Newark Advocate, Sydney Murray, 9/5/2017
NEWARK – Representatives from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office have been traveling the state to talk to Ohioans about the 2018 Farm Bill.
Last Wednesday, the group stopped in Licking County and about 15 people showed up to The Ohio State University Newark Extension office to discuss the bill and their thoughts and concerns about the future of agriculture.
Jon McCracken, with Brown’s Washington office, said it is expected the bill will pass out of committee in late winter or early spring.
He said conservation remains a top priority and there is a continued interest in helping smaller producers reach different markets.
According to a release from Brown’s office, one in seven Ohioans is employed in agriculture and food production.
Those at the table brought up a myriad of concerns.
Knox County resident Jazz Glastra said her organization received a rural business development grant to do a feasibility study for a food hub.
The hub will be aggregating local produce and redistributing it to restaurants and institutions.
“It’s a great program that has really benefited this organization,” Glastra said.
She said she feels good about the project, but is concerned about the small pot of money available to people in the state.
“There’s more than six or seven people in the state of Ohio who have cool ideas that will, like, spark small businesses and development in rural areas,” Glastra said.
Glastra said rural communities need small businesses and economic development.
Mike Laughlin, with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said he believes there needs to be more research on transition farming from one generation to the next..
He said he would also like to see more help for new farmers to deal with problems they encounter and developing new farming skills.
McCracken said this issue has come up a lot at other roundtable discussions.
“It’s a hard business even in good times,” McCracken said.
He said with high land prices, it can be hard for people to get their foot in the door unless they inherit, or marry into, land.
Franklin County resident Matt Hildreth said a few different things concerned him, including how energy is produced and used locally, healthcare in rural areas, and opioids.
McCracken said the bill touches all three in various ways.
McCracken said because opiods are a problem in both rural and urban communities, there is a real role for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be more proactive in terms of opioids.
Hildreth said he was also concerned about connections between communities.
He said he knows people who are part-time farmers who use a side job as another source of income, but he said some small towns have changed so much that getting people to live in those communities and the opportunity for the “side hustle” has gone away.
As another source of connectivity, many in the meeting expressed the need and importance of getting broadband internet to rural communities.
“Broadband is kind of a necessity of modern life, I think,” McCracken said.
McCracken said helping connect small communities can also help make sure the rural communities can attract the next generation and get people to come back home.