. Columbus, OH—A government survey of U.S. organic farms shows Ohio’s growth in organic sales follow the national trend, and while the number of organic farms in Ohio fell slightly over the past five years, Ohio farmland in organic production has increased by more than 10,000 acres since 2008.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA NASS) released results from the 2014 Organic Production Survey this week, revealing a 72 percent increase in organic sales since 2008, as well as a slight decrease in the number of organic farmers and total organic acreage in the U.S.
“While the decrease in the number of organic farms nationally and in Ohio is a concern, Ohio remains in the top 10 of states in the number of organic farms in operation,” said Amalie Lipstreu, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) Policy Program Coordinator.
More than 40 percent of Ohio organic farmers earn between 75 and 100 percent of their income from organic farming. “The data show that organic farming provides a full time occupation for many farmers and there is a future in organic production as demand outpaces supply for organic food in the U.S.,” said Lipstreu.
These results also show a strong commitment to the organic market as more than 40 percent of Ohio’s organic farmers plan to increase organic production. In 2015, OEFFA has also seen an increase in the number of farmers seeking certification for the first time.
While 78 percent of organic sales are to wholesale markets, the first point of sale for 80 percent of all U.S. organic products was less than 500 miles from the farm. “The growth of local and regional food systems as well as access to large wholesale markets provide huge growth opportunities for organic farmers,” said Lipstreu.
This study represents the second comprehensive survey of organic agriculture in the U.S. “The ability to have trend data and analysis of organic agriculture in Ohio and the U.S. provides information critical to the organic industry and the farming community,” said Lipstreu. “Continuing to collect and analyze this information will help current producers as well as those considering a transition to organic agriculture understand the growing demand, price premiums, and production challenges.”
OEFFA is one of the oldest and largest organic certification agencies in the country, and offers educational programming and support to organic farmers and businesses, and those looking to transition to organic. For more information, click here.
Brandon Jaeger and Michelle Ajamian sit across from each other at the center of a long table they’ve haphazardly strung together from four-tops at Athens’ hippie Mexican eatery Casa Nueva. One by one, as their friends arrive—a recent college grad in a maxi skirt, a toddler-wheeling couple sporting dreadlocks—Jaeger and Ajamian jump up and smile with arms outstretched. Every guest is treated with an enthusiastic hello or a strong-armed embrace that lingers with familiarity.
The convivial air carries through dinner. Familial teasing is directed at the father figure of the group. Remember that one time Jaeger had to learn to drive a combine on the fly, and then it ran out of gas on a hill? Or when, having never operated a forklift before, he had to reverse it off the bed of a truck?
The goateed Jaeger laughs along as he takes it in stride, adding to the stories with hand gestures that mimic gear-shifting. Amused, Ajamian sips on a can of Jackie O’s beer as she good-naturedly disputes small details in every tale.
Among the baskets of tortilla chips and sauce-covered enchiladas that decorate the table, the real reason for this dinner takes shape. The staples of this meal—chips, black beans, tortillas—would not be possible without this ragtag group of community do-gooders who learned how to run an organic grain and seed mill on the job. Since opening in 2010, Shagbark Seed & Mill has become a source to which organic farmers can sell corn that turns into food, not feed, and from where area chefs find grains, beans and flour grown and processed in Ohio.
Brandon Jaeger at the Shagbark mill in Athens
That’s a tougher feat than it may seem. Until Shagbark began selling black turtle beans, Northstar Cafe had to look to the West Coast to buy the essential ingredient for its veggie burger. One corn farmer confesses he had never tasted his own crop in a product before Shagbark began making tortilla chips.
“Brandon and Michelle are really, in a very direct way, changing the world and Ohio for the better,” says Darren Malhame, partner at Northstar Cafe. “People like to talk about organic like it’s some sort of elitist thing. There’s nothing elitist about providing healthy food for everyone. They’re using corn for really what it should be.”
Sustaining the masses is exactly how the idea of the mill started. At the peak of the local food movement, as consumers began obsessing over heirloom tomatoes and kale grown nearby, Jaeger fixated on a single question: Why are we looking elsewhere for staple foods like corn and beans?
“We’re just not going to survive on tomatoes and lettuce and kale and heirloom squash. We’re going to need to rebuild our staples,” says Jaeger, who calls this conundrum his existential anxiety. “Someone needs to be focusing on organically producing the foods that have been a staple in our diets for so long.”
That someone, it turned out, is Shagbark.
An Origin Story
Shagbark Seed & Mill was never intended to be a business. It was an experiment that started with a two-year grant application to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a U.S. Department of Agriculture organization that promotes agricultural innovation.
