August 18th, 2014
by Karin McKenna
In a matchup nearly as inspiring as blueberries and cream, Phillip and Margaret Nabors, well-known food advocates and owners of the venerable Mustard Seed Markets, are now organic farmers themselves. A few miles south of Loudonville, and very near the Mohican Memorial State Forest, blueberry pickers have been making annual treks to Blueberry Hill Farm for 60 years. In 2010, Nabors bought it.
“For years I’ve been wanting to own land,” Phillip explains. The 66-acre property was put on the market and though he and Margaret were on vacation with only the Internet on his phone as a meager research tool, Phillip saw the potential in the property. The rest magically unfolded.
“I didn’t do my normal fastidious research, but it just seemed right,” he says.
The text that he received from Margaret on his way to the auction must have played a large part in the decision. “Let the angels guide you,” it read.
Since then, the large group of Nabors family and close friends (the 40 Hippie Method, Phillip calls it) have been working very hard to clear the land of invaders, grapevines, poison ivy, and a couple thousand trees. As a result, the 5,000 blueberry bushes are breathing a bit easier. At any time there may be six to twenty guests visiting the land and helping out. Large meals are cooked and enjoyed; friendship is shared. There’s a pool, a teepee, a friendly contingent of dogs, hammocks, and a welcoming vibe.
The longtime association with the farmers with whom they work through Mustard Seed Market has made Phillip and Margaret’s transition to the farming life a natural one. “The connection between the earth and our food supply is profound,” says Phillip. “For every bite of food there’s a farm somewhere. There’s a profound process that’s worthy of appreciation. It takes a lot of effort to manage all of the forces to get food to grow out of the ground and get it to market.”
As the land is cleared, they’re planting new trees. Long-term plans include diversifying and focusing on high-nutritional-value super fruits, and aligning with the permaculture model. They’re introducing forest gardening, creating a habitat for mushrooms, ginseng, medicinal herbs, “things that want to grow in the forest,” as Phillip says. Between the forest and pasture are the paw paws, persimmons, and nut trees.
“There are a lot of interesting crops that want to grow on the edges, and we’re going to help them along by planting them,” he says.
Obviously, the food aspects of Blueberry Hill are important, but the spiritual effects of the farm have become apparent as well. “To a person, everybody who goes there feels something,” Phillip says. “We’ve had some amazing experiences with our guests really connecting with this land.”
Visitors receive explicit instructions at Blueberry Hill to taste the berries as they pick, and Phillip likens the joy that comes from this to feeding our inner caveperson’s primal connectivity to the earth. “We take the larceny right out of the equation. By saying that it’s okay to eat as they pick, we take the guilt off the table. Very often, kids will come back, their faces just smeared with blueberries and about 12 berries in their bucket. They come back with these huge smiles. It’s fun for us to enable that.”
The Nabors’ hands these days are quite full with Blueberry Hill and the two grocery stores. Joining locations in Solon and in Montrose, a third Mustard Seed Market is under construction in the Highland Square area of Akron. “I am incredibly excited about the store because it’s not just a new store, it’s a new path for us,” Phillip shares.
The newest market is a smaller store in the dense neighborhood where the Nabors family has lived for 35 years, on the edge of an official USDA food desert. Lacking a grocery store for 15 years, the neighborhood is truly hungry for its offerings and much thought is being put into how to best serve the area.
“What’s amazing is that the category of natural organic stores has evolved to where now we can do a natural organic store and serve as the neighborhood grocery store. That really wasn’t possible as little as 10 years ago,” explains Phillip.
With an eye toward education, a value-oriented mix of offerings, and cutting-edge green building features, there is a lot of excitement about the new store, which could open as early as December of this year. Of course, shoppers will find Blueberry Hill berries in all three Mustard Seed stores.
Blueberry picking begins when the berries are ripe. Watch the Blueberry Hill Facebook page for the latest updates or call the farm at 740.599.5050. Blueberry Hill is located at 23038 Gessling Road in Glenmont. Directions are on the website at BlueberryHillFamilyFarms.com.
