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This weekend, Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry team piled into cars and headed out to Dayton for the 41st OEFFA Conference. Over three days, we spoke to dozens of farmers and foodies at our booth in the exhibition hall, attended multiple farming workshops, and spent time discussing the future of Ohio’s food system.

We had the joy of running into past AmeriCorps members and volunteers who shared fond memories of helping at the Chesterhill Produce Auction. We enjoyed sharing resources with beginning farmers and conscientious consumers. We were proud to see Rural Action’s Tanner Filyaw deliver a workshop on non-timber forest products with fifty attendees eager to learn about agroforestry opportunities on their land. We were also happy to see Michelle Ajamian from Rural Action’s Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative, present on creating regional staple food networks. She was joined by food scholar Lisa Trocchia and Brandon Jaeger, her partner at Shagbark Seed & Mill.

Here are some standout stats and stories from our conference experience.

  • Ohio is a leader in agriculture!

Keynote speaker, Eric Holt-Giménez, reminded the audience that Ohio is among the top six states for total number of farms and total number of organic farms.

I decided to do a little more research and found good news for Ohio’s small farmers in particular. According to OSU’s report on Ohio farms, while the rest of the country has been experiencing a decrease in number of farms and an increase in farm size, Ohio has seen an increase in small farms (1-10 acres). In this year’s census we hope to see more small farms cropping up, supporting many individuals and families.

  • Farming has a powerful role to play in stabilizing the planet.

This year’s conference theme, A Climate for Change, brought the climate crisis to the front of all of our minds. Keynote speaker, Laura Lengnick, highlighted how such a changing climate has affected agriculture — reduced productivity, degraded soils, increased competition for water, and increased health challenges for rural populations, to name a few. As we experience more erratic weather patterns and wetter springs, farmers and consumers have to consider how to shift our growing practices in response.

We only had to look at the list of workshops to see innovative farming practices abound — rethinking plastics in organic production, making healthy pasture soils, land access innovations for sustainable farmers, restorative plants, regenerating soil with keyline and aerobic teas, growing organic grain as the climate changes. Agriculture can serve as one of our most powerful tools in reversing climate change and stabilizing the planet.

  • We are part of a vibrant community of farmers, researchers, authors, organizations, and conscientious consumers.

If anything else, the OEFFA conference reminded us of the vibrant community surrounding our food system in Ohio. We spent lots of time in the exhibition hall next to our friends at United Plant Savers and Shagbark Seed & Mill. We reconnected with farmers who have hosted Rural Action farm workshops in the past. We met local producers, urban farms, non-profits, and businesses who are all working to create a more sustainable and sovereign food system. Most importantly, we learned from many farmers about the hard, creative, essential work of growing good food.

(All three photos taken from OEFFA’s Facebook page.)

Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.


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