OEFFA Announces 2016 Stewardship and Service Award Recipients: Jim Croghan, Steve Sears, and Sylvia Upp

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 15, 2016

Contact:
Carol Goland, Executive Director—(614) 421-2022, cgoland@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022, lauren@oeffa.org

GRANVILLE, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has named the 2016 recipients for the Stewardship Award and Service Award.

Jim Croghan of Croghan’s Organic Farm in Clinton County received the Stewardship Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community, and Steve Sears and Sylvia Upp of Pike County received the Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service to OEFFA.

The announcements were made on Saturday, February 13 as part of OEFFA’s 37th annual conference, Growing Right by Nature.

2016 Stewardship Award Winner—Jim Croghan
A pioneer in the organic movement, Jim Croghan (pictured left) was one of Ohio’s first certified organic farmers. At Croghan’s Organic Farm, Jim and his wife Joyce produced organic corn, beans, spelt, hay, and other grains for domestic and international markets. He retired in 2009 after more than three decades of farming, but continues to garden and maintain an orchard.

His quiet, behind-the-scenes leadership within OEFFA led to the creation of what is today the organization’s Grain Growers Chapter, which remains very active. Before the National Organic Program was established—which set federal standards for organic certification—Jim also served on OEFFA’s board and certification committee, including a term as chairman, helping to shape OEFFA’s organic standards.

A steward of both the organization and his land, one of Jim’s major accomplishments has been keeping his farm in continuous organic production since the late 1980s, according to 2011 Stewardship Award winner and organic farmer Ed Snavely (pictured right), who presented the award.
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In 2010, organic farmer and OEFFA Little Miami Chapter president Jeff Harris began farming the land, growing organic alfalfa, yellow corn, soybeans, wheat, red clover, triticale, and rye. According to Jeff, “He has been a very powerful influence on me… Jim is my neighbor, my friend, and has been my mentor in the organic world.”
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2016 Service Award Winner—Steve Sears and Sylvia Upp
Sylvia Upp operated the OEFFA Certification program from 1991 until 2007, joined by her husband Steve Sears in 2003. Together, they managed the complex and challenging transition from the standards and processes developed by OEFFA’s grassroots certification program to federal oversight once the National Organic Program became effective in 2002. Their home and farm in West Salem, Ohio served as the headquarters for OEFFA’s Certification program, until it moved to a Columbus office in 2007.

According to 2015 Service Award winner John Sowder, who served on OEFFA’s Board of Trustees from 1992 to 2015, “Sylvia was admired and respected for her dedication, her organizational skills, and her attention to detail. She was our leader as the program grew and we knew she was the right person for this position. I feel that OEFFA is where we are today because of the Certification program and Sylvia built that foundation.”

Prior to his certification role, Steve served on OEFFA’s board for many years, during a time when the organization was largely volunteer-run. John reflects, “He had a gentle disposition and good sense of humor with a keen eye for getting to the heart of a matter.” During this time, Steve also operated a business called Ohio Farm Direct, one of the state’s first wholesale distribution services that delivered products from farms to consumers.

“Jim, Steve, and Sylvia showed an unwavering commitment to sustainable agriculture and OEFFA during an important time in our history. These awards are a small way that we, as a community, can recognize their contributions and express our gratitude for their work, from which we all have benefited,” said Goland.

For a full list of past Stewardship and Service Award winners, click here.

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About OEFFA
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 www.oeffa.org

Photo by Sara Graca, Palamedes Photography

Ohio Pipeline Projects Stir Fears of Compromised Farmland Integrity

By Mary Kuhlman, Ohio Public News Service, 2/4/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio – There are fears that two proposed pipelines, which would run through Ohio, will threaten the livelihood of some Ohio farmers.

The proposed Nexus and ET Rover pipelines would transport gas obtained from Ohio hydraulic fracturing operations through Michigan and up to Canada.

The pipelines will impact 25 counties, and Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), says besides affecting forests and waterways, the pipelines could compromise the integrity of farmland.

