Monthly Archives: June 2014

Making sure what you are buying is truly organic

WDTN Channel 2 TV
By Pam Elliot

Okra, tomatoes, broccoli, and basil, are just some of the fresh items you’ll find at Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon.

Emily Jackle and her husband Ben started turning land in Montgomery County into an organic farm in 2007. It took three years to get the USDA to approve it because they had to document a three-year history with the land.

Jackle told 2 NEWS it’s worth the extra work to be able to use the USDA seal and it’s a good way for consumers to know they are getting produce that was not genetically modified or sprayed with chemicals.

“Looking for the certification is my biggest piece of advice, like I said, we think it’s the gold standard. We don’t feel it’s burdensome to us. We are a really small farm and we find time to do the certification,” said Jackle.

The Jackles grow flowers and vegetables.  They start packing the greenhouse in March, then when it’s warm enough they move plants into the hoop house. It all starts with non-treated seeds and homemade potting mix.

Jackle told 2 NEWS, “We had a surprise visit from our certifier who came and took soil samples from our tomato crop and he was looking for pesticides.

Their certifier is the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association which the USDA says checks organic farms at least once a year.

“It would be illegal for us to have the certified organic if we weren’t certified, but we are, so we’re allowed to display this on our farm stand at market,” she explained as she showed 2 NEWS the banner she uses at farmers’ markets.

The USDA reports those who label their produce “organic” and are not certified can be fined.  You can actually file a complaint, if you suspect someone.  The USDA does make exceptions for people who make less than $5,000 a year from their produce.

You can also check on the status of a farm that claims to be organic by using the website  You can put the farm’s name under “operation name.”

Jackle suggests you talk with the actual farmers and pick their brains, have them explain why they consider their products organic.

Wooster farmers form cooperative to sell food in Cleveland, aided by USDA grant

By Debbi Snook
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
March 16, 2014

Monica Bongue sees Ohio like many others in the local food movement: As a state rich in possibilities, with three big, hungry cities surrounded by a lot of productive farmland.

The owner of Muddy Fork Farm in Wooster sells weekly subscriptions to food she grows, and individual vegetables at the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square. Bongue (BON-gay) just needed to build up that rural-urban connection for her and her farming friends.

She was already deeply invested in the food movement, making the commitment to grow certified organic crops and contributing $1,000 to the start of Local Roots Market & Café, the first all-local, farmer- and consumer-owned food store in Ohio, where she serves as president of the board.

The commitment was also deep for her early farming collaborators, Martha Gaffney of Ashland, a native Ecuadorian who farms in the traditional ways of her homeland; Marcus and Beth Ladrach of Wooster, growers of certified organic grains and meats, and Daniel and Jennifer Grahovac of Crooked Barn Farm in Wooster, who produce Certified Naturally Grown crops.

Wooster, home to Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, has great passion for these homegrown concepts, but is relatively sparsely settled.

“We were maxed out with our customers,” Bongue told her audience at the recent Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference in Granville. “We were farmers with not enough market.”

A few years ago, she and two other farmers signed on with a Cleveland-based local food buying club. They grew the food, and the club distributed. But the relationship was not what they wanted. They felt they didn’t make a large enough percentage of the profit or have enough interaction with their customers – two of the biggest promises of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

They wanted their own CSA, but as any farmer can tell you, growing food and running a business – especially one with customers 50 miles away – is a plate piled high.

Bongue applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. SARE offers money to farmers and ranchers with innovative, sustainable methods for solving their own problems. Her idea was a success, getting her a $22,500 grant to help start the non-profit Farm Roots Connection Cooperative. It was among the largest SARE farmer grants given in 2013.

The awarding of funds last year came too late in the growing season to launch Farm Roots in full, so Bongue set up trial runs at the Local Roots store in Wooster. She also started a charitable program so that those with money can buy shares for those who cannot afford them. One visit to a church netted $1,000 in donations.

She found small-business help and money from the Ohio Cooperative Development Center, which helped her obtain a lawyer to register the business and set-up a web site. She linked with Local Roots for online ordering, bought computer and packing materials.

Fortunately, the SARE grant also will help pay for her to be the cooperative’s first manager.

“Farmers are busy,” she said. “They don’t have time to manage other farmers.”

