Middlefield plant growth guru says strong plants make strong soil

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/14/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio — We try pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, compost, integrated pest management and crop rotation – even in our littlest yards.

But do we really know what plants want?

John Kempf, a Middlefield consultant on plant health who has clients across the country, said we are not going to get the best out of agriculture and the environment if we don’t start paying attention to the distinct needs of plants.

“They have immune systems, just like we do,” Kempf told an audience of mostly organic farmers Friday at a pre-conference session of the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

And, like ours, those immune systems need to be fortified over a life cycle. Kempf revealed his own food pyramid for plant nutrients, and a diagram of the stages of growth when it’s necessary to administer the right minerals in the right balance.

Herbicides and pesticides are a relic of our “warfare mentality” he said. Pests have sharpened sensors that will always draw them to a weakened plant.

“You can spray insecticide, kill the pests, and you’ll still have a weak plant,” he said.

A strong plant will not only fend off pests and disease, he said, it will also help build up the soil, assuring a stronger future for both.

Kempf says he’s not offering new information, just a synthesis of findings lost in a rush to chemical solutions and the fragmentation of plant study.

“Farmers used to be generalists,” he said. “Now there are so many specialists, and they don’t always talk to each other.

“An incredible amount of information never gets applied to the field.”

A member of the Amish community who set down his straw hat before his presentation, Kempf said much of what he’s saying can be obtained by Internet searches. He recommended a Google search for the words “nutrient requirements of” before adding the Latin name of the plant to be grown. Also helpful, he said, is the online bookstore operated by www.acresusa.com .

He recommended that home gardeners start with seeds from good sources (such as Baker Creek, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco), well-composted soil and then follow a proper schedule of nutrient application.

Over-application of certain elements can inhibit plants from accessing nutrients, with potassium and calcium frequently at odds. He advocates the analysis of sap from living plants rather than the more common practice of testing dried plant matter for nutritional content. When the crop is still alive in the ground, he said, there may still be time to improve it. He relies on the Bellville company, Crop Health Labs (1-800-495-7938).

Kempf said he got interested in plant health when he noticed a patch of cantaloupe on his family farm planted on two kinds of soil, one with a long history of chemical use, and one without. The latter had fewer pests and disease, which sent him into a self-education and eventually a consulting business. He operates Advancing Eco Agriculture at 4551 Parks West Road, Middlefield, 44062, where he sells nutrients for both commercial and home use.

At OEFFA, Kempf recounted numerous cases of strong plant health trumping bad growing conditions and pests. This spring, he will establish his own demonstration farm on 160 acres in Orwell, Ashtabula County, where he’ll grow food that will develop into a community supported agriculture program by 2016.

“It will have the healthiest plants possible, with the highest immune systems possible, and absolutely no pesticides,” he said.

Paid interns are being sought for this growing season, with information available by emailing Kempf through his web site.

The sold-out OEFFA conference continues through Sunday with more than 100 workshops on sustainable growing.

Granville, C-TEC students team up on food posters

By Charles A. Peterson, Newark Advocate, 2/14/15

Granville High School environmental studies students and a C-TEC Licking County visual communications class are working together on a graphic arts project they hope will end up on Capitol Hill.

Saturday at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference in Granville, the student teams manned a Pop-Up Gallery Show to exhibit the fruits of their labor on seven posters depicting local sustainable foods and farming efforts.

The “fruits” of the students’ efforts had a lot to do with the chief theme for the conference, “Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil.”

The students of Granville environmental studies teacher Jim Reding conducted the research, and the C-TEC class taught by Jennifer Evans Kinsley turned that information into marketing posters.

The project is being conducted through Project Localize, a nationwide food literacy initiative through the California-based Lexicon of Sustainability. Lexicon is an organization that shows teachers and students how to identify, promote and involve themselves in sustainable economic, cultural and social progress in their communities.

The student teams generated seven colorful 48-inch by 32-inch posters displayed at the conference.

Kinsley called the experience an “authentic experience on how to work for a client and a creative team.”

“It’s providing real-life experiences working with a client and working in a design team,” she said, noting that 80 percent of the art careers her students could end up in are in marketing and advertising. “I could not replicate this in the classroom.”