“And very particularly organic farmland,” she points out. “It’s very vulnerable to contamination, to soil compaction, destruction of soil structure and potentially loss of certification for organic farms.”

Lipstreu notes that approving the pipelines would show a commitment to an extractive energy industry that threatens water quality and is linked to earthquakes instead of long-term energy solutions.

Supporters of the projects maintain they would lead to cheaper energy, and say pipelines are the safest and cheapest way to transport natural gas.

James Yoder produces organic milk at Clover Meadow Farm in Wayne County, where the ET Rover pipeline would cut diagonally across 11 acres.

If the company does not use a mitigation plan, he says his organic certification would be in jeopardy.

“I probably wouldn’t go on farming if we had to be conventional,” he states. “If they don’t follow those guidelines, I’m sure part of the land or all of the land would be conventional. I don’t know if we could get it back if we go through the three-year transition period to get the affected land back to organic again.”

At this point, Lipstreu says there’s been no word if the company will take any measures to
prevent soil contamination, degradation of milk quality and loss of organic certification on Yoder’s property.

But she adds the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is accepting public input on the pipelines.

“There is an opportunity for people to weigh in on this issue,” she states. “We can think about what we’re doing here and think in terms of more long term sustainability.”

She also points to the risks to health and safety posed by new pipeline infrastructure.

In November 2011, a natural gas transmission pipeline exploded in Morgan County, burning three houses and leaving a 30-foot-wide crater.

The next year, a pipeline spill polluted one and-a-half miles of Boggs Fork in Harrison County.

At Least 4 Good Reasons to Boost Soil Organic Matter, and a Chance to Learn How to Do It

By Kurt Knebusch, OSU CFAES, 2/1/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The key to successful, sustainable farming is found in the ground — or should be, says soil scientist Rafiq Islam of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“Soil organic matter is the cornerstone of soil health,” said Islam, a member of a regional research team that’s spent the past 15 years studying soil organic matter, its benefits to crops and the best ways to boost it on farms run organically.

“As with any agricultural production system, maintaining a healthy and productive soil is the foundation of sustainable organic farming,” he said.

On Feb. 12, Islam and other team members will share their findings in “The Dirt on Organic Matter.” It’s a special preconference workshop being held before the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Feb. 13-14 annual conference in Granville.

OEFFA calls the conference the largest such event devoted to sustainable food and farming in Ohio.

Rafiq Islam, soil scientist based at the Ohio State University South Centers in Piketon, will be part of the team presenting “The Dirt on Organic Matter.” (Photo by Ken Chamberlain, CFAES.)

Islam said the workshop is for farmers, people who work with farmers, and anyone who studies, teaches about or has an interest in sustainable farming.

More broadly, so is the conference, whose theme is “Growing Right by Nature.”

Both events are at Granville High School, 248 New Burg St.

Benefits microbes, pH, moisture, more

Soil organic matter is made up of plant, animal and microbe residues — possibly from manure or cover crops, for example — in various stages of decomposition. Islam said its benefits include:

  • Providing food, energy and enzymes for soil microbes. The microbes boost plants’ growth and health.
  • Providing a reservoir of essential plant nutrients that support good-yielding, high-quality, nutritious crops.
  • Being a catalyst for regulating the soil’s ecological functions. The functions include buffering the soil’s acid-alkaline balance, or pH. They also include improving the cation exchange capacity, which helps the soil store nutrients until needed by plants and microbes.
  • Improving the soil’s structure and moisture retention. Better soil structure improves drainage during rains and wet times. Better moisture retention helps plants during drought.

Big picture, soil organic matter also takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stores it in the soil. Excess atmospheric CO2 is one of the causes of climate change.

All about tools and best practices

Islam said people who take the workshop will learn how to increase soil organic matter levels by using, among other things, compost, manure, cover crops, and soil amendments such as gypsum, zeolite and leonardite, or black carbon. They’ll also get instruction on how to use an online soil organic matter calculator to monitor those levels.

