Monthly Archives: February 2014

OEFFA workshops offer wealth of information

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — From livestock production to field crops and horticulture — this year’s Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference offered guests more than 100 workshops in just two days, Feb. 15-16.

In the Feb. 20 edition, Farm and Dairy focused on the two keynote speeches by author and organic consultant Atina Diffley, and former U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

However, there was a wealth of information presented by farmers, university professionals and industry experts. Most of the sessions were recorded and are now available for purchase at

Backyard poultry

In the area of backyard poultry, producers were reminded about the importance of selecting good, productive stock, and replacing animals that behave poorly.

“You never need to put up with a mean rooster,” said author and homesteader Mary Lou Shaw, who led a workshop called Creating Sustainability for Your Backyard Poultry.Shaw told about a rooster she once owned named Hotshot, who was mean and spurred her. So, she replaced him with a much gentler rooster.

While that may seem too simple — the solution really is that simple.

Jim Adkins, poultry specialist with the Sustainable Poultry Network, said producers should start with good stock. But if they get a mean bird, the best thing to do is to get rid of it. Otherwise, it will create more birds just like it.

OEFFA workshop

“An aggressive daddy produces aggressive sons,” he said.

This is one advantage small-scale producers have over large hatcheries, Adkins said, because small-scale producers have the time to cull their birds.

Selecting good birds

Adkins led a talk on selecting heritage poultry, or historic poultry breeds.He gave five criteria for selecting productive birds, as adopted from the 1914 book The Call of The Hen.

The first thing is to select birds with wide skulls, which usually leads to wide bodies and more meat. Other considerations include the size of the heart girth, back flatness, body depth, and straightness and quality of the breast bone. The back of the bird should be wide and long, which indicates growth potential.

He told producers that to be profitable, they should seek at least $6 a pound on a four-pound carcass. That may seem like a lot, but it takes that much to cover all the expenses.

“I think that’s incredibly do-able in our country,” he said. “People who will pay for that bird live where you live — you’ve got to find them.”

Local foods compass

In other workshops, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan led a talk on accessing government grants for local foods projects. She walked producers through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass — an online mapping tool that shows producers where grants and projects are taking place.

Be persistent

Merrigan said not as many people are using the compass as she had hoped, but said it’s a valuable tool nonetheless. She encouraged farmers to be persistent when applying for grants, and to seek help with the grant-writing process.

“If you don’t get it the first time around, you might get it the second,” she said.

Many of the projects awarded funding actually end up failing, but Merrigan said that’s part of the process and part of taking chances.

“You know a lot of these are not going to succeed because what we’re doing is cutting-edge,” she said.

At the same time, she said it’s important to “intelligently learn from our failures.”

Food trends

In a separate workshop, Mike Hogan, OSU Extension educator from Fairfield County, outlined the top 10 emerging marketing trends for 2014.

The No. 1 thing is that local will be big — whether it’s local meats or local produce. He cites the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, which lists local foods as the top trend for the year.

The second trend is healthy foods, which includes dark greens and more plant-based protein, as well as healthy beverages.

The third and fourth are signature foods and ugly foods — both being products that stand out and that are unique to specific farms.

Snacking trend

The fifth is that people are snacking more. He shared research that revealed one out of every five of today’s eating occasions is for a snack — not a meal. These on-the-go consumers want something that is bite-sized or hand-held, creating new demand for snack-size portions.

Snacking is especially popular among millennials (18-34). And, many of the snacks they demand are actually healthy — replacing high-sugar, high-fat snacks.

Social media

No. 6: social and mobile will continue to be big. This includes all major forms of social media, as consumers look to click their way to recipes and ingredients, and to read about a product.

7. Food packaging is changing, with more sensory-stimulating packages that tell the story of the product, and more packages that are edible.

8. Consumers want foods that are sustainable and that produce less waste.

9. Consumers will continue to fall into market segments, and you’ll need to know the behaviors of each. A big one to watch will be baby boomers, who by 2015, are expected to control more than half of grocery sales

10. Technology will continue to grow, whether it’s robotics, aeroponics or growing indoors.

Ohio farmers consider their next steps now that the Farm Bill is law

WKSU Quick Bites
By Vivian Goodman

The former deputy secretary of the USDA, Kathleen Merrigan, shared good news about the Farm Bill at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association‘s annual conference last weekend in Granville.

“We’ll see more money for farmers’ markets and food hubs, beginning farmers and ranchers, more money for organic research. And those gains would not have happened had it not been for grass-roots advocacy across the countryside.”