At the time, Jaeger was on a monastic training retreat at the San Francisco Zen Center. Ajamian, a community activist with a design background, came out to stay with Jaeger—planning the getaway to work on a grant proposal to support a perennial-annual education lab. But after Jaeger first uttered the phrase “existential anxiety,” Ajamian suggested a second proposal.
The question that won them the $5,800 grant in 2008: Could they create a model staple food system that would make high-nutrient grains and beans local again? It started as test plots on four farms to identify which ancient grains—quinoa, amaranth, millet—and beans would grow well in Appalachia. But as they conducted studies and consulted with members of the collaborative they’d created, Jaeger and Ajamian found one glaring piece missing from the staple food network: a processing facility. Even if a farmer wanted to grow black turtle beans, Jaeger says, he’d have no outlet through which to process them.
“We were ready for a blissful life with our hands in the soil and walking through test plots with clipboards noting pollinator activity and stem girth,” Jaeger says. “But we realized there are plenty of farmers around us with the soil and equipment and know-how to grow the right crops. But they need a reason for it.”
If you wanted to open a coffee shop, you could walk around a single city block, find a handful of java-slinging storefronts and get a feel for how the business is run. But, five years ago, if you wanted to start a regional organic grain mill, you’d come up short with examples to follow.
That was a big challenge in the beginning as they launched their prototype regional mill, Ajamian says. They consulted with any experts they could find, cobbling together the necessary equipment. An organic farmer in Oregon recommended the kind of French mill they needed. They found a seed cleaner for sale in Westerville. The wooden Austrian sift box they use now to grind polenta, grits, spelt flour and buckwheat flour is still technically on loan from a farmer.
And of course, they needed to persuade area farmers this would work—and it would be worth working with the little guy who needed a few hundred pounds, not tons, of corn.
Thankfully, the right farmer followed Ajamian out into the hallway. She had just delivered her stump speech to a group of grain farmers at an Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) meeting.
“I’d like to come down and see what you’re doing,” said the anything-but-shy Chris Clinehens. More than a decade earlier, the third-generation Bellefontaine-area farmer had his conventional 210-acre farm certified organic. Shagbark intrigued him.
That first trip, he brought 150 pounds of corn. Now, he supplies the more than 100,000 pounds of corn needed annually to make Shagbark’s signature tortilla chips and corn crackers. Talk to him about his commitment to Shagbark, and he speaks as if he’s a partner in the business, wishing his farm wasn’t 250 miles away so he could help more day to day.
“They’ve got a lot of guts,” Clinehens says, admitting he’s given them a lot of leeway on when they pay for product. But it’s worth it, he says, because he believes in their mission. “I can see where they’re headed. It’s pretty outstanding that they’ve accomplished what they have.”
For a company that runs on part-time employees and volunteers, Shagbark’s growth has been explosive—from selling corn meal and spelt berries at the Athens Farmers Market to tortillas and chips at Columbus-area Whole Foods. Clinehens is one of eight farmers—a mix of certified organic and Amish—who supply the mill with high-nutrient organic goods to produce roughly a dozen products, including buckwheat flour, spelt, popcorn, stone-ground grits and polenta and pinto and black beans.
Shagbark went from selling $10,000 worth of product its first year to $125,000 the next. By 2013, they reached $321,000 in sales. It’s leveled out a bit, Jaeger says, but is still on an upward swing. This year, they’ll go through about 150 tons of Ohio bean and grain crop—with corn for chips, crackers and tortillas making up 60 percent and black beans another 30 percent.
Much of this growth is owed to Shagbark’s ability to diversify products and adapt a wholesale business that distributes product around the state.
Jaeger and Ajamian created their three-ingredient tortilla chips (corn, sunflower oil and sea salt) in 2011 to help one of their favorite restaurants, Casa Nueva, which didn’t have the manpower to make chips in house. Now lovingly referred to as their “gateway product,” the chips have become their most recognized creation.
The chips first attracted Katalina’s owner Kathleen Day to Shagbark in 2012. After sampling their chips at a Dine Originals event, Day persuaded them to sell her individual-sized bags she could serve alongside sandwiches at her Harrison West cafe.
“Once you eat their chips, you are a convert for life,” says Day, who also uses Shagbark black beans. “You can taste the difference in the corn. It’s what Michael Pollan would call heritage corn. It’s much more filling and good for you, and it’s not overly processed. It’s what real corn chips should taste like.”
Shagbark’s latest product is just as everyman-friendly—corn tortillas, which they started producing at the Koki’s Tortillas plant in October 2014. Shagbark tortillas stand out not just because organic corn is used, but also because the corn is soaked in an alkaline solution before it’s hulled—an ancient process known as nixtamalization that’s been proven in some scientific studies to increase nutritional value, flavor and aroma in corn. (The corn for their chips is also nixtamalized.)