The knowledge “can help greatly improve soil organic matter content and, consequently, soil health,” he said.

“Organic farmers are striving to reduce their operating costs, maintain soil organic matter and increase farm profits,” Islam said. “Often this results in intensive tillage-based practices that provide short-term yield gains but lose soil organic matter and productivity over time.”

The workshop is meant to reverse those losses, he said, with the goal being organic farms that aren’t just good for the environment but are viable and profitable — or even more so — as businesses.

The research team’s members include farmers; experts from the college’s outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center; and experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan.

How to register

Registration for the workshop, which is separate from conference registration, is $75 for OEFFA members and $90 for nonmembers. The costs include lunch and resources that participants can take home. The deadline to register is Feb. 8.

Registration for the conference is $160 for OEFFA members and $220 for nonmembers, with lower-priced child, teen, student and one-day options available, too. Meals cost extra and can be reserved at registration.

Details about the workshop and conference and a link to online registration for either or both events are at oeffa.org/conference2016.php.

Farming is a public service and we need more of it, says TedX talker Lindsey Lusher Shute

By Debbi Snook

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/1/16

Lindsey Lusher Shute returns to Ohio next weekend to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Granville. She farms with her husband, who is a self-taught grower, and she now leads the National Young Farmers Coalition, a group that hopes to make the career of farming more possible for more people. She answered a few questions and a follow-up by email this week.

This year’s OEFFA conference will include a free session (with registration by Feb. 7) that hopes to match young farmers with landowners seeking their skills.

Tell us about your ties to Ohio and Ohio farming.

My earliest and most joyful childhood memories are of our Ohio farm in the rolling hills of Southeast Ohio. My grandfather Charles Lusher was a minister, but always considered himself a farmer. He grew the sweetest melon, and my grandmother served halves of it with vanilla ice cream in the middle and salt on top. My grandmother’s father, Henry Clerkus Sheets, was the last farmer in our family. Henry produced dairy, pork and tobacco, but all of his children moved on to other careers.

I grew up near Columbus, where my dad was a public school teacher and my mother a nurse. Other than visits to my grandfather’s farm, the state fair and an overly shaded vegetable plot, I had little exposure to farm life.

Why did you become a farmer?

I became a farmer because I fell in love with one. My husband Ben and I met in New York City,  where we built a community garden in Brooklyn. He had just returned from a farming apprenticeship in Oregon and eventually decided to start his own farm upstate. I was so inspired by Ben and the innovative and entrepreneurial farmers in the region that I eventually moved up. But in all honesty, outside of occasional chores, I do very little farming these days. With the National Young Farmers Coalition and our girls at home, the farming is left to Ben and our incredible crew.

What is your farming philosophy?

Farming is public service. That means nurturing our land; protecting our water; respecting our workers; and growing the best food for our communities.

Why is there a shortage of farmers?

For several generations, we have been losing young people in agriculture. With farm incomes declining and better prospects elsewhere, many farm families encouraged their kids to look to other careers.

The good food movement has reversed this trend somewhat, by bringing kids back to the farm as well as inspiring thousands of newcomers, but structural obstacles get in the way. With land prices on the rise, student debt and market challenges, it’s extremely difficult for many young people to get started and succeed in agriculture.

Who should be a farmer?

Everyone. If we are going to save our farmer population, every kid should contemplate a farm career. Even growing up here in Ohio, no one ever talked to me about the possibility of becoming a farmer. That’s no good. Farming is the opportunity to make a decent income, serve a community, be your own boss and get outside. Kids should put ‘farmer’ right up there on their lists with doctor, teacher and President of the United States.

What do you mean by “decent” income? What about those declining farm wages?

With affordable land, access to capital, appropriate scale and strong demand, a farmer can make a good living. The National Young Farmers Coalition believes that farmers should be in the position to support themselves and their families while farming full-time.

What’s the best thing government can do to create more farms?

Protect the affordability of farmland. One of the most difficult obstacles for young farmers is finding affordable farmland, and the problem is only growing worse. Governments can take action by conserving farmland with working farm easements and creating new tax incentives to help transition land.

