Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rows of greens welcome workshop participants at Green Edge Organic Gardens

Amesville, OH - A chill in the February air didn't deter workshop participants at Green Edge Organic Gardens – nor keep the leafy greens on the farm from growing. 

Thirty-six new and seasoned farmers from across Ohio journeyed to the organic farm located in rural Amesville last Thursday to learn firsthand how Green Edge produces fresh, organic specialty crops all year. The workshop was the second in the “Season Creation” series from Green Edge with coordination from Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture.

Green Edge farm manager Dan Kneier explains high tunnel growing to a group of participants. Photo by Matt Moore.

At the farm, participants learned how Green Edge manages to produce specialty crops – including multiple varieties of kale, chard, carrots, and spinach - year-round inside high tunnel growing structures from farm manager Dan Kneier. They learned from Green Edge co-owner Kip Rondy how and when Green Edge staff starts seeds, plants seedlings and irrigates, harvests, washes and delivers their organic produce during even the coldest months of the year.

The key to season creation at Green Edge is the use of high tunnels – passively heated and ventilated green house structures – to cover rows of crops in order to control the growing climate, plus the added use of plastic and cloth row covers when temperatures fall below freezing.

Green Edge co-owner Kip Rondy guides a group through one of the farm's many high tunnels on Thursday. Photo by Matt Moore.

High tunnels extend the active growing season for farmers (or create an entirely new growing period), conserve water use, reduce the need for pesticides and manage surface run-off – all of which benefit farming communities economically and environmentally. Earlier starts and delayed ends to the season mean more produce and better prices for growers; controlled growing environments mean less water run-off and decreased pesticide use.

“It’s so exciting that the Athens area has created these agriculture models that are drawing farmers from across the region to learn from us,” said Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture coordinator Tom Redfern. “Once again the old adage is true: the best asset we have in southeast Ohio is our resilient, innovative population – Kip, Becky, Dan, Miranda and the whole Green Edge staff are an example of this.”

AmeriCorps volunteers helping out on Thursday. Photo by Matt Moore.

Following morning tours on the farm, participants moved to the local Grange Hall in Amesville for a locally-sourced lunch prepared by Bob Fedyski, Local and Institutional Foods Consultant at Rural Action, with the help of Rural Action AmeriCorps volunteers. Hearty stews featuring turkey from King Family Farm and vegetables from Green Edge, Mitch’s Produce and Shade River Organics, homemade rolls from the Lodge at Lake Hope and a whole spread of pies from Lucy Fussner were on the menu. 

Serving up savory local turkey stew to a participant. Photo by Matt Moore.

The afternoon presentation at the Grange Hall gave participants a further sense of year-round growing. Kneier explained planting schedules, crop threats, high tunnel construction costs, incentive programs, business models and addressed other questions posed by participants.

They also learned from owners Kip and Becky Rondy how the farm has developed since its beginning to now serve Columbus and Athens retail locations, CSA (consumer supported agriculture) members and a number of restaurants. Their financial growth has allowed the Rondys to hire full and part time farm staff, as well as host a success apprentice program for beginning farmers. 

The entire room full of eager learners and future high tunnel growers. Photo by Matt Moore.

At the end of the day, attendees went home with folders stuffed full of valuable information, ready to build their own tunnels, extend their range of growing and get a little more money in their pockets. And Green Edge took another step as innovative agriculture leaders and educators in the region.

“We have valuable ideas to share with people,” said Redfern. “We need to continue to claim that value and show it off.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stacy Family Farm buys the ODNR nursery in Marietta

Several years ago, Rural Action got a call from Janet Stacy looking for a place for one of her boys to sell a truck load of cauliflower. Luckily the Sustainable Agriculture team was working with the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) at the time. Since then they have become regular producers at the CPA as well as several area farmers markets, including the Athens Farmers Market. The Stacys are a fifth generation family farm. Their story is available on their website.

Parents Bill and Janet Stacy are strong supporters of their children’s’ dreams - dreams that have centered closely on the agricultural world. Their daughter Amanda is an attorney practicing agricultural law in Columbus. Their son Todd is a graduate of the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute, and the younger son Tyler is in high school, learning welding and growing cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. A couple years ago, Janet commented to Rural Action’s Bob Fedyski that they were looking to increase their production and were interested in the Marietta State Nursery, a 98-acre tract along State Route 7, and were looking for financing. Rural Action is a member of CAN, the Central Appalachian Network, and through CAN were introduced to Dave McCann, Business Lender with Natural Capital Investment Fund, Inc., who were growing into Ohio. Bob saw the connection, and made the introductions. A short time ago Rural Action’s Executive Director, Michelle Decker received the following email:

Hi, Michelle:

Good news! Tell Bob and Tom I just ordered title work to start the closing process along with Farm Credit Services for Bill and Janet Stacy. Many thanks for this referral and we hope to include you folks in the glory of this project once it is fully completed. I am very excited to have this project come to a loan closing soon.