It’s also a nod to the way corn has been treated in Mexican culture for centuries, Ajamian says. The two had a chance to experience this process first hand. Earlier this year, she and Jaeger traveled to Mexico with the owner of Koki’s to visit her family. There water was electric blue, rich with limestone. This is the water in which corn is soaked before it’s ground into maize for tortillas.
When the food culture relocates, Ajamian says, swiping through pictures of her trip on her phone, a lot of people bring the food, but not the cuisine. “We’re doing our tortillas the traditional way—calcium added into the water and pressed into the tortillas,” Ajamian says.
“It was a really nice reinforcement of the concept—how important food is to culture,” Jaeger adds. “Maize is the perfect example of culture of food. Nixtalimization in tortillas and chips—it’s a process that’s community-oriented.”
The tortillas, which will be on retail shelves later this summer, are becoming popular with chefs at area restaurants including Skillet, Casa Nueva, Acre and The Worthington Inn.
The product is twice as expensive as conventional tortillas, admits chef Tom Smith of The Worthington Inn, but it’s worth it. “You can taste they’re doing the right thing,” Smith says. “It’s good corn they’re using. It’s processed well and fresh. Like in the tortillas, you don’t get that fresh corn flavor unless it’s just been milled.”
When he started using Shagbark tortillas on his pork tacos earlier this year, Smith says the whole dish came together. “It’s very rare you bite into your own food and go, ‘Wow.’ ”
It’s no surprise why Jaeger is so trim as he effortlessly limbers up and down a flight of wooden stairs. He disappears into the scaffolding, and then re-emerges with a gray tub of heirloom corn. Tipping it over, the red and yellow kernels buzz loudly like a hive of bees down into the funnel at the top of a blond wooden mill.
He bounds down to the concrete floor, flips a switch and put his nose to the now-grinding mill stone. Soon, granules of corn that have been pumiced into grits and corn meal begin to fill up large bags. This is the most processing any of Shagbark’s products receive. There’s no stripping of nutrients for shelf stability, or re-enriching. To ensure freshness, they mill and bag products to order.
It’s Tuesday, and a big production day inside the Athens mill. The warehouse space they rent might be small, but it’s efficient, Jaeger says. With gravity on their side, they could unload a ton of grain in 30 seconds if they’re not careful.
Today, a few part-time employees will help sort and bag 2,000 pounds of black beans as Jaeger grinds corn. On the floor at his feet are a few scattered red hulls, remnants of the buckwheat flour freshly milled for Taste of Belgium the day before.
Two years ago, when Whole Foods stopped carrying the brand of flour the Cincinnati-based restaurant needed to make their signature buckwheat crepes, owner Jean-François Flechet turned to Shagbark.
“I didn’t realize you could mill things so many different ways,” says Flechet, who expects to source up to 20,000 pounds of buckwheat flour this year. “Brandon sent us maybe 15 samples of buckwheat flour with different coarseness. It’s like a custom mill.”
Flechet speaks highly of the quality. He brought in the best flour he could find in France, and then made two crepes—one with the French flour, the other with Shagbark’s. The result was a draw. “For our application, it’s perfect,” he says.
Chefs throughout Central Ohio share similar experiences of Shagbark’s willingness to produce the product they need—and they say working with the company is as much about believing in the people behind the concept.
“They’re just characters. They are amazing, unique people, and they have these wonderful, optimistic, energetic personalities,” says Malhame, of Northstar, which has been buying Shagbark black beans for all its restaurants for three years and committed to buying 14,000 pounds this year. “They are just really great people who want to change the world for the better.”
A tour of sustainable and organic farms in Ohio will make a stop Aug. 7 in Sandusky County.
Turnow Ventures, which began operation in 1980 with 600 acres, will be featured during the 2015 tour and workshop series sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
The farm is located at 2956 County Rd. 92 near the Village of Lindsey. The tour stop will be at the farm from 1-3 p.m.
Steve Turnow began experimenting with growing organic crops in 1998. Within five years, he certified all 1,500 acres of his farm to comply with certification standards set by the National Organic Program.
Presently, 600 acres are dedicated to alfalfa production, which is a vital cog of a value-added supply chain of dehydrated chicken feed pellets – a part of the operation managed by extended family members.
The stop will also feature the farm’s rotation practices for corn, soybeans, wheat and black beans.
Turnow said he decided to try growing organically after he realized there was a market for the crops and he wanted to get away from using pesticides.
