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Ed Snavely

January Profile

I am not at Ed Snavely’s farm in Knox County. I am at his Worthington farmers’ market booth on a hot, bustling July morning. Ed’s booth is simple: a clothed table with stacks of folded brochures that feature a black hog rooting in pasture, and a cash box. There is a dry erase board with prices written on it and a couple of coolers to the back.

A man wants to buy a loin roast. “I got several meals out of the last one I bought here,” he says with a smile.

Ed grew up on a conventional farm but became interested in “going organic” in the 1980s. He knew a friend who farmed organically using products from Agristore and Ed decided to attend the company’s promotional events. Ed tried unsuccessfully to convince his father to convert their 900-acre farm to organic production.

Later, in 1984, Ed and wife Beth leased half of a 114-acre farm but gradually came to own the full farm when the previous owner retired from farming. OEFFA certified the farm organic in 1986.

Ed recalls that the early years of the farm were “lean” in many ways partly because he felt like he was on his own. He recalls that there was no “mentoring or infrastructure” for organic farmers at the time. “Now the information is out there. You’ve go the OFFER [Organic Food, Farming, and Education Research] program at OSU-Wooster that helps new organic farmers. There’s just a lot more help out there now.” Ed credits other notable OEFFA farmers with providing him organic farming knowledge, including Stan Gregg and Rex Spray.

Ed already knew how to raise hogs because he had once helped operate a confined hog operation. The challenge was learning how to raise hogs on pasture and in open-front pens and how to grow organic feed. One essential part of the transition was switching from hogs common in confined operations to heritage breeds that fare better on pasture.

Today, Ed keeps about 100 head that include all ages. The hogs’ feed is organic and grown on the farm. Ed and Beth also run a feed operation that purchases only local organic grain. When the livestock are ready for slaughter they are sent to an organic slaughterhouse in Fredericktown.

Ed farms because he enjoys being outside and “seeing nature at work,” like watching the seeds he planted sprout and flourish. He has always enjoyed working with livestock and was a member of the 4H Club as a young boy.

Ed is an organic farmer because he is proud to have a healthy body and a healthy farm. He finds “putting poisons in the soil” outright disturbing. Chemicals, he recalls, were like addictive drugs. In order to achieve the same results he had to apply more and more of them. The proof is in the soil, which today smells rich and has a healthy, complex structure. Healthy soil is important because “soil is where it all begins. If you don’t have healthy soil you’re not going to have good quality grain. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to have healthy livestock.”

Ed has added organic matter and nitrogen to the soil through manure applications and crop rotations that run between five and seven years. Legume crops (like soybeans and clover) rotate with grass crops (like corn, barley, spelt, and oats). Ed plants a cover crop of barley in the winter and buckwheat in the summer. He always interseeds legume and grass crops if he plants two grass crops in a row, to ensure there is enough nitrogen in the soil for the second crop.

By breaking away from conventional farming mindsets and building his operation from the soil up, Ed has become one of the experienced farmers he once relied on for advice. In the past, Ed served on the Board of Directors at OEFFA and the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska.

For those new farmers who want to follow in Ed’s footsteps, he has some advice: build your market. “The big thing is the marketing side of it. We’ve built this market and it’s taken many years to do it,” he says. For Ed, achieving immediate financial success in the beginning was not as crucial as it is for some livestock farmers, because Ed worked (and still works) off farm.

Ed thinks marketing is easier today for the new generation of farmers because there is a higher demand for organic meats in both wholesale and retail markets.

On Saturday morning Ed sells at the Worthington Farmers’ Market while Beth sells at the market in Peninsula; they also take orders from customers and restaurants. Middle Ground Café at Kenyon College also buys Ed’s ground meat products.

These days, Ed is looking forward to retiring from his factory job to farm full-time. It is clear that farming is his true calling, and while Ed is not sure what will become of the farm after his second retirement, he is hoping that “however it transpires that it will stay organic.”

Curly Tail Organic Farm is an economic success as well as a personal triumph. Ed is fully aware of this fact, and only his own words can do it justice:

“Money wasn’t the reason why I went organic. It was the whole physiological aspect of it; the fact that you’re promoting the health of the soil and you’re producing a better product, was the reason why I did it. And because of that, the farm is now self-sufficient. The biggest success story of the farm is that there’s no way that 92 acres of [conventional] corn and soybean would have paid for itself. Even with today’s [conventional] prices I don’t know how you could do it, because I know the input costs are outrageous.”

And yet there were conventional farmers who must have thought Ed was outrageous, once upon a time.

About the writer: Danielle Deemer is working on her master's degree in Rural Sociology at the Ohio State University. Danielle, through her OEFFA internship, profiled some of the organization's most accomplished members and their successes, creating OEFFA’s Profiles of Success series. Lauren Ketcham has updated and edited content. This series is being unveiled throughout OEFFA's 30th anniversary celebration year.