Ecological Food Conference Sold Out Again


For the second year in a row, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) conference, which takes place at the end of next week, (Feb. 19-20) is sold out. It is so sold out that it can’t even take walk-in registrations unfortunately. The fact that record numbers of people are coming to the meetings of insurgent garden-farm groups all over is sweet music to those of us who have been part of this revolution from the beginning. The music that OEFFA faced 32 years ago when it started was not so sweet. We were a scruffy lot back then, mostly people who knew little about the realities of farming but who wanted to take back their ability to raise their own food and start a local food economy that just might be profitable someday over the rainbow. I must confess that I was embarrassed sometimes to be part of the group. I didn’t even become a bonafide member at first.  Early members were likely to say something rather naïve about farming and I didn’t want to be around when commercial farmers made fun of them. But more significantly, those early members embarrassed me by bringing up really great ideas that I hadn’t thought of. They may have been naïve but they were not stupid.

In the beginning, being part of new food and farm movements like OEFFA could also be exceedingly stressful for a writer who tried to support them. It was a little perilous in those days to criticize tendencies in farming that I thought were destructive because agriculture as an institution was not used to being criticized. It was like criticizing motherhood or football. I was ridiculed and disdained by commercial agribusiness, industrial farmers, the colleges of agriculture, and the Farm Bureau. Still am, but not nearly as much now.

And that is the point. Farming that is “organic,” “innovative,”  “new,” “ecological”, “natural”, I don’t care which term you want to use, is now accepted by society, more or less. Or at least the critics within the industrial farming landscape will in public act conciliatory toward us. The college of agriculture at Ohio State, (which significantly isn’t called that anymore), now has all kinds of programs for making farming more environmentally sane. The Farm Bureau has a new program to draw in members from the ranks of small and part time farmers. Their language sounds remarkably like the language OEFFA used to gain members 32 years ago.

OEFFA and its sometimes competitor, Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) and many other like-minded garden and farm organizations all over the United States, have been a great comfort to me in another way. My generation has had to watch the rural culture we grew up in fade away and die. Well, almost die. But while that was happening, these new organizations were coming along to replace that old way of life. Sometimes without knowing it, they saved what was good about that older culture and discarded what was not so good about it. For example, rather than being isolated out in the countryside like we were 70 years ago, the new farmers are farming EVERYWHERE. They are growing food from inner city to outer banks. It is just so exciting and reassuring. There is hope for the future and the best sign of that is a cranky old pessimist like me saying there is.

While the ranks of the new farm culture swell, the price of industrial grain swells even more. Wheat is selling as I write on Feb. 8, 2011, at  $8.50 a bushel. This is an historical high. This is crazy. Or I can just as easily argue that in a world where cell phones are selling for a couple hundred bucks and manufacturers can’t make them fast enough, maybe wheat is worth more than $8.50 a bushel. Cell phones may do everything imaginable but they don’t make food.

Whether grain prices are too high or not, one thing is certain. We are going to have to get more people in more different places to do the work of producing them. Surely that is a fact beyond argument. Our ranks must swell even more. We can’t make cell phones in our back yards but we sure can grow wheat there.


I see that your good friend is visiting the Kentucky Governor! Kinda surprised you aren’t there helping out! Seems like something that peaks your interest, especially considering your fable “The man who created paradise”.
I find hope in the fact that things like this occur in our society.

$8.50/bushel is neither a historical high or a very high price for a valuable grain like wheat.

A bushel of wheat at $8.50 will buy 0.0065 ozs of gold.

Back in 1920’s wheat at $0.75/bushel would buy 0.0375 ozs of gold.

That is more than FIVE times as much!
the quiet debasing of the US dollar is what is mostly running up the price of wheat. It still has a long way to go up.

Also, at $8.50/bushel that works out to be about $0.17/pound.
Lowes sells some fancy topsoils in bags for $0.10/pound. It used to be that the dirt cost more than the wheat. It is still true for corn.

