Hershberger's Family Farm Field Day - Sustainable Farming Education - Sugarcreek, Ohio
A few years ago i volunteered for OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association), and had the opportunity to make some photographs at the Hershberger Family Farm Field Day event. The event is organized by the Family Farm Field Day Committee and the Small Farm Institute, a nonprofit committed to the development, promotion and support of Ohio's small family farm agricultural and forestry ventures within the Appalachian region of southern Ohio. The event is largely focused on sustainable farming practices, and low impact farming. It attracts between 4,000 and 5,000 people annually, and moves locations every two years to keep fresh people and energy involved in it. You do not have to be a farmer to attend, and the event is free and open to the public.
There are many different activities to attend during these events. Including seminars on cheese making, homemaking, bread baking, timber management, composting as well as many other topics. There were also free demonstrations and lectures on alternative energy, beekeeping, natural resources, grazing, the farmstead, and the homestead. There were even nature hikes and birding walks for the children.
This event is focused on preserving the heritage of Ohio's small family farms through lower energy agricultural activities that promote family lifestyles revolving around the farmstead and homestead. It was a particularly interesting experience for me, because the event consisted of primarily Amish and Mennonite families from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Some families however, traveled all the way from the west coast, and there was even one Mennonite family from Mexico. i grew up in rural, central Ohio, and there were many Amish communities located just a short drive from us, but i never really got to know anyone from the communities or that much about them.
However, when i was young, my grandpa would take me to the livestock auctions that were always heavily attended by the Amish farmers. i remember watching the Amish children standing in a circle, playing different games with each other to pass the time. They were always smiling and laughing and they seemed to have a much better time with each other than the groups of kids at my Elementary School. i'm sure it was a case of the "grass is always greener" perception, but i found their lifestyle intriguing and mysterious and i always wanted to know more about them.
So as an adult, i was excited to attend this event, and have the opportunity to discuss the lifestyle and food production with many of the farmers. Because of their lifestyle, it surprised me to learn that the majority of Amish farms are non-organic. i suppose i just assumed with their stewardship to the land that they didn't use chemicals in their agricultural practices. One of the reasons for this, is people like me, assume that because it is Amish grown, even if it isn't certified, it must be "all naturally" grown. So going through the expense of converting their farm to organic, even though they would quickly recoup the cost with the organic certified premiums, they still don't feel like it makes sense from a marketing standpoint.
Many farms in the Amish communities however, are becoming certified organic and there does seem to be a growing concern about sustainable practices. Several of the farmers at the event are part of the Organic Valley cooperative that is based in La Farge, Wisconsin. Organic Valley is made up of 1,834 farmer-owners who are spread out over 32 states and three Canadian provinces that practice sustainable, organic agriculture. These events are a great place to promote these sustainable practices, and to educate other farmers about the benefits of it. The Hershberger Farm, where it was held, is a certified grass-fed dairy farm, which was convenient for those who are curious to see to see how it all works, and hopefully reduce some of the fears and concerns associated with converting.
One thing i noticed at this particular event was the level of organization. Even with thousands of people showing up at a medium sized family farm in horse-drawn buggies, cars, trucks, bicycles, walking, and on tractors, there didn't seem to be any chaos. The patience that was displayed was quite impressive. The food lines were a sight to see as well. Everyone lined up in perfect lines as if it were a military operation, and waited calmly for their turn. Considering the volume of people that moved through possibly six lines where the food was being served, it all happened very quickly. It was strange to observe considering the impatient scene at most state fairs or amusement parks these days.
It was a wonderful experience to visit the farm and to become more familiar with the Amish and Mennonite lifestyles. Events such as these seem extremely useful in educating people who aren't necessarily exposed to the same media about the food situation in the world. Farming is obviously a large part of many of their lives, and being educated about the dangers of non-sustainable practices is the first step.