John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

Local Food

My croissant was sumptuous—a flaky, hand rolled buttery pastry lovingly baked on an Amish farm mere hours before I spied it atop the weathered wooden crate at my nearby farmers market. Its garnishment was equally tasty and local—an abundant portion of Fall Harvest Cinnamon Apple Preserves, carefully crafted by the J.M. Smucker Company—Orville, Ohio’s Fortune 500 firm whose product I snatched from the sheet metal shelf of a massive modern supermarket.

OK, I’ll grant that within the contemporary food dialogue, I lose all credibility by defining any mass marketed product as “local,” even when it’s a treat as good as what Smucker’s cooks up. Today, the term local isn’t so much an indicator of geography as it is a statement of values.

Many of us buy local to support our beliefs about how food should be raised. Others rarely think about such issues; we’re happy when food is wholesome, cheap and convenient. I suspect that on the food awareness scale, most of us fall somewhere between conscientious and oblivious. So with your permission, I’d like to temporarily suspend the cultural connotations of localness and declare that for the time it takes to read this, all food is local.

Frankly, that’s not much of a stretch. The links of our food chain are right next door. 11.5 million Ohioans live in a state that’s 54 percent farmland. Our most urban areas are generally less than 30 minutes from one of the state’s 75,000 farms. There are 1,734 food processing companies in Ohio with at least one in 83 of our 88 counties. There are 8,000 grocery stores, 5,000 restaurants and 1,100 farm markets. Our food is very local.

It’s also diverse. There’s Smucker’s with $5.5 billion in sales, and the Jam and Jelly Lady, whose distribution system is 11 other small businesses and the occasional festival. There’s Bob Evans Farms, with $1.6 billion in sales, and R & C Packing, which is just up the road from where Bob started his sausage business.
R & C processes, seasons and vacuum packs pork for around 98 cents per pound, although you have to supply the hog and they charge extra for slaughtering.

These local businesses range from major employers to hiring a few neighborhood kids. They ship products worldwide or sell from a roadside stand. They do business with other local businesses, pay taxes, volunteer in civic groups and support our food banks and churches. And they’re the economic engine for a long chain of suppliers and buyers, financers, researchers, manufacturers, transporters and marketers that accounts for $107 billion in economic activity and provides of one out of every seven jobs in Ohio.

Clearly, we’re blessed with local food and local food production. Food that’s slow, fast, organic, conventional, vegan, animal based, fresh and frozen. Food that’s raised, processed, packaged and sold by mom and pop family businesses and multinational corporations. It’s a massive, diverse community based food system that feeds us and feeds our economy.

Food and farming have always been part of Ohio’s landscape. But that landscape changes. What doesn’t change is Farm Bureau’s role in shaping the landscape, and your role in shaping Farm Bureau. Your organization’s job is to help everyone along the food chain navigate through changes in knowledge, capabilities and expectations. Your job, as a member, is to weigh in. Farm Bureau’s purpose from day one has been to bring people together to identify and adapt to challenges and opportunities. That purpose hasn’t changed. You can be content just paying your dues and enjoying this magazine. Or you can choose to participate and have a voice in the future of food and farming in Ohio. Whether you prefer to fill your canvas shopping bag at a farm market, or load a chrome-finished grocery cart at the big box chain store, there’s a place for you in Farm Bureau.