Interview with Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association
We had the pleasure of talking with Lauren Ketcham, the Membership Services and Communications Coordinator at OEFFA. She tells us a little more about the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association and how we can become more involved in supporting sustainable agriculture.
Q: Briefly describe the mission of OEFFA.
A: The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) was formed in 1979 and is a grassroots coalition of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers, and others who share a desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, helps preserve farmland, offers food security for all Ohioans, and economic development for our rural communities. For 30 years, OEFFA has used education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic food systems, helping farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system, one meal at a time.
Q: What circumstances and issues led to the creation of OEFFA?
A: We are proud to be part of an organization that has been working on organic and local food issues for 30 years. Terms like "organic" and "local" have gained so much popularity lately that it's easy to lose sight of how far we've come since OEFFA's early days. OEFFA's founders were visionaries, and like all pioneers, they took their share of arrows. Luckily, a lot has changed. From that small group, OEFFA has expanded to include diverse constituencies of farmers, backyard gardeners, conscientious eaters, teachers, researchers, retailers, and others. In our early days, we helped to establish the original organic standards in Ohio. Since then, the OEFFA Certification program has become one of the oldest and most respected organic certification programs in the country.
Q: Are there any interesting movies that can help educate a consumer about these issues?
A: Agriculture made a big splash in theatres across the country in the past couple years. Food, Inc. and King Corn (the the follow-up film, Big River) are great recent movies that provide a good overview of the problem of conventional agriculture.
Q: What are the benefits of eating locally grown and organic food?
A: We believe that a good dinner can satisfy more than just our appetite. Small, local, and sustainable food systems can nourish our bodies, our communities, our local economy, and our environment by preserving family farms, building greater regional food self-reliance, and educating consumers about their local food shed.
Q: Many people don't buy organic because they say it costs too much. Are there hidden costs in buying food that is produced using other means?
A: Absolutely. There's a high cost for cheap food. Our reliance on cheap, industrially-produced food is threatening our environment, our public health, our economy, our rural communities, and Ohio's rich farming heritage.
Ohio ranks among the country's worst factory farm polluters, with close to 200 factory farms. Nine of these poultry operations house more than 1 million birds each. The close concentration of thousands of animals produces large amounts of manure. For example, the average cow produces 18 gallons of waste each day. Animal waste contains ammonia, nitrates, phosphorus, and, in many cases, antibiotics. Improper disposal of this waste can contaminate groundwater and soil and cause hazardous air pollution.
To prevent the spread of disease in these confined settings, healthy livestock in the U.S. are fed 25 million pounds of antibiotics annually, more than eight times the amount used to treat disease in humans. This prolific use of antibiotics has caused bacteria to become antibiotic resistant, jeopardizing the use of these antibiotics in treating human health conditions.
Beyond antibiotic resistance, factory farms have been responsible for other health threats as well, including Mad Cow Disease and E. coli poisoning.
Because food prices are kept artificially cheap, many farmers have had to take on second jobs just to make ends meet. Roughly 67% of Ohio farmers report working off-farm.
Worse yet, as industrialization has transformed the livestock industry, more and more farmers have become subcontractors to large corporations who control production by owning the animals birth to slaughter. Unfortunately, farmers who contract with these companies have little autonomy over farm production and often are forced to go into debt. By one account, 71% of the farmers who work under contract for Tyson earn below poverty level wages.
Consequently, the next generation of farmers has been reluctant to take over the family farm and Ohio's farming population is aging. In 1997, the average age of an Ohio primary farm operator was 52.5 years. Ten years later, the average age was 55.7 years.
At the same time, small farmers have found it difficult to compete as industrial farms have grown in size and control more of the market. For example, only four companies slaughter 80% of the beef cattle and 60% of the hogs in the U.S.
As a result, more and more farms are being sold and taken out of production. Between 1950 and 2000, Ohio lost more than 6.9 million acres of farmland, representing nearly one-third of Ohio’s agricultural land and a size equivalent to 23 Ohio counties.
Q: Where is the best place to buy fresh, locally-grown produce in Columbus?
A: We're blessed with lots of options when it comes to finding fresh, locally-grown produce in Columbus. Many farmers in Franklin county and surrounding counties offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares (to find a CSA near you, check out OEFFA's Good Earth Guide at oeffa.org) or have on-farm stands. Additionally, Columbus has many seasonal and year-round farmers markets, including North Market, the Clintonville Farmers Market, the Worthington Farmers Market. There are also many grocery stores and co-ops that feature local produce, including the Clintonville Community Market, the Hills Market, Bexley Natural Market, and Whole Foods Market.
Q: If someone is interested in starting their own vegetable garden, where do they begin?
A: You don't need a lot of space to grow your own food. Even on a small balcony, you can grow herbs and other potted plants. Many Columbus neighborhoods have community gardens, which are a great way to meet people who garden that you can learn from, while giving you more space to grow. There are also plenty of websites and books that you can find in the Resources section of our website at oeffa.org. OEFFA also offers workshops, farm tours, and an annual conference where you can learn from farmers, get hands-on experience, and start building your skills.
Q. What are some ways that people can get more involved in OEFFA and stay in the loop with interesting local events?
A: The best way to learn more about OEFFA and get regular updates about interesting local events is to become a member. Benefits of membership include a subscription to our newsletter, discounted registration for our annual conference and other events, the Good Earth Guide (our directory of ecological farms in Ohio and beyond), a membership directory (for networking), and more. To find out how you can become a member, go to oeffa.org.
Additionally, we offer events and services throughout the year which are open to the public:
- Our annual conference hosts more than 850 farmers, gardeners, students, teachers, consumers, and others for two days of education;
- Our yearly summer farm tours draw approximately 650 attendees, allowing consumers the opportunity to shake the hands that feed them and giving gardeners and farmers a chance to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes;
- Our Good Earth Guide, which includes information on farms and businesses that sell directly to the public. It includes sources for locally grown vegetables; fruits; honey; dairy products; grass-fed beef, pork, and lamb; free-range chicken and eggs; flour and grains; cut flowers; seed and feed, and more. The farm list has grown from only a dozen farms in 1990 to more than 260 today, and now includes an easy-to-use, free, online searchable database;
- Workshops throughout the year which provide hands-on experience to more than 200 people each year on such topics as cover crops, composting, beekeeping, fermentation, and permaculture;
- The events section of our website is kept up-to-date with fun and educational sustainable agriculture events being held throughout Ohio