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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Farm couple picked for national program

National Farmers Union Beginning Farmer Institute launched to educate, inform

By Nancy Allen

Jeff and Deb Eschmeyer, New Knoxville, stand with produce from their certified o. . .

A New Knoxville couple are among a group of 10 farmers from across the nation selected to participate in the National Farmers Union's (NFU) inaugural Beginning Farmer Institute.
Jeff and Deb Eschmeyer, who operate Harvest Sun Farm, will learn about financial planning, farmer-owned cooperatives, marketing, USDA farm subsidy programs, renewable energy, understanding local food systems and more during ongoing sessions held across the U.S. The first session is this fall in Washington, D.C.
Participants will be surveyed before the first session to set the eighth-month-long agenda to suit their needs, said NFU Education Director Maria Miller. Participants will get to choose the site and date of one of the sessions.
Harvest Sun Farm is a certified organic farm raising fresh fruits and vegetables for two farmers' markets in Sidney and Columbus, restaurants and several small wholesale accounts. The Eschmeyers hope to start operating a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program next year, where patrons would pay a fee to receive fresh fruits and vegetables from their farm each week.
The couple, who bought Jeff's grandparents' farm in 2008, see participating in the Beginning Farmer Institute as an opportunity to learn. The pair are high school sweethearts and the fifth generation of the Eschmeyer family to own the farm.
"We are new, and we face a lot of challenges and decisions. On top of growing stuff, you have all the business stuff too," Jeff Eschmeyer said. "We saw it as an opportunity to gain insight from others who have been doing it awhile and network with others going through some of the same challenges and struggles we are."
The first session will include officials who influence USDA farm program decisions. The couple will be able to learn about how USDA programs affect them. They intend to inquire about what types of policies are being considered to encourage more people to go into farming and those for organic farmers like themselves.
"With the average age of the U.S. farmer being 58, we need to create a new generation of farmers because there is not a huge backlog of people getting into the business," Jeff Eschmeyer said.
Many organic farming programs are being cut by USDA, he added. The current farm bill contains a program to help new farmers save money to acquire capital, but the program was never funded, he said.
Deb Eschmeyer said it will be nice to network with other young beginning farmers at the national level.
"We're just excited to do it," she said. "Our first meeting is this fall, and we get to meet everybody."
The Beginning Farmer Institute will provide participants with a better working knowledge of the tools available to help them succeed, Miller said.
"NFU expects to be actively involved with these participants after they return to their farms," Miller said. "We ask that they become an inspiration or mentor to others in their area and become involved in local boards."
Others chosen to participate in the Beginning Farmer Institute hail from Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Montana, Connecticut and Colorado. They include grain farmers, a rancher, a CSA operator and an organic farm.
The Eschmeyers stood out in the application process because of their "ability to make things happen, their drive and motivation," Miller said.

Finding locally grown food:
Two area organic farms, Harvest Sun Farm, 5601 Lock Two Road, New Knoxville, and Oakview Farms, 443 Canal St., New Bremen, are listed on the Good Earth Guide to Organic and Ecological Farms, Gardens and Related Businesses by the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA).
Ohio summers are a time to enjoy the bounty of fresh garden vegetables, ripe off-the vine berries and orchard harvests bursting with flavor, the OEFFA says.
  The Good Earth Guide includes information on more than 315 farms and businesses that sell directly to the public, including more than 150 certified organic farms and businesses and more than 70 community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
Farming organically typically means using techniques that grow food in harmony with nature and not using synthetic chemicals or fertilizers.
  The directory identifies locations of farms to go to for locally grown vegetables; fruits; herbs; honey; maple syrup; dairy products; grass-fed beef, pork, and lamb; free-range chicken and eggs; fiber; flour and grains; cut flowers; plants; hay and straw; seed and feed; and other local farm products.
Each farm listing includes a name and contact information, products sold, a farm description and whether the farm is certified organic. Both the print and online versions include tools that make it easy to search the listings for a specific product, farm or farmer, by county or by sales method. Additionally, the online version includes locations and maps for where the farm's products are sold.
The Good Earth Guide is available free to the public in an online searchable database at http://www.oeffa.org/search-geg.php. Print copies are distributed free to OEFFA members and available to non-members for $7.50 each at http://www.oeffa.org/oeffastore.php.
Products available at Harvest Sun Farms include green beans, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards, corn, cucumbers, edamame, eggplant, squash, decorative gourds, kale, kohlrabi, fennel, leeks, garlic, greens, okra, onions, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, raspberries, scallions, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips and a variety of herbs.
Products available at Oakview Farm include food grade soybeans, corn for feed and spelt, an old variety of wheat.
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