Growing Organics: Integrating Science, Farmer Indigenous Knowledge, and Experience in Expanding Organic Production in Ohio

Project Overview

LNC07-288
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $140,415.75
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Mike Anderson
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Co-Coordinators:
Carol Goland
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: general education and training

    Abstract:

    This project, undertaken by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) in partnership with the Ohio State University’s Organic Food and Farming Education and Research (OFFER) Program, was designed to assist farmers in the adoption of certified organic production. The ambitious goal was to increase the number of organic farmers (and organic acreage) in Ohio by 50%. During the 30 month period of the project, work was overseen by an Organic Education Program Coordinator. Project activities and outputs included intensive day-long workshops (Organics 101 and Organics 201), each offered several times, Advanced workshops (1- or 2-hour long) on specialized topics, farm tours of organic farms, two book-length publications: “A Transition Guide to Certified Organic Crop Management,” by Margaret Huelsman, published in March, 2008, and the “Organic Whole Farm Planning Workbook,” by Margaret Huelsman, published in September, 2008, 16 articles (published in the OEFFA News), ten of which became OEFFA Certification Fact Sheets, and 13 fact sheets published by the OFFER Program. Additionally, the Organic Education Program Coordinator facilitated an on-farm apprenticeship program and established a Farmer Information Network. According to our best estimates, the number of certified organic farms in Ohio increased by 45% from 2007 to 2010.

    Introduction:

    This project was created to assist farmers making the transition to organic production, by providing them with appropriate information and educational opportunities to increase their success. Prior to proposing the project, team members assessed that in Ohio, farmers’ needs for information about organic production were not being met. Our approach recognized that delivering appropriate educational programming to farmers requires providing both technical information as well as experiential opportunities. This is reflected in the diversity of project activities (see below). Outputs included the establishment of a farmer-to-farmer education network, two organic production manuals, farmer-friendly “science you can use” fact sheets, an organic farming apprenticeship program, and the development of several new signature educational programs for transitioning to certified organic production. Progress towards desired outcomes was assessed using standard survey and feedback measurement techniques.

    Project objectives:

    The project was developed to increase the number of organic farms in the state of Ohio by 50% and to increase total acreage under organic management in Ohio by 50%. To achieve these levels of growth in organic production, we developed and implemented educational and outreach programs to increase knowledge and skills related to organic crop production and marketing. These educational programs included on-farm workshops, classroom style seminars, field days, an apprenticeship program, development of printed and web-based resource materials, and on-going educational support.

    To reach these objectives, project activities were designed to produce the following short-term outcomes, that farmers will:

    • Improve awareness of organic production as an option (and awareness of OEFFA and OFFER as reliable sources of information);
      Increase knowledge of organic production methods, marketing, and compliance with organic certification regulations;
      Develop better skills with regards to managing soil fertility under organic production regimes, season extension, pest and disease management, equipment maintenance, and conducting audit trails;
      Develop favorable attitudes towards organic production as a viable alternative for their own operations.

    Expected intermediate outcomes, which encompass changes in the behavior or practices of the target audience, were that farmers will:

    • Utilize OEFFA as a resource for learning about organic production and for educational support in undertaking organic transition;
      Begin (and/or complete) the process of transitioning to organic production practices and seek certification for organic crop production for both row crops and horticultural crops;
      Adopt new crop varieties, increase acreage, or employ season-extension strategies that expand their production capacity (for existing organic producers);
      Undertake apprenticeships at organic farms and adopt organic production practices from the beginning of their own operations (for new farmers).

    Specific Components of our educational programs and performance targets identified in the original proposal were as follows:
    1. Intensive Organic Production Workshops
    A. Introduction to Organic Farming, a 3 part course

    • 300 people will participate in “Organics 101” (which has two versions: one for field crops, one for horticultural crops).
      500 individuals will visit organic farms during summer field days.
      100 individuals will take part in additional workshops (“Organics 201”).

    B. 500 people will participate in advanced workshops on selected organic production topics.

    2. The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) Apprenticeship Program We expect 60 apprentice participants.

    3. Printed Resource Materials
    A. Organic Production Manual (provided to workshop participants) will be developed based on research results from the OFFER program and distributed to Organics 101 participants.
    B. A regular column in the OEFFA newsletter on organic production (“Ask an Expert”) will be developed.
    C. The OEFFA website will be expanded and improved to provide greater ease of use, including the addition of keyword searching to the array of published information on the website and creation of a moderated user forum for discussing organic production issues.

    4. On-Going Educational Support
    A. A staff position designated as the organic education outreach coordinator will provide general and specific assistance to producers interested organic production and, more generally, ecological agriculture.
    B. As part of its ongoing support, OEFFA will help farmers connect with the many marketing opportunities available, including OEFFA’s Good Earth Guide to Organic and Ecological Farms and Gardens in Ohio. The Good Earth Guide will be circulated to roughly 1500 consumers throughout OH and is available on the OEFFA website (13,000 hits/month).
    C. The Organic Education Program Coordinator will establish an effective farmer-to-farmer knowledge network.

    5. Farmer Advisory Council
    The creation of a Farmer Advisory Council, consisting of a diverse group of organic farmers, varying with regards to expertise, farm operation, and geographical location within Ohio, will strengthen existing farmer input to the OFFER Program and will also serve as an advisory committee to OEFFA’s Organic Education Program Coordinator.

    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.