Reding said his students were nominated by Farm to School program to be involved in Project Sustainability. They started the process last year by studying local sustainable food systems and carried the project over to this year.

Students had lists of farmers, food processors and other key stakeholders to visit in central Ohio to begin their research.

“We did a schoolwide field trip to all of these locations,” he said of those represented on the posters. “They interviewed the individuals after doing research and coming up with their questions.”

After taking photos and writing the text, Reding said, “We turned it over to Mrs. Kinsley’s students, who put the posters in place.”

The visual arts students used a template provided by Lexicon to produce the posters. A key challenge was taking numerous photos — as many as 80 — and knitting them together on the poster to make them look like one single photo.

“There’s close to 30 or 40 hours of work on the final posters,” Reding said, all approved by Lexicon.

C-TEC student Grant Harris, of Lakewood High School, helped assemble numerous photos to create a poster depicting the Greener Grocer at the North Market in Columbus.

“I’ve always liked the atmosphere of the North Market,” he said. “Everybody gets together to show their foods and their culture.”

Granville students Bailey Blanchard and Emily Pitcher provided the text and photos.

“What we wanted to drive home here was that (the Greener Grocer) follows a value-driven system,” Blanchard said. Those values, listed on the poster, are “nutrient dense,” “organic” and “affordable.”

Closer to home, Granville students Conner Wallace and Maddy Richardson chose Snapshots Lounge in Granville, where owner Lucas Atwood uses locally grown food and will plant his own garden behind the lounge this spring to grow produce for his menu.

“All food served is sourced within a 3-mile radius of Licking County as part of the ’30-mile meal movement,’ ” states the poster featuring Atwood and his chef, Drew Spurlock.

“They’re trying very hard to locally source their food,” Reding said of Snapshots. “They really tie into that whole idea of community supported agriculture.”

Another poster, headed “Student led and student fed,” featured the Granville High School garden and greenhouse behind the school, maintained by Reding’s classes.

“We walk outside and work in the garden, then come back in to class,” environmental studies student Tyler Thomas told an onlooker.

Kinsley said food and farm association officials offered to host the students’ first Pop-Up Gallery as part of their 36th annual conference, which featured 100 educational workshops, a trade show and locally sourced and organic from-scratch meals. Between 1,100 and 1,200 were registered to attend, an association spokesperson said.

The student teams will learn May 1 whether their posters make it to the nation’s capital, Reding said.

“Events like this weigh in to that,” he said.

‘Safe, cheap food’ is a big myth says OEFFA keynote speaker Alan Guebert

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/15/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio – When Alan Guebert was a farm boy in southern Illinois, Cokes came in six-ounce bottles, there wasn’t much “junk” food, and most of what his family ate came fresh from the farm or from other farms 10 miles away.

“We were skinnier and healthier,” he told his Saturday audience at the 2015 OEFFA conference on Ohio organic food and sustainable agriculture.

“No wonder there’s a foodie culture today,” he added. “These foodies just want to eat like we used to.”

A lot of life has changed, the award-winning agricultural columnist told his audience of several hundred Ohio farmers and local food enthusiasts.

“But something that hasn’t changed is good, healthy food.”

While he sees the appetite for that food increasing, he also sees a greater backlash from industrial agriculture. He cited the millions recently spent in western states on defeating campaigns on labeling genetically modified food.

“Are they trying to educate me, or are they telling me what to think,” he asked.

“A lot of people in agriculture don’t want you to succeed,” he told the group. “Somehow they see your success as their failure.

“Corporate agriculture would love to say, ‘Sit down and eat, and shut up.'”

Guebert rebutted the message that industrial agriculture provides our country with the safest, cheapest food on the planet.

“Maybe ‘cheap’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he said, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that 24 percent of cut up chicken parts carry salmonella bacteria. He also mentioned a Consumer Reports study that showed one third of bacteria on chicken was resistant to antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the pathogen causes 1.5 million illnesses each year, 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

“When did eating become such a gamble,” he said, “and not even a good gamble.”

With all the subsidies from tax monies, Guebert said “big ag is not interested in giving up its dominant role.” But he believes the tide is turning in Washington, D.C., and that the next farm bill might just be a “food bill.”

