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Growing our Generation: Starting from scratch

Dave and Elizabeth Petro of Ashtabula County are editors of the June 5, 2017 Growing our Generation enewsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

We’ve always liked the saying, “Live simply. Simply live.” There is a lot of freedom in that. However, living simply does not equate to living easy.

We are Dave and Elizabeth Petro and neither of us grew up with a farming background. We were both raised in the suburbs in northeast Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. Dave is a skilled carpenter running a full time home remodeling business and I work in the home. We have three children, Joslyn (8), Hannah (6) and Hunter (3), and a slew of projects on our twenty acres…trying to find the one to develop into a full-blown operation. We are passionate about sustainability, healthy and organic food, supporting local farmers and businesses, farm to table meals, and community involvement. We became members of the Ohio Farm Bureau to become educated, informed and be supportive to our local agricultural community.

We know starting a farm from scratch is going to be a long and hard journey, but one we are proud and excited to be on. We didn’t even really know how to get started, we just knew we had to take one step and keep moving forward. We bought land, built a new barn, bought a tractor and started out small with our garden, chickens and digging ponds to raise fish. We love meeting and talking to people who stop to buy our free-range eggs and we love showing interested people around our property to show how we use sustainable living practices.

Aquaculture in Ohio

petro-aquacultureFish and aquaculture is one of the main ventures we have always planned for our property to bring in income and support our other projects. We have six half-acre ponds that we have experimented with raising both yellow perch and bait fish. As members of the Ohio Aquaculture Association (OAA), we stay informed with market trends, advancements in aquaculture and what other fish farms in Ohio are doing. It is a growing industry and there is promising opportunity. We have changed our business plan a couple times to fit the current trend, recognize the market in our region and be realistic with what is growing well in our outdoor ponds. Researching the fish industry has allowed us to discover the challenges that small farms are required to overcome to be successful. We find the solution exciting – work cooperatively with other small farms.

Here is an excerpt from OAA president, Bill Lynch: “Two challenges need addressed. First is meeting HAACP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) regulations in the processing and selling of fish products. Small family farms realistically cannot meet HAACP regulations and required infrastructure in a profitable manner. Second, these small family farms cannot, on an individual basis, grow enough fish to meet the needs of even a single high-end restaurant. Alone, these individual farms cannot tap into this potentially lucrative market, but together in a cooperative entity, critical mass can be achieved so that all benefit. Aquaculture cooperatives near urban / suburban centers can aggregate locally grown fish from aquaculture and aquaponics facilities and then market and distribute high quality fish products to high-end markets within these population centers.”

Ohio Wine Country

petro-vineyardsOhio has over 200 wineries and counting. Over 81 of those are in northeast Ohio where we live, so in the summer months our area becomes a tourist attraction. From my experience working at a local winery, Ohio’s wine industry is bringing in travelers from all over the country in addition to the local residents looking for ways to spend their afternoons. Many of the wineries also serve as a hub to sell Ohio made foods and products, giving exposure to a broader population of consumers.

There are a few reasons for that growth in the vine-and-wine industry, said Todd Steiner, the OARDC’s (Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center) enology program management and outreach specialist. “I think the locavore thing is a good thing,” he said, as consumers who already populate local farmers’ markets are doing the same with local wineries.

Roadside Stands and Farmers Markets

petro-farm_marketIn the summertime, you can drive around and do a lot of your grocery shopping from roadside stands and farmers markets. It is a perfect way for people to connect directly with where their food is grown and the dirt covered hands that lead it to their table. Being first generation farmers and starting out with a small budget, we know roadside stands, farmers markets and direct sales to small local restaurants is our sales outlet. There are great programs and support for people and families wanting to sell and market home grown and produced foods, such as Ohio Proud.

Created in 1993, Ohio Proud is the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s marketing program that identifies and promotes food and agriculture that are made in Ohio and grown in Ohio. Agriculture is Ohio’s No. 1 industry, contributing more than $105 billion to the state’s economy. Ohio Proud offers help to consumers looking for products and to companies needing marketing assistance.

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This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a discounted category for those 18-24 years old.

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Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.