By DOUG GRAVES
DAYTON, Ohio — Only eight percent of what Ohioans eat is produced in the state.
That statistic, presented at the most recent Montgomery County Food Summit in Dayton, reveals a truth about the state’s food system – although agriculture is Ohio’s No. 1 industry, most of what is grown in the state is not consumed here.
But there are some farmers working to grow that figure, and some local nonprofits aiming to help them with it.
For Tecumseh Land Trust’s (TLT) Executive Director Krista Magaw, helping farmers connect with their local markets is a way to boost their profit in a tough agricultural economy.
“Farmers get a mere nine to 10 percent of the value of their product, at best,” she said. “That’s not great.”
Add to that the misery of this spring’s planting dilemma. More than 1.5 million acres in Ohio remain unplanted and state farmers are expecting the worst crop production in recent history. Fifteen percent of the ohio’s acres went unplanted and weather conditions sabotaged the plants that made it into the ground. Farmers simply had a late start for the planting season because of the more than 33 inches of rain that fell in southwest Ohio this year, 6.65 inches above average.
“This is a miserable year for farmers,” Magaw said.
Many small and mid-scale growers are engaged in turning things around down the road, as are some of the retailers.
When the harvest of radishes, zucchini and sweet corn comes in at Buurma Farms in Willard, Ohio, every spring and summer, some of the state’s retailers go the extra mile to let consumers know about the opportunity to buy local.
Many of the produce cartons have “From Ohio” boldly printed on them, or bear the familiar Ohio Proud logo, but sometimes the message is also reinforced in a graphically spectacular manner. Some retailers have gone so far as to provide a photo of family members working in the field over the produce being sold.
Ohio is well situated to supply most of the country with fresh summer produce, but the state’s farmers also have a long and proud history of bringing the fruits of their labor to local markets. Some Ohio shippers and retailers, such as Cincinnati-headquartered Kroger, have traditions going back decades of cooperating to encourage consumers to buy local produce.
“We’ve had great support from the retailers. Our best customers are the local ones,” Buurma said.
The state commissioned a consumer survey recently and found 93 percent of the residents prefer to buy Ohio products over national brands, and 90 percent of those surveyed indicated they would even pay a few cents more for “made in Ohio.”
Agribusinesses, farmers, producers, manufacturers and retailers help consumers identify locally made and grown products using the Ohio Proud logo.
“There are currently 430 partners in the Ohio Proud program, representing 78 of Ohio’s 88 counties,” says Ashley McDonald, Ohio Proud program administrator at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“Locally grown is of tremendous importance, especially over the past several years as consumers have become more interested and involved in learning about where their food comes from.”
“The Ohio Proud program champions products at least 50-percent raised, grown or processed in Ohio. We do in-store signage, promote customer identification of the Ohio Proud sticker when shopping at grocery stores and other local retailers, and encourage consumers to visit our interactive website to search for specific types of products, or for the companies in their community.”
While Ohioans eat just eight percent of what is produced in the state, the rest of the nation is feasting on Ohio produce. The Buckeye State thanks to its location is positioned to ship a diversity of fresh fruits and vegetables to the rest of the country during the spring and summer harvest seasons. Ohio is home to more than 1,000 food processing companies and produces more than 200 commercial crops.
Its major commodities include apples, beans, cabbage, corn, cucumber, greens, lettuces, peppers, potatoes, root vegetables, squash and tomatoes.
“Ohio produce is unique in part due to the diversity of the types of growing, size of operations, and also the varying climate throughout the state,” says Alex DiNovo, president and chief operating officer of DNO Produce in Columbus, Ohio. “Ohio has many traditional field growing operations, as well as greenhouse entities. The size of operations throughout the state varies from small family farms to large entities that ship far outside of the state’s borders.”
DNO is a wholesale operation and also customizes items from a 50,000-foot repack and fresh-cut facility using produce sourced from hundreds of growers in Ohio and around the world.