“Are you ready for that,” he asked. “Are you ready for a member of Congress to ask you how important sustainable agriculture is to the health of America, and can you answer it in five minutes? What would you say? Do you have a vision? If not, you’d better get one.

“Good luck, Godspeed, and I mean it.”

OEFFA Announces 2015 Stewardship and Service Awards

Bill Dix and Stacy Hall of Athens County and John Sowder of Franklin County Recognized

COLUMBUS, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has named the 2015 recipients for the Stewardship Award and Service Award.Bill Dix and Stacy Hall of The Brick Dairy Farm received the Stewardship Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community, and John Sowder received the Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service to OEFFA.

The announcements were made on Saturday, February 14 and Sunday, February 15 as part of OEFFA’s 36th annual conference, Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil.

2015 Stewardship Award Winners—Bill Dix and Stacy Hall, Athens County

In 1992, Bill Dix and Stacy Hall started Big Rumen Farm, a 300 acre pasture-based dairy farm in Athens County with a small herd of Jersey heifers and a milking parlor. In the years that followed, they joined a regional network of dairy farmers known as “Prograsstinators,” which in conjunction with Cornell University, helps producers compare financial information to improve the management and profitability of grass-based dairy operations.

Bill and Stacy also purchased a second farm outside of Albany, called The Brick Dairy Farm, named for its red, clay soil which had been degraded after years of conventional production. By focusing on grazing rather than confinement, the couple has been able to build top soil and make the land productive.

Smart business people committed to creating change in their local community and in the dairy industry, they worked with Warren and Victoria Taylor to create Snowville Creamery in 2007, a small-scale dairy processing plant located on The Brick Dairy Farm. Fresh, grass-fed milk from Bill and Stacy’s 250 cross-bred dairy cows is minimally processed and packaged on-site. Today, Snowville’s milk, yogurt, and other products are available in more than 125 retail locations.

Early supporters of OEFFA, Bill and Stacy have been members for more than 25 years.

“The partnership between Bill and Stacy and Snowville Creamery is a great story that shows what’s possible when farmers, food processors, and the community team up to support sustainable agriculture and local producers. Bill and Stacy took a gamble, and made their vision a reality,” said OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland.

2015 Service Award Winner—John Sowder, Franklin County

Long-time OEFFA member John Sowder of Columbus served on OEFFA’s Board of Trustees from 1992 until 2015, including multiple terms as board treasurer. John helped to grow OEFFA, develop new administrative systems, and provided dependability and financial guidance during lean years in the organization’s history.

He regularly lends his catering and event management skills to OEFFA, helping to organize farm-to-table events and OEFFA’s conference meals, which are locally sourced and made from scratch. He can be found each year in the kitchen at the OEFFA conference, where he helps to serve more than 2,000 meals to attendees. He has also helped encourage his peers within Ohio’s catering and food industry to serve more local food from Ohio producers.

“John’s commitment to OEFFA and central Ohio’s local food movement is unquestionable. Always quick to smile and laugh, John has played a leading role in OEFFA’s growth and success, though, in John’s modest way, it’s often behind the scenes and out of sight to most people” said Goland.

For a full list of past award winners, click here.

“All of our award winners—Bill, Stacy, and John—have shown an unwavering commitment to sustainable agriculture over the course of decades.  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.

Research funding stacked against sustainable agriculture, says OEFFA speaker

By Debbi Snook, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/30/15

When Doug Gurian-Sherman gears up to talk about sustainable agriculture versus industrial agriculture, he pauses to consider the farmer in the middle.

“It’s important not to demonize big ag farmers,” said the senior scientist for the advocacy group, Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. “They’re stuck in the system, too.”

When those farmers cut back on chemicals to reduce their environmental impact, they risk being less competitive with similar farmers.

But, Gurian-Sherman adds, farmers who practice sustainable agriculture – a process of conserving and enriching the soil more organically – can have similar yields and many more ecological benefits.

“It requires 30 percent more labor,” he said of the ecologically principled farm, “but that’s not necessarily a problem, since more money goes to farmers. And it can reduce the need for chemicals by 90 to 95 percent, which is better for our water and soil.

“But the money for research is stacked against us.”

Gurian-Sherman, who is working to change that, is one of the keynote speakers at the 36th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, a statewide support and certification group holding its36th annual meeting Feb. 14-15 in Granville.