It took two years to get the bill passed, and now, Merrigan says, the big game in Washington is implementation.

“This Farm Bill is nearly 1,000 pages. I’m sure you’ve all read it, but it’s a huge amount of work to implement. So everyone wants to get their provision on the short list. That’s what’s going on now.”

More help for small and family farms and local foods
The bill triples funding for the USDA’s Farmers’ Market Promotion Program.

Downtown Columbus’s Pearl Market hopes to use its new money to help food-stamp recipients buy more fruits and vegetables.

The bill also helps farmers stretch their growing seasons with plastic, temporary greenhouses called high tunnels or hoop houses. Beth Knorr of the Akron area’s Countryside Conservancy’s Farmers’ Markets says they’ve been a real help through this brutal winter.

“Everybody’s being really hard hit and even in some of the high tunnels the products are freezing. I can say without a doubt that without hoop houses, our growers would be bringing no fresh produce.”

Another provision of the bill allows research into industrial hemp production. It’s high time for that according to E. R. Beach, a hemp snack maker from Athens. He’s circulating petitions in the exhibition hall for a fall ballot issue to legalize cultivation of hemp for non-drug purposes.

“There’s 20 states right now that are talking about it in their legislative bodies. Now, with the passing of the newest Farm Bill and the president signing it, … the federal government has officially reclassified industrial hemp. And so that’s really going to open up the doorways.” 

Inequities remain
But some doors remain closed. Former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says small farms are still at a disadvantage.

“This is not any game change. It is slightly regressive on some of the subsidy issues or the structure of traditional Ag programs. It’s just not where the American public is. I think that there’s a real … hunger for change across this country and Congress just hasn’t caught up.”

While there’s $1.2 billion for sustainable agriculture, there’s $7 billion in crop subsidies for Big Ag’s factory farms. 

Mardy Townsend’s biggest beef with the new Farm Bill is about crop insurance. She raises grass-fed cows in Ashtabula County.

“I’m very disappointed in the fact that most of the Farm Bill commodity programs have switched to a reliance on crop insurance. I cannot get crop insurance because my farm does not fit into the parameters that they want. Smaller farmers who have a much more diversified system do not fit the model that’s basically made for corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and wheat.”

Most new Farm Bill subsidies are for those who grow single crops rather than the variety of fruits and vegetables small farmers bring to farmers’ markets.

More protection for the soil
But Shavaun Evans of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says at least now there’s a string attached to crop subsidies for the big guys.

“Farmers will actually have to have some sort of conservation plan in place to conserve our soil and protect the land.”

Phil Nabors of Blueberry Hill Family Farms in Loudonville came to a workshop at the conference to see if his soil, now growing berries, might also be good for hops, now that so many locally owned microbreweries are popping up. Nabors says change is coming thanks to consumer demand.

“The whole local foods movement is happening no matter what the government does or doesn’t do. Local foods is exploding. Look what’s happening in California, the 500,000 acres won’t be planted this year because of the drought in California. That creates great opportunity for Ohio growers.”

Today’s farmer is no bum — almost heroic

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — When Atina Diffley was a child in the 1960s and ’70s, she wanted to grow up to be a farmer or a bum.

The two lifestyles seemed similar. The farmer and the bum both worked outdoors, they both set their own rules and made their own way in life.

But as Diffley matured and later became a farmer herself, she found the role of farmer evolving into something more similar to a “hero.”

The author, activist and organic foods consultant gave a keynote address at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association’s annual conference Feb. 15 in Granville.

Diffley was raised in rural Wisconsin, where her family grew and canned most of their own fruits and vegetables. They also sold sweet corn alongside the road.

Turning point

But her career in agriculture evolved in 1985, when she joined organic farmer Martin Diffley on his farm in Eagan, Minn.

She described their first meeting during a road trip when she was looking for produce. She saw a sign that read “Turn Here, Sweet Corn” and when she pulled in the drive, she found “everything she was looking for.”

That included sweet corn and tomatoes, but also “a really handsome farmer.” The two were married and have farmed and worked together ever since.

In 2012, she released a memoir about their experience, Turn Here, Sweet Corn.


The book focuses on relationships between community, family and farming. A central theme is land use and development.

The couple faced urban pressure in 1988, when 20 acres of the Diffley family’s 120-acre farm were needed to build an elementary school. Sewer and water infrastructure crossed the remaining land to serve the school, and assessments were placed against the rest of land.

The Diffley family sold the rest of the farm for development and from 1989-1993 it was bulldozed for housing projects.

