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

June 11th, 2014
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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 eric@oeffa.org.

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 education@oeffa.org.

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

June 10th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 10, 2014

Contact:
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
Renee Hunt, Program Director, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205, renee@oeffa.org
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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.
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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.
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“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.
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“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.
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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.
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“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.
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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.
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The Good Earth Guide is available free to the public in an easy to use online searchable database at http://www.oeffa.org/search-geg.php.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Health Series Provides Comprehensive and Convenient Education for Veterinarians and Other Livestock Professionals

May 15th, 2014
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 15, 2014
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Contact:
Jeffrey D. Workman, PhD, Veterinary Extension, Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, The Ohio State University, (614) 292-9453, workman.45@osu.edu
Renee Hunt, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, (614) 421-2022, renee@oeffa.org
An upcoming educational series will give veterinarians and other livestock professionals the opportunity to gain new knowledge and expand services offered by providing important information on working with certified organic livestock and poultry.
The series is being offered by Veterinary Extension at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and includes both webinars and in-person workshops.

“The objective of this educational series is to help veterinarians and their clients design best herd health management practices that comply with federal and state regulations and organic standards when considering the health and well-being of the animal,” said Ohio State University Assistant Professor and Extension Veterinarian Dr. Gustavo M. Schuenemann.

As part of this series, participants will learn how to perform an on-farm risk assessment, or audit, to identify and rank risk factors associated with herd health and performance. “This audit will be a valuable service they can offer clients—certified organic or otherwise,” said Schuenemann.

The educational series will also demystify the organic standards, and clarify the requirements for individual animals to obtain and maintain their organic status. “Understanding the certification process will benefit everyone—the animal, the farmer, the service provider, and the consumer,” said OEFFA Organic Certification Program Manager Julia Barton.

Demand for organic products continues to increase, including organic meat, poultry, dairy, and fiber. Ohio ranks second for the number of dairy farmers that produce milk for Organic Valley, for example. Approximately 270 Ohio farms are certified organic livestock and poultry operations.

The series will cover the following topics:

  • Transition cow management, emphasizing calving-related disease prevention and on-farm risk assessment
  • Organic standards for livestock, allowed inputs, and the certification process
  • Management of somatic cell counts and mastitis control
  • Parasite management and control
  • Pain management, regulatory medicine, and science-based treatments
  • Organic poultry flock health
  • Nutrition-related diseases
  • On-farm health audits to assess herd risk factors
  • Defining, monitoring, and recordkeeping of health events
Free events currently scheduled include:
  • CSI for Dairy: On-Farm Audits to Assess Risk Webinar—Monday, June 23, 1 p.m. EDT
  • Certified Organic Dairy Tour and Workshop—Thursday, June 26, 1 p.m. EDT at Pleasantview Farm in Circleville, OH
  • Certified Organic Livestock Standards Webinar—Thursday, July 10, 1 p.m. EDT
  • Organic Livestock Inputs Webinar—Wednesday, October 1, 1 p.m. EDT
Veterinary Continuing Education (CE) credits will be granted on an “hour for hour” basis.

In addition, veterinarians and other agriculture professionals that work with poultry and livestock can join a network to share ideas and find answers to questions. “Their work will be strengthened as this network bridges the gaps between educators, certifiers, farmers, and veterinarians,” said Eric Pawlowski, OEFFA Sustainable Agriculture Educator.

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

For more details, or to register for scheduled events, go to www.oeffa.org or http://vet.osu.edu/extension, call (614) 421-2022 Ext. 209, or email education@oeffa.org.

Solar Electric Workshop Scheduled for June: Farmers and Others Can Learn How to Design and Install Photovoltaic Systems

May 13th, 2014
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For Immediate Release: May 13, 2014
Contact: Milo Petruziello, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 206, milo@oeffa.org

Columbus, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and Jay and Annie Warmke of Blue Rock Station will be offering a five-day solar electric workshop designed for people who want to make their farm, home, or business energy independent, or who are looking to start their own business installing photovoltaic (PV) systems.

The workshop will be held Monday, June 16 through Friday, June 20 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at OEFFA’s offices in the Lumbermens Building at 41 Croswell Rd., Columbus, OH.

“During previous courses, we’ve helped many people to enter a new career field or gain the skills necessary to design and install their own PV system,” said instructor Jay Warmke. Jay is the author of numerous textbooks on the subject, teaches renewable energy classes at Central Ohio Technical College, and serves as vice president of Green Energy Ohio. He and his wife Annie put this knowledge into practice at Blue Rock Station, a 38 acre educational center which is home to Ohio’s first Earthship and a 6kW solar array.

During this training course, participants will learn how to design and install photovoltaic systems through lectures and hands-on labs. They will learn with a working PV system, dismantling and reinstalling it, troubleshooting, and testing its proper operation. The class will also learn how to integrate a working wind turbine into the PV system. As part of the class, registrants can nominate a site to serve as a “real world” model; one site will be selected and together the class will evaluate, size, and design a system for that site. At the end of the week, participants will have the opportunity to sit for an internationally recognized certification Level 1 examination offered by the Electronic Technicians Association (ETA).

“Many farmers and homesteaders are looking for a way to be energy independent and reduce their reliance on polluting fossil fuels. With prices for PV systems falling and demand on the rise, systems are becoming economical for nearly every home or farm,” said OEFFA program assistant Milo Petruziello. “Finding qualified personnel to install and maintain systems remains a challenge, however. We hope this course will give people the tools they need to harness the power of the sun.”