His talk will be part of a weekend of events that include a film about genetically modified organisms, a marketplace of sustainable goods and more than 75 workshops on everything from growing hogs in pasture to gut health to understanding the Farm Bill. A pre-conference event on Feb. 13 focuses more deeply on poultry production, udder and plant health. Two-day conference costs are $225 for adult non-members, with discounts for fulltime students, OEFFA members, one-day registrants, and online purchases before Jan. 31. Costs for the Feb. 13 pre-conference sessions peak at $95.

Gurian-Sherman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on the effect of genetically engineered plants on human health, doesn’t dismiss the potential benefits of genetically modified organisms or GMOs now regularly used on the country’s largest corn and soybean farms. Transplanting genes from one plant to another can sometimes make plants more disease resistant. But they can also transfer hidden allergens.

He says more regulation and research is needed to sift through new GMOs and the growing concern over their potential to adversely affect people and the land.

If Gurian-Sherman could, though, he’d turn the argument away from GMOs.

“Part of the problem of that debate is that it focuses too much on potential health risks. Yes, all the major scientific bodies have admitted that some GMOs could be harmful to eat, but right now our research system is not robust enough to detect the risk in those crops.”

His real worry is that other, more important issues are ignored.

He lists the emergence of “superweeds” that have become resistant to herbicides, and are now reported in Southern Ohio. Farmers who grew food crops resistant to herbicides, but raised superweeds instead, are now returning to older herbicides to wipe them out.

“They’re going back with a vengeance,” said Gurian-Sherman, “and those older herbicides cause more health problems. There’s a lot of epidemiology to show a connection between one of those herbicides and higher rates of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in farmers.”

Also, he says some of today’s herbicides have likely contributed to the estimated 90 percent decline in Monarch butterflies because they’ve wiped out the insect’s main source of food, a variety of milkweed.

The trouble, Gurian-Sherman says, is the style of agriculture itself. Better soil health can be achieved with crop rotation, cover crops to enrich the soil coupled with no-till methods that curb nutrient runoff.

One is not as good without the others, he said, especially if you’re looking to tackle the algae-causing runoffs in places such as Lake Erie.

“Growing single crops without a sustainable agriculture process is in a nutshell why phosphorus is going into the lake,” he said. “Also, climate change with bigger storms.”

No-till reduces erosion and runoff, he said, but a lot of phosphorus stays on the surface, doesn’t bind with the soil and can get washed away. Growing cover crops helps prevent that.

“If no-till is implemented in a piecemeal way, you won’t see the real benefits,” he said.

Getting the word out is hard when the playing field is tipped in favor of big agriculture, he said.

“Over the last several decades, as we’ve reduced money for university research, private industry has stepped in. Now 60 percent of agricultural research money comes from industry. A lot of scientists are beholden to companies for research funds. Even if they are not directly beholden, their universities are. I know from talking to a lot of them that there is pressure to say the right thing. I’m not saying they’re making things up, but if you don’t ask certain questions, all you have is the answers to other things.”

Expert to Examine Ways to Build a Successful, Sustainable Farming System

Public News Service
By Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO:Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety, Doug Gurian-Sherman, will speak in Ohio about possible ways to building a successful, sustainable agriculture system. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
PHOTO:Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior
Scientist at the Center for Food Safety,
Doug Gurian-Sherman.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the nation’s agriculture industry is productive, a leading scientist and biotechnology expert says it’s not sustainable. Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman says the industrial model of farming, focusing on methods rather than the whole system, has contributed to loss of biodiversity, as well water and air pollution.

He suggests moving toward an agroecological approach that takes into account the ways farming interacts with the environment.

“To use natural processes that are more and more understood through the science of ecology in a way that enhances production and preserves scarce resources and reduces the impacts and pollution from farming,” says Gurian-Sherman.

He says no-till farming is an example of focusing on only a method. While it reduces soil erosion and saves water, it has increased the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Gurian-Sherman will discuss the relationships between biotechnology and agroecology, and how they can combine to build a successful, sustainable agricultural system when he speaks at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference in February.

Gurian-Sherman points to the toxic algae pollution in Lake Erie as another example, because it is linked to the runoff of excess nutrients from no-till farming.

