Strong Foundation: Farm Bureau Foundation relaunches with new campaign

Photos by Rick Buchanan

Merv Bartholow drove 100 miles round trip each time water samples he’d collected needed to undergo tests for the Buckeye Lake Watershed Stream Monitoring and Analysis Project.

For years, algae blooms were having a significant impact on Buckeye Lake, and the analysis effort in 2013 was aimed at figuring out where the problem was originating, according to Bartholow, director of Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow.

“We wanted to test the water upstream from the lake,” he said. “Usually testing is done at the lake or major tributaries, but where testing had not been done was back at the source streams.”

Five separate times Bartholow would collect samples at 12 different spots in streams running straight from the fields in Licking County.

The all-volunteer effort might have gone for naught if it hadn’t been for a $3,000 Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation grant the project was awarded a couple years ago, Bartholow said. That money, he said, was spent on paying the lab to perform those tests.

Travis Markwood, Lancaster-Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce president.

Initiatives like the Buckeye Lake project are at the root of the foundation’s new fundraising campaign—Strong Foundation. According to Executive Director Shawn Cleveland, the foundation’s mission remains the same—focusing on awarding scholarships to students pursuing agriculture studies and awarding grants on a local level for agriculture initiatives.

Those scholarships and grants are awarded through various, long-standing funds, but Cleveland said the foundation wants to expand its reach further by focusing its efforts in three main areas: education, economic development and the environment.

“Strong Foundation is about building for tomorrow,” Cleveland said. “We want to be more public, more visible and take the foundation to the next level.”

While Strong Foundation is a fundraising effort, it is also an effort to raise the profile of a resource county Farm Bureaus and others across the state have had access to for years, though they may not have known about it.

“We want to be a strong resource for the counties,” he said. “We have the same purpose, to help educate the citizens of Ohio in everything we do.”

Grant and scholarship recipients agree

A foundation grant awarded to the Fairfield County Local Foods Branding and Awareness initiative a few years ago helped make a significant impact on economic development in and around Lancaster.

The majority of the $3,000 grant enabled the chamber to create an “agritourism type of map of local food producers,” according to Lancaster-Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce President Travis Markwood.

“It was part of an effort to make people aware of local food options around the county,” he said.

That map was one of the support pieces that helped spur today’s explosive growth in the local food market in Fairfield County. Where once there were six vendors at the farmers market, there are now 25, Markwood said. In addition, Fairfield County is establishing its own market at Keller Market House in downtown Lancaster. “We’ve applied for a foundation grant (in 2015) for Keller Market as well,” he noted.

Valley Oaks Farm received a $2,416 grant from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. Pictured (left to right) are Valley Oaks Farm owners John and Jacqueline Drake and Ohio Farm Bureau’s Joe Cornely, who made the presentation at OFBF’s annual meeting in December. Valley Oaks is a horse farm in Wayne County that introduces youths to horses.

Sparking an interest

Susan Paxton, executive director of the OWjL Camp Agricultural Awareness Classes at Ohio Wesleyan University, said there are educational opportunities that simply would not be offered without the support of the foundation.

The residential camp, which is geared toward expanding experiences for gifted middle school students in nine central Ohio counties, gives students in urban and suburban settings a taste of life on a farm.

In 2014 the foundation covered the cost of teachers and materials for three agriculture-based classes through a $1,500 class sponsorship grant.

“We are a very good match with the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation,” Paxton said. “The majority of our students are from non-rural areas and our camp is definitely an outreach. If a student is exposed to agriculture-based classes not typically taught at their schools, it might spark something.”

Investing in the future

Growing up in a farming family sparked something in Brooke Anderson. The Cedarville High School alum received a scholarship from the foundation to help further her studies of animal science at The Ohio State University. She is a freshman now and one of her favorite classes involves visiting various Ohio State agricultural labs throughout the state every week.

While Anderson is just now learning about agriculture labs, Buckeye Lake’s Bartholow is still working in his laboratory.


As a result of those initial tests at Buckeye Lake, Bartholow said the analysis project is making good progress working with farmers and communicating techniques that keep nutrients in their fields and out of the streams that ultimately run into the lake.

He’s applied for another foundation grant this year. He wants to test those same streams again and gauge exactly how much progress has been made on the environmental impact.

“We think our work has greatly improved the water quality in the lake,” he said.

With help from another grant from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, he’ll soon know for sure.

If you are interested in learning more about the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation or to make a contribution, visit the foundation’s website, or contact the foundation’s Executive Director Shawn Cleveland at [email protected].

Published in the January/February 2016 issue of Our Ohio.