Ohio eaters, I have important news. The Kasich administration has adopted a new slogan for the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA): Ohio Means Agribusiness. This decision, combined with the elimination of the Office of Sustainable Agriculture, concerns me as an Ohio eater, and a supporter of organic and local farmers*. Kasich has also reduced staff in Ohio Proud, Farmers’ Market Coordination, and the Office of Farmland Preservation at the ODA. All of these programs have contributed to the growing organic and local food movement in Ohio and the loss of resources could negatively impact the farmers whose long hours and commitment to their farms and businesses feed my family throughout the growing season.
I am no economist. I do not claim to understand the workings of the global market and cannot apply those trends to Ohio. I can report that organic farming has been been one of the fastest growing segments in agriculture for the last ten years. Total U.S. food sales grew by less than 1% in 2010, the organic food industry grew by 7.7%. The United States offers us the freedom to make economic votes with our dollars. I am speaking. So are many others. Ohio has 503 certified organic farming businesses and many more that are not certified. Ohio has more than 200 farmers’ markets statewide which allow farmers the opportunity to directly market their goods to consumers, receiving a greater profit than selling wholesale or retail. Furthermore, farmers’ markets are great opportunities for local businesses: Clintonville’s Farmers’ Market increases the foot traffic at independent retailers on High Street, keeping the resources in our local economy. My Saturday morning often begins with a cup of Global Gallery’s coffee, followed by samples at the various stalls. I often find myself wandering through the bookstores making purchases for upcoming birthdays. A trip to Baer Wheels generally tunes up my ride. My bags overflow with my CSA share and a few block of cheese, loaves of bread, pints of fresh fruit. Rarely is a Saturday complete without spending an hour or two in my community seeing the fruits of the local labors. Conversations with old and new friends are held on sidewalks with children and dogs circling our legs. Laughter fills the air. Smiles appear on every face. The sound of local musicians weave through our chatter. No one can stay grumpy at the farmers’ market for long.
I am not an expert on agribusiness and I am not pretending that it is not important to ensure that we grow enough food to feed all our citizens. I do know a little something about local businesses. I am pretty sure that while locally-owned shops, farms, markets, and restaurants make a smaller impact on the state economy, the impact is still present and important. As I have discussed before, our decision to purchase a CSA share was about more than filling our stomachs and freezer. Our annual purchase is a deliberate decision to support farmers who are neighbors in many senses of the word.
So today I want to speak out for the economic impact small farm business is making. I know that political decisions are challenging. I understand the need to create jobs. I also challenge my readers to hold your politicians accountable. Losing our independent sellers loses jobs. I am hopeful that Ohio’s economy will continue to grow, but am challenged by policies that seems to stifle growth in one area while focusing on the other. Sustainable agriculture is just that. Sustainable. My farmers are committed to practices that do not pollute local waterways, poison the land, or harm the environment. Their practices ensure a long future of farming in Ohio, one I am proud to support.
Unfortunately, the Kasich administration is taking away needed support to allow local farmers to deliver my produce to me. By focusing the ODA on agribusiness, it will get harder for citizens to continue to vote for the small farmer with their dollars.
If you are able, please consider what you can do to ensure that Ohio’s small farmers continue to be supported. Write a letter. Do some research. Talk to your neighbor. Go to a farmers’ market.