“It illustrates dangers or risks of relying on piece-meal solutions without taking a more holistic, systemic view of agriculture as an endeavor and as a system in the environment as opposed to a series of methods,” he says.

Another problem, says Gurian-Sherman, is the uneven playing field when it comes to social, political, and regulatory views of agriculture.

“Maybe about two to five percent of our agricultural research budget goes to ecologically-based and sustainable farming systems and the rest goes towards reinforcing the industrial model including improving its efficiency,” he says.

Gurian-Sherman adds, research has contributed tremendously to the success of industrial farming, and with better support, sustainable farming systems would become more efficient as well. He’s scheduled to speak at the conference in Granville on Feb. 15th.

Ohio’s Largest Food and Farm Conference Features Three Pre-Conference Workshops: Regenerative Agriculture, Poultry, and Dairy Herd Health Sessions Will Provide In-Depth Knowledge to Farmers and Veterinarians

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 28, 2015Contact:
Renee Hunt, Program Director—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 205, renee@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) will host three full-day pre-conference workshops in Granville, Ohio on Friday, February 13 as part of its 36th annual conference, Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil.

“These events feature some of the country’s top experts, and are designed to provide ecological growers a deeper education than short workshops or webinars can,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “This year, we’re also offering a session geared toward livestock veterinarians so they are better positioned to serve organic dairy clients. These practices can be used in non-organic dairy systems as well.”During this pre-conference workshop, John Kempf, founder of Advancing Eco-Agriculture, will help farmers learn regenerative farming principles which allow soil and plant health to improve, not degrade, over time. Using these techniques, growers will discover how they can produce disease- and pest-resistant crops, which are healthier and more nutritious.

An Amish grower from Middlefield, Ohio, Kempf is an internationally recognized lecturer on biological agriculture, plant immunity, mineral nutrition, and soil microbiology.
Jim Adkins of the Sustainable Poultry Network will discuss effective and profitable strategies for sustainable poultry production during this pre-conference workshop. For the past 30 years, Adkins has raised more than 50 breeds and varieties of chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. A licensed poultry judge, he established the International Center for Poultry in 1992 and has taught at field days, workshops, and conferences.Designed for poultry producers of any scale, this session will explore the unique advantages of sustainable production systems while exploring the history of traditional heritage breeds and the transition to hybrid breeds and industrial production models. Growers will walk away with an understanding of the breeding, feed, forage, facilities, and care required for different size production models, and how to make their poultry businesses profitable through effective financial planning, marketing, and consumer education.

During this pre-conference workshop, veterinarians Dr. Päivi Rajala-Schultz and Dr. Luciana da Costa from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Organic Valley staff veterinarian Dr. Guy Jodarski will help dairy producers and veterinarians serving organic dairy farmers learn how practical management and mastitis control practices can improve milk quality and farm profitability. Attendees will learn the basic requirements for good udder health, strategies for managing clinical mastitis, and more.
Thanks to funding from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Professional Development Program, a limited number of scholarships are available for veterinarians to attend the dairy herd health pre-conference event at no cost. To request a scholarship, or to nominate a veterinarian who would benefit from this opportunity, contact Eric Pawlowski at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 209 or eric@oeffa.org.
All pre-conference workshops will be held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Friday, February 13 at Granville High School, 248 New Burg St, Granville, Ohio. Pre-registration is required and costs $75 for OEFFA members and $90 for non-members.
The pre-conference workshops will be offered as part of the state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference on Saturday, February 14 and Sunday, February 15, an event which draws more than 1,200 attendees from across Ohio and the U.S.
In addition to pre-conference events, this year’s conference will feature keynote speakers Alan Guebert and Doug Gurian-Sherman; nearly 100 educational workshops; a trade show; activities for children and teens; locally-sourced and organic homemade meals, and Saturday evening entertainment. Separate registration is required for all conference events.
For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.oeffa.org/conference2015.

Opting out: Farm bill exempts more organic farmers from checkoffs

Farm and Dairy
By Brian Lisik

SALEM, Ohio — Circleville, Ohio-based dairy farmer Perry Clutts has been farming 100 percent certified organic since 2005.

Since transitioning from a conventional dairy operation, Clutts has not had to pay into the national dairy checkoff order, thanks to a 2002 farm bill provision exempting 100 percent organic operations from conventional checkoffs.

