Happy Independence Day! As you read this column the actual Fourth of July has passed, but many of our celebrations, parades, picnics, barbecues and family outings are still taking place. In light of the holiday and other celebratory events, I ask you to pause and reflect on the freedoms that we enjoy in this country, including the freedom to farm and produce our own food.
American agriculture is at the core of our freedom celebrations putting our favorite foods on our tables, but farm families today account for less than 2% of our population.
As you shop and prepare for your own personal or family festival of food to commemorate various holidays and events, show your appreciation and support for local, regional and American agricultural food products. Our food-producing communities could really use our support and appreciation for the products they grow that provide us with an abundant, safe and wholesome food supply.
This growing season continues to be one of the most challenging in decades for farmers and gardeners alike.
Extreme weather patterns, abundant rainfall, flooding, pricing, tariffs, trade and other economic challenges combined with opioids, mental wellness and access to affordable health care have coalesced to create the perfect storm for crisis in our farm families.
Here in Northeast Ohio and across the Buckeye State, we are seeing a significant loss and decline in the number of dairy farms. In fact, since October 2017, Ohio has lost 172 dairy farms, ranking it sixth in the nation in the loss of dairy farms. Additionally, large majorities of farm fields in western Ohio are saturated and unplanted, and have farmers desperately searching for options to meet financial and production demands.
Census of Agriculture data from 2017 showed that Ohio had 77,805 farms composed of 13,965,295 acres. About 64% of Ohio farms are between 10 and 179 acres, with an average farm size of 179 acres. An 96% of Ohio’s farms are family farms and contribute more than $9.3 million in market value of agricultural products sold, ranking us 16th nationally.
Ohio’s top commodities by market value include grain, poultry, hogs, milk and cattle. Ohio is among the top 20 agricultural states in crops and livestock. As you sit down this holiday weekend to honor the independence of our nation and give thanks for your blessings, please find the empathy to add our nation’s heartland and our farming families to your list, and “agvocate” to your family and friends your appreciation about American and Ohio agriculture.
Here are a few tips to get you started, inspired by my colleagues at North Carolina Cooperative Extension:
Get ready to open up your bank account and vote with your fork. Americans will spend nearly $6.6 billion on food this Fourth of July weekend. Jst imagine if you pledged to spend at least 10% of your total food purchases this holiday weekend on Ohio agricultural products or products grown and produced in the area where you live. Your contribution not only keeps those dollars local but also reinvests in Northeast Ohio farm families.
Fire up the grill and barbecue. Did you know that barbecues have been a tradition since Thomas Jefferson was in the White House? Our favorite food options include burgers, steaks, ribs, hot dogs and chicken. It is estimated that 190 million pounds of beef, 155 million pounds of hot dogs, and 750 million pounds of chicken were consumed this Fourth of July. Find your favorite Ohio brands with a visit to the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ohio Proud program website @ http://ohioproud.org/ or visit your local custom meat processor.
Eat what’s-in-season side dishes. Locally harvested sweet corn makes a great side dish to feed your picnic guests. You can opt to expand your selections to the regional foodshed where there is a 33% chance that your baked beans came from North Dakota. Dish up fresh, seasonal fruit from a local orchard or Ohio based grower, for example add some in season Ohio blueberries to your menu.
Drink milk, or enjoy an Ohio dairy product. Celebrate July as National Ice Cream Month, support your local dairy farmers, and enjoy your favorite locally made or Ohio-produced dairy products. Ohio’s dairy industry ranks 11th nationally in milk production, first in Swiss cheese production and fifth in hard ice cream production. Check out https://www.drink-milk.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/35-Fun-Facts-About-Dairy.pdf to learn more fun facts about dairy.
Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources for Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.