“I guess I felt more comfortable farming that way – to produce a fuller feed that didn’t have so much pesticide residual,” he said. “It’s been good up to this year. Without the use of herbicides it’s hard to kill weeds and it’s hard to kill weeds when it’s raining nearly every day.”
Chances are if you eat organic eggs they may come from chickens raised on Turnow’s grains.
“A lot of my products go to feed use,” Turnow said. “Some of it goes to food use. If you wanted to buy an organic corn chip, for example.”
The organic black bean market appears to also be expanding, he said, noting the Chipotle restaurant chain and others have adopted policies to buy from organic growers.
• A hops production workshop Aug. 25 at the Agricultural Incubator Foundation, 13737 Middleton Pike, Bowling Green.
Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with The Ohio State University, will discuss the latest research on hops planting, including production techniques, insect and disease control methods and harvesting. Marketing strategies that can be adopted by farmers wanting to provide hops for Ohio breweries will also be discussed.
PHOTO: Sustainable farming groups say lessons from organic farming can help solve Ohio’s toxic and unsightly algae problems and improve water quality. Photo courtesy NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
July 20, 2015
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Algal blooms in Lake Erie are predicted to be among the worst in recorded history this summer.
And organic farmers say taking a page from their playbook can help state leaders working to address the recurring problem, and other water quality issues.
Organic farms are prohibited from using synthetic fertilizers, which are linked to toxic algae.
One farmer, Dave Shively of northwest Ohio, says the practices he uses reduce runoff and soil erosion, which in turn reduce the chances that excess nutrients reach waterways.
“Most of the products we use are more water-soluble, so they stay in place more,” he explains. “And any manures we put on are usually incorporated right away. And we do a lot of crop rotation, which we put a lot of small grains in, and legumes.”
Ohio recently enacted a law (Senate Bill 1) that prohibits applying manure and fertilizer on frozen or saturated ground.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is among the groups suggesting growers follow organic farmers’ lead and use sustainable practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation and field buffers to reduce farm runoff into waterways.
Organic farmers also are required to take steps to maintain water quality as part of their Organic System Plan.
Shively says protecting water sources is vital to the health of the ecosystem and the public.
“What we’re doing is trying to not pollute that with pesticides and herbicides and insecticides, so we’re doing a more sustainable, natural way,” he explains.
Shively stresses chemicals used in traditional farming should be reduced to improve water quality.
“I feel very strongly about the chemical ag world and that that’s a practice that’s getting worse and worse as we go along, with more potent chemicals and pesticides,” he states. “And they’re creating resistance to herbicides, which is creating a whole other issue.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the effects of algae in Lake Erie are expected to peak in August or early September.
For more than 30 years, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has used education, advocacy and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic food systems. In addition to their annual conference and workshops, OEFFA has an organic certification program, organizes farm tours and promotes sharing knowledge and investment in farmers.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?
Lauren Ketcham (LK): OEFFA presents the state’s largest sustainable agriculture conference, offers workshops and webinars for farmers, publishes a quarterly newsletter and online directory of sustainable farm and food businesses called the Good Earth Guide, provides organic certification services and technical assistance to growers and advocates for policies that protect and benefit sustainable agriculture.
FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of? Please explain.
LK: In 2014, we organized 15 free farm tours drawing more than 2000 people who were able to see, touch, and smell what sustainable food and farming is all about. Consumers were able to gain a better appreciation for how food travels from the field to their dinner table and farmers were able to learn valuable production and marketing tips from fellow growers with years of practical on-farm experience.
That same year, we organized more than 1,500 members and supporters to take action on the food and farming issues that they care about, including genetically engineered food, fracking, the Farm Bill, and more. These actions included calling legislators, signing petitions, meeting with elected officials, and more.
We also certified 831 operations, including vegetable and grain farms, family dairies, and processors, to the National Organic Program standards. One of the oldest and most respected programs in the nation, OEFFA’s Certification program ensures that organic crop and livestock producers meet the high standards established for organically grown food.
FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond?
LK: We will continue to build on past success and maintain our commitment to our existing programs, staying true to our founding mission. In 2015, we’ll be expanding our on-farm workshops and webinar offerings–including offering a robust series of events designed specifically for veterinarians and other livestock professionals working with organic livestock and poultry–working with Ohio State University to expand on-farm research opportunities that serve organic farmers, and more.
FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?
LK: Support organic and sustainable family farmers by shopping at your local farmers’ market or farm stand or by becoming a member of a community supported agriculture program, and by contacting your legislators to tell them you support policies that protect your right to know and access safe, local food.
FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?
