Innovative Ohio farmers eager to exchange ideas


LONDON, Ohio – Have something you really want to talk about, a “burning issue” or question you want to discuss? Get up, write it down and see who wants to join you.

After hearing that challenge, a dozen or more of those attending the Innovative Farmers of Ohio annual meeting Jan. 26 were on their feet and grabbing markers to put their ideas on the wall.

They were ready to brainstorm, to find out what others in the room might have to say.

“We had a couple of ‘plants’ in the audience,” said IFO executive director Laura Bergman. “But it was amazing. They were on their feet immediately.”

The largest group formed around the question regarding the connection between farmer and consumer, and what farmers would like consumers to know.

A group of more than 30 people sat down on the floor, with others leaning into the group from behind, or straining to get involved in this intense conversation.

Diverse conversations. But there were lively discussions in half a dozen groups gathered around posted questions. Members debated opportunities for young farmers, how rural and urban neighbors can coexist, how to start a political movement to bring back on-farm sale of raw milk, what might be involved in ‘green’ payments, how to deal with new state regulations for farm markets.

It took a lot of effort to break up the conversations, even though other business was at hand and another round of workshop presentations were ready to be presented.

The foundation of IFO has always been farmer-to-farmer networking, Bergman said, and this is the most direct kind.

Bergman reported to the more than 200 attending the annual meeting, held this year at the Proctor Center south of London, Ohio, that IFO has had a busy year.

On-farm research. The organization’s on-farm research trials were conducted in cooperation with other organizations, and are expected to get even stronger in the coming year.

IFO has participated with the Organic Farming Research Foundation in a SARE-funded project to conduct on-farm corn variety trials for organic farms.

It also participated in the Pleasantview Farm food grade soybean trials, testing nine food grade varieties for growing in southern Ohio. This year, IFO members will be accompanying Ohio State’s Richard Moore to Japan in March to discuss sales with Japanese cooperatives interested in buying organic soybeans.

This year, IFO will also be working with the Warner Fund for Sustainable Agriculture through OSU to link university researchers and farmers who are interested in participating in research on sustainable agriculture.

Producer meeting. A meeting of producers is scheduled Feb. 5 at the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio, where IFO has its offices, to let producers discuss on-farm research and to find out about available funding.

The entire membership was invited to attend.

Partnering with two other organic farm organizations, IFO also helped sponsor two farm tour series last summer.

And through the learning circles initiative funded by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, IFO members have experimented with establishing riparian buffer zones, improving marketing and distribution systems, promoting ecological awareness and land stewardship, and exploring the possibility of establishing local food systems.

Food systems. Bergman said the organization will begin exploring the idea of alternative food systems, doing research on what the needs are and who is doing what, and beginning a conversation with producers on what might be needed to impact the problem.

IFO hopes to create a model for regional food systems in Ohio.

Biologic farming. At the annual meeting workshop emphasis was placed on health soil and healthy profits.

Gary Zimmer, president of Midwestern Bio-Ag, a Wisconsin biological farming consulting firm, and a passionate advocate for biologically healthy soil, talked about his own farm and ways he has developed to feed his soil.

“Soil is more than nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium,” he said. “We do all these things to the soil, and we don’t really know what we’re doing. What we know about managing soil is only 1 percent of what there is to know.

“But we do know what we don’t know. We don’t know if what we are applying to our soil is safe.”

“But the object is to use as little as possible. You know you will never make your farm better for the future by using chemicals.”

Zimmer talked about crop rotations, about co-plantings with plants that are good at absorbing and preserving soil nutrients, about shallow tilling that does not disturb root channels, and other methods he has experimented with on his own Wisconsin farm.

“My goal is never to leave my dirt exposed,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to be able to see it.”

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at


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