Clinton County farmer honored at OEFFA conference

By Gary Brock, 2/15/16, Rural Life Today

GRANVILLE — Clinton County farmer Jim Croghan was named the 2016 recipient of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Stewardship Award during the organization’s 37th annual conference Saturday.

The OEFFA award recognizes outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community.

Croghan and his wife Joyce have a 103-acre organic farm in Liberty Township.

“Jim Croghan is the reason I am here today,” said award presenter Knox County farmer Ed Snavely, himself the 2011 recipient of the same Stewardship Award. “And 20 years later I am still involved in OEFFA.”

He served many years on the OEFFA certification committee and also served as chairman of the committee.

“It is because of him and Rex Spray that we have a grain growers chapter today. It was in 1995 the grain growers were certified with OEFFA and OCIA and there were some that wanted the grain growers to move away from OEFFA,” said Snavely. “But Rex and Jim saw the vision that connections would be lost and the teaching of new farmers would be lost. They found there was a group that wanted to say with OEFFA, and are now the organic Grain Growers Chapter.”

“His farm has stayed organic. He sees the vision and stewardship to keep it that way,” said Snavely.

“It is a real honor to receive this, and I appreciate it,” said Croghan as he took the podium in the Granville High School auditorium where more than 1,200 Ohio farmers had gathered for the two-day conference.

Croghan’s Organic Farm was one of Ohio’s first certified organic farms.

“We bought the farm in 1970,” he told Rural Life Today after the awards ceremony. “We became an organic farm in 1988.”

On his farm, he said, they grow corn, soybeans wheat and hay. They sell their grain both domestically and to overseas buyers.

He retired in 2009 after more than three decades of farming, turning the farm over to his son, but continues to garden and maintain an orchard.

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 and rye. Harris told OEFFA that, “He has been a very powerful influence on me… Jim is my neighbor, my friend, and has been my mentor in the organic world.”

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.

Getting the next generation involved in organic agriculture

By Catie Noyes, Farm and Dairy, 2/15/16

OEFFA Conf tradeshow
Around 1,200 people attended the 2016 OEFFA Conference, Feb. 13-14. Conference goers spent some time meeting with organic suppliers, educators and growers in the exhibit hall, Feb. 13, at Granville High School and Middle schools.

GRANVILLE, Ohio — Around 1,200 producers and vendors attended the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) conference, Feb. 13-14, which is billed as the largest gathering of organic and sustainable farming enthusiasts in Ohio.

“There are a lot of things going on here,” said Carol Goland, OEFFA executive director. “Our main priority is to provide education and assistance to organic and sustainable farmers.”


Two awards were presented to outstanding members of OEFFA and good stewards of the land. The 2016 Stewardship award went to Jim Croghan, of Clinton County, and the Service Award went to Steve Sears and Sylvia Upp, of Pike County.

More than 90 workshops took place at Granville high and middle schools, representing everyone from the backyard poultry enthusiasts, gardeners and foodies to large scale organic grain and livestock producers.

Workshops were presented by researchers and Extension specialists as well as farmers, which Goland explained is reflective of the grassroots organization — “farmers teaching other farmers.”

Next generation

Encouraging young and beginning farmers was a reoccurring theme throughout the conference. Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director and co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition, spoke Feb. 13 about the importance of helping the next generation overcome hurdles in farming.

Of the 1 to 2 percent of the U.S. population that is represented by farmers, a mere 36,000 young farmers (classified as 35 years and under) make up this demographic. “Getting Americans to farm is no small task,” she said.

The coalition has identified the biggest hurdles to young farmers as: the rising cost and availability of land, student loan debt and a lack of money dedicated to preserving farmland.

The coalition is exploring solutions to these problems by rallying young farmers together and encouraging them to work with their area congressmen. Some of their policy initiatives include:

  • Extending student loan forgiveness to young farmers because, “farming is a public service. We’re feeding people, building soil, protecting clean water and air,” she said.
  • In making land more affordable, Shute is asking for an expansion of conservation land trusts. “Land trusts hold the key to making farmland more affordable,” she said.
  • The coalition is also asking more low-cost loans be made available to farmers to make improvements.

“We have quite a bit of work to do before the next farm bill,” said Shute. “We need young farmers.”


With a rising demand in organic foods, young and beginning farmers are needed to meet that U.S. demand. According to the USDA, from 2008-2014, organic field crop acreage increased by only 2 percent.

John Bobble, director of Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, showed workshop-goers how imports are setting the stage for U.S. market prices. Forty-one percent of organic corn, 72 percent of organic soybeans and 12 percent of organic wheat is imported. Bobble explained a lot of those grains are going toward an expanding organic livestock sector, but is driven by a mixture of demand and cheaper foreign prices.

Organic farmers face the challenge of getting consumers and producers to consciously purchase more U.S.-grown organic food and grain products. “A lot of buyers are using imported price to dictate domestic price,” said Tim Boortz, NForganics agent.