LK: Go to www.oeffa.org or visit us on social media. Individuals can become members of OEFFA and find out about all the exciting programs and services we’ll be offering in the year ahead.
There is no way to curb the enthusiasm of Winchester farm woman Gayla Fritzhand.
Ask her a question about farming – any question – and you can hear the excitement in her voice, a passion in her words.
Gayla Fritzhand is a woman who loves what she does.
And what she does it own and operate the 126-acre JZN Goat Farm near Winchester. On her farm she raises meat and dairy goats and also does a thriving goat cheese business.
While she is passionate about many things, what she thinks is most important for a farmer today is for the farmer to “get involved. You need to be informed and to always network. And, you need to be more than just members of the farm organizations, you need to read the newsletters and reports they send you.”
She practices what she preaches.
She is a member of the Ohio Cheesemakers Guild, now in its second year and she is one of 16 women in Ohio who are licensed by the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture to make and sell cheese. She is also an active member of the Ohio AgriWomen organization. “When I went to their convention last November, it made me feel really good. It made me feel like … I can do this.”
She is active in the Ohio Ecological Farm and Food Association. “I have been a member of OEFFA from the beginning,” she said, and likes the organizations education programs and views on organic food.
She is active in the Adams County Chamber of Commerce as well as the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau. She said the local business people are “our colleagues. You can learn from them business practices.”
On her farm, as a supporter of agri-tourism, she conducts tours by appointment for “about six to eight people.” She has on her farm the third longest zipline in Ohio. She said it was prepared by the same person who set up the zipline in the Hocking Hills.
“If people call to make appointment, I will conduct free tours on the farm.” However, she said they may charge for the tours at some point in the future.
A walk on her farm
Fritzhand loves showing visitors her farm and the goats she loves to raise.
Walking through her rolling fields, Fritzhand talks about her dairy and meat goats and points out the goats by name. She knows all of them. “That’s Johnny Cash over there looking at me, there’s Princess, Bambi…Fancy…Clove… there is Latte…” she shouts out their names, and they begin running from a back field. She is proud of her goats, talking to them and describing the personalities of each.
She said her goats, she has about 18 dairy and 18 meat goats, were all born on her farm and are breed-quality stock. “I know all of them, and know their needs, I monitor them and make sure they have what they need.”
Fritzhand says she does not sell any of her goats’ milk, since the processing and labeling is too costly for the size of her farm.
Walking toward her farmhouse, she points out the nearby cheesehouse. “This was originally an old steel building at Armco in Middletown,” she said. “I asked the dairy inspector even before I started if I could fix it up and be able to meet the regulations to turn it into a cheese processing facility. He said yes, he thought I could if I worked hard enough and spent enough money to fix it up. So I did that.”
She said she met all the regulations after installing all the special lights, drains and metal sinks. She milks in the barn, then brings the goat’s milk down to the cheesehouse for straining and processing.
“My dairy inspector has been absolutely marvelous to work with. He cautioned me, saying, ‘Gayla, are you sure this is what you want to do?’ and I said yes, since moving back here I did the research and this is what I want to do,” she said.
“If it had not been for the good help of the ODA, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, I certainly could not have developed the business or the farm. My dairy inspector is one who only goes to cheese processing facilities,” she said.
“Now, the younger generation, they have decided they want to eat whole foods. They don’t want GMOs, they want everything to be natural and good. They have found us cheesemakers,” Fritzhand said. She said the Cheesemakers Guild is a way for the cheesemakers to network, talk to each other and get help when they need it and share ideas.
In a recent issue of Cleveland’s “Edible Ohio” magazine, she and her fellow women cheesemakers were featured in an article about women cheesemakers throughout the state.
She took courses in cheesemaking that were offered by the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture. “They hired an instructor from Vermont, very well known, to teach farmers to make cheese from their own milk on the farm.” She pointed out that the ODA regulations are strict and necessary. “It takes a lot of diligence and you must be conscientious in following the regulations,” she said.
Active and involved
“I have to say that during the last couple of years, it is obvious the state of Ohio is encouraging small farmers. You can feel it. Even though there are a lot of regulations, you can still feel that they want to help you. They don’t want to put you out of business.” She said that “it helps” that ODA Director Dave Daniels from Greenfield is from a rural community.
She said marketing is important for her small farm operation. “Ohio Proud is another group that has helped. I am a member, and on their website they market and support small farm businesses.”
Last fall, she traveled to Highland County to attend the Highland Farm Bureau’s first “Farm to Fork” dinner on a local farm. She said she really enjoyed that and wanted to learn about how other counties were progressing. “They were a little more sophisticated and progressive in Highland County,” she said.