They were allowed to continue to farm the land until it was developed — but each day they witnessed an erosion of the land they loved.

On the go

During this period, Atina and Martin farmed on 18 different properties within a 30-mile radius to meet their certified organic production needs.

She recalled how this difficult time affected their lives, causing deep anger and frustration in her children.

“We were farming on land that was immediately adjacent to land that had no life,” she said.

A new beginning

In 1991, they purchased a new farm in Eureka Township, Minn., and began the three-year process of converting it to organic production.

Educate others

During her speech, Diffley encouraged organic farmers to educate others about what they do — something she and her husband have done their whole career. They teach other growers, but they also educate politicians and members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I encourage you to talk about it through your own experience,” she said. “We have to be educators.”

Defend yourselves

She also encouraged farmers to view organic certification as a line of defense against criticism and legal fights. She said certification can serve as evidence and is a federally registered document.

“Certification not only helps us in the marketplace, but it actually protects us in matters of drift and matters of eminent domain,” she said.

Stewardship award

Before Diffley’s speech, OEFFA officials presented the Stewardship Award to Kip and Becky Rondy of Green Edge Organic Gardens in Amesville, Ohio.Stewardship award

The Rondys farm 120 acres of certified organic, including microgreens, salad mix, mushrooms, greens and other seasonal produce. They use high tunnels and sell their produce at the Athens Farmers Market, two CSAs, and at stores and restaurants in Athens and Columbus.

Kip Rondy said he and his wife take stewardship seriously and that stewardship does not stop with the soil. He is also an outspoken critic of the shale gas drilling industry — particularly the disposal of waste drilling materials.

“Our region — southeastern Ohio — is under attack,” he said, referring to billions of gallons of “radioactive poisonous fracking waste” being stored beneath the ground.

He and a group of helpers carried in a large banner during his speech that read “Our water, our lives.”protestors

He said the people of southeastern Ohio have worked to reclaim their land from the coal industry, timber cutting and oil and gas, and have no reason to believe the current drilling will be different.

“We of Athens County — we ain’t going to take it,” he said, adding that “when our work is done, the forests will echo in laughter.”

In early February, Rondy participated in blockade effort to block the drive leading to a fracking waste disposal site. He and seven other activists were peacefully arrested for trespassing.

Former USDA official urges sustainable farmers to get involved

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan encouraged farmers to get involved with government and the policies that affect their industry during a keynote address Feb. 16 at the annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference.

Merrigan served as deputy secretary from April of 2009, to her resignation on March 14, 2013. She was known as an advocate for local foods and organic farming, having helped to write the National Organic Program, and later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program.

“It was a hard four years in a lot of ways,” she said. “But I believe I was able to make a lot of changes there. I took my turn — I need someone to step up and take (their) turn.”

During her speech, Merrigan gave 10 reasons why farmers should be engaged in federal policy, including protecting their interests, their way of life and their democracy.

Agricultural renaissance

One of the things she’s noticing is a “renaissance of interest in agriculture.”


As that renaissance takes place, new farmers are being made, including farmers who did not come from farm families. This requires education and resources, she said, as the industry works to grow its next generation.

And, there is renewed interest in government itself — for local foods and regional systems. Merrigan said even other state and federal branches, like the departments of transportation and commerce — are all showing renewed interest in how they can get involved.

“There’s this interest — this hunger across all the federal bureaucracy for local and regional efforts in food production,” she said. “And that’s screaming out ‘opportunity and opportunity.’”

Same goal

Merrigan was introduced by Ohio State University’s Bruce McPheron, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He said he wants to be an open partner to OEFFA and provide the resources the organization and its members need.

“We’re all batting for the same team here and that is a sustainable, healthy and abundant food supply for the people of Ohio, the nation and the world,” McPheron said, to applause.

Nearly 1,200 people attended the conference, which was held inside Granville High School and Middle School.

New farmers

Service award

Before Merrigan’s speech, Ed Perkins, OEFFA Service Award recipient, talked about the joy he gets from working with soil, and the need to attract new farmers. He and his wife, Amy Abercrombie, operate Sassafras Farm in Athens County.

They grow chemical-free vegetables, herbs, and berries on 2 acres, which are sold year-round at the Athens Farmers Market.

“This isn’t just a job — it’s a lifestyle because you’re out there as part of nature’s cycle,” he said.

He challenged young farmers to “pursue that interest because we need new farmers … I need a replacement — a lot of us do.”

Ten reasons to get involved

Here are the reasons Merrigan said farmers should get involved with government.