The cost of the workshop is $930 for OEFFA members and $970 for non-members. The cost includes ETA fees, an installation toolkit, and a course workbook. Lunch is provided on each class day.

Pre-registration is required. Space is limited. Register at www.oeffa.org by Wednesday, June 11. To register by mail, send a check made out to OEFFA along with the names of all attendees, addresses, phone numbers, and emails to OEFFA Solar Workshop, 41 Croswell Rd., Columbus, OH 43214.

For more information, or to register by phone, please contact Milo Petruziello at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 206 or milo@oeffa.org. For more information about Blue Rock Station, call (740) 674-4300 or go to www.bluerockstation.com.

Free Public Tour Series Features Ohio’s Organic and Sustainable Farms: 2014 Guide Now Available

May 8th, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 8, 2014
Contact:
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
Eric Pawlowski, Sustainable Agriculture Educator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 209, eric@oeffa.org
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The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has announced th farm tours and workshops that will be included in the 2014 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, featuring free public tours of some of Ohio’s finest sustainable and organic farms.
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OEFFA has offered these tours for more than 30 years, providing unique opportunities for growers, educators, and conscientious eaters to learn about sustainable food and farm products in a real world setting from farmers with years of practical experience.
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“Consumer demand for fresh, locally produced food and farm products continues to grow, along with the desire to understand how food gets from the field to the dinner table. Farmers know all the dirt and this summer, they’re sharing that knowledge about how sustainably produced food is grown,” said Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA’s Communications Coordinator. “The tours are also designed to help farmers and gardeners learn from each other so they can improve their production and marketing techniques and grow their operations.”
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Fifteen tours, six workshops, and a farm to table dinner are being sponsored by OEFFA and will be held between June 7 and November 14. The 2014 farm tour and workshop series is promoted in cooperation with the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Team, who is sponsoring additional tours. In total, the series features 21 farms, four university research center tours, six educational workshops, a film screening, and a benefit dinner.
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OEFFA’s tours and workshops are:
For additional information and a complete list of all farm tours, including dates, times, farm descriptions, and driving directions, click here.

GMO OMG! Free Screenings of Film to Explore Risks of Genetically Modified Organisms and Role Consumers Can Play

April 2nd, 2014

Columbus, OH—This month, Horizon Organic, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), will be offering free screenings of the film, GMO OMG in Athens and Columbus.

“While unlabeled genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have filled our supermarket shelves, biotech companies are hoping that consumers like you and me won’t ask questions,” said MacKenzie Bailey, OEFFA’s  Policy Program Coordinator. “However, more and more consumers and farmers are raising concerns about seed and crop contamination, superweeds, and the other health and environmental risks of these under-regulated foods.”

The screenings will take place on Saturday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Athena Cinema located at 20 S. Court St. in Athens and on Sunday, April 27 at 2 p.m. at the Gateway Film Center located at 1550 N. High St. in Columbus.

Limited space is available; RSVP to MacKenzie Bailey at policy@oeffa.org.

The terms “GMO” and “genetic engineering” (GE) refers to a set of technologies used to change the genetic make-up of cells to produce novel organisms that exhibit a desired trait, such as pesticide resistance.

Promised higher yields, labor savings, and lower weed pressure, GE seeds have been widely adopted by U.S. farmers. Today, more than 80 percent of the soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered.

“The new reality of the world is that giant chemical companies are feeding us…and our children,” said GMO OMG film director and concerned father Jeremy Seifert.

In this documentary, Seifert sets out on a journey across the globe to uncover the truth about GMOs. Seifert explores how GMOs affect our children and the health of our planet and whether it’s possible for consumers to make informed choices in the absence of labels identifying GMO foods. Along the way, he helps to reveal our current industrial food system and answer a question that is of growing concern to consumers everywhere: What’s really on our plate?

GMO OMG sheds light on the complexity of today’s food production system,” said Perry Clutts, the owner and operator of Pleasantview Farm, a dairy farm that supplies Horizon Organic. “As an organic dairy producer, I see the benefits of farming without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically engineered feed. It’s important that farmers, like me, are offering Ohio families an alternative. The organic sector is growing and I believe it will keep on growing as consumers learn more about where their food is coming from.”

Following the film, there will be a question and answer session with the director and Horizon Organic’s Kelly Shea.
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Go to www.gmofilm.com to learn more about the documentary or to watch the trailer.

Seifert and Sara Loveday of Horizon Organic, along with local farmers, food advocates, and business leaders, are available for interviews with the media. To schedule an interview, contact MacKenzie Bailey at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208 or policy@oeffa.org.

This film screening is sponsored by Horizon Organic and Chipotle Mexican Grill with support from Pleasantview Farm, Shagbark Seed & Mill, Snowville Creamery, Northstar Cafe, Green Edge Organic Gardens, and Rich Gardens Organic Farm.

OEFFA workshops offer wealth of information

February 25th, 2014
Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick
2/25/2014

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 www.oeffa.com.

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

February 21st, 2014
WKSU Quick Bites
By Vivian Goodman
2/21/2014

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

February 19th, 2014
Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick
2/17/2014

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.

Relationships

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

February 18th, 2014
Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick
2/17/14

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.”

crowd

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 www.usda.gov, 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.