July 24th, 2014
Ohio Department of Agriculture Press Release
REYNOLDSBURG, OH – The Ohio Department of Agriculture today announced it will receive $478,600 to help growers and handlers of organic agricultural products recover part of the cost of their U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certification.
Producers and handlers who incur expenses for obtaining or renewing their organic certification between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014 are eligible for reimbursement. Payments will be up to 75 percent of an individual producer’s certification costs, with a maximum of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock, handling, wildcrops).
Grant funding is provided by USDA’s National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. Approximately $11.5 million is available nationwide for organic certification cost-share assistance, making certification more accessible for certified producers and handlers.
The department is working in partnership with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) to verify the certification of organic operations and to manage reimbursement requests. Those interested in applying for cost-share assistance may do so directly through OEFFA. Applications must be postmarked by November 15, 2014.
For more information on cost-share program guidelines or to apply, visit http://certification.oeffa.org/costshare or call OEFFA directly at (614) 262-2022.
July 21st, 2014
Public News Service
By Mary Kuhlman
Mud Run Farm in Stark County uses horsepower to reduce emissions linked to a warming climate. Photo courtesy of Mud Run Farm.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The National Climate Assessment finds climate stressors, such as weeds and diseases, are threatening the future of farming.
But the report also suggests that sustainable agriculture practices could help slow the pace of climate change.
Mud Run Farm in Stark County is a small organic operation. Owner Alex Dragovich says changes of his farm’s position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness zone maps indicate a shift to warmer temperatures for growing.
And he admits there have been some changes in weather patterns impacting agriculture in Ohio.
“The season went from very cold to warm in a short amount of time and then a lot of rain,” he points out. “Can I say that that’s climate change? Maybe in the long-term but not in the short-term. It’s like a chronic illness, you don’t realize you have it until it’s too late.”
Dragovich says his farm uses earth-friendly practices that reduce carbon emissions.
He’s cut back on the use of diesel fuels by powering his farm mostly with horses and also manages cover crops, which reduce the amount of tractor time needed in the fields.
The National Climate Assessment found that the resiliency of the agriculture system can be increased through sustainable methods such as diversifying crop rotations, integrating livestock with crop production systems and minimizing off-farm flows of nutrients and pesticides.
Dragovich says he’s hopeful the next farming generation embraces sustainable methods, and considers the impact agricultural practices have on the environment.
“I see a lot of young people taking up the organic mantra and trying to save this planet,” he says. “So hopefully these young people will be a little more respective of Mother Earth and hopefully will be better at it than my generation.”
Recent research found organic farming methods that encourage soil health create higher yielding crops better able to cope with weather-related stressors compared to conventional farming.
July 21st, 2014
The Columbus Dispatch
By JD Malone
On Saturdays at the Worthington Farmers Market, Licking County rancher John Wiley sells every piece and package of beef he brings.
Thanks to historic high prices for both beef and live cattle, Wiley’s grass-fed cuts aren’t cheap, but that hasn’t hurt his sales, and he’s working to produce more.
High prices, unrelenting demand and decent weather have Ohio’s cattle herds once again on the rise. Buckeye ranchers added 2 percent to their stock this year over last, one of the few states to do so, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
But unlike businesses that make toys, cars or computers, adding production capacity at the ranch level isn’t as easy as throwing up a new building or contracting with another manufacturer. It’s complicated by fickle markets, biology and weather, say Wiley and other experts.
Beef is a different sort of animal.
Americans have a love affair with beef, and insatiable demand in a headwind of historic prices proves it.
“We’ve seen demand continue to increase,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, which tracks the restaurant industry. “Consumption is up. Consumers like their beef and burgers.”
The U.S. beef herd has long been in decline. The nation’s herd size peaked in the 1990s and has lost 38 million head since. It is now as small as it was in 1951, when there were half as many Americans to feed, according to USDA and U.S. census records.
Recent droughts — the widespread calamity of 2011 and the current rainfall deficit in the West — have prompted ranchers to cull millions from their herds because they have become too expensive to feed.