Transitioning to organic

Bobble also said the higher premium for organic products is enticing conventional producers to go organic. “We are just getting back our acreage. Now we have people considering organic for the wrong reasons.”

He warns having a large volume of conventional farmers transition to organic for better prices could mean a market collapse like organic farmers experienced in 2008. “You can’t go into (organic farming) because of the price,” said Boortz. “You have to believe in the institution of it,” adding that organic farming is “tough work” and requires a lot of careful management.

Boortz also said having large companies like Cargill transitioning to organic could mean a dilution of organic standards. “Our preference would be smaller processors and mills,” said Boortz.

USDA update

Miles McEvoy, USDA deputy administrator for the National Organic Program, provided an update on USDA organic programs and projects.

The Sound and Sensible Initiative was created in 2013 to help simplify the organic certification process. “The overall goal of this new initiative is to make organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable for all operations,” McEvoy stated in a USDA blog. McEvoy reported an 11 percent growth in organic certifications in 2015.

“We know that, as a segment of the food industry, organic has a double digit growth,” said Goland.

“It is expensive to get into farming,” she added. “A lot of people are doing the math and it just makes plain old business sense (to go organic).”

Five great local food and farm ideas from the OEFFA conference

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/16/16

This year’s annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Granville wrapped up on Sunday with a speaker who believes the local food movement isn’t just about freshness and taste, it’s part of a revolution back to the moral center of agriculture.

The sustainable food gathering also saw a hefty dose of Northeast Ohio presenters, more than 90 workshops on growing and using food, a marketplace of products and more.

If you weren’t among the 1,200 there, the program and its sources are still online, and recordings are available for a fee online or at 1-800-233-3683, ext. 122.

Here are some of things we learned:

  • Since young farmers need affordable land, OEFFA sponsored a matchmaking session with landowners. Halle Kirsch, 23, of Middleburg Heights was one of them. When our story on the session appeared online, a nearby alpaca farm owner stepped forward to offer her a few acres. Kirsch said she’s optimistic about the possibility.
  • It isn’t just dirt. A day-long session on soil health emphasized the need for organic matter and all the minute life forms that come with it. Ohio State University researcher Xia Ye said that organic matter is “the eye of the needle” through which all growth takes place. Soil without it, said Michigan educator Jerry Grigar, becomes addicted to fertilizer. Attendees got a free packet of cover crop seeds from Walnut Creek Seeds, which keeps soil moist, adds organic matter and nutrients. Farmer David Brandt said there are mixes just for the home gardener.
  • One undocumented presenter was a 12-hour-old lamb diapered up and brought to the conference by Marianne Trotter of Granny B Farms in Knox County. The lamb’s mother rejected her, so Trotter must bottle feed. Jen Kindrick of the Columbus area held it in her arms for long stretches, during which the lamb slept soundly.
  • Gary Gao of Ohio State University led a workshop on growing nutrition-packed berries such as goji, aronia and elderberry. The secret to harvesting elderberries, he said, is to freeze them and then thaw, when they will practically fall off the stems. He also suggested growing many berries in containers that give good drainage and can be brought into a garage during rough winters.
  • Ben Bebenroth of Spice Kitchen + Bar in Cleveland took on the culinary wonders of kohlrabi and daikon radish. The latter was touted in soil workshops as an effective aerator, protector and fertilizer for soil. Bebenroth told his audience, “it’s also good for you . . . and deer don’t like it.” He suggested farmers market managers in his audience pickle it or dress it up with vinaigrette for sampling. His favorite cookbooks? The classic “Joy of Cooking” for its wide-range of recipes, and “Culinary Artistry,” for its flavor pairing suggestions. He gave a tour of the palate for children and adults (very different), and a recipe for making roasted garlic oil: An ovenproof cup of cloves covered with olive oil, wrapped in foil, baked at 320 degrees for 45 minutes, or until tender. Pluck out cloves for other dishes. Store oil in fridge.
  • Several Greater Cleveland folks showed up for the marketplace this year: Storehouse Tea, Green Field Farms, Tunnel Vision Hoops.
  • In his talk, veteran agricultural educator John Ikerd called industrial agriculture a grand, failed experiment that has not answered its original claims to feed the world. Something “radical” is required, he said, that involved the reclaiming of the moral center of today’s food production. He’d like to see the return of regional farms and food processors, a fair wage for farmers, food grown responsibly for future farmers, and everyone nutritionally fed. “I think the hungry people of this country will be fed when we say they have a right to be fed, and when we take the responsibility to say they have a right to be fed,” he said. “It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a privilege that makes our life better.” Click here for the notes for Ikerd’s Speech.

OEFFA stages ‘speed-dating’ session for Ohio land owners and young farmers without land

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/14/16

Matchmaker, matchmaker bring me . . . Old MacDonald’s Farm.