Thanks again and take care,


Though it was anything but simple, hard work persevered, and on January 10 at 6:00 pm in the Reno Community Center, the Port Authority announced the sale of the property to the Stacys.


Todd has big visions for the property, such as expanding the farm’s available “U-pick” crops and drawing in more crowds for education. Approximately 1,800 children tour the Stacy Family Farm each year, and the new property will provide more educational opportunities for students to learn about farming, said Todd. "Our parents, lots of them have stories about that summer they worked on the farm. Our generation does not have that," he said, pointing out that the farm could be a great summer job for high school students. Stacy Family Farm currently employs 12 to 15 seasonal workers, and that number is expected to increase with the new farm.

In purchasing the property, the Stacy family agreed to permanently restrict 50 acres of the property for agricultural use and also to permanently protect a known site of five endangered plant species: midland sedge, northern croton, cottonweed, old-field toadflax, villous panic grass, and one threatened species, the milk-pea. Not only will the Stacys be preserving habitat, they’ll also be preserving another endangered entity - the family farm.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Farm to institution reaches Nelsonville, brings together multi-county partners in local food access

NELSONVILLE, OH - They came together to talk about local food sourcing and left with fresh ideas, new connections and a stomach full of local food prepared by one of the nation’s few Certified Master Chefs.

The menu for the local food buffet. Photo by Joe Barbaree.

On Wednesday, January 16, more than 40 local farmers, restaurateurs, school faculty, hospital personnel and non-profit representatives came together at The Inn at Hocking College to discuss the future of local food sourcing and distribution as part of Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture’s continuing “Farm to Institution” initiative. The series of meetings, which began at the newly rebuilt Lake Hope Lodge in McArthur on November 14, addresses issues faced by restaurants, schools, hospitals and other institutions looking to source more fruits, vegetables and other products from local producers in Athens and surrounding counties. 

But the topic of discussion wasn’t the only local element at the afternoon meeting. Hocking College’s new Dean of Hospitality Master Chef Alfonso Contrisciani explained to the room full participants how he taught his students to select, prepare and work with fresh, local produce from area farmers to craft one of the highlights of the day: a local lunch buffet.

Participants from Live Healthy Appalachia, Athens City-County Health Department and Community Food Initiatives get settled before lunch begins. Photo by Joe Barbaree.

As Hocking College begins to restructure their agriculture and hospitality programs this year, Contrisciani wants to emphasize local food production and preparation. For the Farm to Institution meal he worked directly with Hocking students, who had a few surprises working with local food along the way. For an “Amish style” chicken pot pie, he worked with J.B. King of King Family Farm to get the freshest chicken he could. And his students were stunned. The chicken looked nothing like the pre-packaged stuff they were accustomed to in the grocery store. “This is what real chicken looks like,” he told them.

Chef Alfonso Contrisciani (left) speaks with Hocking College president Ron Erickson. Photo by Joe Barbaree.

Contrisciani also sourced pork shoulder from King, smoked it an entire day and paired it with a chipotle barbeque sauce, braised cabbage, apple smoked bacon and mustard cream for another entree. For a savory, local soup he purchased sweet potatoes from Rick Vest of Vest Berries and Produce, and turnips from the Chesterhill Produce Auction, which he showed the students how to lightly caramelize and turn into a velvety dish. Other items sourced from Chesterhill Produce Auction growers included the main ingredient for mashed potatoes – the potatoes – and honey for one of the sweet treats at the end of the meal – a honey and citrus goat cheese Bavarian cream with red wine poached pear compote.

Throughout the afternoon, attendees discussed issues faced when sourcing local produce: how to clear up communication issues between buyers and producers, the advantages of local produce, ways to address capacity issues and how to distribute produce effectively across the region. A number of solutions as well as some lingering issues were proposed.

Federal Hocking Schools superintendent George Wood (left) listens as Rick Vest of Vest Berries and Produce discusses local sourcing and his produce. Photo by Joe Barbaree.

