great way for farmers of all experience levels to see and learn how others are approaching their particular farm, as well as to talk directly with other farmers.”

Ben and Emily Jackle, owners of Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon, Ohio, appreciate the networking opportunities OEFFA has provided them. Their farm was established in 2007 and became certified organic through the OEFFA in 2010.

“Our farm has benefited most from our association with OEFFA and the opportunities to see other farmers’ operations,” says Ben Jackle. “We’ve learned more through OEFFA-sponsored farm tours and workshops than we have through any other means.”

Networking among farmers often leads to collaboration. To facilitate on-site learning and hands-on experience in farming techniques, OEFFA founded an apprentice program that Hunt describes as “a bit like a dating service” for farmers. Prospective apprentices and host farmers both fill out applications on the OEFFA website. The applications are approved, and then posted online where both apprentices and host farmers can view them. Either party can make the first contact. Membership in OEFFA is not necessary, but there are added fees for non-members.

Hunt hopes that more established farmers join the program and pass on their know-how to the next generation. “We currently have more apprentices than host farms,” she notes.

Learning to farm is one thing; finding the financing to get started is another. In 2012, a group of local Ohio investors created the OEFFA Investment Fund to support the growth of sustainable agriculture in Ohio and provide needed capital to farmers. The fund provides an additional avenue for those who are having trouble getting financing through traditional sources. Farmers must be certified in sustainable and organic practices and a member of OEFFA to apply for funding. Funds can be used to improve or expand their business, make repairs to equipment or property, pay for short-term operating needs, or cope with an emergency such as a fire or natural disaster.

Hunt observes that farmers with an ecological bent are often resistant to the idea of taking out loans, especially if they are just beginning.

“A lot of sustainable and organic farmers are hesitant to take on debt,” she says. “Many new farmers don’t have the business background to understand how to build in expenses or make capital investments.”

Part of OEFFA’s mission is to help new farmers overcome such barriers, she says.

“We have evolved as an organization to be more supportive of young farmers,” says Hunt. “But we are here to advocate for the needs of all sustainable and organic farmers in our state.”

Ohio’s Largest Sustainable Food and Farm Conference: Online Registration Now Open

