Urban farmer pushes for ‘local food’

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WESTERVILLE, Ohio – What’s a girl to do when she’s got a farmer’s heart but lives near the largest city in the state?
Adapt and make do.
Ask Valerie Jorgensen Karikomi what it’s like farming with housing developments bordering her pastures and she’ll tell you it’s got its advantages and disadvantages.
But she’s not going anywhere and is working hard to make sure her flock of Romney sheep thrives.
National awards. Karikomi’s operation was recognized in January by the American Sheep Industry Association with its 2004 Environmental Stewardship Award.
This isn’t the first time her operation has been recognized for taking care of the land. Last June, Karikomi received an Ohio Livestock Coalition Environmental Stewardship Award.
“I’m very honored to be recognized for doing my own thing every day,” Karikomi said.
Farm roots. Her love for agriculture is homegrown, as her brothers and father still dairy farm in Michigan. She credits her father, Jerry Jorgensen, with giving her the motivation to continue doing what she loves.
“I acquired my persistence from my father – just the way he farmed and his way of life, he was a great teacher,” she said.
She named her farm after her father and grandfather, Irving Jorgensen.
Bitten by 4-H bug. Karikomi started her foray into sheep production several years ago when her oldest son started a flock of Romney sheep and adopted intensive grazing management as a 4-H project.
That project evolved into the full-time, organic operation Karikomi manages.
Eye toward environment. To protect the environment, including Rocky Fork Creek that flows through the 65-acre farm, a conservation plan has been adopted that transformed Jorgensen Farms into a highly managed grazing system that protects and improves plant life, soil fertility, water quality and wildlife habitat.
And, as of September 2004, the entire farm is certified organic, Karikomi said.
“God created this land in a way so that what we take off and what we put in should be in balance with what he created,” she said.
Pasture management. Pastures have been planted with a mixture of cool and warm season grasses, oats and turnips. About 27 acres is permanent pasture with the rest subdivided to manage grass growth.
The flock is fenced out of woodlots and riparian zones as a means of providing additional protection to environmentally-sensitive areas.
The intensive grazing program allows Karikomi to raise 20 breeding ewes along with their lambs within sight of housing developments.
She also plans her lambing season so the ewes lamb on pasture later in the spring, cutting down on the need for barns. Her goal is to have 50 breeding ewes.
Organic co-op. An on-farm market is no longer in operation, but Karikomi working with other growers to create a central Ohio organic food cooperative.
She’s working with the Heart of Ohio Chapter of the Ohio Ecological Farmers Association to form a growers’ co-op and the group is hopeful the cooperative will be operating next year.
She’s also working with individual growers who want to provide produce, cut flowers and other organic products for farmers’ markets in the Columbus area this year.
Business sense. Karikomi said the most important part of her operation is keeping accurate records.
“Develop a long-term plan and record everything you do,” she emphasized. “Otherwise, how will you remember what worked, what didn’t and what you want to change for next year?”
To maintain her organic farm certification, Karikomi prepares for an annual visit from an inspector. The inspector stays at the farm for four to six hours to review everything that was done on the farm within the previous year, “so everything we do needs to be recorded,” she said.
Farm outreach. An advantage to farming so close to an urban population is that her customers are close by. She also works with schools in the area to introduce children to agriculture.
But, because she operates in an urban area, she feels isolated from other farmers. That’s why her participation in industry organizations is important to her.
Another huge support is a new group called Central Ohio Women in Agriculture.
Outreach, education and awareness have all been major focuses for Jorgensen Farms, which has hosted chefs and farmers from throughout central Ohio, as well as regionally based programs, to pursue opportunities that will lead to more local foods being served at local tables.
Local food connection. “There are reasons why farm and farmers’ markets are growing,” she said. “For some, the markets make a pleasant outing. But eating locally grown food in season is more, as it allows you to eat the freshest, best-tasting produce while supporting your local farmers.”
“This is something I love to do and will continue to do as long as I’m able,” she said.

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