After dividing into smaller groups during the meeting, attendees came back together to recap their discussions, some with tangible solutions to local sourcing problems. Natalie Woodroofe of the 30 Mile Meal initiative and the Real Food-Real Local-Real Good Institute pointed out that communication issues are a major hindrance to local sourcing. She said farmers often don’t know who is looking for what kind of produce, and buyers often don’t know the best way to reach a farmer, or what produce they typically sell and in what quantities, or even how to order.

To solve this, she and Joe Barbaree AmeriCorps VISTA with Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture suggested creating a buyers resource guide that lists all growers and producers within the Athens region and include listings for each that detail what produce they grow, seasonal availability, ordering methods and other pertinent information. Local producer information currently exists on Ohiofoodshed.org and the 30 Mile Meal webpage, but a print compendium is the focus of this effort - something buyers can constantly have with them. These guides would be distributed to restaurants, schools, hospitals and any business interested in sourcing locally but not sure where to begin.

Executive Chef at WVU-Parkersburg Gene Evans (far left) and Roger Graves of Yankee Street Farm listen as John Gutekanst of Avalanche Pizza makes a point during the afternoon discussion. Photo by Joe Barbaree.

Other groups discussed changing school curricula and developments toward teaching local, sustainable food production while also increasing access to fresh, local food in higher education. This is what Rosa Guedes the new head of WVU-Parkersburg’s diversified agriculture program hopes to achieve. She will work with students - just as Contrisciani is – to prepare them for futures in sustainable, local food production and preparation. Permaculture, organic growing and high tunnel work will all be part of the learning curriculum.

After last week’s Farm to Institution meeting, smaller discussions are set to take place between partners in the local food economy. Some will turn their time, attention and talents toward revitalizing college and technical school agriculture curricula. Others will focus on creating fresh, local menus for hospitals and schools. Others will look at distribution and sourcing. But regardless of their approach, all will be working toward further strengthening and creating a thriving, sustaining local food system.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

OSU Announces Electronic Benefits Transfer Training for Farmers Markets

Special from Melissa Carter

PIKETON, OH - The Ohio State University South Centers will be presenting upcoming trainings across Ohio which will focus on accepting Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for food assistance cards at farmers markets. There are currently only 60 Ohio farmers markets that are EBT participants. The goal of these trainings will be to encourage and inform markets about the potential economic and community growth for the market and vendors by utilizing EBT. 

  Seasonal fruit on sale at the Athens Farmers Market, one of 60 in the state currently accepting EBT food assistance. Photo courtesy of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Topics will focus on the EBT acceptance process, best practices, funding opportunities and products that can be accepted with food assistance cards. Farmers market managers, vendors and community leaders are encouraged to attend this training and networking event.

Trainings will be held in three locations across the state. On January 30 from 9:00 AM until 12:00 PM, the training will be held at the Anderson Center near Cincinnati. On February 11 from 9:30 AM until 12:30 PM, the CanalWay Center in Cuyahoga Heights will be the location. The last training opportunity will be part of the fourth annual Ohio Farmers’ Market Conference on March 11 at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on The Ohio State University’s main campus.

There will be no cost to attend these trainings. Registration is requested and seating is limited. To register or for more information about any of these trainings, contact Melissa Carter, 740-289-2071 Ext. 222, email carter.1094@osu.edu or log on to http://ohiofarmersmarkets.osu.edu. These trainings are being offered through funding by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

USDA, Partner Agencies Coordinate Long-term Drought Response in Northwest Ohio, Tri-State Area

Special from USDA Office of Communications

ARCHBOLD, OH - Nearly 100 agricultural producers, rural stakeholders and federal and state officials gathered earlier this week at Northwest State Community College in rural Henry County, Ohio, to discuss the impact of this summer's drought and sow the seeds for future collaboration.

Dan Bowers inspects his corn crops in Wayne and Ashland Counties this past July. Bowers was one of many Ohio farmers who felt the effects of the 2012 drought.

"The impact of drought can be felt in rural communities throughout the country and the Obama Administration is committed to doing everything it can to help farmers, ranchers, businesses, and local and county governments meet drought-related challenges," said Colleen Callahan, the USDA's disaster recovery coordinator for drought. "These meetings provide an opportunity for federal representatives to work with local and regional leaders to learn about drought-related impacts in the region and determine how to best use existing programs to help speed recovery efforts."