The lyrics made sense Friday night at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Granville. Some 50 hopefuls, wearing tags saying “seeker” or “land owner,” introduced themselves to the group and then stepped into “speed-dating” sessions to try and match up.

“There are so few opportunities like this,” said moderator Amalie Lipstreau, also policy coordinator for the statewide sustainable farming group. “But it makes complete sense.

“The average age of farmers now is 58, and they’re aging out of the agricultural system. Then you have all these young people who want to farm, but not as many resources.”

That includes Halle Kirsch, 23, of Middleburg Heights who works a half-acre at home, but wants a good 10-20 acres of her own. The graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College discovered that farming feeds her need to work outdoors in fresh air, and answers her interest in the sustainable biology she studied in school.

“I want to provide healthy, wholesome food for people and make a commitment to community and work,” she said. She’s already put together a business plan and would consider leasing, although she knows farming – a field shaped by weather – has few guarantees.

Marty Kerns of the Vermilion area worked for years as a certified public accountant and retired early. The 4-H training she had as a child started calling to her.

“I’d like access to a couple of acres to grow vegetables organically,” said Kerns, a rosy-cheeked 61. “I’d buy or rent, and I’m willing to drive.”

On the other side of the room stood Rich Bistritz, an internet technology specialist from Chagrin Falls whose family still owns a 54-acre farm in Bainbridge Township with house, barn and sugar house that they’d like to see functioning like it was until the 1960s.

“We’d also like to see a CSA going there,” he said.

“I just don’t have the energy and time. And I know it’s a lot of hard work.”

Similar stories poured forth: New dairymen looking for business partners; a sixty-something farmer who owns no more than a rototiller; a conventional farm owner who wants her farm to go organic; an aging woman farmer who wants to see her hilltop farm “beautiful again;” a young couple from Oregon seeking other young help.

And there was Joe Logan of Ottawa who has 50 acres in Trumbull County he wants in use again, but doesn’t have time for it. He’s now president of the Ohio Farmers Union, running a group of farmers seeking independent markets for their goods rather than going to auctions or signing on to corporations. He, too, has set up meetings like this, but is still looking for the right tenants.

When the introductions were over, participants started talking. Sheila Calko of Warren made a beeline to Rich Bistritz to talk about his Bainbridge farm.

“I LOVE Chagrin Falls,” said the young mother with a husband who has experience in livestock and grain. The couple wants to start a “full-diet” community supported agriculture program, or CSA.

Halle Kirsch’s first stop was at the couple from Oregon looking for young help. They talked about building portable, sustainable housing.

What will come of it? Lipstreau hopes to follow up with each party to see if OEFFA can help knit up a few relationships, and make the matchmaking complete.

Young farmers endangered, says OEFFA speaker Lindsey Lusher Shute

By Debbi Snook, 2/14/16, Cleveland Plain Dealer

GRANVILLE, Ohio – We may love our fresh, local food, but the dreams of young farmers who want to grow it are too easily dashed, says Lindsey Lusher Shute.

The rising cost of land, lingering student loans and a declining amount of money dedicated to preserving farmland are getting in the way of a new generation of growers, the farmer and activist told her audience at Saturday’s annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. The event drew 1,200 farmers and consumers to educational workshops this year.

The struggles of young farmers are “muddying the heroic glow cast around our food producers,” she said. “The average small farmer is barely surviving. And if we want to get young people involved in agriculture, we’ll have to fix the major hurdle that is land access.”

Shute said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s goal of fostering the careers of 1,000 new farmers with the last Farm Bill is not going well.

“We’re going to fall short of that goal,” she said. “Even the most experienced young farmers are running into obstacles too big to carry on.”

As founder and director of the National Young Farmers Association (as well as co-owner of an upstate New York farm), Shute has been exploring solutions such as:

  • Alleviating college loan debt for young farmers, giving them the forgiveness extended to other professions such as doctors and nurses. “Farming is a public service,” she said. “We’re feeding people, building soil, protecting clean water and air.” She says she’s received positive responses from legislators so far.
  • Expanding conservation land trusts for farms, which would help make them more affordable. “The amount for that was cut in half in the last farm bill. I want to remind you that it comes up for renewal in 2018.”
  • Making more low-cost loans available to farmers for improvements.

“We need new farmers to step into the shoes of older farmers,” she said, citing record losses of farm acreage, along with the rising average age of farmers, now around 58.

OEFFA is both a support organization for sustainable farming as well as one of a few organizations in Ohio licensed to certify organic farms. The Columbus-based group now has 3,855 members according to director Carol Goland, with representation in all 88 Ohio counties.


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

February 15, 2016

Carol Goland, Executive Director—(614) 421-2022,
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022,

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.
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.”
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.


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

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

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 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.

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