Now, she needs to continue building her customer base to help pay for a manager in the future. Farm Roots will drop off to customers at Gordon Square Farmers Market on Cleveland’s West Side, Countryside Farmers Market at Highland Square in Akron and Local Roots in Wooster.

The grant money comes in three installments, each with a requisite amount of paperwork and documentation.

Joan Benjamin, a coordinator for the SARE program in Ohio and other “north central” states, said by phone last week her group’s goal is not only to help farmers solve their own production problems, but also solve problems shared by other farmers.

“The best way to get information to farmers is from other farmers,” she said.

Bongue will eventually file a full-program report that will be available to other farmers as well as the public.

Benjamin says SARE has important success stories in Ohio. Farmers in the northwest part of the state have used the grant money to show how specific methods of planting cover crops (rather than leaving land barren) enriches the soil and helps stop the kind of runoff causing algal blooms in places such as Grand Lake St. Mary’s and Lake Erie. Another farmer used her grant to develop breeding strategies to create resistance to gastrointestinal bugs in sheep.

“They’ve done some remarkable work,” said Benjamin.

Bongue’s grant proposal was, like the others, reviewed by not just administrators but a panel of 25 judges that Benjamin described as “mostly farmers and ranchers.”

The issue of farmers “scaling up” to a livable wage is challenging, said Benjamin.

“There are so many logistical things involved in a solo farmer making it work today. There used to be a lot of farms around, and the infrastructure that was there, is not there anymore.”

Potential impact of fracking worries Northeast Ohio farmers

The industry claims farmers’ concerns about water and air quality are unwarranted by WKSU’s VIVIAN GOODMAN This story is part of a special series.

The government is now asking citizens to help in a bid to find safer ways to get at rich deposits of natural gas.

Farmers in Northeast Ohio say there’s a lot at stake, including the safety of local food. WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports in this week’s Quick Bite on farmers’ concerns and industry reassurances.

Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:49)
The U.S. EPA last week called for public comment on ways to develop safer fracking chemicals. Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — shoots sand, water, and assorted chemicals deep underground. But the industry has no responsibility to tell property owners what’s in the chemical cocktail or to inform them about spills or pipeline breaks..That worries Mick Luber, a lot. “I run Bluebird Organic Farm. We’re in eastern Ohio about 7 miles from Cadiz, in Harrison County” — which is in the heart of Ohio’s fracking boom.He grows vegetables and raises chickens for eggs.“They’re a Hubbard Comet. They’re a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a Bard Rock. The roosters are white, as you can see, and the hens are brown. They lay a brown egg.”Luber called the Ohio EPA two years ago when he saw a chalky white substance trickling out of a hill above his farm where a natural gas well was being drilled. He worried he’d lose his organic certification if it were to contaminate the stream running through his fields of onions, beans, carrots, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. “They came out and investigated. They said that they’ve taken care of the problem.”

New worries in farmland
But now he fears other potential impacts. We climb into his truck for a bumpy ride. The roads are ravaged, and he tells neighbors who signed leases with the oil companies they have only themselves to blame.“My neighbors have taken the money. So they’re all in favor of it, until they see the road conditions now that they’ve been running big trucks across the roads,destroying the roads.”

Economic benefits along with the risks
To the contrary, says Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. He says the industry’s investment in infrastructure is a boon to local governments.“They are overjoyed on the money that’s been invested by producers to upgrade roads that were completely trashed out in the first place. In fact, I heard a county engineer tell me once that they had a road going to a well site that was essentially a gravel road and they turned it into a highway.”

Impact up in the air
But when he looks up from the potholes there’s another image farmer Luber can’t get out of his head.“You can see right up through those trees the pad where they currently have fracked and (are) getting ready to flare.”When they do, Luber worries about air quality for his crops below and the health of people who consume them.“All the particulate matter from that well are going to come down on my land, and I’m selling them a product to make them healthy.”But since he sees no current, direct impact, he doesn’t share his fears with customers.

Shoppers unaware
“When you go to a farmers’ market it’s sort of a sunny place where you get away from things and you get fresh vegetables. Talking about what’s terrible happening to you, it gets old for people to have to confront that stuff on a regular basis.”“Could something happen?” asks the Ohio Oil and Gas Association’s Stewart. “Do airplanes fall out of the skies? Do buildings fall down? Do accidents happen? Yeah, accidents happen.”But he says if and when they do, farmers can trust what he calls their industry “partners.”