What’s the best thing consumers can do to help create more farms?

We’ve all heard it a million times, but buy local. Where I live here in New York, it’s estimated that we only purchase 2 percent of our food from local sources. If demand increases, there will be more farms. Consumers can create demand by making the trip to their local farmers market, selecting locally grown at the grocery store, joining a CSA, and demanding that schools and institutions buy from farmers. Consumers are already driving change, but they can do much more.

February’s Statewide Sustainable Food Conference to Feature Cleveland Chef and Farmers

By Debbi Snook, 1/26/16

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Northeast Ohio will have a strong presence at next month’s statewide organic and sustainable food and farming conference in Granville. More than a half-dozen farmers and food producers from this area – from chef Ben Bebenroth to farm manager Maggie Fitzpatrick (Ohio City Farm) – will lead workshops at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

The two-day affair runs Feb. 13 and 14 with a third day on Feb. 12 for in-depth pre-conference sessions on beginning farming, soil health and grain marketing. Programs are geared to farmers, gardeners, retailers and consumers interested in sustainable methods of growing food.

OEFFA and national organic leaders held a news conference in November to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the standardized rules that define the federal government’s certified organic label. OEFFA, in addition to embracing sustainability in general, is also one of Ohio’s certifying organizations for the USDA label.

Organic food is now 4 percent of national food sales, but research on organic food is only one-tenth of one percent of the money set aside for research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Abby Youngblood, executive director of the National Organic Coalition.

Research is necessary to keep the country’s soils healthy, many said, and to attract new farmers.

“OEFFA has been working on this for a number of years,” said Mike Laughlin, a southern Ohio farmer from Johnstown. “We’ve been developing young farmer educational programs, mentorships, and we even have a couple of different loan programs to help individuals get started. We’re starting to see some energy from that program and it really gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

Farmers and homegrowers can also get advice at the conference from these principals among many others in more than 100 workshops:

  • Ben Bebenroth, farmer and chef of Spice Kitchen & Bar, who will talk about growing, marketing and cooking unusual vegetables.
  • Elizabeth Kucinich, Rodale Institute board member, on going beyond the issue of genetic engineering to focus on soil-healthy agriculture.
  • Laura DeYoung Mannig of Urban Shepherd and Spicy Lamb Farm, Peninsula, on producing consistent meat quality.
  • George Remington of Morningside Farm (Hinckley)  on a panel discussing biofertilizers.
  • Jake Trethewey, Maplestar Farm (Auburn Township), on avoiding pesticide drift from nearby farms.
  • Maggie Fitzpatrick of the refugee project at Ohio City Farm (Cleveland) on expanding the ethnic crop market, and Jacqueline Kowalski of Ohio State University Extension in Cuyahoga County on a topic to be determined.
  • Matt Herbruck of Birdsong Farm (Hiram)  on the potential of community supported agriculture programs (CSAs).

A former southern Ohioan will deliver the keynote address on Saturday. Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition, now a New York State farmer, will talk about lobbying for more help for young farmers. John Ikerd speaks on Sunday. The farming advocate and critic of confined animal feeding operations wrote several books, including “Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture, and The Essentials of Economic Sustainability,” and taught at universities in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia and Missouri.

More registration information is available at oeffa.org. The deadline for the discounted early registration fee is Jan. 31. The highest price for advance registration is $205 for the two-day event for adult non-members, with tickets available separately for one-day or pre-conference attendance.

Land, Money Obstacles for Next Generation of OH Farmers

Ohio Public News Service

By Mary Kuhlman, 1/14/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The aging farm population in Ohio needs a new generation to fill its shoes, but young farmers face many obstacles getting off the ground.

Lindsey Lusher Shute, an Ohio native and executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, says capital is the biggest challenge for beginning farmers, especially those who are under financial constraints such as student loan debt.

Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, says new farmers are critical to the success of the food system. (Shute)

She says it’s also very difficult to access land, particularly near major cities where prices may be impacted by competing developers.

