Further Development of Innovative and Practical Education in Sustainable Agriculture in Ohio

Final Report for LNC94-047.1

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $98,094.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Clive Edwards
Ohio State University, Sustainable Agriculture Program
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Project Information


We have achieved all the main objectives of our proposal. During the summer of 1996, the last season of this grant funding, we completed another ten week Sustainable Agriculture Internship Experience for nine student interns. We also expanded our program to provide for more one-on-one training during the spring and fall seasons, which included season long apprenticeships in sustainable farm management. These interns followed a demanding schedule which included developing practical skills through hands-on experiences on our demonstration farm at Stratford in addition to a few privately-owned farms throughout the state of Ohio. They participated in lectures and discussions from a number of visiting speakers dealing a wide variety of topics related to sustainable agriculture, including soil ecology, agroecology, rural sociology, Amish agriculture, on-farm research methodology, cover cropping and other sustainable cultural practices. Each intern also completed projects in sustainable agriculture in topics related to their own specific interests.

Secondly, we have been working to involve a greater number of individual farmers and other public and private demonstration farms in Ohio to establish a network of demonstration farms. A number of field days, demonstrations, workshops and farm tours were organized on these farms over the last year with combined attendance approaching 1,000 people, in addition to serving as venues for practical education with the Sustainable Agriculture Internship Program.

This network served as a basis for the formation and development of Innovative Farmers of Ohio, an organization independently run by Ohio farmers which provides a network for farmer-to-farmer exchange of information and ideas, promotes on-farm research to enhance farmers’ sustainability and profitability, and promotes interaction between farmers, non-farmers, and the rural communities they live in. This organization already has over 350 individuals on a mailing list which receives announcements and research trials results on a regular basis, including over 100 paid members. In addition to the Demonstration Farm developed by the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio, we have conducted six additional on-farm research trials on three different farms throughout Ohio.

Project Objectives:

A. To provide innovative opportunities for practical education in sustainable agricultural for agricultural students and young farmers.

B. To provide and expand venues for sustainable agriculture educational opportunities for practical hands-on experience for agricultural students and farmers through developing a network of publicly and privately operated demonstration farms.

C. To facilitate the further development an association of “Innovative Farmers of Ohio” (IFO) to serve as a highly visible tool for student and farmer education in the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices.


Research results and discussion:
Methods and Results

Objective 1. To provide innovative opportunities for practical education in sustainable agricultural for agricultural students and young farmers.

We appointed nine student interns in 1996 for a ten week internship in sustainable agriculture. Their names, institutional affiliations, and projects were:

• Eva Francis, from Warren Wilson College in Ashville, NC, focussed on sustainable agriculture education for children and on developing farming skills related to vegetable, field crop and livestock production.
• Chanda Eakins, graduate from Warren Wilson College, resident of Worthington, OH, focused on livestock, forage and field crop production.
• Tammie Ostrom, from the state of Washington, focussed on commercial scale vegetable production and working with farmers’ markets.
• Beth Rennekamp, from Oberlin College, in Oberlin, OH, focussed on vegetable production.
• Leslie Russo, from the Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, focussed on commercial scale vegetable production.
• Suzanne Cjesty, from the Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, focussed on greenhouse construction/development, vegetable production, outbuilding construction, livestock rearing.
• Wendi Crabill, from Ohio University, Athens, OH, focussed on homestead gardening and children education in agriculture and ecology.
• Jennifer Jones, the Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, focussed on children education and developing education gardens for children.
• Molly Helt, from Powell, Ohio, practiced llama rearing and training in addition to developing teaching skills in agricultural and environmental education with grade school children.

The projects mentioned for each intern represents only a small portion of the total hand-on activities interns were involved with. Interns developed practical skills in field crop production, vegetable and fruit production, greenhouse production, cover cropping, haying, livestock production, including dairy and beef cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, llamas, hogs and horses. They learned equipment and machinery operation and maintenance along with equipment and tool repair.