She is active in the Adams County Farm Bureau, and says, “I like that Farm Bureau has these events on farms. It takes a farmer willing to open up and have visitors on the farm for the event. She said not all farmers feel comfortable doing this.
“I am a member of Adams County Farm Bureau and would be willing to have a farm to dinner event here. I thought I would volunteer to host, so come and visit,” she said.
A love of Adams County
Born and raised near Winchester, her mother Helen Shaw was a teacher and father Harold Shaw was a farmer and operated a local feed mill. She was one of eight siblings. “We were tobacco farmers then. That was our life and bloodline. But the tobacco industry, as you know, changed.”
Her father owned the Pillsbury Feed Mill. “It was pretty big and thriving. Most of my friends at school in Winchester, their families were dairy farmers back then. The dairy industry was very big back then and the farmers did well,” she said.
After high school in 1965, she attended the University of Cincinnati and received her degree in nursing. She spent a year in Colombia at a missionary as a nurse. She said this was where she was first exposed to goat cheese and goat milk. She then returned and received her Master’s Degree at Xavier University. She also taught nursing, and work in health services, including work for United Health Care.
But the draw of the farm continued to tug at her. “I said to my sons, I want to do what I really want to do. I told my sister that I am coming back to do what I love in a place that I love.”
She has owned her farm for the last 10 years. “My sons, Jeremy, Nicholas and Zachery, were very supportive. They said mom, get back to the country.” I had looked around about a year and half. I knew this region and drove around looking for farms. I told my sister, I think I will just start knocking on doors and telling them I am looking for a farm.”
She said she knew she couldn’t have machinery, tractors are expensive. “I knew I needed a place I could grow, and was warning about spending all of my capital on the farm and equipment” She needed a farm where she could grow alfalfa and support a herd of dairy goats. She grows about 40 acres of alfalfa today. “You have to be self-sufficient when you can’t afford to buy alfalfa when the price is so high.”
Making the cheese
One of her greatest pleasures is making cheese.
Inside her cheese production house, she describes step by step how the goat cheese is made. She starts with the goat’s milk, which she then strains. She then waits 24-48 hours with the milk kept at about 40 degrees. She then puts the stock pots of milk on burner until it reaches 78 degrees.
She then takes the pot off the burner and adds French cultures through a Canadian dairy. She then adds an animal rennet. After about 12 hours the curd and whey separates. She pours away the whey and places the curd in molds. After a number of other steps, the molds are left to age for at least 60 days, when they can be legally sold.
However, Fritzhand says most of her cheese is aged at least a year, when the flavor is at its best.
But once the cheese is made, she says the most important step is actually selling it, as well as her goat meat.
Excitedly, Fritzhand talked about the upcoming religious Ramadan holiday. “You need to get your meat goats ready to send to the producers, processors. She described ways of making the most out of knowing about these specialty markets and what consumers want – and when they want it. “You have to watch the market always if you are going to make it.’
By using her website, she can get to know her customers. She ships her cheese to customers or they can pick it up at her farm. “And get signature confirmation,” she advised.
Words of wisdom
As a woman who has operated her own successful farm for the last 10 years, what advice would she gives others just starting or considering starting to operate a farm, and what lessons has she learned over these years?
“You have to love what you are doing. You have to enjoy what you are doing. The joy and satisfaction you get from what you are doing can sometimes far outweigh the amount of income you get from that activity,” she said.
“If you really love the outdoors. If you really love animals, which I do – I love the barn, I love the animals. I like working in the business where science is an important part of it. Your animals have to be in good health – so you have to monitor them. You have to feed them well. Their housing as to be kept clean. If you enjoy all of those things, then it is not work,” she said.
On the other side of that, there is a very large amount of capital that goes into setting up something like this, she pointed out. “It is hard. You have to run it as a farm. It has to be self-sustaining. In other words, you have to grow your own alfalfa or you can’t do what I do here. You have to be able to know math, to do your own books. You must keep good records, the accounts and your investment records. You have to test the soil regularly. You need a good understanding of soil management. You have to know how to extract the samples, send them to a reliable laboratory and then be able to understand the data so if necessary you can fix the soil so you can grow what you want to grow.”
She said, “You may love the work, but remember that you are working to produce a product. You also have to find the market, and find that market before you start, at the beginning. You don’t want leftover product without being able to sell it or get it to market. You need to know who your consumers are.”
She is hard-working, but realizes that she needs to balance work with rest. “I make cheese seasonally rather than all year. That’s for my goats and for my health. The winters here are cold. It’s a good time for me to rest and re-evaluate, take care of myself, take care of the taxes and paperwork, find the market, spend time with the family. If I had more help and more hands, I could have a bigger herd and sell more.”