“Areas within 200 miles of cities where a farmer really may have the best chance of success because they can do direct marketing, direct sales, that’s where land is more expensive,” she says. “So land remains one of the major challenges.”

Shute says while the country has grown by 200 million people since 1920, there are 28 million fewer farmers. And she’ll be in Ohio next month to discuss the tools and resources needed to support beginning farmers. Shute is the keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference in Granville Feb. 12 through the 14.

Shute explains many beginning farmers want to give back to the land and sustainability is at the core of their motivation. Some come from a long line of farmers, but she says the majority are starting from scratch.

“Their presence is very welcome in the farm community because many farm kids have not been encouraged to stay on the farm in the past few generations,” Shute says. “And so this influx of new farm entrepreneurs is very necessary and vital for the farm economy.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows almost 30 percent of Ohio farmers are age 65 or older, and just seven percent are younger than 35 years of age. Shute says agriculture needs young people to ensure the growth of local food systems.

“If we don’t do something about this gap we have and to make sure that this beautiful farmland in Ohio and across the nation,” says Shute. “If we’re not sure that’s going to go to another working farm family, then we will not have family farms in the future and we will not have food security.”

And one policy measure that would help, says Shute, is the Young Farmers Success Act of 2016. It would add farmers to a public loan forgiveness program.

Sustainable Agriculture Author, John Ikerd, to Keynote Ohio’s Largest Food and Farm Conference

For Immediate Release: January 14, 2016

Contact:
Renee Hunt, Program Director, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205, renee@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
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To achieve a truly sustainable food system, we must significantly change our thinking about how we feed ourselves, according to author and passionate small farm advocate John Ikerd, featured speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 37th annual conference, Growing Right by Nature, in Granville, Ohio (Licking County).
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In his Sunday, February 14 keynote address, “Sustainable Agriculture is Growing, Right and by Nature,” Ikerd will explore how growing consumer demand and concerns about the ecological and social integrity of the industrial food system are creating opportunities for the organic and local food movements to create lasting, fundamental change.
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“Any society that can’t meet at least the basic human needs of everyone without leaving equal or better opportunities for those of future generations is simply not sustainable over time. Continual investments in the renewal and regeneration of nature and society are essential for ecological, social, and economic sustainability,” Ikerd writes.

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Ikerd received a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri and spent 30 years in various professorial positions at North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Missouri. From 1989 to 2000, under a cooperative agreement with the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, he provided state and national leadership for research and education programs related to sustainable agriculture.

Ikerd has authored six books on sustainable agriculture and sustainable economics, along with book chapters, journal articles, and other publications. In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations asked Ikerd to develop the North American report for the International Year of the Family Farm.

“Everywhere we look, we can see the failure of the grand experiment of industrial agriculture. It’s time for fundamental change,” Ikerd writes.

Ikerd will also lead two workshops during the conference: “Deep Sustainability: Deeper than Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, and Renewing,” on Saturday afternoon and “Practical, Radical Ideas for Restructuring Farming and Food Production Systems” on Sunday morning.“
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John Ikerd challenges us to think more deeply about sustainability and sustainable agriculture,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “His vision for the future, deeply rooted in more than 30 years of experience in agricultural science and economics, is inspiring.”
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Ikerd will speak as part of the state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference, an event which draws more than 1,200 attendees from across Ohio and the country.
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In addition to Ikerd, this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Lindsey Lusher Shute on Saturday, February 13; more than 90 educational workshops; three in-depth pre-conference workshops on Friday, February 12; a trade show; activities for children and teens; locally-sourced and from-scratch meals, a raffle, book sales and signings, a seed swap, and Saturday evening entertainment.
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For more information about the conference, or to register, click here.
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About OEFFA
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, click here.
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Press Pass 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, request a press pass, or for other media inquiries, contact Lauren Ketcham at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203 or lauren@oeffa.org.

