Ohio produce growers balk at national plan, back state-specific regs

MOUNT HOPE, Ohio — Produce growers in the world’s most populous Amish community are concerned regulations approved for California could put Amish and other small growers out of business if made into a national standard.

Billed as the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the plan was formed in response to food safety concerns, especially outbreaks of E. coli. It incorporates food safety practices and mandatory government inspections. California growers approved it in 2007, but the plan is now being considered as a standard for other states and potentially the nation, officials say.

Ohio growers cry foul

But some Ohio growers, both English and Amish, say Ohio is vastly different from California, in terms of the size of its operations and crops grown, and no one plan should be made to regulate the two states, or other states that may differ.

“I’m really, really afraid,” said Bob Jones, of Huron, Ohio, of what he sees in Ohio’s future.

Jones’ comments came during a presentation held Nov. 10 at Mount Hope Auction barn, where members of Ohio Produce Growers and Marketing Association spoke about the creation of an Ohio-based standard, to be called the Ohio Fresh Produce Marketing Agreement.

Ohioans for Ohio

“We want to write our own standards for Ohio, to take into account where we grow, how we grow and what we grow,” Jones said.
The presentation, one of a half-dozen being held across the state are led mostly by Karl Kolb, project manager for the newly formed Ohio Fresh Produce Marketing Agreement.

Small growers excluded

Kolb was part of the group that helped design California’s plan, which he said was good for that state, at the time. However, it later excluded some 25,000 smaller farmers from participating.

And Ohio growers could be excluded, too, if the same standard is applied to their state, he said.
The Ohio plan, if approved, would seek to develop a multi-tiered certification structure that would certify producers in ways that would be safe and practical for all sizes of production.

Kolb said participation in Ohio’s plan would still be voluntary, but that it would “have the same strength and validity” of other plans and protect the safety and grower interests of Ohioans.

All-inclusive plan

The Mount Hope meeting was mostly attended by Amish, but the produce standard is an issue for all Ohioans, said Raymond Yoder, who serves on the produce committee for Mount Hope Produce Auction.

“This is not for the Amish or the Mennonites, it’s for all of us,” he said.

Tim Calame, floor manager at Blooming Grove Produce Auction in Richland County, said he’s concerned what responsibility sales managers will have if a national plan is adopted, and whether he would have to conduct additional monitoring of his sellers.

If an Ohio plan is developed, he wants it to be affordable and practical, so it doesn’t interfere with a producer’s ability to be profitable in what is already a tight marketplace, he said.

Kolb and other officials said they would try to make the certification fee as practical as possible, but said they still feel it’s a better choice than requiring producers to join a national plan.

Profits on the line

The event also was attended by representatives with Ohio State University Extension, including fruit and vegetable specialist Doug Doohan. He told Ohio Farm Bureau that regulations like those in the California plan could limit small growers to selling only at farmers markets, and that “their ability to grow their business and make any kind of profit could be severely curtailed.”

What’s next?

The idea for an Ohio plan has already been presented in Cleveland, Athens and Morrow. After all listening sessions are complete, OPGMA will develop a draft of action, to be presented during its winter congress Jan. 18-20 in Sandusky.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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