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People, policy and progress

How a community college established a lifelong bond with Farm Bureau

When it came time to tap a chef for Lorain County Farm Bureau’s annual Pasture to Plate dinner, it wasn’t hard to whittle down the list to one name – Chef Adam Schmith, director of the Culinary Arts Institute for Lorain County Community College.

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Above, Lorain County Community College President Marcia Ballinger, left, with state Rep. Nathan Manning, Lorain County Board President Adele Flynn and OFBF State Trustee Al DiVencenzo at the Lorain County policy development dinner this summer. Flynn was recently elected to fulfill DiVencenzo’s state board term following his unexpected passing in July.

Schmith oversees the professional development of dozens of sous chefs who will one day make their way into the finest dining establishments in northeast Ohio and beyond. Over the past few years, Schmith has fostered a learning environment that is about more than just plating tasty food that looks pretty. It’s about finding the best local food and having his budding chefs meet the men and women who make it grow.

“As a chef, you can either have a relationship with the sales person who services your account or the person who grows the food,” Schmith said.

Relationship building

More often than not, the people who the students meet are Farm Bureau members who Schmith has cultivated relationships with over time. The fact that there are relationships there to cultivate isn’t one bit surprising. Lorain County Community College and area farmers have been partners from the very beginning, and Farm Bureau has been a strong supporter of LCCC for decades. The connection is so strong that former Farm Bureau State Trustee Al DiVencenzo, who passed away unexpectedly in July, said the teamwork between the two organizations as the college has grown represented the most important policy development work Lorain County Farm Bureau has ever done (see sidebar).

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Attendees were treated to local cuisine at the Lorain County Farm Bureau Pasture-to-Plate experience in July.

“Our roots run deep in farming,” said Marcia Ballinger, president of LCCC, noting the college was the first community college in the state to be deeded land to establish a permanent building. The original building is still part of the college’s growing campus in Elyria. LCCC’s first building was constructed on the Moon family farm. Hope Moon, who is a former dean of health and wellness services and has been associated with LCCC for almost 20 years, is the granddaughter of the original landowners, who deeded the property to the college in 1963.

It is ironic to no one that the legislator most supportive of establishing a permanent space for the college was himself a farmer. Rep. Henry Schriver, who passed away in 2011, proposed the legislation supporting the college’s brick and mortar status.

“I know my grandfather worked with (founding  LCCC president) Max Lerner,” said Jason Schriver of Grafton. The “farmer philosopher,” as his grandfather was known, was an outspoken proponent of bringing the community together for the common good.

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Students in the farm-to-fork class at the LCCC Culinary Arts Institute harvest in October what they planted at Coleman Gardens in Avon Lake earlier in the year.

“It’s a family legacy, to give back to the community,” said Schriver, who today serves on the Lorain County Farm Bureau board. He and his family live and farm on the land his grandfather once did. It was attending the Young Ag Professionals winter conference in 2016 that put the Schrivers on the path to organic crops, which has helped them with their work-life balance as they raise five children. They also have a personal connection to the college. His wife, Angela, a structural engineer, was a teacher at LCCC for a time.

Strong partnerships

As the college evolved, it became obvious that more higher education options were needed. In the 1990s the region lacked a way for local residents to have public access to education beyond two-year associate degrees.

“We were the largest county in the state by population without public access to bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” Ballinger said.

Farm Bureau stepped up to support a ballot initiative that, when passed, gave the college the operating dollars it needed to establish these programs without students having to leave Lorain County.

“Farm Bureau was one of our greatest advocates in our community supporting the need for these programs,” Ballinger said. “Farm Bureau held listening and learning sessions and took a policy position on making access to higher education affordable and within reach for everyone. They were truly at the heart of it.”

Today the college partners with 12 different universities to offer a large variety of bachelor’s and master’s degrees through The University Partnership program. Last year LCCC was recognized by the American Association for Community Colleges as the 2018 Recipient of the AACC Award of Excellence in Student Success.

Farm Bureau and the college continue to partner in a variety of ways. Whether it is through scores of workshops and classes offered for rural and agriculture residents or partnerships on other community endeavors, the bond is seemingly timeless and endless.

Full circle

The relationship between the college’s culinary arts program and Farm Bureau is a shining, full circle example of the chain that links the two community-focused organizations together.

Chef Schmith has grown partnerships with Farm Bureau members Adele and Eric Flynn in Wellington and Eric and Barb Grim in New London, for beef and dairy, respectively, among others. Earlier this year, LCCC culinary students planted dill, collard greens, mustard greens, radishes, beans and several varieties of lettuce at Coleman Gardens in Avon Lake, with the intention of having the crops ready to harvest this fall.

“We were just starting our farm (in 2016) with a goal of being a transitional farm, on the road to being an organic farm and I knew I’d need an outlet for our produce,” Marcia Coleman said of her relationship with the college. Coleman Gardens used a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to build a high tunnel and the students from the LCCC culinary school’s farm-to-fork class were the first ones to plant in it.

Coleman said she enjoys working with the students, as well as being a part of Farm Bureau.

“They are very inquisitive and were amazed that this was in their backyard,” she said of the budding chefs. She and her husband, Joe, are also relatively new Farm Bureau members and are impressed with the relationships they have started to establish.

“I like being able to meet other farmers, it’s such a big family,” she said of Farm Bureau. “I’m just very humbled by the work. It’s not easy.”

It’s not easy, but hard work and  close relationships can help build great things.

Alfred (Al) DiVencenzo

Policy and pork chops:
Remembering Al DiVencenzo

By Pat Petzel

On a hot July night this summer, Lorain County Farm Bureau hosted its annual pork chop dinner — a tradition that has been held every season for the last 60 years. Former Ohio Farm Bureau District 3 State Trustee Al DiVencenzo was so proud of this event that he invited several of his state board and staff colleagues to attend. For many of us it was the last time we would ever see Al; he passed away unexpectedly two weeks later on July 24.

The purpose of the pork chop dinner is what in Farm Bureau world is known as policy development — the grassroots process of communities coming together to identify issues and problems they would like to solve together. Before the meeting, Al was asked what policy achievement over the past 60 years had the most impact as a result of the community dinner. Over lemonade on his back porch, Al paused several seconds to consider his answer: the collaboration with Lorain County Community College, he said with a nod.

Twenty minutes later we were at the dinner experiencing what Al was so proud to share. One by one, local leaders (Al called them “our county movers and shakers”) — LCCC President Marcia Ballinger among them – stood up and shared with the Farm Bureau members attending how the groups might work together. That evening represented a tradition that Farm Bureau, and Al, should be proud to carry on.

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Kelli Milligan Stammen is director of publications for the Ohio Farm Bureau.