Growing Organics: Integrating Science, Farmer Indigenous Knowledge, and Experience in Expanding Organic Production in Ohio
The purpose of this project is to provide the information and education that will assist farmers in the successful adoption of organic production practices. The goal is to increase the number of organic farmers and acreage under organic management in Ohio by at least 50 percent. This goal is warranted given increased demand for organic products and the economic opportunity this represents to farmers. Currently in Ohio, farmers’ needs for information about organic production are not being met. Our approach recognizes that delivering appropriate educational programming to farmers requires providing both technical information as well as experiential opportunities. This is reflected in project activities: on-farm workshops, classroom-style seminars, field days, and apprenticeships. Outputs include the establishment of a farmer-to-farmer education network, an organic production manual, farmer-friendly “science you can use” fact sheets, the establishment of a farmer advisory council for organic research and education, and an organic farming apprenticeship program. Progress towards desired outcomes will be assessed using standard survey and feedback measurement techniques.
The primary objectives of this project are 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 reach these objectives, project activities are 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, are that farmers will:
- Utilize OEFFA as a resource for learning about organics 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).
To achieve these levels of growth in organic production, we are developing and implementing educational and outreach programs that increase knowledge and skills related to organic crop production and marketing. The education programs include on-farm workshops, classroom style seminars, field days, an apprenticeship program, development of printed resource materials, and on-going educational support.
Specific Components of our educational programs and performance targets are 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 (“Organic 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 ORGANIC 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 & Ecological Farms & 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 Outreach Education 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 Outreach Coordinator.
According to our best estimates at this time, the number of certified organic farms in Ohio increased from 370 in 2007 to 483 in 2008. Accurate organic acreage data is being recorded by certifiers in Ohio for the first time in 2008. We do not yet have a precise number of acres under organic management however we anticipate baseline acreage numbers will be available beginning in Feb. 2009.
Certainly, the 30% increase in the total number of organic farms cannot be attributed to the activities of this project, but it does suggest that the primary goal of a 50% increase in the number of organic farmers in Ohio over the three year period will be met. Additionally, it shows the importance of OEFFA’s Growing Organics work in providing educational programs and direct on-demand support to new and transitioning farmers. A December 2007 article by Agunga et al. in Journal of Extension reports that the top two sources of information for sustainable agriculture in Ohio was other farmers (mentioned by almost 87% of respondents), followed by OEFFA (mentioned by almost 80 % of respondents). These numbers underscore that educational programs supported by this grant are likely to reach the target audience for which they are intended.
The increased adoption of organic practices in Ohio is being supported by the following educational programs that were supported through this project:
- Two “Organics 101” programs were held in 2008. Eleven Ohio State University (OSU) research and extension specialists, 1 organic certification specialist, and 9 experienced organic farmers led training sessions at these workshops. These full day workshops attracted 126 farmers. We will continue development of additional “Organics 101” programs to reach the target of 300 farmers over the duration of the project.
In conjunction with the 29th Annual OEFFA Conference in February, 2008, 17 Advanced Workshops were organized These specialized workshops were developed to provide more detailed information on specific topics related to organic production and marketing. The average attendance at each of these workshops was 48. The total number of participants is unknown because many individuals attended more than one advanced workshop. We anticipate easily reaching our three year target of 500 individual attendees at these advanced workshops throughout the duration of this three year project.
Sixteen farm tours were held in 2008 in 13 counties throughout Ohio. These on-farm education programs attracted 363 participants. We anticipate exceeding the stated objective of attracting a total of 500 individuals to farm tours over the three year period of this project.
Project partners have published two significant printed resources to provide information for farmers transitioning to organic production in Ohio: 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. These books provide clear, well-organized information for conventional farmers who are considering organic production. A Transition Guide to Certified Organic Crop Management has been provided to all 126 individuals who have participated in the “Organics 101” workshops.
The Organic Education Outreach Coordinator position has been established at OEFFA. This coordinator, in collaboration with OEFFA Certification staff, has written 6 articles for the OEFFA News focused on the following topics: The Use of Compost and Manure on Organic Farms, Crop Rotations and the Organic Production Standard, Seed Sourcing, Alternatives to Treated Lumber, Post-Harvest Handling of Produce to Minimize Microbial Contamination and Labeling Requirements for Organic Products. These six articles have each been distributed to 1,204 individuals. These articles will be reformatted into farmer-friendly fact sheets in 2009 and 2010.
The Organic Education Outreach Coordinator responded to 97 requests for information during the period May21, 2008 to February 11, 2009. Many of these information requests came from farmers in transition from conventional to organic production.
In the first year of this project eight individuals were placed on Ohio farms through the OEFFA Apprentice Program. We anticipate structural improvements that will enable us to reach a target number of 60 apprentices placed during this three year project.
The Organic Education Outreach Coordinator established a farmer advisory team in 2008 to provide leadership and consultation in the planning and execution of the education components of this project. This advisory team has been tasked with developing recommendations for research priorities for the Organic Food & Farming Research and Education program at the Ohio State University. Seven experienced organic growers from around the state of Ohio have agreed to serve on this advisory team.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The primary impacts of the first year of this project are:
- 126 individuals participated in two “Organics 101” workshops.
Over 350 individuals (estimated) attended one or more advanced workshop.
363 individuals attended a farm tour or field day.
Two books for transitioning farmers have been published and are currently in distribution.
Six articles on topics related to organic production have been distributed to 1,204 individuals.
97 individual requests for specific information related to organic production and marketing have been answered.
Eight farm apprentices have been successfully placed on host farms.