1. Advocacy makes a difference. Merrigan pointed to the 2014 farm bill as an example, saying the bill is not “game-changing” for local foods, but it does include provisions that are a direct result of producers’ input.

2. The rest of the country is counting on you. She told producers to consider their elected officials in state and federal office and how well they represent the farmer’s interests. These leaders are making a difference not only in Ohio, but across the nation.

3. Defense can be just as important as offense. She pointed to the Food Safety Modernization Act (2011) as an example, noting how the FSMA rules are bringing the biggest changes to food safety in 70 years, while also providing a good defense against foodborne illness. Although it has taken a long time to finalize the rules, Merrigan said they have the potential to be a “real game changer” for the better.

4. Renaissance of interest in agriculture. There is a renewed interest in farming and local systems, including among government officials and government agencies beyond just the USDA.

5. Money is there for the taking. She spoke about the USDA compass tool, which provides a transparent map of where USDA funds have been invested for different local foods projects, searchable by zip code or topic. There are many grant opportunities available that can help specialty crop growers and local producers. The compass is available on, under “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

6. Decreased ability to coexist with farmers growing genetically engineered crops. “The ability to have a GMO-free product is becoming increasingly difficult,” she said. She made it clear she is not against using GMO seeds, but she said farmers who do not use GMO seeds face some real concerns. Those concerns include drifting and co-mingling and contamination of the two different kinds of seeds. “I’ve never been an anti-GMO person but I do believe that there is definitely a marketplace demand for a GMO-free product and if farmers want to produce for that market, then they should be allowed to and there should be procedures in place…,” she said.

7. Uncle Sam needs you. She said there are many good job opportunities within the federal government, especially with some recent retirements.

8. There’s a big event coming.  Most recently, the big event was the new farm bill. But as hard as it was to pass that bill, Merrigan said the next farm bill attempt could be even harder, and may be unsuccessful. “I think we got this one through by the hair of the chinny-chin-chin,” she said. “But I’m not sure we’re going to see farm bills — those big omnibus bills going through anymore. The sand’s shifting and we have a lot of big things at play.” Other big changes include climate change and how to respond, as well as immigration reform. With immigration, farmers are unsure if they will have the labor force they need to be competitive and keep food production in the country.

9. Resources and strategies to re-populate farms. While the Feb. 20 Agriculture Census will tell the numbers, Merrigan is already concerned there is a need for more farmers.

10. We cannot take our democracy for granted. She said each producer has the power to make important decisions and should do his or her part to help make a difference.

OSU ag researchers send a valentine to Mother Nature

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
by Debbi Snook

Ohio State University agriculture specialists spent Friday talking about cover crops, no-till methods, integrated pest management, and every which way farmers can avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

It was music to the ears of the organic farmers who gathered to hear them.

“This is news,” said Harv Roehling, 76, operator of Locust Run Farm near Cincinnati. “Twenty-five years ago, people from OSU were on the wrong side of the podium. They didn’t know anything except the chemical approach.”

Steve Edwards of Earth-Shares CSA in Loveland, also near Cincinnati, agreed with Roehling.

“There was a time when organic farmers were seen as kooks,” he said. “We’ve been saying for years that organic farming works. Now they’ve got the data to show it does.”

Six educators from OSU Extension across the state, and two researchers from the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster presented the workshop, “Eco-Farming, Biodiversity and Soil Health: A Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity” at Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark. The program preceded a two-day sustainable agriculture conference held each year by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a Columbus-based group with a mission to educate the public and certify organic farmers. The main conference runs Saturday and Sunday in Granville.

One of the classic images of farming is a tractor turning dirt in the field. But that’s exactly what the speakers want to eliminate, since tilling reduces beneficial microbes in the soil, releases more carbon dioxide into the air and sends phosphorus and nitrogen into water systems such as Lake Erie. In the last few years, overloads of phosphorus into the lake has contributed to algal growth, some of it toxic.

Jim Hoorman of OSUE in Mercer County

talked about “ECO-farming,” a method that combines the practice of keeping living plants in the soil as much of the year as possible. Their roots maintain microbial life that feeds crops a lot of what they need.

“If you put 45 pounds (per acre) of nitrogen (fertilizer) on the of the soil, how much goes to the plant,” Hoorman asked. “About 33 percent. If you put 90 pounds, the plants take up 38 percent of that and if you put 98 pounds, the plant gets 50 percent of that.

“So where does the plant get the rest of its nitrogen? From plant matter in the soil. If you increase that, it’s possible you don’t have to add nearly as much fertilizer.”