Is she happy with the decision she made 10 years ago to start her own farm?
“I love it. I love nature, and love what I do. Look at this view I have,” she said, gesturing to the west where the rolling hills of her farm seem to go on forever. “I love the vegetation… I can walk through the woods here and tell you names of most all of the plants. I just love all of this.”
In a straw hat and with the sleeves of his checkered shirt rolled up enough that you could see his tattoo of a dahlia, Steve Adams revealed his obsession in the sprawling field of some of the most beautiful blooms in Columbus.
About 100 people attended the open house at Adams’ Sunny Meadows Flower Farm on the East Side on Sunday to hear about how the sharpest-red and deepest-blue blooms rise from the farm.
The open house is part of an annual series of farmers events held by members of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
Renee Hunt, the association’s program director, said tours, workshops and open houses are held each year to give farmers and consumers a firsthand opportunity to learn different practices from a variety of farmers.
“People are sharing what they know so that that information can be taken and be used elsewhere and promote any successful farming practices,” she said.
Adams and his wife, Gretel, started their farm in 2007 because they were passionate about buying and selling locally made products, especially fresh flowers. They grow flowers for mixed-cut bouquets to sell at local farmers markets, to florists and for weddings and other occasions.
Growing flowers for people to give to loved ones to express joy, love, sadness and remorse is something the Adamses don’t take lightly. And they want people to share those emotions with local products.
“People are going to come and see what the other option is for flowers, to see why local flowers are just as important as local food,” Mr. Adams said. “We want people to be buying local flowers, whether they’re from us, or they’re from other growers.”
The U.S. cut-flower industry accounts for $7 billion to $8 billion in sales in a year, according to the Society of American Florists, but only a fraction of flowers come from local farms.
Imports make up 79 percent of the U.S. supply of cut flowers and greens, according to the California Cut Flower Commission.
Adams said flowers from foreign countries might have been sprayed with chemicals that are harmful to consumers.
“For us, sustainability is a farm that can continue to provide fresh quality flowers without synthetic fertilizers and chemical inputs,” he said.
Sunny Meadows does not use herbicides, and it uses compost as fertilizer, Mrs. Adams said. The farm also uses beneficial insects to control pests.
Eric Pawlowski, the association’s sustainable-agriculture educator, said he has benefited from the tours because farmers often provide tips that can make or break a crop of any size.
“It’s not so much the ‘how’ or the ‘do,’ but it’s the ‘what not to do,’ ” he said.
In addition to the annual farm open houses, the association has a number of farm tours and workshops, which started in June and will end in late October. More information is at www.oeffa.org.
Lindsey Baker, 32, a florist in Morrow, Ohio, said she was interested in learning from Adams because she started growing flowers this year.
“When you find out you can grow all this right here in Ohio, we should do a lot more of that,” Baker said. “You’re supporting the family, you’re supporting your local economy, and you’re cutting down on the energy to transport those flowers.”
Alwin Chan-Frederick, 36, said he was impressed by the farm’s sustainable practices.
“Supporting kinds of small businesses like theirs is important for the local community,” he said.
“On Thursday, July 23, by a vote of 275 to 150, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1599, misleadingly titled ‘The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.’ More accurately dubbed the ‘Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,’ the bill flies in the face of public opinion by denying citizens the right to choose what they eat and feed their families and throws out all state efforts to label genetically engineered (GE) food, such as the laws already passed in Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont.
This bill’s absurdity is immense: Although proponents say voluntary labeling is the solution, no companies have voluntarily opted to label their foods as GE. The Dark Act also ends states’ rights to regulate food labeling, and even more appallingly, it allows GE foods to be labeled as ‘natural.’
The House placed the interests of large corporate agribusiness above the interests of an overwhelming majority of the people they represent, who have consistently asked for the right to know if food contains GE ingredients.
A poll conducted by OEFFA in February found that 87 percent of Ohio voters, across partisan lines, support GE labeling. I encourage all Ohioans to take the opportunity to view how their representative voted on the bill and to let them know where they stand on this issue. A similar measure has yet to be introduced in the Senate and is expected to face a much tougher battle, so there’s still a chance for the public to make its voice heard.”
Fresh, local, summer ingredients from northeast Ohio will be the inspiration for a unique farm to table culinary experience this August that celebrates Ohio farms and flavors.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is partnering with Maplestar Farm and The Driftwood Group for The Farmers’ Table on Sunday, August 30 at 4 p.m. The event will take place in western Geauga County at Maplestar Farm in Auburn Township.
