Ohio small farmers learn big-farm marketing success

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To read how social media can help small farms click here. Social media was part of the keynote address.

MASSILLON, Ohio — Small farmers and landowners from across Ohio gathered March 26 at the R.G. Drage Career Technical Center to learn what they could do with their small acreage.

But the better question may have been — What can’t they do?

“Many of the conservation practices we use on large farms can be applied to the small farm setting,” said Kevin Swope, a district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Carroll County. “If you’ve got an acre of ground you want to do something with, you’ve got an opportunity.”

Swope led one of the 20-plus breakout sessions at this year’s Northeast Ohio Small Farm Conference & Trade Show. His topic was high tunnels and organic cost-share programs.

The bees

Bob Hooker’s session was abuzz, quite literally, as the Harrison County beekeeper discussed the importance of honey and honeybees to the United States.

The U.S. has a lot of opportunity with honey, he explained, since it currently imports more than 60 percent of what it consumes. But the biggest benefit of the bee is what it does for crops and other plants.

“The real value of honeybees is as a pollinator of crops and plants,” he told his group.

Rob Leeds, of OSU Extension, gave a talk on agritourism and the ways small farms can benefit by holding public events.

He said the farmers market was the original form of agritourism, and much has evolved since then.

Small farmers may not be able to offer their products as cheap as larger companies, and often do not have as large a customer base, but they can do one very big thing: “focus on value.”

Small farm appeal

Leeds said value, and niche markets, and the experience consumers get interacting with the farmers, are what draw people to small farms. Small farmers also can appeal to the whole family, through efforts like “pick-your-own.”

Mike Hogan, also of OSU Extension, gave a straight-talk presentation about oil and gas leasing, especially in the wake of the Marcellus and Utica shale boom.

He gave detailed lists of what property owners should include in their lease agreements; things like specific descriptions of the property, length of term, specific formations, a negotiation or arbitration clause, indemnification of the landowner, and provisions for removal of timber and fences and how the land is to be reclaimed.

A lot of uncertainties remain with this type of drilling, and a lot of opportunity for success and failure. Hogan challenged the group to think critically and evaluate all possibilities.

“When people tell you they have the exact answers on this stuff, they don’t,” he insisted.

Other topics included berry production, aquaculture, government programs for new and small farmers, and farm marketing.

Attendees

This year’s theme was “living your small farm dream.” It was designed for people who have smaller acreage, but want to turn them into something useful or profitable.

Steve Smith and his wife, Lisa, came from West Salem, Ohio, to learn more about wind energy. They recently relocated to a 15-acre property that is mostly wooded, and they also are interested in designing a hiking trail and pond, for family use.

Jennifer Brown, assistant city manager for Geneva, Ohio, came to learn more about agritourism and grant opportunities. She’s part of an effort to develop a wine and culinary center in Geneva, to boost marketing and tourism.

“The traditional sense of farming is changing,” she said, pointing to the wide diversity of people at the conference.

Jim Orgel, also of Geneva, has a three-acre plot and came hoping to find out more about hydroponics. Although it wasn’t a topic offered, he intended to recommend it for next year’s event.

Organizers also held the conference March 11-12 in Wilmington, Ohio, with a theme of “Opening Doors to Success.” Both events are co-sponsored by the OSU Extension Small Farm Program.

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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