Phosphorus supplies are dwindling worldwide, said Hoorman.

“They’ve got some big stocks in Florida, but when they run out we’re going to have to go to different parts of the world. And I don’t think we want to be tied to Morocco for our phosphate. Organic matter is the lag screw that will keep fertilizer in the soil.”

In practice, Hoorman has seen a corn farmer use the ECO-farming method and produce higher yields than farmers who only applied chemical fertilizer. And the ECO farmer’s yields stayed high – and higher than the others’ – during a drought.

“He’s growing his own nitrogen,” Hoorman said of the cover crop planting.

Covering an acre of farm with one percent of organic soil matter can save $670 in fertilizer costs, he said.

Other speakers emphasized Hoorman’s program, touting the importance of all players in the soil, including microbes, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and some insects.

Each stressed that there is no one formula that will work for every farm. Two new tools under development were introduced including a soil organic matter calculator that uses software to help plan practices such as crop rotation, and a soil testing kit that can be used on location to measure organic matter and nitrogen.

Brad Bergefurd, an OSU horticulture specialist from Piketon in southern Ohio, promoted the use of plastic mulch and high plastic tunnels to extend the growing season. Black works best as a mulch cover, he said, and farmers should consider using compost-filled agricultural “socks” to grow vertically in the space above a tunnel’s ground plants.

“Tunnels mean higher quality and higher yields,” he said. “And they retain customers. When you sell someone their first market tomato of the year, you’ve basically got that customer for the rest of the season.”

OSU Extension sent out a press release this month touting the number of their educators appearing at this year’s conference – 17 in all.

Rafiq Islam, an OSU researcher also from Piketon, agreed with farmer Roehling that it is newsworthy.

“Historically, not that many people at the university have been thinking about sustainable agriculture,” he said. “But the game has changed. We are thinking about ecosystems and sustainability as we see what’s happening with the fluctuations of the weather or what’s going on in Lake Erie.”

At one time, a strong vein of research money came from the fertilizer companies themselves, said Islam. “They had the money and they could try to push people in their direction,” he said.

Now, he sees a strong push toward sustainable, if not organic, farming from OSU leadership, federal grants and what he calls a smart new generation dedicated to the issue.

“We have to take care of Mother Nature,” he said. “We can’t just use her soil anymore, we have to manage it.”

Local farmer-activist wins award from statewide farm group

The Athens News
By Lori Crook

The largest grassroots sustainable food organization in Ohio presented its Stewardship Award at the group’s annual conference on Saturday to Athens County farmers “Kip” and Becky Rondy, co-owners of Green Edge Gardens in Amesville. Kip Rondy is also one of eight fracking injection well protesters who were arrested on Feb.1 near Coolville.

The protesters were charged on Feb. 3 in Athens County Municipal Court with criminal trespassing for temporarily blocking trucks from entering an injection well site where drilling wastewater from outside Athens County is being dumped by K&H Partners of West Virginia.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference is an annual event that brings together businesses and individuals who are committed to healthy and sustainable food production and distribution. This year the event took place in Granville east of Columbus.

Several Athens County residents took part in the conference, including Michelle Ajamian, co-owner of Shagbark Seed and Mill in Athens, Leslie Schaller of ACEnet in Athens and Master Chef Alfonso Constrisciani of Hocking College, among others. OEFFA presented Kip Rondy, and his wife, Becky, with the Stewardship Award, which honors outstanding achievements in sustainable agriculture. Green Edge Gardens, the Rondy’s 120-acre farm near Amesville, is tended mostly by hand, employing 13 workers and several interns. They produce micro greens and other products year-round.

While the award was related to Green Edge Gardens’ achievements in development of sustainable agriculture, it became clear in his remarks that Kip Rondy’s mind was on the subject of fracking, specifically the dumping of waste-water from the fracking process in Athens County.

Upon acceptance of the award, he delivered a rousing speech to the friendly audience of around 500 on the subject of protecting water and air in southeast Ohio from contamination by energy companies.

He even unfurled a large banner, with the help of several friends, that read “Our Water, Our Lives,” a reference to the risk of groundwater contamination posed by the fracking industry and the dumping of wastewater created in the process.

The Athens NEWS spoke with Rondy after the event.

“When they took the coal, it didn’t bring us prosperity. So why should we believe it will be any different this time?” he asked, referring to natural gas extraction.