The Interns were involved in a variety of educational activities, including classroom sessions with lectures and discussions, field trips, and a number of visits to farms in the region. The majority of their energy was devoted towards developing practical skills in farming by working at a number of different farm sites and in completing individual projects. The following is brief description of some of the specific highlights of program activities:

• June 10: Internship program started at the Stratford Ecological Center.
• June 13: Farm tour at Dixhall Farm with Bill Dix and Stacy Hall.
• June 28: Farm tour at Hirzel Canning Company and Farm.
• July 3: Farm tour at Fox Hollow Farm, with Bruce and Lisa Rickard.
• July 11: OSU Sustainable Agriculture Extension Meeting at Stratford Ecological Center, with Interns participating in a question/answer period on OSU Extension activities in sustainable agriculture.
• July 12: Farm tour and discussion with David Kline, noted Amish farmer and author.
• July 20: Visit Community Food Initiatives (CFI) in Athens, Ohio, a non-profit community based value adding and food processing facility.
• Week of July 22: Presentation and discussion with Dr. Linda Lobao, Rural Sociologists at the Ohio State University, on trends and alternatives for rural communities for the present and future, at Stratford Ecological Center.
• July 29: Farm tour and discussion with Gene Logsdon, in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
• August 2: Cottage industry tour at Appleseed Wool Corp., with Todd Fackler in Plymouth, Ohio. Appleseed Wool Corp. is a small needle felting mill that processes natural fibers for a variety of applications.
• August 3: Farm tour at George Clutts Farm, with Asa Chester, in Circleville, Ohio.
• Rainy Day Discussion Groups: Holistic Resource Management (HRM), Permaculture, Biodynamics, and career opportunities in sustainable agriculture
• August 16: Last official day of internship. Two interns extended into the fall growing season.

Much of the discussion during the ten week period centered around the topic of “farm design”. Previous interns had expressed a desire to learn more practical skills and to tie this knowledge in practical terms to the sustainability of farming systems and how sustainable farming systems are designed and are different from more conventional farming systems. This theme was reiterated from a number of perspectives in a number of settings throughout the internship.

Interns were asked to evaluate program and curriculum components at the end of their internship. Evaluations for the Internship Program were overwhelmingly positive, with most interns citing the value of learning through hands-on experiences and developing practical skills. Interns also cited the value of visiting a number of different farms and interacting directly with farmers to gain a greater appreciation of the complexity of developing and managing sustainable farming systems and the wide variety of choices available to farmers. Finally, the Interns also cited the importance of structured classroom lecture and discussion periods. These sessions brought forth questions on more conceptual and theoretical matters, often leading to questions on land stewardship and ethics. This was an important aspect for all interns as such discussions allowed the interns to make connections and tie pieces of technological and social issues together.

Objective (2) To provide and expand venues for sustainable agricultural educational opportunities, for practical hands-on experience for agricultural students and young farmers through developing a network of publicly and privately operated demonstration farms.

The Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Program has been very successful in promoting the concept and importance of demonstration farms. Working in conjunction with the Stratford Ecological Center’s Demonstration Farm and with private farmers that are members of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO), we have been able to identify and develop a broad network of private and publicly-owned farms which are willing to serve as demonstrations for education and research. These demonstration farms are available for OSU faculty, the general public, and a number of public and private institutions and organizations.

In addition to the Stratford Ecological Center’s Demonstration Farm, which continues to add and refine a broad range of farm enterprises, this project has identified and collaborated with a number of private individuals and organizations, along with public organizations, to provide for a diverse range of educational venues, not just for interns, but farmers, researchers, extension, agribusiness and the general public as well.

A list of eighteen farms that participated in a series of demonstrations, farm tours, co-sponsored by OEFFA, OSU, IFO and the Stratford Ecological Center during the 1996 growing season, is presented in the Appendices to this report.
Additionally, a few publicly owned demonstration farms have been working closely with the OSU Sustainable Agriculture Program, including Malabar Farm near Perrysville, Ohio, Lake County Farm in Mentor, Ohio, and the Work House Farm in Toledo, Ohio. Developing these farms for demonstration in sustainable agriculture will require more time as their operation is linked to available tax dollars and other local agendas.

There has been considerable work done already for the 1997 growing season, as we anticipate being to add another dozen to this demonstration farm network by the end of the year through additional efforts by the OSU Sustainable Agriculture Program, IFO, OEFFA, OCIA and the Stratford Ecological Center. The collaboration between organizations and agencies seems to get better with stronger ties being made as the years go by.

Objective (3) To facilitate the further development of an association of “Innovative Farmers of Ohio” (IFO) to serve as a highly visible venue for student and farmer education in the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices.

