Ag Week celebrates Ohio food and farms

Agriculture and the food we eat. Never before has farming — including how our food is grown and processed — been more important to Ohioans than it is today.

That is why, as we celebrate Ohio Agriculture Week across our state this week, we should reflect on how important agriculture is to our state and how the growing demands of consumers for fresh locally-grown food are creating new opportunities for farmers of all types in the future.

Accounting for more than $123 billion in annual economic impact and one out of every eight Ohio jobs, agriculture impacts all corners of the Buckeye state. Ohio ranks among the top producers in the nation for production in corn, soybeans, tomatoes, cheese and a variety of other agriculture products.

But — it is 2018. While agriculture in Ohio includes all of the traditional farms with their grains, livestock, wine and dairy, there is another story.

Ohio is at the forefront of a number of new food initiatives and new niche crops.

In the last four years, the Ohio hops industry has quadrupled. Hops farms are popping up all over our state to meet the growing demands of Ohio’s booming microbrewery and craft beer industry.

Along with this, The Ohio State University researchers are looking at the feasibility of growing more barley in our state.

There is a growing movement toward urban agriculture in Ohio, especially vegetable production. The state is looking at programs and training to increase produce in our larger cities.

Ohio is making strides in “farm to cafeteria.” More and more schools are partnering with local farmers to provide a variety of fresh local food to our children at school. There are also new programs helping teachers to prepare their own gardens at the school to produce food for the students. There are already a number of these in the state.

Ohio is also in the top ten in the nation for the number of organic farms, a part of our agriculture growing rapidly to meet the changing demands of consumers.

Groups such as the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which certifies organic farms and advocates for organic production, are now working hard-in-hard with groups such as OSU Extension and the Ohio farm Bureau on organic production initiatives.

Above all, Ohioans are embracing a growing “food culture” which goes beyond just knowing where the local food is grown.

Increasingly, customers will be millennials with smartphones: Millennials who can use an app on their phone to scan a carton of milk at the store to learn if it really was produced from grass-fed cows. “No more cheating” as Rondale Institute Director Jeff Moyer said at the recent OEFFA conference, where more than 1,000 Ohio farmers gathered last month.

Ohio restaurants are increasing using locally-grown food, and with that increase in demand comes a change based on the desires by the growing millennial market.

As Moyer said at the conference, these consumers are not interested in value as they are interested in values.

As we celebrate Ag Week this week, it is a time to honor our agriculture heritage and the history of farming in Ohio. We also should look to the future, and the direction the state is going in food production.

We see a great future ahead for Ohio agriculture — which is great news for everyone in the Buckeye state.