“The plague of Appalachia is the cycle of never being able to receive our fair share of the wealth that was taken from us (by extractive industries), and I’ll be doggoned if we allow our area to become the dumping ground for the oil and gas industry,” he said.

Event organizers did not know ahead of time that Rondy was going to turn the ceremony into a raucous anti-fracking rally, but they were not surprised by the importance of the issue among members of OEFFA.

“We are promoting policies that protect landowners’ rights. We work with members and legislators to prevent environmental contamination (by the fracking industry) and make the process more transparent,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for OEFFA. “This is definitely an issue that is important to our members.”

Former USDA chief Merrigan encourages organic fans to get involved in federal policy

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
By Debbi Snook

Kathleen Merrigan, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told her audience at Sunday’s sustainable agriculture conference in Granville that there’s still a lot of hope for organic farming, even with recent court losses against the use of genetically modified seeds.

“I’ve never been anti-GMO,” Merrigan said at the 35th gathering of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, “but the marketplace is demanding it.” She also believes organic farmers should be protected from GMO seed contamination for the financial ruin it could cause. Seeds, and food from such seeds are not allowed under legal definitions of organic food, and proliferating use of GMO seeds on some conventional farms can put organic farmers at risk of not producing a true organic product.

“Contamination can happen by drift, at grain elevators” and other ways, she said.

Yet, federal language has already been written to say the USDA can regulate whether plants can cause economic harm. That language has not yet been finalized, she said, and organic supporters should fight for it.

“You don’t have to prove GMOs are unsafe,” she said. “You just have to show economic damage.”

“We need it as a regulation in a big way.”

Merrigan served at the USDA for four years, helping to craft federal definitions for organic food, and championing the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program (with its website showing farmers and department programs across the country) and the Farm to School movement’s efforts to get fresh, local food to students.

In the next few weeks she’ll become a fixture in Washington, D.C. again, taking the role as executive director of the new sustainability center at George Washington University.

“I did my time,” Merrigan said of her previous federal role. Yet she encouraged participation in Washington with a list of “Ten Reasons People Should Be Engaged in Federal Policy.”

Advocacy makes a difference, she said, and has helped build food hubs and get more research done on organic agriculture.

“Your congressional delegation rocks,” she said of Reps. Marcia Fudge and Marcy Kaptur and Sen. Sherrod Brown. She encouraged the audience to continue to “populate the halls of power . . . with people who care about these issues.”

Public comment helped modify some of the upcoming food safety regulations that would have caused hardship for some smaller farms, she said.

“You didn’t even see the earlier versions,” she said. “There was a rule that farmers wouldn’t spit or chew gum. The government can do real harm if the regulations don’t really fit the needs.”

Merrigan reminded listeners that the USDA “is not the only game in town” and that gains in better food quality can come from the transportation and health departments. And she encouraged more applications for governmental grant money.

“Even if there’s more competition, we can all be lifted by it.”

The number of farmers in the country is dwindling, she said.

“The USDA shows that 50 percent of farmers will be eligible for retirement soon,” she said, “and half of those intend to retire.” New efforts must be made to pave the way for younger farmers, especially with financial help, new research in the organic field, tax policies and farmland preservation.

Having been a government employee, Merrigan asked the group to stop thinking of a federal agency as a group of people with one mind.

“There are 110,000 people working there,” she said. “Do you really believe they all think the same thing?

“One person can make a difference,” she said, both inside government and outside it.

Merrigan was introduced by Bruce McPheron who is in his second year as dean of Ohio State University’s College of Agriculture.

While it’s rare to have such a high-ranking Ohio agriculture official at the organic conference, McPheron promised he’d be more visible to the group.

“Ohio is an incredible place to be engaged in the food system,” he said. “And we’re all batting on the same team, hoping to provide abundant, healthy and safe food to support Ohio and America.”

Ohio sustainable agriculture conference feeds many appetites

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
By Debbi Snook

The definition of organic food may be food grown without pesticides, herbicides and other controversial chemicals, but talking about organic food involves a whole stew of additional issues.

That was the case Saturday in Granville, where the first of Ohio’s two-day sustainable agriculture conference took place.

More than 1,000 farmers, shop owners, consumers, chefs and university educators confronted food issues relating to job losses, fracking, government policy, creativity and health. The news of drought situations in California, where many plantings are on hold for a lack of water, seemed to heighten the purpose of the event inextricably tied to the concept of raising food locally.

But the overriding issue was knowledge as keynote speaker Atina Diffley petitioned farmers to take their status as heroes among local food lovers and become leaders  educating consumers about land stewardship and working for policy change.