The association IFO first proposed in March of 1993 at Malabar Farm, when approximately 70 farmers decided to form a development plan and to appoint a steering committee, which eventually evolved into a Board of Directors. This same group, along with volunteers from OSU, IFO, OEFFA and Stratford Ecological Center, took the necessary steps to acquire their own tax exempt status, by establishing by-laws, articles of incorporation, and held regularly scheduled Board meetings. In January 1995, IFO received its tax exempt status from the IRS.

IFO is currently at a critical phase of development. The membership is large enough along with a high level of educational, outreach and research activity, that a full-time position is warranted to conduct administrative and coordination activities. Volunteer representatives from IFO and OSU are currently undergoing significant fundraising efforts to fund such a position.

In 1996, the Board of Directors of the Stratford Ecological Center allowed for the 25% time release of their Director, Jeff Dickinson, to assist IFO for one year as an interim Project Coordinator. His assistance included maintenance of a network known as the Great Lakes Basin Comprehensive Farm Planning Network, made up of state public and non-profit agencies around the Great Lakes and similar agencies from the province of Ontario. This network was funded initially by the Great Lakes Protection Fund and administered by the Minnesota Project, in St. Paul, Minnesota. This network was developed to share and promote whole farm planning and utilizing whole farm planning tools within the context of sustainable agriculture, including Holistic Resource Management, the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan, EQUIP, PLANETOR and others.

Additionally, Jeff Dickinson assisted in the planning and implementation of a farm tour series, co-hosted by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, IFO, OSU and the Organic Crop Improvement Association. He fulfilled a number of administrative tasks, including membership recruitment, correspondence, maintenance of records and bookkeeping. Finally, his duties included fundraising for program and staff funding.

A major event that Stratford and IFO planned together was the 3rd Annual IFO Conference, held at the Delaware Hotel, in Delaware, Ohio, on January 20, 1996. This meeting had guest speakers covering topics such as rotational grazing for dairy operations, value-added poultry production and marketing, soil ecology, nutrient cycling and Amish agriculture, with guest speakers including David Kline, and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. A copy of the proceedings from this meeting is included in the appendices.

On January 18, 1997, the 4th IFO Annual Conference, entitled “Sustaining Rural Communities” was held at the Proctor Conference Center near London, Ohio. Keynote speakers included Sarah Vogel, former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, who spoke on the value of producer and value-adding cooperatives Robert Leader, Projects Manager for the Indiana Farmers Union, who spoke on value-added products from soybeans, and Fred Blackmer, an Iowa State University agronomist, who spoke on the value of late spring nitrate testing for corn.

Workshops during the 1997 conference included “How to Write a SARE Producer Grant Proposal”, “Adding Value to Farm Products”, Practical Application of HRM on a Knox County Farm”, and “Using the Late Spring Nitrate Test Effectively”. Finally, there was a poster session that exhibited 13 separate poster displays.

Other collaborative events with IFO held at Stratford included:

• On-Farm Research Cooperators Meeting, March 15, 1996, promoting on-farm research in sustainable agriculture, forming partnerships with OSU Extension and farmers from around the state.
• March 20, 1997: Workshop entitled Conducting On-Farm Research, featuring Dick Thompson from Practical Farmers of Iowa.
• Board Meetings, held at Stratford on February 13, June 11, September 10 and December 10, 1996, and February 11, 1997.
• Mentoring two interns in Agricultural Communications from Agricultural Education at OSU, to do journalistic and promotional pieces for IFO
• Winter of 1997, submitted proposal to the SARE Professional Development Program on soil health and soil quality.

A number of other activities resulted either directly or indirectly as a result of fulfilling all three of the grant’s objectives, and broadening our network of contacts and resources.

Research conclusions:

Positive Benefits

Collectively, this project yielded a number of very positive benefits. This is best presented in terms of the North Central Region’s LISA Priority Issues and activities.