There is much wisdom in your article as usual. I too am very pleased to see folks , especially young folks, getting into the farming niche. The connection from us to our food needs to be well entrenched in our minds and culture. Groups like OEFFA and IFO can be a great resource for beginning and transitioning farmers, especially those on small acres and urban plots. The fact that the conference is , once again, sold out, tells me that we need more conferences. I wonder if they would consider doing one quarterly or at least twice a year?

I am fortunate enough to have grown up in and around farming. I still discover things that I didn’t know, because I keep an open mind and try new things. These new things to me are often just forgotten ways of old. As I wrire this, three of my sows are farrowing in large nests under the overhang of our barn. It is 6 degrees F and no heat lights will be used. The piglets and mom know just what to do. A dry bed of deep straw and a mother who has been bred and selected for mothering ability is all that is needed. This time last year, these three sows raised 27 piglets out of 30 births. The piglets are hairy , healthy and I think happy as well.

Good luck at the conference. I hope you sell lots of books, meet nice folks and convey the need for more information to the people in charge. Lastly, think spring!

It is sweet indeed that agro-ecological farming and gardening (what used to be called “organic” farming and gardening before the USDA appropriated the term) is growing. But so is the influence of Monsanto and Dow and ADM, especially in the current Obama administration. I wonder which will win? Actually we will, eventually, because the rising price of oil will eventually begin to make conventional chemical farming less economically sustainable.

I keep expanding my gardens and trying new things: this year I’ll be working more intensively with cover/green manure crops and also planting some hulless oats. Fortunately in Wisconsin there is a fair and growing interest in natural and local foods. Stevens Point will tomorrow night host its annual local food fair, the 4th or 5th one so far and the organizers expect the largest attendance so far (estimate 700 people attending). Hope they will have more farmers participating, selling their CSA shares.

John, was that a Freudian slip when you wrote “my wife (for now) says NO DICE?”

Does the “for now” part mean you’re thinking of trading her in on one that says, “Okay, dice!”

We bought a gentrified farm in the name of a co-operative. First thing we did to the 2.6 acres of irrigated lawn in front was to get an old camping trailer (free for the hauling, and actually fairly draught- and water-tight), tether two milk goats to it, and rotate it around that front lawn, paddock-style.

I was told the prior owner, a developer who re-created the farm as an “escape second home” for someone who wanted to ride horses on the weekend in the nearby wild parkland, cursed selling us the place every time he drove by…

The SECOND thing we did was rip down some 1,000 feet of white horse fence and replace it with page-wire deer fence — now we can actually plant food there! But the goats are still on the front lawn.

I don’t know how to convince someone of the beauty of food-bearing land, if they already think working your spare time off tending sod is a good idea.

Gene, a difficult part for the urban & suburban “farmers” is changing perceptions of what is “normal” on one’s property. When I read that lawns were an English invention to prove one’s wealth (“look at me, I’m so wealthy that I don’t even need to grow food on my land…”) I wanted to get goats and chickens on my front lawn immediately! (Sorry. Must be my renegade Irish heritage…)

Sadly, my wife hasn’t yet accepted that this lifestyle on an urban lot could be “normal.” However, after reading your book about growing small grains, I keep trying to tell her, “honey, we can grow our own straw for hen house bedding, grains for feed, and I wouldn’t have to rake and mow the east lawn anymore!” Alas, my wife (for now) says NO DICE.

I’ll keep working on her. She’s my first “ag battle.” I hope to win her over to our side (aka-producing food with your small lot) in the next few years. Then, my next ag battle will be helping any willing neighbors do the same. Baby steps lead to revolutions. Here’s hoping. Thanks, as always, for writing. You’re a hoot. Cheers! -John

Makes me glad I’ve already got my seed wheat–love those open-pollinated varieties! Congratulations on the conference sell-out; that is terrific news. Sometimes I think effecting change in the world, or even just your little portion of it, is sort of like raising kids. You educate em (OK, maybe “nag” is a better term),love ’em, schlepp ’em around to enriching activities, feed, clothe, etc. for what seems like forever without the slightest effect, and suddenly they grow up! Must be a miracle or something…

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