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OEFFA awards grant funding to aspiring and early career farmers

New and beginning farmers are able to receive education, experience and support from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Lance Cheung
Flickr Creative Commons
New and beginning farmers are able to receive education, experience and support from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association awarded $30,000 in grant funding to eight beginning farmers across the state this week. OEFFA describes beginning farmers as potential or early-career farmers with 10 years of experience or less. The organization says the funds are intended to help new farmers recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic.

One of these farmers is Louise Gartner. She owns Fox Tail Farm in Clermont County. Gartner started the farm in 2014 and now grows food year round. Baby spinach, kale, carrots, and edible flowers, garlic, ginger, and radish are just a few of the crops grown on the farm.

Gartner said the farm was hit hard financially by the pandemic.

“Our primary customers were restaurants and schools,” Gartner said. “With both of those shut down, we lost a lot of clientele. We ended up having to just give away at least half of our produce – it was either that or throw it on the compost pile."

The pandemic may have brought difficulties, but Fox Tail Farm was able to use those challenges to find different ways to reach customers. They started their own Community Supported Agricultures, which Gartner says helped increase sales and revenue. The farm also started an online store.

“The online store was a big help,” Gartner said. “The bright side of the pandemic was that it pushed us into a digital selling platform, which really expanded our client base”

Fox Tail Farm discontinued their CSA, but they are still doing business through their online store. Gartner says the funds from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association will go toward a larger water line, a new sprinkler system, and a new tomato trellising system.

While Gartner faced the challenges of a smaller market share, Cory Stratton faced different issues. Stratton is the co-owner and main operator of Truest Farms in Mechanicsburg. He said the biggest challenge for his business during the pandemic was price inflation on lumbar, metal, and meat-processing services.

Truest Farms is 21-acres and started operating in 2021. The farm produces mostly meat from pasture-raised chickens. They also have hogs, lambs, and egg-laying chickens and quails.

“Getting into business in the midst of the pandemic was interesting,” Stratton said. “We didn’t necessarily lose business, but the inflation on materials made it extremely difficult to get into farming."

Stratton says the funds Truest Farms received from Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association were used to buy chicken crates and a commercial freezer.

“It's one thing to raise the animal,” Stratton said. “It’s another thing to have somewhere to place all of that food while people purchase it. That was a huge investment for us, so the funds were immediately helpful.”

Stratton also said the new crates and freezer are already in use at the farm.