First, this project assisted in the development of economically competitive agricultural systems. practical hands-on educational programs which were geared towards providing the Interns with information and practical experiences that have been tried and found true by a number of agriculturalists, in particular successful lower chemical input farmers. These farmers had direct contact with the Interns. They provided insights to the Interns on how they successfully integrated both crop and livestock components with other on-farm resources to develop farming systems that are both economically and ecologically viable. These education programs centered around projects that demonstrated to students how to: 1) reduce reliance on off-farm purchased inputs, 2) maintain or enhance soil productivity, 3) reduce soil erosion, loss of water and nutrients, 4) conserve energy and natural resources, 5) minimize environmental contamination and health risks, and 6) will ultimately enhance a number of people’s ability to be profitably self-employed in agriculture.

Additionally, both of the Demonstration Farms and the commercial farms the Interns visited and worked on kept detailed records of all economic inputs and outputs. The Demonstration Farms made these records available to the Interns so that they could see first-hand what the economic consequences of certain management choices were. This enhanced the Interns and agricultural students ability to evaluate strategies and materials for converting from high input to reduced input farming systems, as most commercial farms are undergoing transition themselves, and the SEC/OSU Demonstration Farm in particular was set up to make comparisons between high and reduced input farming systems.

The primary objective of this proposal was practical education, which in our minds is critical to facilitate technology adoption relative to low input/sustainable farming systems. It did so by: (1) disseminating existing and new scientifically-based information, (2) provided easy access to appropriate information in a useable form, (3) developed and demonstrated innovative education programs, and (4) included approaches effective in engaging small and moderate-sized producers. This technology adoption occurred through all three of our objectives, including the Internship Program, the Demonstration Farm Network, and the Association of Innovative Farmers.

Finally, through our Demonstration Farm Network, we were able to develop methodologies and capacity for scientifically valid on-farm experiments and demonstrations. By following the model of the Practical Farmers of Iowa, we were able to improve and enhance this priority to a much greater magnitude to have a much greater impact on the entire region, and in particular for Ohio.

Economic Analysis

Detailed reports on the economics of the Demonstration Farm were sent with our first Annual Report on this Project.

Farmer Adoption

Over the last two years, well over 400 farmers have been involved in one aspect or another of this grant’s three main objectives. This includes over 120 members in the association of Innovative Farmers of Ohio, with the remainder being involved in workshops, field days and seminars at the SEC/OSU Demonstration Farm, the Stratford Ecological Center, organic farms that are members of OEFFA, and other forums around Ohio. This has given us a tremendous opportunity to provide demonstrations, practical information, and research findings to a very broad audience of agriculturalists in addition to farmers.
The focus of the Demonstration Farm thus far has been on horticultural crops and season extension techniques and strategies. It is in sustainable horticultural crop production, including many vegetables, strawberries and brambles, that we have had the greatest impact with farmers by being able to show them first hand specific cultural practices along with a comparison as to how well they work relative to higher chemical input farming systems. Some of the specific practices include:

• a large variety of mulching systems.
• a large variety of cultivation systems, including precision tillage tools and equipment.
• composting systems.
• cover cropping systems and vegetable crop rotations.
• variety trials for disease and insect resistant vegetable crops.
• alternative soil amendments.
• integrated pest management strategies and alternative pest control strategies.
• alternative marketing strategies for small produce farmers.

Operational Recommendations

This project did not specifically deal with making certain recommendations. However, early findings from economic data from the three comparative farming systems, ranging from higher chemical input to organic or no chemical input farming systems, suggests that there is considerable room and potential for fruit and vegetable growers to lower chemical inputs without significant loss in productivity or economic viability. Readers are encouraged to read the reports attached to the first annual report of this project based on findings at the SEC/OSU Demonstration Farm.

Farmer Evaluations/Testimonials

There were a number of evaluations handed-out and completed by farmers at the many events sponsored and co-sponsored by this project. All feedback was positive, especially in regards in our ability to provide physical demonstrations and hand-on, in the field education. The only negative comments centered around “why wasn’t this done before?” or “Why isn’t there more of this kind of education and demonstration available to students and farmers?”.

Producer Involvement

Number of growers/producers in attendance at:

Field Days…>400
Other events – organizational meetings, on-farm research…130

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

General Activities

A number of different venues were used to provide information on the SEC/OSU Demonstration Farm, Stratford Ecological Center, OEFFA and IFO demonstration, education, outreach and research activities, including printed reports, one page fact sheets about on-farm research, press releases, newsletters, curriculum materials, and popular press articles. Some the major dissemination activities follows.