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 11, 2013
Renee Hunt, Program Director—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 205,
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 203,
Press Release
Registration is now open for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 35th annual conference, Affirming Our Roots, Breaking New Ground. Pre-conference events will be held on Friday, February 14 and the conference will take place Saturday, February 15 and Sunday, February 16, 2014 at the Granville Middle and High schools in Granville, Ohio (Licking County).
As the state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference, more than 1,200 attendees from across Ohio and the U.S will come together to enjoy keynote sessions with Kathleen Merrigan and Atina Diffley; more than 100 educational workshops; two in-depth pre-conference events; a trade show; locally-sourced and organic homemade meals, and more.“As our 35th annual conference, we’ll be affirming our roots by continuing our focus on the local and organic food movement, while breaking new ground to help farmers scale up to meet growing demand,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt.
Keynote Speakers
Atina Diffley will provide Saturday’s keynote address, Farmers as Role Models and Leaders: Protecting Nature and Creating Social Change. Diffley is an organic farmer, consultant, activist, and author. She and her husband, Martin, operated Gardens of Eagan in Eagan, Minnesota, one of the midwest’s first certified organic produce farms, and now provide consulting through their business, Organic Farming Works. She is a co-editor of Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Post-Harvest Handling, Packing, and Selling Produce, and the author of an autobiographical memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works.
Kathleen Merrigan will provide Sunday’s keynote address, Dysfunctional DC Matters: Ten Reasons to Stay Engaged in Federal Agricultural Policy. Merrigan served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013. She helped to write the original law that created the National Organic Program to establish organic standards and then implemented the new rules as head of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999 to 2001. As Deputy Secretary, Merrigan played a vital role in developing the department’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, and championed farm-to-school program, season extension, and organic programs.
The conference will offer more than 100 beginner, intermediate, and advanced workshops across eighteen tracks, covering a range of topics including sustainable farming, gardening, homesteading, cooking, livestock and poultry production, business management, food and farm policy, research, and more.
“Whether you’re a full-time farmer, backyard gardener, or local food enthusiast, this conference has workshops to offer you,” said Hunt.
As part of the 2014 conference, OEFFA will host the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) program’s Farmers Forum. This annual event gives farmers, ranchers, and others funded by NCR-SARE grants the chance to share information about their research projects. The Farmers Forum will be offered as special conference workshop track, with additional projects featured in other workshop tracks. The Forum will showcase projects from Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio and will cover a range of topics, including nut processing and marketing, low tunnel strategies, and cover crops for organic production.
Pre-Conference Events
The conference will also feature two full-day pre-conference events on Friday, February 14.
The first pre-conference workshop, Eco-Farming, Biodiversity, and Soil Health: A Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity, will help growers improve their productivity and farm economics by using natural soil amendments, cover crops, and other methods, combined with regular testing for soil health and organic matter. Extension educators Rafiq Islam, Randall Reeder, Jim Hoorman, Brad Bergefurd, Harit Kaur Bal, Alan Sundermeier, and Vinayak Shedekar will discuss the eco-farming systems approach, fruit and vegetable plasticulture production, soil amendment and nutrient recycling, and more. This workshop will be held at Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, Ohio.
A second pre-conference workshop, Wholesale Marketing for Fresh Produce Growers, will help growers take advantage of marketing opportunities with retailers, wholesalers, and institutions. Marketing and organic farming expert Atina Diffley will help participants learn about the advantages and disadvantages of wholesale marketing; good practices for satisfying buyers; grading, pricing, and packaging products; establishing contracts; food safety, and more. This workshop will be held at the Granville Inn in Granville, Ohio.
Additional Features
The conference will also feature:
  • Saturday evening entertainment, including a performance by The Back Porch Swing Band and a film screening and discussion of Network Theory with filmmaker Brad Masi;
  • An Exhibit Hall featuring dozens of businesses, non-profits, and government agencies offering an array of food, books, farm and garden products, tools, information, and services;
  • A kid’s conference with engaging activities for children ages 6-12;
  • A playroom for children under 6;
  • A teen conference where teenagers ages 12-15 can create their own personal weekend schedule;
  • A raffle, book table, and much more.
“Over the past couple years, we’ve worked to expand the conference to provide more space, more workshops, and more meals so we can accommodate more people. Given the growing popularity of the conference and local food issues, we still encourage people to register early to avoid disappointment,” concluded Hunt.For more information about the conference, or to register, click here.
Our Sponsors
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Northstar Café/Third and Hollywood, Organic Valley, UNFI Foundation, Granville Exempted Village Schools, Mustard Seed Market and Café, Northridge Organic Farm, Snowville Creamery, Whole Foods Market, Albert Lea Seed Company, Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese, Casa Nueva, Earth Tools, Eban Bakery, Edible Cleveland, Green BEAN Delivery, Green Field Farms, Lucky Cat Bakery, OSU School of Environment and Natural Resources, Raisin Rack Natural Food Market, Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, Swainway Urban Farm, Andelain Fields, Curly Tail Organic Farm, C-TEC of Licking County, DNO Produce, Eden Foods, Glass Rooster Cannery, King Family Farm, Law Office of David G. Cox, Metro Cuisine, Two Caterers, Whole Hog BBQ, Bad Dog Acres, Bexley Natural Market, Bird’s Haven Farms, Bluebird Farm, Carriage House Farm, Charlie’s Apples at Windy Hill Farm, Fedco Seeds, Flying J Farm, Hartzler Dairy Farm, The Hills Market, Marshy Meadows Farm, Nourse Farms, Pâtisserie Lallier, Schmidt Family Farms, Stonyfield Farm, Sunsprout Farms of Central Ohio, and Wayward Seed Farm.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a state-wide, grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters working together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to
Conference Registration
To register or for more information about the conference, including maps, directions, featured presenters and workshops, pre-conference descriptions, workshop listings, hotel options, and a schedule, go to For additional questions, contact Renee Hunt at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205 or Past conferences have sold out in advance, so early registration is encouraged to avoid disappointment.
Artwork and Images
For the conference art image, speaker photographs, or pictures from past conferences, contact Lauren Ketcham at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203 or
Press Passes and Media Inquiries
OEFFA offers a limited number of press passes to members of the media who would like to attend conference and pre-conference events. We can also help members of the press schedule interviews with keynote speakers and workshop presenters. To arrange an interview or request a press pass, contact Lauren Ketcham at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203 or
Event Calendar and Public Service Announcement
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 35th annual conference, Affirming Our Roots, Breaking New Ground, is February 15-16, 2014 in Granville, Ohio. This is Ohio’s largest sustainable agriculture conference and will feature keynote speakers Kathleen Merrigan and Atina Diffley; more than 100 workshops on sustainable farming, gardening, and homesteading; local and organic meals; a kids’ conference, teen conference, and childcare; a trade show; Saturday evening entertainment, and pre-conference events on produce wholesale marketing and soil health and biodiversity on Friday, February 14. To register, or for more information, go to or call (614) 421-2022.