Her own court victory against an oil pipeline planned to run through her organic farm – augmented by thousands of letters from her consumers – led to a change in language in Minnesota law that declared an organic farm could be seen as equal to a “sensitive environmental area.”

“Now Wisconsin and New York are looking at it,” she said of the language.

Preceding Diffley’s talk, a stewardship award program opened the door to an anti-fracking statement including a roll-out banner calling for an end to pushing natural gas out of the ground with deep chemical injections. In the audience was one of last year’s stewardship award recipients, Mardy Townsend, a grassfed beef farmer from Ashtabula who has been fighting fracking waste wells in her county where she fears it may affect the groundwater she uses to feed her animals.

Saturday’s and Sunday’s schedules are packed with at least a dozen choices per session, including growing Shiitake mushrooms, learning food safety regulations and starting honeybee colonies.

Members of Our Harvest, the Cincinnati food hub, talked about building a worker-owned local food distribution system based on a model in Mondragon, Spain.

“There are so many farmers markets, we thought, ‘Why not grow enough food for schools, universities and hospitals, where people really need it,” said Ellen Vera, one of the founders. The group has secured more than $500,000 in local loans and started a farm subscription program that has grown over three years to include 200 customers. They hope to build a coterie of local farmers to supply larger accounts.

Annie Warmke, who lives in a classy looking house built from recycled trash and depends on water supplied from rainwater off the roof, led a session about living a sustainable life. Stressing family, friends and community, she asked attendees to think less about shopping as therapy, and more about nature. Once she and her husband Jay chose a lifestyle without traditional jobs, they turned their home near Zanesville into a teaching lab for raising goats and solar power installation classes.

Marissa Kruthaup of Morrow, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, outlined  the experiment she did with a $5,574 federal sustainable agriculture grant, comparing eight types of sweet corn varieties through organic and conventional methods.

Her results showed that consumers could not taste the difference, but that using the organic chicken manure fertilizer gave her higher yields and produced less pollution than conventional fertilizer.

Urban farm consultant Brad Masi of Oberlin screened his new film, “Network Theory,” an affectionate look at the growth of the local food movement in Athens, southeast Ohio. Principals of the town’s local food web – which includes a commercial kitchen, worker-owned restaurant Casa Nueva, and grain and bean growers’ cooperative, Shagbark Mill – talked about the necessary sense of community in local food. Food naturally brings everyone to the table, said one. Weaving a network from that, “doesn’t mean you have to love each other or hang out together all the time . . . It just means that by working together you can do something bigger and more fabulous than working alone.”

Annual conference teaches sustainable farming

The Newark Advocate
By Joe Williams

GRANVILLE — Katrina Bush visited Granville’s middle and high schools Saturday to learn about beekeeping, using herbs for medicine and community supported agriculture.

Bush raises chickens, eggs and produce on her 30 acres near Mount Sterling. She works full-time for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, in Columbus, but hopes to retire soon and expand her agricultural efforts. On Saturday, she attended the 35th Annual Conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association to learn about sustainable food and farming.

“I just went to a bee workshop. That’s my next thing,” she said.

Bush recently slaughtered her hens, which were getting too old to produce eggs, but she will accept delivery of 27 more early next month. She raises them mostly for their egg production for herself, family and friends, but doesn’t make much money off them, for now.

She grows produce in her garden and donates the excess to her local food bank. She sets aside 14 acres as a quail habitat.

On Saturday, between workshops, Bush browsed the exhibits in the Granville Middle School gym and spoke with vendor Charles Prince about raising barley sprouts during the winter to help feed her chickens.

Prince, of Granville, co-owns Do It Yourself Sprouts, which sells sprouting trays, racks, timers and related equipment. Prince’s partner, Amish dairy farmer Robert Mast, of Charm, uses the system to feed his cows barley sprouts during the winter. Customers use the sprouts to feed their goats, sheep, trophy deer and chickens, Prince said.

“To date, the vast majority of our customers are Amish,” Prince said, “because you don’t need electricity.”

Prince and Mast started the company in 2012, Prince said, to feed cows during the winter, when forage is unavailable. An Amish farmer in Holmes County makes the molded trays for them.

While Mast only grows sprouts through April, Prince said, other farmers can grow them year-round, using air conditioning to control the growing temperature and humidity to protect against mold.

“The value of sprouts during the summer is considerably less than during the winter because of the availability of pasture,” Prince said.