Recognizing that recovery from the drought that affected much of the farm belt will be a lengthy process, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack scheduled several regional meetings to outline available resources to assist local, regional and state recovery efforts. USDA coordinated with federal partners, working closely with the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to facilitate these meetings. Yesterday's meeting in Northwest Ohio also drew stakeholders from Michigan and Indiana. Similar meetings have taken place in Arkansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

The Archbold meeting was coordinated by The Ohio State University Extension, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Northwest State Community College, the Center for Innovative Food Technology and Ruralogic. There are more than 76,000 identified farms in Ohio alone. Agriculture is the biggest business in the state.

The Secretary also announced the implementation of the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). The NDRF links local, State, Tribal and Federal governments, the private sector and nongovernmental and community organizations that play vital roles in recovery. It is a scalable, adaptable coordinating structure that helps align key roles and responsibilities in response to disaster recovery.

According to the USDA, the Obama Administration with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Congress Urged to Pass Equitable, Sustainable Farm Bill This Year

Special from Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

COLUMBUS, OH - Congress’ lame duck session starts today. An array of important issues are demanding their attention, including the expired Farm Bill, our nation’s most comprehensive food and farming legislation.

Ed Perkins of Sassafras Farm in New Marshfield, Ohio. Photo by Julia Marino.

Every five years, Congress is responsible for reauthorizing the Farm Bill, which funds federal nutrition, agricultural commodities, land conservation, rural development and organics programs. This year Congress failed to reauthorize the Farm Bill before it expired on October 1.

While the largest programs, including those for nutrition and commodities, have some continued funding, the expiration effectively halts new enrollment for programs that help drive innovation, support the next generation of farmers, conserve our natural resources and invest in local economic development.

“Congress failed to do its job when it allowed the Farm Bill to expire,” said MacKenzie Bailey, Policy Program Coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). “It’s time they get down to business and pass an equitable and sustainable Farm Bill - one that addresses rural job creation, training opportunities for beginning farmers, natural resource conservation and access to healthy, organic food,” said Bailey.

One of the Farm Bill programs at stake is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which invests in beginning farmers by helping them access land, credit and crop insurance; launch and expand new farms and businesses; and receive training, mentoring and education. Although this important program helps to address the problems associated with America’s aging farm population and encourages a new generation of farmers to take the tractor wheel, the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee proposed cutting this program in half.

“Starting a new business is difficult, particularly in agriculture where the owner is subject to so many unpredictable variables that may impact their annual yield, such as a drought or early frost,” said Bailey. “The BFRDP provides meaningful and cost-effective support to these individuals, helping them to jumpstart their businesses by equipping them with knowledge and skills they need to succeed.”

In 2010, the Ohio State University received a three year BFRDP grant that launched the Beginning Entrepreneurs in Agriculture Networks (B.E.A.N.) project, which provides resources and information to young farmers in northeast Ohio. Annually, this project trains and assists approximately 125 aspiring farmers.

"Without the educational resources and opportunities provided by my local Ohio State extension office, I would not have been as successful in the start-up of my small, urban farm," said Linde Collingwood of Collingwood Farm in Solon, Ohio. "Cuts to BRFDP would be a huge loss for northeast Ohio's new and beginning farmers."

In recent years, farmers’ markets in Ohio and across the nation have grown in popularity, benefiting communities by bolstering the local economy, creating jobs and providing increased access to fresh, nutritious food. In 2011, Ohio had more than 260 farmers’ markets, which provide low-cost entry points for small-scale and beginning farmers to direct market their products.

The Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) provides grants to community supported agriculture programs (CSAs), farmers’ markets and farm markets to develop marketing information and business plans, support innovative market ideas and educate consumers. In 2012, six Ohio markets received FMPP funding.

One such market is the Toledo Farmers’ Market, which used FMPP funding to recruit new vendors, help establish and promote an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients and build relationships with community partners to leverage additional funding and support. As a result, SNAP sales increased from $500 in 2008 to $50,000 in 2011, the market added 1,000 new EBT customers, overall market sales increased by 20 percent and the number of vendors at the market grew by 38 percent.

“Thanks to the FMPP funding, we’ve attracted thousands of new customers, increased sales and built more economically-sustainable businesses,” said Liz Bergman, a Toledo Farmers’ Market Manager. “This year has been the best year yet for the EBT program. Word has spread in the community and we now feed more Lucas County residents in need of healthy food.”

Another example is the Lake-To-River Food Cooperative (L2R), a member-owned cooperative of food producers, processors and institutional and commercial buyers who grow, add value to, market and prepare agricultural products in the Mahoning Valley and throughout northeast Ohio. The FMPP funding they received supports their efforts to sell produce to ten local school districts and bring regular farmers’ markets to neighborhoods in Youngstown and Warren.

