Ohio Farmer’s Union Field Report

It felt like home for me to be sitting in a room with a hundred Ohio farmers January 27-28, 2012 at the 78th Annual Ohio Farmer’s Union Convention. I was lucky enough to be invited by Rural Coalition’s Emeritus Board Member, Marge Townsend and I am really glad I took her up on the offer. I have been to more meetings and conferences than I can count around the country regarding farmers and farm policy but I have never been in a room where almost 100% of the attendees were actually farmers. Usually, especially it seems in Washington, people who are not actually farming do most of those talking about what is best for the farmer and what policy changes will help farmers. It was exciting to walk up to each attendee and ask what are they growing or hear them on the phone talking about who would feed the cows that night.

This group of farmers came from all walks and all farming practices. Some raised Roundup Ready corn and soybean, some were certified organic beef, some raised produce for direct-to-market CSA’s, and some were retiring after a lifetime managing a local grain elevator. For me the disconnect and division between commodity producers and specialty crop farmers has become something of concern. Recently, in meetings I have begun to talk to others about this divide and how as a movement pitting “good farmers” against “bad farmers” will only tear us down. Being amongst the Ohio Farmer’s Union I did not see any of this divide or judgment. I saw rural Ohioans who love the land, love their job farming, and wanting to figure out how to best survive as independent family farms amongst all the corporate control in today’s market.

The Ohio Farmers Union members’ biggest concern was the increased hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state of Ohio. Pennsylvanian farmers were there to present the devastating effects “fracking” has had on their land, including the death of livestock. Three-college scholarship finalists presented essays on fracking in Ohio and were asked if the economic benefits outweighed the environmental concerns. The three students all agreed the environmental concerns far outweighed the economic benefits. However, State Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay), disputed all of OFU’s concern, the student’s essays, and the Pennsylvania farmers warnings to say that Ohio’s fracking laws are tough enough to prevent against accidents and any negative effects of fracking. It was pretty sad to see the State Senator completely negate any comments from the audience and avoid directly addressing concerns. The farmers continue to worry about this threat.

The Ohio Farmers Union is in the midst of overcoming a trying time where they almost lost it all and faced closing the state chapter. However, in less than three years the OFU went from uncertainty to showing a profit! Their perseverance and triumph really reiterated to me the strength in Ohio’s rural farming communities. Even though the OFU was faced with an almost impossible deficit they were able to come together and find a solution quickly. So while many meetings are happening in DC and in other state capitals trying to figure out how to “save” rural America and the family farmer it made me realize we just need to ask the farmer and listen to them a little more. Because really they are the backbone of this country and as the old saying goes, “country-boy can survive” and my two days with the Ohio Farmers Union truly showed me just that.