Dale organic farmer uses nature to nurture cheese

Vincennes Sun-Commercial

December 7, 2013

By Tony Raap Jasper Herald

Dale organic farmer

Jerry Steckler changes the wire fencing on a section of pasture on his farm near Dale on Monday to allow his cattle to graze on a fresh portion of grass. By separating the pasture into sections, Steckler ensures that he has pasture for his cattle to continuously graze on through the winter. He makes organic cheese and is certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

DALE — What if cows could produce harmony?

Sounds crazy, right? Well, not to Jerry Steckler, who runs an organic dairy farm north of Dale.

Last year, Steckler began producing organic cheese, which is sold under the label Steckler Grassfed in 37 grocery stores and wineries across southwestern Indiana and northern Kentucky. His cows graze on natural grass that is free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

Organic milk also has more omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered good for the heart. Though more expensive, organic products have grown in popularity, becoming a $31.5 billion industry, according to the Organic Trade Association of North America.

“Science isn’t smart enough to figure out what’s better for us than nature,” Steckler said. “We don’t have to know how it works. All we need to do is live in harmony with nature. In this case, put the cows out on the pasture where God designed them to be, and through his design the food is automatically better for us.”

Steckler was raised on a conventional dairy farm. In 1987, he and his wife, Marsha, bought a farm of their own about a mile from where Jerry grew up.

Back then, he fed his cows corn and soybeans, just as his parents, Gilbert and Mary, had. Then, in 1994, he attended a seminar sponsored by Purdue University on rotational grazing.

“It clicked in my mind,” said Steckler, who owns about 50 dairy cows.

“There’s so many expenses that you can cut out,” he added.

Going organic meant no more harvesting or storing feed. He would just let the cattle graze from his 170-acre salad bar.

The switch didn’t happen overnight. Steckler slowly phased out his crops, turning his cornfields into a lush pasture. In 2007, his farm was organically certified by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which certifies farms across the Midwest.

At first, he marketed his milk through Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative in Wisconsin, but later switched to Traders Point Creamery near Indianapolis to get a greater return on the sales price of his milk.

That arrangement lasted only a few months before the creamery told him it could no longer afford to ship his milk.

Rather than finding another distributor, Steckler decided to strike out on his own. For years, he had toyed with the idea of building his own cheese-making facility.

“It just tooka little bit more pressure to get us to decide to go ahead and do it,” said Steckler, who is 53.

His cheese is made from raw milk. Because it isn’t pasteurized, the cheese must age at least 60 days before it is sold, according to federal regulations.

It is stored in wooden crates in an aging room — what Steckler referred to as an “above-ground cave” — where the temperature is kept at 53 degrees.

The softer cheeses — Monterey Jack, colby and pepper jack — are cut up and sold after 60 days. But the cheddar is aged at least nine months before it is taken to market.

“It builds so much more character over that aging time,” said Steckler,whose cheese retails for about $6 for an 8-ounce block.

Stephen and Christy Gordon own Grounded Organic & Natural Foods in Jasper. Several brands of organic cheese line their shelves, but only Steckler’s is locally produced.

“It’s a great offering,” Christy said. “Supporting local is very important, too.”

Steckler said he is proud to produce cheese that is “more in harmony with nature.”

“To make better food available for the people who are wanting it, there’s got to be somebody that’s willing to step out and take the risk and do it,” he said.

Organic Farmers Bash FDA Restrictions On Manure Use

By Dan Charles
November 21, 2013

Many organic farmers are hopping mad at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and their reason involves perhaps the most underappreciated part of agriculture: plant food, aka fertilizer. Specifically, the FDA, as part of its overhaul of food safety regulations, wants to limit the use of animal manure.

“We think of it as the best thing in the world,” says organic farmer Jim Crawford, “and they think of it as toxic and nasty and disgusting.”