“We are starting to see signs of some hints toward expansion,” said Elizabeth Harsh, president of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. “Ohio has been fortunate. … We have been in a different weather pattern. Beef producers are at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
Ohio’s pasture and range lands are in good shape, with 93 percent in fair to excellent condition, according to the USDA’s latest crop report. In major beef-producing states such as Texas, Kansas and Colorado, 20 percent to 35 percent of pastures are in poor to very poor condition. In California, the report rated 75 percent of pasture as poor to very poor.
Partly because of good grazing conditions, Ohio’s ranchers kept more heifers (young female cows) to breed and are looking to grow their herds as their operations allow, Harsh said. Wiley has added 20 cows to his operation, Up the Lane Farm, through the past couple of years, but he is now at capacity.
Wiley said his fellow ranchers struggle with the decision to cash in their cows at today’s prices or hold a few back and grow a bit to see if tomorrow brings even better returns.
“Some of these guys are more likely to hang on when the prices are up,” Wiley said. “The animals are worth so much money, it is almost too expensive to turn them into meat.”
Calves are sold by weight, and weigh between 450 to 800 pounds. Prices for calves in June 2013 ranged from $640 to $1,000, the USDA said. This June, prices ranged from $1,000 to $1,600.
“We keep raising our (retail beef) prices to keep up,” Wiley said. “But everything we do keeps costing more; everything from hay and the price of calves. I would say it has doubled in about five years.”
Because of the high price of calves and low herd count, fewer animals are being sent to slaughter this year, the USDA said. Harsh and Wiley agree that there are fewer cows at local processors.
If true expansion happens, it’ll come slowly.
“Predictions aren’t for a rapid expansion anytime soon,” said Stephen Boyles, a beef expert with Ohio State University Extension. “I see interest, but I’m not sure I have seen a lot of action.”
To hold back a heifer to expand a herd through breeding and raising a calf is a two- to three-year commitment, Boyles said. That is a long-term investment without a guarantee that prices will remain high. Just buying a calf and raising it for slaughter takes 12 to 18 months.
Wiley said his customers often ask why he doesn’t bring more meat to the farmers market when he knows he has a strong customer base.
“What I tell people is that the animals I have now are the ones I bought two years ago,” Wiley said. “I didn’t know you’d be here two years ago.”
July 21st, 2014
Farm and Dairy
By Alan Guebert
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there now are federal commodity checkoffs for beef, blueberries, Christmas trees, cotton, dairy products, eggs, fluid milk, Hass avocados, “Honey Packers and Importers,” lamb, mango, mushrooms, paper and paper-based packaging, peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, processed raspberries, softwood lumber, sorghum, soybeans and watermelons.
Let’s see, that’s 1, 2, 3… whoa, 22.
These 22 federally mandated, largely nonrefundable, commodity checkoffs raise most of an estimated $750 million per year from U.S. farmers and ranchers to promote everything from, well, avocados to watermelons.
Wait, there’s more
Long as that menu is, however, it’s not the whole checkoff enchilada. USDA operates another 35 or so federal commodity marketing orders and many states oversee dozens more local commodity checkoffs.
For example, there are at least 22 state corn checkoffs — for varying amounts per bushel; some refundable, some not — that contribute a portion of their money to a coordinated national corn promotion effort.
Also, many state beef groups either now have or are pursuing statewide beef checkoffs to add up to another $1 per head to fund state-specific beef promotion programs on top of the $1-per-head nonrefundable federal checkoff each beef and dairy producer already pays upon sale of their animals.
Combine state and national checkoff collections and it’s guessed — because checkoff data is not compiled — that American farmers and ranchers pay $1.25 billion per year for commodity promotion and research.
That pile will grow if the Organic Trade Association, a self-described “membership-based business association for the organic industry in North America,” is able to sway federal lawmakers to endorse an organic checkoff in the next two years.