• Compiled, reported and printed of economic data on three cropping systems at the ODA/OSU Demonstration Farm for 1993-1994 growing seasons (second report, after the report on the 1991-1992 growing seasons), including economic comparisons between a conventional (higher chemical), integrated (lower chemical) and organic farming systems.

• Disseminated over 400 copies of this report to OSU faculty, agribusinesses, foundations, vo-ag teachers and students, graduate and undergraduate students, interns and presented at 1995 “Farm Science Review” at the Molly Caren Agricultural Show, and to participants of the Ohio Fruit and Vegetables Growers Society meetings in the winter of 1995-6.

• Submitted and presented a paper, published in the proceedings of the Brighton Crop Protection Conference, 1995, entitled “An Economic Comparison of Chemical and Lower-Chemical Input Techniques for Weed Control in Vegetables”.

• Developed a permanent poster display on the Demonstration Farm for presentation at a number different meetings and programs.

• Developed a collection of slides emphasizing sustainable production techniques and methods for further program and presentation development.

• Directly contacted every Extension and 4-H agent in all of Ohio’s counties on program announcements, research and outreach activities of ODA/OSU, SEC, OEFFA, and IFO.

• IFO published six additional newsletters, distributed to over 350 people, including each OSU Extension county office.

• Compiled a published another report about on-farm research trials and results from the 1995 IFO farmer cooperators.

• Published and disseminated a Proceedings for the Third Annual Meeting held in 1996.

• Reported results and exchanged other information at the Third Annual Meeting of the Innovative Farmers of Ohio (report enclosed).

• Disseminated reports, letters and announcements via a on-line server hosted by OSU and OSU Extension.

• Continued popular press and newspaper releases on articles about ODA/OSU Demonstration Farm, SEC, IFO and OEFFA (examples in appendices).

Events Related to Agriculture and Extension

• Participated in and/or hosted meetings of the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Extension Team, on March 12, July 11, October 28, 1996 and February 25, 1997.

• Hosted the Ohio State Chapter meetings of the Organic Crop Improvement Association on February 24, April 6, August 17, September 11, November 23, 1996.

• Hosted OSU Extension meetings, on May 11, 1996. (Union/Delaware County).

• Hosted meetings of the Certification Committee, OEFFA (April 20, June 12, July 24, August 22, 1996).

• Hosted Advisory Group meetings of the Ohio Farm Link on July 17, 1996 and March 18, 1997.

• Hosted meetings for the Advisory Group for Chapter III/Whole Farm Planning – “training the trainers” grant, August 9, October 22, 1996.

• Hosted the annual meeting of the Ohio Integrated Pest Management Team on October 10, 1996.

• Hosted a three day conservation planning workshop, sponsored by NRCS, OSUE, ODNR and OEPA, October 15-17, 1996.

• Hosted the annual business meeting for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, November 16, 1996.

• Sponsored an HRM (Holistic Resource Management) training session for over 30 farmers on March 2 and 3, 1996, in Milan, Ohio.

• Participated in the formation and implementation of the Great Lakes Basin Comprehensive Farm Planning Network, a project funded by the Great Lakes Protection Fund to promote more whole farm planning in the Great Lakes Basin (brochure included in appendices).

• Assisted in the continuing formation of local farmers’ markets around central Ohio, including attending planning meetings (2) for the Pearl Alley Farmers Market.

• SEC/OSU Demonstration Farm and SEC conducted two workshops at the OEFFA Annual Conference in March 1997, at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, Ohio.

• Toured over 100 casual visitors to the SEC/OSU Demonstration Farm and the Stratford Ecological Center.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

This is an educational grant. However, based on activities relative to the main objectives of the grant, we feel we can make the following suggestions as to areas needing further study:

* on-farm research methodology.

* long-term on-farm economic analyses.

* detailed case studies involving detailed economic and cultural practice data and information conducted on actual farms, conducted for the whole farm, and in the context of specific management and decision making strategies.

* detailed ecological analyses of a variety of farming systems for evaluating nutrient cycling and recycling rations, whole-farm nutrient budgets, overall nutrient efficiency, nutrient impacts on pest activities, including weeds, diseases and key insect pests.

* experimental component research on the use of specific alternative soil amendments and pest controls to test their efficacy in the field on actual operating farms (verification trials).

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.