Small Farm Institute targets Appalachia


SALEM, Ohio – One coalition of government agencies and focus groups is pulling together to help farmers in Appalachian Ohio realize they can make it in farming.

For small guys. The Small Farm Institute in Coshocton, Ohio, came onto the scene three years ago.

However, the institute received funding in October 2003 and is getting into more projects, according to director Leah Miller.

“We’re out there to do something for small Appalachian farmers, whether that’s someone using [farm] income for survival or to send a kid to college,” Miller said.

The nonprofit corporation is the result of a partnership with the Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia, Ohio State University/Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center and North Appalachian Experimental Watershed Station at the Coshocton USDA Agriculture Research Service unit.

A two-year matched grant provides around $350,000 for programs and support, Miller said.

They’re here. Miller stressed the institute’s projects have several goals.

First, the programs are there to help those currently farming, or those who are interested in farming.

“There are still options at the small farm level. You can farm part-time and still make it, in something like livestock, crops, or a niche,” she said.

A second goal of the institute is to connect people, and to connect people and resources.

According to Miller, agricultural resources are fragmented and have gone the way of larger farms.

That makes it harder for the small farm owner to find production and marketing information suited for them, she said.

In the works. Current projects are scattered throughout southeastern Ohio.

In Holmes County, the institute has worked with the Chamber of Commerce to get agriculture on the chamber’s radar, Miller said.

In Athens County, the institute is helping farmers work on a positive entrepreneurship attitude in the community, and getting leaders to see agriculture as a business, too.

“We would like to do what farmers want us to, but don’t know exactly what or how we will do anything,” Miller said.

“There are other things that agriculture can do to help the community. Marketing or processors or restaurants all need farmers. And if you look across Ohio, all the potato chip companies or dairies are there because of farms,” Miller said.

“Agriculture is a diverse piece, not just a monoculture.”

Grazing. The institute also works with the North Central Grazing Council and other graziers to sponsor a conference and pasture walks.

“It’s not all about the grass. It’s also what else can we do with a grass-fed animal,” Miller said of the opportunities for niche markets.

As the institute builds scale in Coshocton, it is also working with grazing researchers to identify unanswered questions for graziers in Appalachia.

“Most grazing research is done in the western U.S., and we know forages and livestock respond differently in those regions,” Miller said.

“There’s a whole litany to pull together. There’s a lot of knowledge out there, and we’re just starting to pull it in,” she said.

Water quality. Another initiative of the institute is water quality research.

As part of the Muskingum River Watershed Basin water quality network, researchers are sharing information with Miller to help farmers make better decisions when it comes to water quality.

“One-fifth of Ohio’s land is in the Muskingum River watershed, and a lot of that is in Appalachia. We’re looking for a better understanding of how farms impact that water quality, both in good ways and in bad,” Miller said.

Part of her work now is getting watershed groups together across the region to discuss their activities, and see where work can be combined and pared down.

“A lot of them haven’t yet figured out they need to talk to each other. All of a sudden we’ve got this network, and we’re going to use it,” Miller said.

Find out more. The institute is located at North Appalachian Experimental Watershed Station on state Route 621 in Coshocton County.

For more information call Miller at 740-545-6349.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at

Get the details

* Small Farm Institute

28850 state Route 621

Fresno, Ohio

* Leah Miller



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