Nothing to fear from “partners” says the industry
“We care about our relationships with those people because we need them in order to do business. If we have a problem on property are we going to look at our partner and say, ‘Screw you’? No. We’re going to work with them and say, ‘We’ve got an issue here. We’ve got to clean it up.’” Do we need a law in order to do that? I don’t think so.” But the Ohio Environmental Council does. It’s pushing the SAFER gas act to mandate that the industry immediately alert not only government officials, but also farmers when accidents occur. Trent Daugherty directs the OEC’s legal affairs.“People that lease their land aren’t notified when something potentially harmful occurs on their land until there’s a final report by the (Ohio) Department of Natural Resources. And you don’t want a farmer or a farmer’s family, children in their back 40, playing around, or working in an area that’s potentially contaminated or potentially unsafe.”

Fears from afar
One western Stark County farmer doubts a disclosure mandate would pass. “Perhaps once we get a new legislature,” says  Alex Dragovich. “Most of them have accepted oil money, and they have embraced these people.”Dragovich plows his fields the old fashioned way at his Mud Run Farm. “This is Tom. He’s a 5-year old Percheron. Most of the horses we use are Percherons.”Mud Run is well west of the state’s fracking boom, but he sees it coming. He’s turned down several leasing agents who want access to his land.“My biggest concern has always been water. The only water we have on this farm is the water we pull out of the aquifer down here. If at any given time they would start to frack, there is in my opinion a good chance of damaging any water we have.”   He’s afraid of losing his livelihood. “We raised our family here. This has been a good place for us.”

Water is gold
Since most of Dragovich’s neighbors have signed leases with oil and gas companies, he could lose control over his property anyway under the laws of eminent domain. But he still won’t sign.“First off I don’t like to be bullied, and the second reason is I worked 40 years for this place. And those are my mineral rights.”
He understands the value of natural gas and the economic boon it is for many, but it is water, he says, that’s like gold to a farmer.“One lease man said ‘Mr. Dragovich, we are 99 percent sure that you will never have any problems with your water.’ And I said ‘Well, why don’t you put that on your lease here, that you’ll take care of any damages that we have?’ and he says, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ ”But farmer Dragovich, according to industry spokesman Stewart, worries in vain.

Fears are unfounded says the industry
“What water that’s flowed back from those wells is disposed here in the state of Ohio according to the landmark federal law known as the Safe Drinking Water Act. We do not put it back in streams. We do not put it back in pits. That’s been against the law since 1984. We construct our wells in such a way that we don’t impact drinking water reservoirs or potential reservoirs underground and on the ground.”Just 10 days ago voters in Mahoning County turned down for the third time a proposed moratorium on fracking, despite a recent Ohio Department of Natural Resources report linking the drilling process to a rash of earthquakes. The Oil and Gas Association’s Tom Stewart says the majority was right.“Is there impact from economic activity? There is. The largest impact I see on farmers is the $5,000 an acre that they’re getting if they sign a lease that says, ‘Come onto my property and drill a well.’”    

$19 billion invested
The state has seen almost $19 billion in investments in more than 100 shale-related projects, about a fifth of those in the Mahoning Valley.Earthquakes in 2012 in Youngstown were linked, according to ODNR, not to hydraulic fracturing, but to injection wells — the dumping ground for oil and gas waste from West Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as Ohio.That’s what has grass-fed beef farmer Mardi Townsend all shook up in seismically-active Ashtabula County.“I definitely fear it. There are four injection wells being heavily used about a mile and a half from me upstream. And two more permits have been applied for drilling two more wells on that same site. And I know that the injection well-casings will fail eventually because all well casings fail. I hope it’s not in my lifetime, but they will fail and they will contaminate the ground water and it will be very bad for people and animals.”But these are groundless fears, according to the industry spokesman, because casings are protected by steel pipes called “strings.”

The case for casings
“That’s not going to happen. You’re putting in casing strings, sometimes up to three casing strings that are all cemented underground through the groundwater reservoir.”Farmers, he says, actually have more to gain than lose from fracking. “The agriculture community are very heavy users of energy. They like the fact that energy prices have moderated where we have Marcellus and Utica production. And we have very high BTU gas being generated (with which) they make all kinds of great things that farmers need, like fertilizer at affordable prices.”

