Thursday, May 28, 2015

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Photo courtesy Ann's Raspberry Farm in Fredericktown

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association kicks off its 35th annual statewide public tour and workshop series starting June 3. We caught up with communications coordinator Lauren Ketcham about the series, why the OEFFA cares and why you ought to as well.

Q: I'm not a farmer. Am I still invited on these tours?
A: It's a unique opportunity for growers to go out to the farm, learn about sustainable agriculture, pick up production and marketing tips, ask questions of a fellow grower so they can improve their own farms and businesses. But just as importantly, the tours are geared toward nongrowers, folks that just want to strengthen their knowledge about local foods and how food gets from the field to the dinner table. [OEFFA] members are farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, consumers. So part of our mission is bringing those groups together.

Q: What can I expect to see?
A: We really try to make sure that we’re offering diversity in our farm tour series, both in terms of geographic location so that we’re offering something for everybody around the state and in terms of what you’d see on the farm tours so that the diversity of Ohio agriculture is represented: There are livestock farms, there are grain farms, dairy operations, fruit and vegetable production, so that the whole gamut is covered.

Q: I keep hearing this word "sustainable." What does it really mean?
A: Unlike organic, which is a highly defined term and regulated by the national organic program, so it means very specific things, there are a lot of other terms like sustainable, ecological, natural, that are used and are not as firmly defined. When people talk about sustainable agriculture, they’re meaning an emphasis on soil health, so really building up the soil through the use of cover crops and crop rotation. Typically it means people aren’t using chemical-intensive agriculture, so they’re not using hazardous synthetic pesticides, herbicides.

Q: I like to shop at farm stands and farmers markets. Any advice for choosing sustainable foods?
A: I think one good question right off the bat to ask is, 'Did you grow this?' Some farmers markets are producer-only markets, where farmers can’t sell products that they didn’t personally grow. But other farmers markets – West Side Market is an example of this – that is not the case. Somebody can go to an auction or purchase crops wholesale, take those to market, mark those up and resell them. So I think that’s an important distinction for consumers to understand. Am I getting produce that is being resold from a wholesaler, in which case they may not be able to tell you much about the story behind that food? Whereas if you’re talking with the farmer who grew the food, harvested it the day before, brought it to market, they can tell you a whole lot about the story of that food and how they made it to market. It’s not always obvious to a person looking at a farm stand which one they’re looking at.

Q: There's a series in the schedule specifically geared toward women. Why?

A: This is the first year that I know of that we’re offering this specifically in the tour series, these Women Grow Ohio tours. It’s going to featured 17 different women-operated farms, gardens and homesteads in Athens, Fairfield, Franklin, Lorain, Muskingum and Perry counties. This came about at the request of our members. We’re a grassroots organization. We respond to the needs of our members, and we’re happy and excited to include it in the tour series. The goal is that we’re going to be able to showcase how women are transforming agriculture in Ohio and what issues women farmers are facing, showcasing some of the work that they’re doing and their role on the farm. The one that’s going to be taking place in Lorain County is going to be at Aggie’s Rest Farm, and the farmer there is named Cheryl Billman. This is a homestead that has been in their family since the 1940s, and they’re emphasis is on permaculture and on energy efficiency and renewable energy with the goal of being as off the grid and petroleum free as they can.

Want to learn more? Check out the Farm Tour 2015 Schedule of Events or sign up for a seat at The Farmers' Table hosted by Maplestar Farms in Chagrin Falls Sunday, August 30. Tickets are $125 and proceeds support the OEFFA. Dinner includes appetizers, beverages and a four-course food and wine pairing prepared by the chefs of Driftwood Restaurant Group.

Photo of Twin Parks Organic Farm tour in West Salem courtesy Colleen Calahan


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