A proposed rule change announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dec. 15 would expand that exemption to include 95 percent organic farmers, handlers, marketers and importers — otherwise known as “primary organic” operations.

The USDA recently fast-tracked its efforts to expand the exemption, part of the 2014 farm bill. A 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule change ended Jan. 15.

There are 22 national research and promotion checkoff programs. Under these programs, producers of a particular agricultural product pay assessments to fund marketing campaigns and research initiatives that benefit their commodity.

The USDA estimates the organic exemption has freed up $13.6 million for the organic sector, which produces an estimated $35 billion in annual sales, according to the USDA.

Not far enough

Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of Organic Trade Organization, applauded the USDA’s efforts to implement the rule change so quickly.

“The 100 percent exemption solved some of the problems, but was drafted in such a way that it was restrictive,” Batcha said. “Communications from some of the commodity orders were bordering on disparaging to organic. They were not promoting organic a lot.”

The USDA’s proposed rule change, Batcha explained, would apply to split operations, those that farm both organically and conventionally. It would also address instances when non-organic agents are used in processing, such as sanitizing agents on a production line or milk processing line.

Carol Goland, executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said the USDA’s proposed rule change corrects the 2002 rule’s inequity in defining different types of organic operations.

“In a sense, what this farm bill does is better define the multiple foods and crops of organic as a single commodity,” Goland said, adding that OEFFA fully supports the proposed rule change.

Public comment

A number of conventional commodity organizations, including the United Soybean Board and the Almond Board of California, have requested the USDA extend its 30-day public comment period due to the complexity of the issue.

Organic checkoff option

The 2014 farm bill grants the USDA authority to not only expand the organic exemption in the 2002 farm bill, but to also explore options for an organic-specific checkoff order.

Maggie McNeil, director of media relations for the Organic Trade Association, said the organization has been working on the framework for such a checkoff for three years.

McNeil said they hope to have the application out within the next two months. If accepted by the USDA, it then has to go through a comment period, and a referendum — an actual vote of all organic stakeholders in the industry.

“A lot of people know the word organic, but don’t know really what it means,” said Clutts, who also sits on the board of the Organic Trade Organization. “It is based on a very specific criteria like no other food process anywhere. I think the collective pool could do something bigger (to promote organic agriculture).” Gaining majority support for an organic checkoff order, however, could be challenging.

Goland said OEFFA recognizes the need for organic research and promotion and feels the organic sector should “be able to spend its money as it sees fit.”

“But I would not necessarily go so far as an organic checkoff,” she said.

Several comments on the USDA’s rule change proposal also cautioned against an organic checkoff.

“Please stop the start of a checkoff plan for organic products,” wrote Roger Pepperl, of Wenatchee, Washington-based organic fruit farm, Stemilt Growers. “Our organic world is too large and diverse to have an organization work on our behalf. We grow organic tree fruit and have nothing in common with organic cotton, organic beef, etc.”

Organic farmer Ted Weydert, of DeKalb, Illinois, added, “Contrary to popular belief, the Organic Trade Association only speaks for a very small number of actual organic farmers. This checkoff is not needed.”

Does Fracking Threaten Future of Ohio Organic Farms?

Public New Service
Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO: Certified organic farmer Mick Luber of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, says he's concerned about what possible contamination from nearby fracking operations could mean for the future of his business. Photo credit: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Assn.

PHOTO: Certified organic farmer Mick Luber of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, says he’s concerned about what possible contamination from nearby fracking operations could mean for the future of his business. Photo credit: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Certified organic farming is a growing business in Ohio, but some farmers warn that the threat of contamination from hydraulic fracturing could dampen its future. Some of the chemicals used in fracking have been identified as naturally-occurring toxic substances, metals, and radioactive materials.

In eastern Ohio, Mick Luber is a certified organic grower and owner of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He says several well pads and a compressor station are located near his land. He is worried about contamination of soil, water, and air, and what it could mean for his organic certification.

“I’m in a quandary about the production on my farm being of good quality,” says Luber. “Do I lose my business? I’ve put 30 years into this soil to make this soil grow. You don’t just go someplace and oh, well it’s bad here, I’ll just go over the hill.”