Quakes are commonplace
As for the quakes, he says, no big shakes. Happens every day. “Cal Tech recently said that 8,000 quakes per day fall in the range of 1-point-0 to 1-point-9, similar to what the recent incident was in Mahoning County. People within a mile felt a slight shaking. Do we want that to happen? No. Are there ways to mitigate it? Yes. And we’re working with regulatory agencies now to try to figure that out.”How can you stop an earthquake? He says it’s simple: “Don’t drill into known faults.”

After the boom
Meanwhile, back at Bluebird Farm, Mick Luber just hopes his groundwater’s safe.“But what are you going to do even if you have a spill? You can’t go back and make your water clean.”And Mud Run Farm’s Alex Dragovich hopes Ohio agriculture can survive the natural gas boom.“This thing’s only going to last 20 maybe 30 years. And then we’re going to live with that the rest of our lives.”And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next week we find out how the honey bees that pollinate so much of our food made it through the harsh winter.

USDA reports record growth in organics

by Kristy Foster Seachrist
Farm and Dairy
March 27, 2014

WASHINGTON —  The U.S. organic industry now encompasses a recordbreaking 18,513 certified organic farms and businesses, according to new figures released by the USDA, a 245 percent increase since 2002.

The figures show the organic industry continues to grow domestically and globally, with over 25,000 certified organic operations in more than 120 countries.

Through the Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program, USDA has helped an additional 763 producers become certified organic in 2013 alone, an increase of 4.2 percent from the previous year.


The 2013 list of certified USDA organic operations shows an increased rate of domestic growth within the industry, resuming previous trends.

“Consumer demand for organic products has grown exponentially over the past decade,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“With retail sales valued at $35 billion last year, the organic industry represents a tremendous economic opportunity for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.”

Ohio picture

Carol Goland, executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said the report mirrors what is happening in Ohio.

OEFFA has witnessed an increase in the number of certified organic farms year after year.
Goland said growth in the organic food sector has outpaced its conventional counterpart for more than a decade.

“This industry signal means that we can expect to see more farms transition to organic production, and more new farmers begin their businesses as certified organic,” said Goland.

Now that the farm bill has passed and the National Organic Cost Share Program will be reinstated, Goland expects more farmers to chose to complete the organic certification process.

New programs

USDA has a number of new efforts to connect organic farmers with resources that will help develop the growth of the organic industry.

The USDA is helping organic stakeholders access programs that support conservation; providing access to loans and grants; funding organic research and education; and mitigating pest emergencies.

Funds are currently available for research projects under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and extension initiative to solve critical organic agriculture issues or problems.

The program also funds research projects to enhance the ability of organic producers and processors to grow and market their products. Additional information is available online, and request for proposals are due by May 8.

Ohioans Can Get The “Dirt” on Organic Growing from Farmers

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service
May 27, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Getting organic and sustainable foods from the field to the dinner table takes a lot of knowledge, effort and care, and Ohioans can get an inside look at how it all happens. This summer, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is sponsoring 15 tours and six workshops across the Buckeye State as part of the group’s 2014 farm tour series. Spokeswoman Lauren Ketchum says it’s a unique opportunity.

“The great thing is that farmers know all the dirt, so during this summer series they’re sharing that knowledge about how sustainably produced food is grown. The tours are also designed to help farmers and gardeners learn from each other so that they can improve their production and marketing techniques,” Ketchum says.

Beyond just seeing how food is grown, consumers can learn about rooftop gardening, sustainable flowers, solar-electric use, farming with horses, and more. Most of the tours and workshops are free and open to the public and will take place rain or shine.

Fulton Farms in Miami County is among those opening its gates, Ketchum says, allowing people to glimpse its operation.

“They’re a diverse, family-owned, organic vegetable farm that is operating a pretty large community supported agriculture program, which feeds more than 400 families. People will have a chance to see more than 30 acres of organic field production,” she explains.

Ketchum says they see great turnout at the tours as demand for fresh, local foods grows, and consumers want to make informed choices.

“We really encourage growers, educators and conscientious eaters to attend the tours. They can learn about sustainable agriculture in a real-world setting from farmers with years of practical experience,” she says.