OTA claims a checkoff would carry benefits for farmers and industry alike. It sees the money, pegged between $20 million and $40 million per year, as a way to “distinguish organic in the market place, grow demand and help the consumer understand all that organic delivers.” (Links to documents are posted at http://farmandfoodfile.com/in-the-news/.)
To raise the money, OTA is pushing an assessment plan it calls “broad and shallow” for everyone in the organic “supply chain.” Everyone “means not only producers,” according to OTA, but also “handlers, brand manufacturers, co-packers (and) importers.”
Exempted from paying any checkoff, however, would be “organic certificate holders” (most players in the U.S. organic market must be “certified” organic by USDA) with gross annual sales of $250,000 or less.
The proposed assessment advocated by OTA is 1/10 of 1 percent of gross organic revenue greater than $250,001 per year. “For example,” OTA explains, “there would be a $1,000 assessment at $1,000,000 gross organic revenue.”
While OTA’s checkoff plan is relatively broader and cheaper than its federal siblings, most organic farmers see little need for it.
Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, recently posted a lengthy discussion on NODPA’s website on what he calls OTA’s “one-sided propaganda campaign” for the checkoff.
In fact, writes Maltby, the push by OTA, “a trade organization using emotive language and a well-financed program,” will be “counter-productive at a time when the [organic] community needs to be united in the face of many marketplace and USDA threats…”
Most farmers and rancher, however, continued to support state and national commodity checkoffs despite little independent evidence to suggest any of billions spent on checkoffs in the last 25 years has had any material impact on prices received by farmers and ranchers.
Indeed, checkoff detractors often point to the dramatic drop in farmer and rancher numbers over the life of current checkoffs as simple proof that farm- and ranch-financed promotion efforts have had little to no impact whatsoever on farm and ranch prices, profits and lives.
They’re right, checkoffs should be about more farmers making more, not fewer maker more. As such, it’s hard to see how the latest checkoff scheme is little more than more of the same.
June 30th, 2014
WDTN Channel 2 TV
By Pam Elliot
Okra, tomatoes, broccoli, and basil, are just some of the fresh items you’ll find at Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon.
Emily Jackle and her husband Ben started turning land in Montgomery County into an organic farm in 2007. It took three years to get the USDA to approve it because they had to document a three-year history with the land.
Jackle told 2 NEWS it’s worth the extra work to be able to use the USDA seal and it’s a good way for consumers to know they are getting produce that was not genetically modified or sprayed with chemicals.
“Looking for the certification is my biggest piece of advice, like I said, we think it’s the gold standard. We don’t feel it’s burdensome to us. We are a really small farm and we find time to do the certification,” said Jackle.
The Jackles grow flowers and vegetables. They start packing the greenhouse in March, then when it’s warm enough they move plants into the hoop house. It all starts with non-treated seeds and homemade potting mix.
Jackle told 2 NEWS, “We had a surprise visit from our certifier who came and took soil samples from our tomato crop and he was looking for pesticides.
Their certifier is the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association which the USDA says checks organic farms at least once a year.
“It would be illegal for us to have the certified organic if we weren’t certified, but we are, so we’re allowed to display this on our farm stand at market,” she explained as she showed 2 NEWS the banner she uses at farmers’ markets.
The USDA reports those who label their produce “organic” and are not certified can be fined. You can actually file a complaint, if you suspect someone. The USDA does make exceptions for people who make less than $5,000 a year from their produce.
You can also check on the status of a farm that claims to be organic by using the website http://apps.ams.usda.gov/nop/. You can put the farm’s name under “operation name.”
Jackle suggests you talk with the actual farmers and pick their brains, have them explain why they consider their products organic.
June 30th, 2014
This Week News
This Week News previews a farm tour, part of OEFFA’s 2014 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop series, at Harmonious Homestead, a community-oriented urban homestead in Columbus, Ohio. The tour took place on June 22, 2014. Click here to take a video tour of the farm.
June 24th, 2014
By Debbi Snook
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
March 16, 2014
Monica Bongue sees Ohio like many others in the local food movement: As a state rich in possibilities, with three big, hungry cities surrounded by a lot of productive farmland.