Beginning Farmer Advocate to Keynote Ohio’s Largest Food and Farm Conference

For Immediate Release: January 7, 2016

Contact: Renee Hunt, Program Director, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205, renee@oeffa.org, Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org

How land, equipment, and knowledge is passed on to the next generation will impact the U.S. farm economy, according to farmer and National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) Executive Director Lindsey Lusher Shute, featured keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 37th annual conference, Growing Right by Nature, this February in Granville, Ohio (Licking County).

In her Saturday, February 13 keynote address, “Building Our Collective Strength: An Agenda for the Next Generation,” Shute will discuss the structural obstacles getting in the way of this transition and the opportunities to strengthen family farms through policy change.

“Today’s young farmers and ranchers are…taking tremendous personal and financial risks to feed the country and build a healthy food system,” Shute wrote for whitehouse.gov, where she was named a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change. We must shape “a country where young people who are willing to work hard, get trained, and be entrepreneurial can support themselves and their families in farming.”

She and her husband, Benjamin, own and manage Hearty Roots Community Farm, a 70 acre farm in New York’s Hudson River Valley. They grow about 25 acres of certified organic vegetables and care for a flock of laying hens and a dozen pigs, which are marketed through a 900 member community support agriculture program.

In a 2013 Tedx Talk, Shute pointed out that there are 28 million fewer farmers in the U.S. than in 1920, and the country has grown by  200 million people.

“If we are going to rebuild American agriculture, provide a pathway of opportunity for people of modest means to become farmers in the United States, and for us all to feel and experience the benefits of all these farmers caring for the land will bring, then we need… to invest in the next generations of farmers,” said Shute, who, as Executive Director and co-founder of NYFC, represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers to ensure their success.

On Friday, February 12, Shute will facilitate a full-day, in-depth pre-conference event designed for beginning farmers, titled “Answering the Call to Farm.”

On Saturday morning, Shute will also lead a one hour workshop, “Is DC Helping Sustainable Farmers? What’s Happening in Congress That’s Affecting You.”

“We’re excited to welcome Lindsey to this year’s conference, so we can shine a spotlight on the resources, tools, and support these young farmers need to succeed, along with the policy changes that the future of farming requires,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt.

Shute will speak as part of the state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference, an event which draws more than 1,200 attendees from across Ohio and the country.

In addition to Shute, this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker John Ikerd on Sunday, February 14; more than 90 educational workshops; three in-depth pre-conference workshops on Friday, February 12; a trade show; activities for children and teens; locally-sourced and from-scratch meals, a raffle, book sales and signings, a seed swap, and Saturday evening entertainment.

For more information about the conference, or to register, click here.

Celebrating 25 years of organic standards

By Catie Noyes

Farm and Dairy, 12/8/15

SALEM, Ohio — Organic producers, policy leaders and consumers agree the road to creating uniform standards for organic production was not an easy one. Even after the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, the rules concerning organic production were disputed and would take several more years to sort out.

Twenty-five years later, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association acknowledged this milestone in a teleconference, Nov. 30, by talking about the challenges of creating unified standards in organic production. Participants also shared their hopes for the future of the National Organic Program.

Before the law

“There was no ‘ah-ha’ moment for us,” said Mike Laughlin, a certified organic specialty crop farmer from Johnstown, Ohio, referring to his decision to go organic. He and his wife had been growing a few small plots of vegetables in their backyard, nothing large-scale at the time.

“When our farm became a reality, it was a simple choice to grow in a manner that protected and enhanced the earth and provided good clean, safe food for us, our children and our customers,” Laughlin said during the conference call. But finding the information they needed was a challenge.

“It was a different time,” Laughlin said. “A lot of information was hard to find.” That’s when Laughlin discovered the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and found a group of like-minded individuals. Through the association, Laughlin was able to become certified organic under the criteria supplied by the OEFFA.

Having the OEFFA standards in place made Ohio one of the first states to develop rules for organic production, but it didn’t seem to be enough, said Laughlin. “It didn’t stop anyone else from saying they had an organic product. There were no rules to prevent that from happening.”

