IFO hires first full-time director to guide programs

WOOSTER, Ohio – As the new director for Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Laura Ann Bergman may be the perfect fit.

She is an Ohio farm girl who grew up on a Lorain County grain farm. But she has spent the past few years working with sustainable farming guru John Ikerd at the University of Missouri.

She did an internship to learn organics from one of Ohio’s most noted organic farmers, John Heizel of Pemberville. And at the University of Missouri she managed the sustainable agriculture program.

Now she is coming home to Ohio to work with an organization she sees as having a good chance of making progress in the area to which she has dedicated herself – developing a sustainable food and farming system.

Introduced to IFO.

Bergman was introduced to Innovative Farmers of Ohio members at their annual meeting Jan. 27 in Wooster as the organization’s first full-time director.

She will work out of the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio, where the Innovative Farmers have established offices in the past year.

What Bergman said she will appreciate most about her new responsibilities is that she will be working for farmers.

IFO, she said, is an organization created and directed by producers whose main goal is helping to further sustainable family farming.

“I am excited about the opportunity to work directly through farmers, and not through extension, like I did in Missouri,” she said.

Found a focus.

From the outside looking in, IFO looks like it may have found a productive direction with its focus on collaboration with all organizations and with building partnerships, Bergman said.

IFO works with Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and with OSU Extension. It recently established a connection with Ohio Citizen Action, and will co-sponsor a conference on connecting food and the consumer in March in Columbus.

Bergman now hopes to develop closer connections with other Ohio farm organizations.

IFO has also been stressing experimentation, she said, and has been involved in on-farm research trials. With its field days and other events, it is building a system of farm-to-farm communication.

All farmers.

IFO has been very open to all farmers, Bergman said. While many of its members, including current president Joe Hartzler, are organic farmers, there are also many conventional farmers who belong to the organization and who attend its events.

“There are many, many farmers who are seen as conventional, who are also interested in trying out production methods considered sustainable,” Bergman said. “Practices like crop coverage or herbicide limitation appeal to many producers.”

She would like IFO to be seen as a resource for these producers, as an organization that is interested in practical solutions to producer problems, and which keeps its arms open to all family farmers.

Learning circles.

The latest IFO project has been to build a series of farmer-to-farmer learning circles.

With a grant provided by the Ohio Environmental Education Fund, IFO has been establishing a network of individual farmers within a community who are interested in getting together on a regular basis to discuss local problems.

IFO will provide $400 to 10 groups distributed regionally around Ohio. The groups are picking topics to study like watershed issues, forest farming, and pasture management. IFO will help them find expertise from farmers, scientists, and agencies to help them develop their information.

Bergman said there are already more groups interested than IFO has funds to establish.

Bergman may be contacted at the Stratford Ecological Center at 740-363-2548, or by e-mail at sacenter@aol.com.

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