The owner of Muddy Fork Farm in Wooster sells weekly subscriptions to food she grows, and individual vegetables at the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square. Bongue (BON-gay) just needed to build up that rural-urban connection for her and her farming friends.
She was already deeply invested in the food movement, making the commitment to grow certified organic crops and contributing $1,000 to the start of Local Roots Market & Café, the first all-local, farmer- and consumer-owned food store in Ohio, where she serves as president of the board.
The commitment was also deep for her early farming collaborators, Martha Gaffney of Ashland, a native Ecuadorian who farms in the traditional ways of her homeland; Marcus and Beth Ladrach of Wooster, growers of certified organic grains and meats, and Daniel and Jennifer Grahovac of Crooked Barn Farm in Wooster, who produce Certified Naturally Grown crops.
Wooster, home to Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, has great passion for these homegrown concepts, but is relatively sparsely settled.
“We were maxed out with our customers,” Bongue told her audience at the recent Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference in Granville. “We were farmers with not enough market.”
A few years ago, she and two other farmers signed on with a Cleveland-based local food buying club. They grew the food, and the club distributed. But the relationship was not what they wanted. They felt they didn’t make a large enough percentage of the profit or have enough interaction with their customers – two of the biggest promises of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
They wanted their own CSA, but as any farmer can tell you, growing food and running a business – especially one with customers 50 miles away – is a plate piled high.
Bongue applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. SARE offers money to farmers and ranchers with innovative, sustainable methods for solving their own problems. Her idea was a success, getting her a $22,500 grant to help start the non-profit Farm Roots Connection Cooperative. It was among the largest SARE farmer grants given in 2013.
The awarding of funds last year came too late in the growing season to launch Farm Roots in full, so Bongue set up trial runs at the Local Roots store in Wooster. She also started a charitable program so that those with money can buy shares for those who cannot afford them. One visit to a church netted $1,000 in donations.
She found small-business help and money from the Ohio Cooperative Development Center, which helped her obtain a lawyer to register the business and set-up a web site. She linked with Local Roots for online ordering, bought computer and packing materials.
Fortunately, the SARE grant also will help pay for her to be the cooperative’s first manager.
“Farmers are busy,” she said. “They don’t have time to manage other farmers.”
Now, she needs to continue building her customer base to help pay for a manager in the future. Farm Roots will drop off to customers at Gordon Square Farmers Market on Cleveland’s West Side, Countryside Farmers Market at Highland Square in Akron and Local Roots in Wooster.
The grant money comes in three installments, each with a requisite amount of paperwork and documentation.
Joan Benjamin, a coordinator for the SARE program in Ohio and other “north central” states, said by phone last week her group’s goal is not only to help farmers solve their own production problems, but also solve problems shared by other farmers.
“The best way to get information to farmers is from other farmers,” she said.
Bongue will eventually file a full-program report that will be available to other farmers as well as the public.
Benjamin says SARE has important success stories in Ohio. Farmers in the northwest part of the state have used the grant money to show how specific methods of planting cover crops (rather than leaving land barren) enriches the soil and helps stop the kind of runoff causing algal blooms in places such as Grand Lake St. Mary’s and Lake Erie. Another farmer used her grant to develop breeding strategies to create resistance to gastrointestinal bugs in sheep.
“They’ve done some remarkable work,” said Benjamin.
Bongue’s grant proposal was, like the others, reviewed by not just administrators but a panel of 25 judges that Benjamin described as “mostly farmers and ranchers.”
The issue of farmers “scaling up” to a livable wage is challenging, said Benjamin.
“There are so many logistical things involved in a solo farmer making it work today. There used to be a lot of farms around, and the infrastructure that was there, is not there anymore.”
June 24th, 2014
Ag Today of Central Ohio
OEFFA’s work Eric Pawlowski spoke with Pete Emmons at QT1270 in Marysville about OEFFA’s work and organic agriculture. Click here to listen to the full story.
