Madison County ag retreat looks at crops and profit

The Madison Press, Michael Williamson, 11/3/17

“Grow More Vegetables, Make More Money,” was the theme of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) two-day retreat at the Procter Camp and Conference Center just outside of London Friday morning through Saturday evening. OEFFA started in 1979 by a collection of farmers dedicated to the growth and promotion of ecological and organic farm systems. The goal of the workshop was to inform farmers on practices that could enhance their management plans and advance their earning potential.

“This particular workshop is geared towards farmers who are already farming mixed vegetables, specialty crop-growers who are kind of at a certain scale where they’re looking to expand their operation and implement more efficient mechanization and systems on their operation in order to sell to larger buyers,” said Kelly Henderson, the Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator with OEFFA.

Linda Halley, an expert in organic farming from Bryn Farm in Wisconsin, led the workshop. This is the second time Halley has presented this workshop to interested farmers, the first time being in 2013.

“From talking to a lot of our farmers, they’ve implemented a lot of the practices that they’ve learned at that workshop,” Henderson said. “So it was really important for us to be able to bring that opportunity back again.”

Although the two-day workshop focused on what OEFFA calls “Early Career Farmers,” — people who have been farming for their whole career — their programs extend to both seasoned farmers and beginners.

In August 2016, OEFFA received a three-year, USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant which allows the organization to bring best practices education to farmers just starting out. The grant allows them to work toward their goal of bringing information and skills to farmers to get the most out of their operations.

Eric Pawlowski, Sustainable Agriculture Educator with OEFFA, said they’re working to get the farmers to a place where they can do wholesale distribution of their produce and not be so concerned with the marketing side of farming.

“The farmer’s wearing a number of hats. He’s a business manager, he’s a farmer, he’s handling produce but then he’s got to take the other side of the coin in marketing. And now it’s a direct market,” Pawlowski said. “We’re trying to get efficiencies on the production end so that maybe the farmer can stay on the farm and have a volume, a scale at an appropriate level where they can get into wholesale distribution where they don’t have to be the marketer as well.”

Some of the topics of the workshop included direct seeding, how farmers can meet the demands of business partners and even information on the picking and packaging of their produce for sales.

OEFFA has a number of programs in place to help farmers of varying experience. Henderson is at the head of a whole farm planning course that is not yet available for registration but will be presented next year. The program allows farmers to attend 60 hours of in-class training to assist with putting together a whole-farm business plan.

Their next large event is the 39th annual OEFFA Conference in Dayton which will be held Feb. 15-17 and will feature a number of workshops and speakers. The opening day will also have a scheduled time that will be open to the public for anyone interested in the organization and their programs.