If prohibited substances, including some fracking chemicals, are detected on a certified organic farm, the producer may have to wait at least three years before becoming eligible for recertification. Ohio is home to more than 700 certified organic operations and nearly 57,000 acres of certified organic land.

Luber says an air-quality monitor showed high levels of particulate matter on his farm. He says one time, he discovered water running white from springs coming out of a well pad near his land.

“The Ohio EPA had a 165-day investigation, supposedly, and said there was no problem,” says Luber. “But from my estimation, somehow they fractured the rock structure so that anything spilled on that well pad site will get into that water and flow down through the stream.”

Besides drilling sites, there are pipelines used to transport gas, and injection wells that store fracking waste throughout the state. In the event of an accident or spill, Luber says it’s impossible to know the full extent of the danger.

“What they’re doing is a bad idea,” he says. “Any cement you put in is going to crack sometime. So, all these wells are eventually going to leak. And if they have all these chemicals in these wells, they’re going come up and they’re going to affect the groundwater, and they’re going to affect people’s health.”

Supporters of hydraulic fracturing say it is an economic boon for the state, but opponents argue the risks outweigh the benefits.

Federal Produce Rules Still on Table

Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The public comment period continues for new federal rules designed to increase the safety of the nation’s produce, and to meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revised its rule proposal various times over the past couple years, and announced its most recent revision Sept. 19, with a public comment period that extends through mid-December.

What changes

The current rules reflect five basic changes farmers sought, including more flexible definitions for water quality and manure application; a new definition of which farms must meet the new rules; and more clarity over who is exempt.

Although the rules have been changed many times, farmers and the groups that represent them say they’re pleased FDA is listening.

“They (FDA) are taking a lot of feedback. They are trying to make sure that the rule meets the needs … but that it is also a workable rule,” said Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Boswell said the most recent revision addresses Farm Bureau’s concerns, but Farm Bureau continues to be involved with the process, and the final rule.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association said the FDA is “to be commended for listening to farmers and the public and for realizing that a second draft was necessary.”

Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA policy program coordinator, said the original regulations, issued in 2013, contained several requirements that would have jeopardized organic farmers, discouraged growth of local food systems, and negatively impacted the conservation of natural resources.

In response, OEFFA and other state and national groups mobilized more than 18,000 farmers, consumers, and food businesses to submit comments to FDA.

Farm definition

One of the biggest concerns among organic and non-organic growers, was the FDA definition of different sized farms and farm businesses. Previously, the rule required producers who sold more than $25,000 worth of “food” to comply, but it also counted non-produce crops such as corn and soybeans.

The current rule counts only the sale of “produce foods,” which gives farmers more flexibility as to which level of compliance they must meet.

“Basing farm size on sales of covered produce, rather than total sales, is incredibly important for diversified farming operations,” Lipstreu said.

Also, the definition of farm is revised, so that a farm no longer would need to register as a food facility, “merely because it packs or holds raw agricultural commodities grown on another farm under a different ownership.”

Manure application

Another major revision is the time period when farmers can apply manure, prior to harvesting a crop.

The FDA is removing the nine-month proposed minimum interval between application and harvest, while it reviews a more appropriate time interval.

Also, at the relief of organic farmers, “FDA does not intend to take exception to farmers complying with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards,” which call for a 120-day interval between the application of raw manure for crops in contact with the soil, and 90 days for crops not in contact with the soil.

Boswell said “time will tell” what the final rule will look like and how it will work, but at the same time, “FDA made a great step forward” by listening to producers.

Program costs

Once the rule is complete, the FDA will need to determine how it will implement the rule and how implementation will be funded.

The legislation would increase the burden on FDA’s inspection functions, the number of employees, and  the agency’s annual operating budget.

“Without additional funding, FDA will be challenged in implementing the legislation fully without compromising other key functions,” according to FDA.

Get the details:

About 48 million people (one in six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Nov. 13, FDA will hold a public meeting to discuss the changes, at the Harvey W. Wiley Federal Building, in College Park, Maryland. The meeting will also be available online via live webcast.

Public meeting attendees are encouraged to register online to attend the meeting in person. Contact Courtney Treece, Planning Professionals, at 704-258-4983, or email her at ctreece@planningprofessionals.com. Seating is limited.

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