The tours have been offered for more than three decades, and this year the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Team is sponsoring 10 additional tours.

More information on the tours is at

Webinar and On-Farm Workshop to Help Veterinarians and Livestock Professionals Manage Organic Dairy Herd Health

Veterinary Extension at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) are offering two upcoming events to help veterinarians and other livestock professionals manage organic dairy herd health.

On Monday, June 23 at 1 p.m., Ohio State University Assistant Professor and Extension Veterinarian Dr. Gustavo M. Schuenemann will lead a webinar, “CSI for Dairy: On-Farm Audits to Assess Risks.” During this webinar, participants will learn about transition herd management with an emphasis on calving-related disease prevention and on-farm risk assessment.

On Thursday, June 26 at 1 p.m., Dr. Schuenemann will lead an on-farm dairy herd health workshop at Pleasantview Farm, a family-owned certified organic dairy farm managed by Perry Clutts and his family since 1899. He will cover herd health monitoring, record-keeping, and perform an on-farm risk assessment with an emphasis on herd health and productivity to identify areas for improvement. Participants will gain hands-on experience in conducting an audit using an instrument designed to identify and rank risk factors, enabling veterinarians to offer this service to their clients. Pleasantview Farm is located at 20361 Florence Chapel Pike in Circleville.

Both events are geared toward veterinarians, Extension educators, farmers, and other animal health professionals who work with certified organic farmers and dairy herds.

There is no cost to attend the webinar or workshop, but pre-registration is required. To register for the June 23 webinar, click here. To register for the June 26 on-farm workshop, contact Eric Pawlowski at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 209 or

Veterinary Continuing Education (CE) credits will be granted on an “hour for hour” basis.

These events are part of an educational livestock health series offered by OSU and OEFFA designed to help veterinarians and other livestock professionals gain new knowledge and expand services offered by providing important information on working with certified organic livestock and poultry.

For more information about the series or to see other scheduled events, click here, call (614) 421-2022 Ext. 209, or email

This series is made possible with funding from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s (NCR-SARE) Professional Development Program.

Good Earth Guide Connects Consumers with Local Farmers


Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203,
Renee Hunt, Program Director, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205,
Columbus, OH – Ohio summers are a time to enjoy the bounty of fresh garden vegetables, ripe off the vine berries, farm fresh eggs, and orchard harvests bursting with juicy flavor. The Good Earth Guide to Organic and Ecological Farms, Gardens, and Related Businesses produced by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) can help bring these delicious tastes of summer to any kitchen.
The Good Earth Guide includes information on 450 farms and businesses, including 193 certified organic farms and businesses and more than 100 community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
“Since the first Good Earth Guide in 1990, the directory has grown from a list of a dozen or so to  450 farms and businesses, reflecting the tremendous growth in locally-sourced and sustainably-produced foods, fibers, products, and services,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt.

The searchable online directory identifies sources for locally grown vegetables; fruits; herbs; honey; maple syrup; dairy products; grass-fed beef, pork, and lamb; free-range chicken and eggs; fiber; flour and grains; cut flowers; plants; hay and straw; seed and feed, and other local farm products.
“The Good Earth Guide gives consumers out there a one-stop shop to find not only vegetable growers, but people who are raising poultry and beef, and  a whole range of products that are close to them and grown and raised organically,” said certified organic farmer Jake Trethewey of Maplestar Farm in Geauga County.
Each listing includes name and contact information, products sold, a farm or business description, and whether the farm or business is certified organic. Many listings also include locations and maps for where the farm or business products are sold. The directory includes tools that make it easy to search the listings for a specific product, business or contact, by county, or by sales method.
“One of the other primary benefits of the Good Earth Guide is that it helps growers get together with other growers, finding out what worked for them, and passing on ideas, techniques, and products that work for you to other growers,” Trethewey said.
That’s the purpose of the Good Earth Guide, said Hunt—making connections. “Connecting consumers to local farms and businesses so that their dollars support the local community and sustainably grown food and farm products. Connecting farmers with one another so they can network and develop business relationships that support a successful farming community. And, connecting businesses with farmers who can supply local food for restaurants and other retailers,” concluded Hunt.
The Good Earth Guide is available free to the public in an easy to use online searchable database at