June 12th, 2014
The industry claims farmers’ concerns about water and air quality are unwarranted by WKSU’s VIVIAN GOODMAN This story is part of a special series.
The government is now asking citizens to help in a bid to find safer ways to get at rich deposits of natural gas.
Farmers in Northeast Ohio say there’s a lot at stake, including the safety of local food. WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports in this week’s Quick Bite on farmers’ concerns and industry reassurances.
|The U.S. EPA last week called for public comment on ways to develop safer fracking chemicals. Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — shoots sand, water, and assorted chemicals deep underground. But the industry has no responsibility to tell property owners what’s in the chemical cocktail or to inform them about spills or pipeline breaks..That worries Mick Luber, a lot. “I run Bluebird Organic Farm. We’re in eastern Ohio about 7 miles from Cadiz, in Harrison County” — which is in the heart of Ohio’s fracking boom.He grows vegetables and raises chickens for eggs.“They’re a Hubbard Comet. They’re a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a Bard Rock. The roosters are white, as you can see, and the hens are brown. They lay a brown egg.”Luber called the Ohio EPA two years ago when he saw a chalky white substance trickling out of a hill above his farm where a natural gas well was being drilled. He worried he’d lose his organic certification if it were to contaminate the stream running through his fields of onions, beans, carrots, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. “They came out and investigated. They said that they’ve taken care of the problem.”
New worries in farmland
But now he fears other potential impacts. We climb into his truck for a bumpy ride. The roads are ravaged, and he tells neighbors who signed leases with the oil companies they have only themselves to blame.“My neighbors have taken the money. So they’re all in favor of it, until they see the road conditions now that they’ve been running big trucks across the roads,destroying the roads.”
Economic benefits along with the risks
To the contrary, says Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. He says the industry’s investment in infrastructure is a boon to local governments.“They are overjoyed on the money that’s been invested by producers to upgrade roads that were completely trashed out in the first place. In fact, I heard a county engineer tell me once that they had a road going to a well site that was essentially a gravel road and they turned it into a highway.”
Impact up in the air
But when he looks up from the potholes there’s another image farmer Luber can’t get out of his head.“You can see right up through those trees the pad where they currently have fracked and (are) getting ready to flare.”When they do, Luber worries about air quality for his crops below and the health of people who consume them.“All the particulate matter from that well are going to come down on my land, and I’m selling them a product to make them healthy.”But since he sees no current, direct impact, he doesn’t share his fears with customers.
“When you go to a farmers’ market it’s sort of a sunny place where you get away from things and you get fresh vegetables. Talking about what’s terrible happening to you, it gets old for people to have to confront that stuff on a regular basis.”“Could something happen?” asks the Ohio Oil and Gas Association’s Stewart. “Do airplanes fall out of the skies? Do buildings fall down? Do accidents happen? Yeah, accidents happen.”But he says if and when they do, farmers can trust what he calls their industry “partners.”
Nothing to fear from “partners” says the industry
“We care about our relationships with those people because we need them in order to do business. If we have a problem on property are we going to look at our partner and say, ‘Screw you’? No. We’re going to work with them and say, ‘We’ve got an issue here. We’ve got to clean it up.’” Do we need a law in order to do that? I don’t think so.” But the Ohio Environmental Council does. It’s pushing the SAFER gas act to mandate that the industry immediately alert not only government officials, but also farmers when accidents occur. Trent Daugherty directs the OEC’s legal affairs.“People that lease their land aren’t notified when something potentially harmful occurs on their land until there’s a final report by the (Ohio) Department of Natural Resources. And you don’t want a farmer or a farmer’s family, children in their back 40, playing around, or working in an area that’s potentially contaminated or potentially unsafe.”
Fears from afar
One western Stark County farmer doubts a disclosure mandate would pass. “Perhaps once we get a new legislature,” says Alex Dragovich. “Most of them have accepted oil money, and they have embraced these people.”Dragovich plows his fields the old fashioned way at his Mud Run Farm. “This is Tom. He’s a 5-year old Percheron. Most of the horses we use are Percherons.”Mud Run is well west of the state’s fracking boom, but he sees it coming. He’s turned down several leasing agents who want access to his land.“My biggest concern has always been water. The only water we have on this farm is the water we pull out of the aquifer down here. If at any given time they would start to frack, there is in my opinion a good chance of damaging any water we have.” He’s afraid of losing his livelihood. “We raised our family here. This has been a good place for us.”