“With this support, L2R has been able to serve nearly 14,000 school children with fruit and vegetables sourced from farms oftentimes less than 30 minutes from their school,” said Melissa Miller, Marketing Manager for Lake-to-River Food Cooperative. “Additionally we’ve begun the difficult process of providing quality food by working with retailers in low-income neighborhoods, whose patrons would otherwise have little access to wholesome food.”

The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, another Farm Bill program vital to Ohio’s growing sustainable agriculture sector, reimburses participating organic producers and handlers for 75 percent (up to $750) of their certification fees, making organic certification affordable and enabling farmers and processors to meet the growing demand for organic food. In 2011, 251 Ohioans utilized cost-share funds, or about 40 percent of the state’s organic operations.

"As a farmer currently enrolled in this program, I have found it quite valuable," said Ron Meyer of Strawberry Hill Farm in Coshocton County. "Organic certification fees are high. The cost-share program helps me continue to provide fresh and safe food, building the health of humans and the environment. Allowing programs like this to wither on the vine defies common sense."

“These examples demonstrate how low cost, effective Farm Bill programs can support Ohio’s family farmers,” said Bailey. “It’s time for Congress to stop kicking the can down the road and pass a Farm Bill this year that makes real reforms, protects conservation programs and invests in a sustainable future for food and farms in America.”

In addition to funding successful programs, OEFFA is calling on Congress to level the playing field for working farmers in Ohio by eliminating wasteful direct payments, closing loopholes that benefit the wealthiest agribusinesses and putting a cap on farm and crop insurance subsidies.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chesterhill Produce Auction Winds Down for the Winter with Community Celebration

CHESTERHILL, OH - As autumn colors paint Appalachian Ohio’s hills shades of dusty red and shimmering yellow once more, farmers in southern Morgan County are preparing for the end of the growing season with a community celebration before the winter close of the largest wholesale marketplace in their region: the Chesterhill Produce Auction.

Some of the gorgeous autumn baskets at the auction this year.

 Located southwest of Chesterhill, Ohio in Morgan County, the Chesterhill Produce Auction began on a summer day seven years ago with a handful of helpers and growers working together to create a sustainable, aggregated destination for restaurants and institutional purchasers to get fresh, local produce for their businesses. In turn, these buyers would help bolster the growing potential of the rural community in Morgan County as demand increased, and local communities would see healthier, fresher produce on local menus, in local schools and on the kitchen table.

What began those seven years ago has now grown into an economic food destination for buyers and sellers in southeastern Ohio. From increased livelihood of area farmers to fresh, local produce making its way into regional schools, the effectiveness of the Chesterhill Produce Auction can be seen in many places.

The 2012 auction season in Chesterhill was marked with boosts in both revenue and attendance - including growers and buyers - of significant degrees. While Morgan County faces challenges as one of the poorest in the state, the Chesterhill Produce Auction continues to provide an economic stronghold for regional growers, which includes a large farming community in the Chesterhill area. The current year-to-date revenue for this year is up 34% from 2011 and continues to increase each year.

But sellers alone don’t benefit from the auction. A dedicated network of community members continues to utilize the rural hotspot for food purchasing that is the Chesterhill Produce Auction. The total number of registered buyers for this year has shot up 33% from last year to include approximately 1,600 buyers, which includes restaurants, retail sellers, food pantries and schools in the area.

As in years past, the auction will cap off this season with a community potluck and craft expo – showcasing handmade brooms from Peter Snellman of the Vintage Broom Shop, as well as many other vendors - during the final produce auction on Thursday, October 25 at 3:00 p.m. This final celebration of the fruitful growing season will be followed by a day-long consignment auction on Saturday, November 3 beginning at 10:00 a.m. featuring farm equipment, house wares, leather making supplies and more. Traditional dishes will be available from community members for both events featuring seasonal autumn recipes and locally grown produce.

As community members celebrate the end of another successful, eventful and memorable season in southeastern Ohio, area growers continue to prepare for the winter months and the beginning of the spring growing season next year. Increased purchasing from institutions like Camden Clark Medical Center and West Virginia University in Parkersburg, West Virginia will continue into the new growing season, and new purchasers partnering with the auction will only increase demand for fresh, local produce and enable further growth for regional farmers.

The Chesterhill Produce Auction is a project of Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture program. Rural Action is a membership-based nonprofit organization promoting social, economic and environmental justice and working for sustainable communities, economies and environments in Appalachian Ohio. For more information, go to www.ruralaction.org.

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