Carson Combs and his wife, Dawn, co-owners of Mockingbird Meadows, near Marysville, attended this weekend’s conference, selling their products and hosting workshops. Carson maintains 35 beehives, while Dawn, an herbalist, uses the honey for spreads and herb-infused honeys. They also make and sell wound cleaners, bug repellants and poison ivy kits.

“You can take a spoonful of honey instead of taking a pill or tincture,” Carson Combs said. “A lot of people don’t want to take pills.”

Their business is now full-time. Carson formerly worked as a city planner in Dublin; Dawn worked in information technology for Chase Bank. They sell their products year-round at farmers markets and at their farm, where they also teach classes.

“For us, it goes back to Hippocrates and ‘your food should be your medicine,” Combs said.

The conference continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. [Sunday] with a variety of workshops, including Cooking and Eating GMO-Free Meals, Food Safety and Post-Harvest Handling, and Solar Electricity for the Very, Very Beginner. Presenters come from across Ohio and several other states.

OEFFA Announces 2014 Stewardship and Service Award Recipients

COLUMBUS, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has named the 2014 recipients for the Stewardship Award and Service Award.
Kip and Becky Rondy of Green Edge Organic Gardens in Athens County received the Stewardship Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community, and Ed Perkins of Sassafras Farm in Athens County received the Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service to OEFFA.
The announcements were made on Saturday, February 15 and Sunday, February 16 as part of OEFFA’s 35th annual conference, Affirming Our Roots, Breaking New Ground.
2014 Stewardship Award Winner—Kip and Becky Rondy
Rondys 2014Kip and Becky Rondy own and operate Green Edge Organic Gardens, a 120 acre certified organic farm in rural Amesville, Ohio. Migrogreens, salad mix, mushrooms, greens, and other seasonal produce are grown year-round using 10 high tunnels and sold at the Athens Farmers Market, two summer and winter community supported agriculture programs which serve more than 400 families, and at stores and restaurants in Athens and Columbus. The farm, primarily tended by hand, employs 13 people, in addition to interns.
One of Ohio’s most successful year-round farms, Green Edge Organic Gardens has partnered with Rural Action to provide workshops on high tunnel operation, designed to help agricultural professionals work with farmers to promote season creation practices. As part of this collaborative work with local institutions to support a strong farming community, the Rondys also works with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio University to develop innovative designs for internal covering and venting systems in high tunnels.
“Kip and Becky have done a spectacular job at making organics work. They’ve set up a fantastic production system, while growing a business that supports its employees through a living wage and good benefits. At the same time, they continue to help the community by sharing what they’ve learned during on-farm educational workshops,” said Mick Luber, who received the 2007 Stewardship Award and presented the award to the Rondys at the Saturday afternoon ceremony.
To learn more about the Rondys and their winter growing, view Our Ohio‘s video here. For a full list of past Stewardship Award winners, click here.
2014 Service Award Winner—Ed Perkins
Perkins 2014Ed Perkins owns and operates Sassafras Farm in New Marshfield with his wife, Amy Abercrombie. They grow chemical-free vegetables, herbs, and berries on 2 acres, which are sold year-round at the Athens Farmers Market.
A graduate of Ohio University with a Masters degree in botany, Perkins purchased his farm more than 40 years ago and has been an integral part of the Athens local foods community ever since. His regular Our Home column in The Athens Messenger has helped to educate thousands about environmental issues.
Perkins is a long-time member of OEFFA and the former president of OEFFA’s Athens Chapter. As one of OEFFA’s most long-standing and active chapter presidents, Perkins hosted and organized local farm tours, potluck meals, and other chapter activities, helping to establish a strong link between OEFFA and the vibrant Athens local food movement.
“As one of the founding fathers of the Athens area local food movement, Ed has contributed so much to our community. As a farmer, writer, and organizer, Ed has worked for decades to build a strong OEFFA chapter and the amazing Athens Farmers Market. He and Amy are models of sustainable and simple living at Sassafras Farm, bearing witness to the beauty of lives thoughtfully lived in harmony with nature and community,” said Leslie Schaller, who presented the award to Perkins at the Sunday afternoon ceremony.
Perkins is the second recipient of the Service Award, which was created in 2013 to recognize outstanding service to OEFFA.To learn more about Ed, view Ohio University’s video here.
“Both the Rondys and Ed care deeply about creating a sustainable food system and have worked for years towards that goal. We should all be grateful for their generosity in devoting themselves to advance sustainable agriculture in our community,” said OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a statewide, 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
For a high resolution photo of the award recipients, please contact Lauren Ketcham at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203 or Please provide photo credit: George Remington, OEFFA.