This began a push for more uniform U.S. standards.

Developing standards

“This was a very classic David and Goliath story,” said Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. deputy secretary for the USDA who helped write the laws for the national organic standard that would replace the patchwork standards developed across the country in the late 1980s.

At the time, there was a distrust between farmers and the government. “Farmers had not been treated well by USDA historically,” explained Merrigan. So it was a surprise to see farmers coming to government’s door for help.  Legislation for the Organic Foods Production Act was signed into law on Nov. 28, 1990. Concerns for the language in the legislation would prompt more changes in the next 12 years.

The use of GMOs, irradiation and sewage sludge were all permitted in the original legislation, which ignited an uproar in the organic community, explained Liana Hoodes, National Organic Coalition adviser. There were over 325,000 comments submitted to the act’s implementation — “the biggest comment to any USDA rule at that point,” said Hoodes.

It wasn’t until 2002 that a final rule was published, establishing an intensive set of rules. “Back then, the organic standards were just two sides of an 8 1/2-by-11 sheet of paper,” said Laughlin, whose Northridge Organic Farm was one of the first Ohio farms to become certified organic under the new federal standards. “Now they’re more like a telephone book.”

Future

Even with a very prescriptive set of rules, all panel members agreed, the future of the organic industry looks promising. Organic products have seen an “astounding” growth, said Abby Youngblood, National Organic Coalition Executive Director, with sales reaching nearly $40 billion annually, which she said is about 5% of total food sales.

“I think organic is a key opportunity for those who are getting into farming,” she said. “In terms of profitability, on a per-acre basis, in many cases organic does offer increased profitability and a way for people to get started in farming.”

Research

But more organic research funding is needed, added Youngblood. “Only one-tenth of 1 percent of all agricultural research is dedicated in the (USDA’s) flagship research program to organic research.”

Kathleen Merrigan said she has seen practices led by organic farmers be adopted by a larger number of farmers who are not organic. “Investing in organic research is not just investing in organic agriculture, it’s investing in agriculture,” she said.

Her example was the use of rotational grazing on dairy farms, a practice she said was “pioneered by organic producers” and has since been widely adapted on a variety of operations both organic and non-organic — “because it makes sense.” The kinds of research that (organic producers) are calling for is a way to broaden our American agriculture portfolio, said Merrigan.

Silver celebration: Organic enthusiasts mark food law’s 25th anniversary

Sup­port­ers cel­e­brated the 25th an­niver­sary of the Or­ganic Foods Pro­duc­tion Act last week. Lead­ers re­flected on how far the move­ment has come in the past few decades dur­ing a vir­tual press con­fer­ence hosted by the Ohio Eco­log­i­cal Food and Farm As­so­ci­a­tion, one of the na­tion’s first pro­mot­ers of or­ganic food.

Signed into law in 1990, the OFPA was a bat­tle be­fore and af­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Liana Hoodes, Na­tional Or­ganic Coali­tion ad­viser, said prior to the OFPA there was no na­tional stan­dard for or­ganic farm­ing.

“It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the de­vel­op­ment of the law came from farm­ers and con­sumers, joined by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and in­dus­try in the very be­gin­ning,” she said.

Kath­leen Mer­ri­gan served as head of the Agri­cul­tural Mar­ket­ing Ser­vice from 1999 to 2001 and is known as the chief ar­chi­tect of the present-day or­ganic stan­dards. She later served as Deputy Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture from 2009 to 2013.

Prior to the OFPA, Mer­ri­gan said a deep mis­trust had grown be­tween or­ganic farm­ers and gov­ern­ment. With growth in the or­ganic sec­tor, farm­ers were con­cerned or­ganic stan­dards would be wa­tered down, so they went to the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture for help.

Mer­ri­gan said the USDA orig­i­nally tried to work with la­bel rules but de­cided the is­sue needed leg­is­la­tion. Govern­ment of­fi­cials, farm­ers and or­ganic stake­hold­ers part­nered to write the bill.

