Innovative Farmers of Ohio: Sustainable ag success requires thinking outside of the box

HIRAM, Ohio — Prosperity and possibility were the themes shared at this year’s Innovative Farmers of Ohio conference held at Hiram College Feb. 26.

Holistic veterinarian

Susan Beal, a homeopathic veterinarian who is the agricultural science adviser for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, talked about how vital farms are to providing food for families.

Beal, who was the keynote speaker, said farming and entrepreneurship take a special person.

“They have to have a call from the heart, not a spreadsheet, at times,” Beal said.

Beal said her experience has taught her healthy soil is the basis of a healthy farming community. She added it is easy to discover everything is related on a farm when taking a holistic approach. The relationship between animal husbandry and human relationships can not only affect the animals on the farm but the food we all eat as well.

One thing Beal was adamant about in her talk was the role of antibiotics in livestock farming.

“You can farm without antibiotics,” Beal told the group.

She said it requires a different set of tools and looking at the entire animal, everything going on with the animal and even the person taking care of it.

Beal added that another problem she sees as a veterinarian is the way cattle are fed.

“We’re killing our cattle by feeding them the way we do here in the United States. Twnety-three percent protein rations for dairy cattle is too much. We are burning them up,” Beal said.

She said a new model for agriculture needs to be built in the U.S.

Beal said too few farmers are producing too much of our food and more locally-grown food is needed.

One way to build a new model is to ignore commodity markets and instead focus on raising specialty products where a higher price can be gained, she said.

“Farming is not a one size fits all business,” Beal said.

Beal said there have always been conventional ways to measure success in farming but it may be time to develop new measures. She said they must include a farmer’s integrity, water quality and land stewardship.

Chef first

Bob Perry, special projects manager, was chef for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group in the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky and at a restaurant he owned in South Carolina which got him started in sustainable agriculture. He would grow as many of his own vegetables as possible and try to purchase other items from local farmers.

He is still using what he learned at the University of Kentucky. He convinced the university to purchase beef from a local producer which the chef uses to prepare his dishes there.

Perry said he prefers to use products from farms as he described as “ag in the middle.”

Perry tries to engage farms that are between 100 and 200 acres; too small for a family to make a living, but they offer possibilities. The problem for farms attempting to engage in growing smaller amounts of crops is that the farms are often too rural to access farmers markets or businesses.

Another idea Perry wants to help expand across the country is a value chain.

“You have to establish a win-win relationship,” Perry said.

Perry described a value chain as a good way to engage farmers and provide people with better food.

One example given was from the University of Kentucky. The university now purchases beef cattle from a local farmer, hauls it to a local processor and the students at the university then get the food.

“It’s a way to get farms that have been out of business back in business again. Value chains can be complicated but they can be done,” Perry said.

Other speakers

Besides Perry and Beal, some Ohio farmers specializing in sustainable agriculture also spoke at the conference and also an entrepreneur from Cleveland who is connecting consumers with locally grown food.

• Trevor Clatterbuck, serves as the chief executive officer of Fresk Fork. He started a business with classmates while attending Case Western Reserve.

Clatterbuck operates a business where he goes to farmers markets or farms and purchases vegetables and meat. He then delivers the goods to homes through a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

Another venture Clatterbuck is involved in is developing relationships with restaurants and getting them to purchase the locally grown vegetables and meats.

• Floyd Davis, is the owner of Red Basket Farm in Kinsman, Ohio. It is a small family farm dedicated to year-round production of specialty crops supplying farmers markets, restaurants and a seasonal CSA program. The farm is currently working with the South Euclid/Lyndhurst School District in Cuyahoga County to pilot “Farm to School.”

Davis supplies the school district with fresh vegetables and is helping to educate the children and adults through a separate grant.

He has been able to provide vegetables so far for the entire school year except for January and February. He attributed that to unusually heavy snowfall and severe lack of sunshine.

• Aaron Miller, has been raising cattle for over 30 years and practiced rotational grazing for 25 years, switching to intensive grazing in 1999. He has added hogs, poultry and sheep to assist in parasite control. His farm has been chemical free since 1999. He currently has 80 head of cattle, 20 hogs and 65 sheep. He sells his products at farm markets, restaurants and direct marketing.

• Daniel Trudel and his wife, Ann, own and manage Ann’s Raspberry Farm and Specialty Crops, a pick-your-own operation in Knox County. Trudel specializes in growing Brussels sprouts and has began experimenting with specialized crops as a means to capture niche markets.

The Trudels began their operation in 2005 and it has grown significantly from an initial half acre of red raspberries to three acres, which also includes a 3,000 square foot high tunnel.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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