DAYTON, Ohio — Over 1,000 farmers and local food advocates came together for the 39th annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) conference — A Taste for Change — Feb. 16-17 in Dayton.
Sen. Brown honored
Among the guests Friday evening was U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who received the Food and Farm Champion Award for his commitment to sustainable agriculture and his leadership in making positive investments in local food systems, community economic development, and public health.
“Through his introduction of the Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act (S. 1947), we can fully develop the policies and programs that spur economic development in communities in Ohio and throughout the nation,” said OEFFA’s Policy Program Coordinator Amalie Lipstreu, who presented the award.
Ohio is home to 24 local food councils, a state food policy network, and a growing number of farm to institution programs, food hubs, and direct to consumer outlets.
Brown’s farm bill advocacy efforts have supported more than 90 food system projects and resulted in more than $7 million dollars in investments in Ohio’s communities.
For example, the Lake to River Food Cooperative established a food hub and a shared retail space, the Youngstown Online Market pick-up site, which helps farmers market their products through a shared online platform.
“Local farmers feed Ohio families and grow Ohio’s economy. I’m proud to work with partners like OEFFA to help connect family farms with their communities, grow their bottom lines, and create jobs across our state,” said Brown.
During Saturday’s program, OEFFA presented its stewardship and service awards.
Larry and Cynthia Ringer of Stark County received the stewardship award as founders of Ohio Earth Food, which sells organic fertilizers, natural pesticides and potting soils.
Founded in 1972, they were working on the vegetable farm of Cynthia’s dad and early organic farmer, Glenn Graber. After observing the benefits of kelp and concerned about the effects of conventional farming on the environment and human health, they realized there could be an emergent market for organic fertilizers, and started selling kelp products and rock phosphate.
“We were in the organic business before organic was the buzzword it is today,” Larry said. The Ringers started the company on the Graber farm in Hartville.
Today, Ohio Earth Food sells custom fertilizer blends, feed supplements, natural pesticides, potting soils, and other products to customers throughout the U.S. The Ringers retired in 2010, but remain involved in the business as consultants.
They have been active in OEFFA since its beginning. Larry served seven years on the OEFFA certification committee and has taught conference workshops, and Ohio Earth Food has been a fixture at every OEFFA conference trade show for nearly 40 years.
“In many ways, Larry, Cynthia, and Ohio Earth Food helped support a quickly evolving organic movement in Ohio, at a time that farmers were first beginning to look for alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” said OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland.
Sean McGovern has been the National Outreach Manager at the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program since 2004.
There, he helps to educate farmers and agricultural professionals about the results of SARE-funded farmer-led research projects; develop educational partnerships between organizations, educators, and producers; evaluate the impact of programs, and develop and improve SARE communications and database tools.
Sean has worked at OEFFA since 1994, continuing as an OEFFA employee in his capacity with SARE.
He was first hired by OEFFA as a part-time secretary, about a year after graduating from Ohio State University. As OEFFA grew, Sean’s title shifted to executive administrator and eventually to executive director.
He worked to develop productive partnerships with Ohio State University Extension and advocated for the creation of a new Organic Food and Farming Education and Research (OFFER) program, leading to the first organic production research at OSU.
He focused on providing affordable educational programs that OEFFA’s members wanted, growing the membership base, and putting administrative systems in place that facilitated future growth.
“The sustainable food and farm economy we have today is a reflection of the vision, commitment, and hard work of our thousands of OEFFA members over the course of almost four decades,” said Goland.
“We are grateful for all of their collective efforts in pioneering organic and sustainable farming in Ohio, but it is a special pleasure to be able to recognize three truly remarkable individuals for their contributions and accomplishments.”