“OEFFA’s mission is to help farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system, one meal at time,” said OEFFA Program Associate Milo Petruziello, who is organizing the event. “This dinner is a natural extension of that work, designed to showcase the amazing farmers and chefs of northeast Ohio and the fresh, seasonal ingredients of Ohio’s farms. It also gives us all a chance to celebrate our farmers, our food, and the local flavors which will be thoughtfully woven into every aspect of this event.”
Guests will take a guided tour of Maplestar Farm’s organic fields, sample carefully crafted hors d’oeuvres, and enjoy beer, wine, and tea before sitting down to an exciting four course meal prepared by Erik Martinez, Executive Chef at Cibréo Italian Kitchen, featuring wine pairings.
“We’re pleased and honored to be hosting the Farmers’ Table,” said organic farmer Jake Trethewey who owns and operates Maplestar Farm with his wife Dawn. “Holding an event where people can share a meal on the farm, from the farm, reminds me of growing up here. Quite often on the weekend, people would drop by to visit or help out and my grandmother and great grandmother would cook dinner for 12 or more folks on short notice and, of course, a lot of what was on the table was grown here. As small farms and farming communities have disappeared over the last 50 years, fewer people today have the opportunity to experience the friendship and community of sharing a meal on the farm.”
The Tretheweys have been certified organic for seven years and sell their organic produce at the farm’s roadside stand, at the Geauga Fresh Farmers’ Market, through a small community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and to restaurants.
The dinner will be rooted in certified organic vegetables from Maplestar Farm, and include an heirloom tomato salad, a modern take on a traditional fish fry featuring fresh Lake Erie perch, and a main course pork trio showcasing a pastured Berkshire/Chester White cross hog from Tea Hills Farms. Dessert will feature an Auburn sweet corn custard tart.
“We have a great relationship with Maplestar Farms. What’s important to the farm is important to us, and OEFFA and this event are very important to Jake and Dawn. This is a way we can help the farm bring OEFFA and a farm to table experience to their backyard and show all of Ohio what Geauga County and northeast Ohio have to offer,” said Chris Johnson, Corporate Chef for The Driftwood Group, one of Ohio’s premier restaurant and catering companies.
Erik Martinez is the Executive Chef of downtown Cleveland’s Cibreo Italian Kitchen, which is part of The Driftwood Group, and will be overseeing the dinner. He has been a part of Cleveland’s culinary landscape for more than 20 years.
Tickets are $125 per person or $1,000 for a table of 8. All proceeds support OEFFA’s work to grow Ohio’s sustainable and organic agriculture movement.
The Farmers’ Table is sponsored by The Driftwood Group, Maplestar Farm, Edible Cleveland, Kevin Morgan Studio, Organic Valley, Rising Star Coffee Roasters, Storehouse Tea, and Tea Hills Farms.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a statewide, grassroots, nonprofit organization working to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. OEFFA operates one of the country’s largest and most respected USDA-accredited organic certification agencies. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208, email@example.com
Kate Blake, Certification Program Manager, (614) 262-2022 Ext. 223, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, email@example.com
Columbus, OH—While a growing number of consumers are seeking foods made without genetically modified organisms (GMOs), they may be getting less than they think from non-GMO labeled products.
According to Michelle Ajamian, owner of Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, “Non-GMO labels don’t guarantee crops are grown without chemicals. In fact, unless the food is certified organic, it may be grown with even more chemicals than GMO crops.”
To help consumers find food that is both non-GMO and environmentally friendly, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has released a new label that OEFFA-certified organic farmers and processors can use on their products, in addition to the standard USDA organic seal. This label reminds consumers that choosing organic foods allows them to avoid GMOs and protect public health and the environment.
To use the organic label, foods must not only be non-GMO but they must also be grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and chemical fertilizers.
“Shagbark Seed & Mill chose organic certification over non-GMO verification to support the farmers that go beyond non-GMO by working with nature, instead of against it. That means cover crops, crop rotations, and healthy soil. That means no GMO seed, ever. The result is a product we’re confident will protect water and soil resources and feed us the best quality food on all fronts,” stated Ajamian, whose certified organic mill sells beans, flour, pasta, chips, and other products.
Organic farmers undergo a rigorous annual third party verification process that includes an organic system plan, multiple reviews of that plan, and an inspection of the farm.
“As a result, the organic seal is the gold standard in ecological labeling and consumers can have confidence that farmers are adhering to the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program,” said OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator Amalie Lipstreu. “Regardless of which version of the organic label a farmer or processor chooses, the organic seal guarantees that the product was made without GMOs. Organic is also the clear choice for shoppers who are concerned about the health and sustainability of their food.”