Water is gold
Since most of Dragovich’s neighbors have signed leases with oil and gas companies, he could lose control over his property anyway under the laws of eminent domain. But he still won’t sign.“First off I don’t like to be bullied, and the second reason is I worked 40 years for this place. And those are my mineral rights.”
He understands the value of natural gas and the economic boon it is for many, but it is water, he says, that’s like gold to a farmer.“One lease man said ‘Mr. Dragovich, we are 99 percent sure that you will never have any problems with your water.’ And I said ‘Well, why don’t you put that on your lease here, that you’ll take care of any damages that we have?’ and he says, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ ”But farmer Dragovich, according to industry spokesman Stewart, worries in vain.
Fears are unfounded says the industry
“What water that’s flowed back from those wells is disposed here in the state of Ohio according to the landmark federal law known as the Safe Drinking Water Act. We do not put it back in streams. We do not put it back in pits. That’s been against the law since 1984. We construct our wells in such a way that we don’t impact drinking water reservoirs or potential reservoirs underground and on the ground.”Just 10 days ago voters in Mahoning County turned down for the third time a proposed moratorium on fracking, despite a recent Ohio Department of Natural Resources report linking the drilling process to a rash of earthquakes. The Oil and Gas Association’s Tom Stewart says the majority was right.“Is there impact from economic activity? There is. The largest impact I see on farmers is the $5,000 an acre that they’re getting if they sign a lease that says, ‘Come onto my property and drill a well.’”
$19 billion invested
The state has seen almost $19 billion in investments in more than 100 shale-related projects, about a fifth of those in the Mahoning Valley.Earthquakes in 2012 in Youngstown were linked, according to ODNR, not to hydraulic fracturing, but to injection wells — the dumping ground for oil and gas waste from West Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as Ohio.That’s what has grass-fed beef farmer Mardi Townsend all shook up in seismically-active Ashtabula County.“I definitely fear it. There are four injection wells being heavily used about a mile and a half from me upstream. And two more permits have been applied for drilling two more wells on that same site. And I know that the injection well-casings will fail eventually because all well casings fail. I hope it’s not in my lifetime, but they will fail and they will contaminate the ground water and it will be very bad for people and animals.”But these are groundless fears, according to the industry spokesman, because casings are protected by steel pipes called “strings.”
The case for casings
“That’s not going to happen. You’re putting in casing strings, sometimes up to three casing strings that are all cemented underground through the groundwater reservoir.”Farmers, he says, actually have more to gain than lose from fracking. “The agriculture community are very heavy users of energy. They like the fact that energy prices have moderated where we have Marcellus and Utica production. And we have very high BTU gas being generated (with which) they make all kinds of great things that farmers need, like fertilizer at affordable prices.”
Quakes are commonplace
As for the quakes, he says, no big shakes. Happens every day. “Cal Tech recently said that 8,000 quakes per day fall in the range of 1-point-0 to 1-point-9, similar to what the recent incident was in Mahoning County. People within a mile felt a slight shaking. Do we want that to happen? No. Are there ways to mitigate it? Yes. And we’re working with regulatory agencies now to try to figure that out.”How can you stop an earthquake? He says it’s simple: “Don’t drill into known faults.”
After the boom
Meanwhile, back at Bluebird Farm, Mick Luber just hopes his groundwater’s safe.“But what are you going to do even if you have a spill? You can’t go back and make your water clean.”And Mud Run Farm’s Alex Dragovich hopes Ohio agriculture can survive the natural gas boom.“This thing’s only going to last 20 maybe 30 years. And then we’re going to live with that the rest of our lives.”And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next week we find out how the honey bees that pollinate so much of our food made it through the harsh winter.