Every highly productive farmer depends on fertilizer. But organic farmers are practically obsessive about it, because they’ve renounced industrial sources of nutrients.

So on this crisp fall morning, Crawford is rhapsodic as he watches his field manager, Pearl Wetherall, spread manure across a field where cabbage grew last summer.

“All that green material — that cover crop and the cabbage — all mixed up with that nice black manure that’s just rich and full of good microorganisms, and we’re going to get a wonderful fertility situation for next spring here,” he says

Crawford has been farming organically in south-central Pennsylvania for 40 years.

                                     Crawford has been farming organically in south-central Pennsylvania for 40 years.

Dan Charles/NPR

Crawford, founder of New Morning Farm in south-central Pennsylvania, buys hundreds of tons of manure every year from a big turkey farm a few miles away. “It’s really at the heart of our operation for having good, rich soil, and good fertility, so that we have the highest-quality crops.”

It’s also part of a natural cycle, and the basis of organic farming. Most crops strip vital nutrients from the soil. But the nutrients don’t disappear; if you feed those crops to cattle or turkeys, the nutrients mostly end up in manure. For the turkey farmer, the manure is waste. For Crawford, it’s precious. “Cycling nutrients. That’s what it’s all about. Cycling organic nutrients.”

This is a typical practice among organic farmers, especially the smaller ones. But they may now have to change.

The Food and Drug Administration considers manure a food safety risk. Disease-causing microbes, such as salmonella or toxic forms of E. coli, are commonly found in animal waste.

Patricia Millner, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research center in Beltsville, Md., says scientists are now trying to figure out exactly how long such bacteria survive in the soil. “In some cases, salmonella will survive for a few weeks; in other cases, it’ll be reported that it survives for 300-plus days,” she says

Pearl Wetherall, field manager at New Morning Farm, spreads manure.

                                Pearl Wetherall, field manager at New Morning Farm, spreads manure.

Dan Charles/NPR

When they survive, microbes do get on food. Carrots or radishes, of course, grow right in the soil. But bacteria also end up on salad greens. Raindrops, for instance, splash soil and microbes onto the plants.

There’s a lot of uncertainty about exactly how big of a risk this is. But the FDA is saying better safe than sorry.

The agency is proposing new national food safety rules. If those rules are enacted, when farmers spread raw manure on a field, they won’t be allowed to harvest any crops from that field for the next nine months. (This applies only to crops that people eat raw, such as carrots or lettuce.)

The rules don’t cover the smallest farms. They apply to farms with more than half a million dollars in annual sales, or which supply food to supermarkets.

But that includes Crawford’s farm.

He already follows the organic rules; he doesn’t harvest crops within four months of spreading manure. But having to wait nine months — longer than a growing season — would completely disrupt his operations. “We wouldn’t even be able to function,” he says.

There is an alternative: composted manure. The heat from composting kills disease-causing microbes. But Crawford says compost would cost him anywhere from three to six times more than manure. And he just doesn’t see why he should have to switch, because he doesn’t believe that what he does now is at all risky.

Feeding the chickens at New Morning Farm.

                     Feeding the chickens at New Morning Farm.

Dan Charles/NPR

“No one’s ever been sickened by anything we’ve grown, in probably millions of transactions between us and our customers over 40 years,” he says. Crawford sells most of his food at farmers markets in Washington, D.C.

Yet organic farmers are not united in their opposition to the FDA regulations. There’s a divide between large and small producers.

Earthbound Farm, in California, is among the biggest organic producers of salad greens. Will Daniel, the company’s chief food integrity officer, says, “History is not always your greatest ally, unfortunately. We never thought that we would see spinach or other produce involved in outbreaks.” But in 2006, his company’s spinach was linked to an outbreak of E. coli poisoning; 200 people got sick. Three died.

Raw manure was not the source of that outbreak. (There’s evidence the E. coli could have come from wild pigs that got into the fields.) But Daniel says using manure does involve risks that his company won’t take.

Instead, Earthbound Farm uses mostly “a pelletized, processed chicken manure product” that’s been treated with heat and pressure to kill all microbes.

“We’ve gone in that direction because we feel that it’s very important to assure that we are not spreading these pathogens in our fields, that could lead to contaminated product,” he says.

Daniel supports the FDA’s proposed rules on manure. Many smaller organic farmers, meanwhile, are sending the FDA a blizzard of comments, arguing that the environmental benefits of using manure far outweigh the risks.