“I think that part­ner­ship, that col­lab­o­ra­tion, is em­bed­ded in the law through the con­struc­tion of the Na­tional Or­ganic Stan­dards Board,” she said.

Even af­ter the draft bill was writ­ten, the group had trou­ble get­ting it passed. Sen. Pa­trick Leahy, D-Vt., the Se­nate Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee chair­man, in­tro­duced the bill in a cham­ber with a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity. While the Se­nate went along with the bill, Mer­ri­gan said, the House was a dif­fer­ent story.

“When I look back on that time, this is a very clas­sic David and Go­liath story,” she said.

Mer­ri­gan said the USDA had trou­ble find­ing a Con­gress­man to in­tro­duce the leg­is­la­tion be­fore Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., agreed to spon­sor it. He was not on the House Ag Com­mit­tee and had an up­hill bat­tle be­fore the bill passed and Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush signed it into law.

After pas­sage, the law was slow to get off the ground, ham­pered by a lack of ap­pro­pri­a­tions for USDA staff and the Na­tional Or­ganic Stan­dards Board to de­velop the rules.

The first draft rules were fi­nally pub­lished in 1997, but con­tained what Hoodes de­scribed as a “head­line grab­bing” al­lowance of three con­tro­ver­sial things: GMOs, ir­ra­di­a­tion and sewage sludge.

Hoodes said grass­roots groups pulled to­gether and the draft rules re­ceived 325,000 com­ments in an era be­fore In­ter­net sub­mis­sions. Hoodes said the com­ments rep­re­sented the most sub­mit­ted on a USDA rule up to that point.

Dur­ing Mer­ri­gan’s ten­ure at USDA, the rules, which she de­scribed as “a phone book” thick, were re­fined and pub­lished in 2002.

Mer­ri­gan said while food safety was the mo­ti­va­tion at the time of the OFPA’s pas­sage, en­vi­ron­men­tal health, sus­tain­abil­ity and farm struc­ture have ben­e­fited.

“I think we have seen in time that we are ready to start go­ing be­yond that ini­tial food safety, con­sumers driven to or­ganic be­cause of con­cerns about pes­ti­cide residues,” she said. “Now, con­sumers in the mar­ket­place are reach­ing for the or­ganic la­bel be­cause of a whole host of at­tributes.”

Abby Young­blood, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Or­ganic Coali­tion, said or­ganic food sales have grown to $40 bil­lion, rep­re­sent­ing 5 per­cent of U.S. food sales.

“We have seen re­ally as­tound­ing growth in a short pe­riod of time,” she said.

How­ever, re­search fund­ing has not kept up. Young­blood said just one-tenth of 1 per­cent of the re­search in the USDA’s flag­ship pro­gram is ded­i­cated to or­ganic sys­tems. She said more fed­eral fund­ing is needed for or­ganic re­search to help farm­ers breed seeds bet­ter adapted to chang­ing cli­mate and or­ganic sys­tems.

Young­blood said farm­ers are ben­e­fit­ing from the OFPA by or­ganic farm­ing prac­tices and price pre­mi­ums. It also of­fers a way for be­gin­ning farm­ers to start a ca­reer.

“Or­ganic is a key op­por­tu­nity for those who are get­ting into farm­ing,” she said. “We know that if we want to con­tinue to pro­duce food do­mes­ti­cally, we need to have more farm­ers and we need to at­tract young peo­ple to the pro­fes­sion.”

Young­blood also said the OFPA laid the foun­da­tion for a much more demo­cratic and trans­par­ent food sys­tem.

“It is this op­por­tu­nity that cit­i­zens have to par­tic­i­pate in the process and to en­gage in help­ing to de­cide what that or­ganic la­bel means,” she said. “It’s re­ally so im­por­tant and so ex­cit­ing, be­cause we know that we can keep build­ing the or­ganic la­bel. It’s not static, and it can keep chang­ing and adapt­ing to re­flect new pro­duc­tion meth­ods.”

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