Urban Farms

Growing crops is no longer exclusive to rolling farmland and grassy plains. From roof-top gardens to vacant-lot farms, more city dwellers are relishing the opportunity to get their hands dirty and make green things grow in an environment of concrete and steel.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. Why the growing interest in urban farming? The reasons vary from farmer to farmer. Some are driven by frugality in a shaky economy, while others are passionate about growing and eating locally. Whatever the motivation, urban agriculture is a growing trend, even in Ohio, which is abundant in farmland.

In fact, Ohio is home to one of the largest contiguous urban farms in the U.S. — Ohio City Farm located in Cleveland’s historic Market District. Encompassing nearly six acres, Ohio City provides urban farming entrepreneurs low-cost land, shared facilities and technical assistance. In addition to the farm, Ohio City also includes a farm stand and a community kitchen.

While Ohio City has plenty of acreage to till, many urban farmers make do with small plots of land. For example, Swainway Urban Farm, in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville, rests on just a third of an acre.

The farm is operated by Ohio transplant Joseph Swain who, according to a recent Edible Columbus article, stumbled into the agriculture business.

After relocating from California, Swain began growing produce in his backyard and soon discovered a hidden talent.

“I grew all kinds of vegetables,” said Swain. “First year, second year, third year … it was pretty clear that I have quite a green thumb. We had more than enough food to feed ourselves.”

Eventually, Swain began selling his crops — micro greens, mushrooms and pea shoots — at his local farmers market. He has also opened his farm to curious locals for tours and as an educational opportunity for children.

Interested in starting your own urban farm? The Ohio State University Extension in Cuyahoga County is offering a series of urban-agriculture workshops. Topics include:

•    Urban farming policy 101
•    Irrigation strategies
•    Organic pest control
•    Setting up your chicken yard

 Photo obtained from: cutandfill.blogspot.com

Tax Time Different for Farmers

Tuesday was the infamous Tax Day. A day dreaded by all property owners — Especially farmers.

But some people assert that farmers are reaping the benefits of record land prices. An Indiana Public Media story reports that the base rate for an acre of farmland is projected to reach $2,000 by 2015, compared to the $500 cost/acre from 2000. That’s a 400 percent increase.

According to the same story, however, farm property taxes are expected to increase by more than a third.

It costs more than $400 to produce an acre of corn, so although it seems that a farmer landowner is raking in the dough when commodities are priced well, it doesn’t account for a farmer’s production nor property expenses.

Per an Idaho Statesman story:

“We don’t tax all property the same…Agricultural land gets preferential treatment. Moreover, the mix of residential, commercial and agricultural property varies from one unit of government to another, even within the same county. And the details of this vary from state to state. If farmland prices increase and those of residential and commercial property stagnate or decrease, then farmland will constitute a higher total fraction of the total taxable property in any taxing jurisdiction that has a mix of types.”

One Ohio farmer at an AgWeb blog posted, “Now that farms are more profitable than the bubble-bursted residential market we definitely are taking it on the chin.”

Ohio uses a farm appraisal system called Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV). A Wilmington News Journal story noted the five factors used to calculate CAUV:

  • Yield
  • Crop pattern
  • Crop prices
  • Production costs
  • Capitalization rates

The variables are determined based on an average of the information from the past five to seven years. Every six years, farmland is reappraised and every three years, the formula variables are updated.
In the formula, crop yield, crop pattern (the portion of the land yielding that crop) and crop price are multiplied. The production costs are subtracted and the total is then divided by the capitalization rate.
What caused farm tax increases this year?

  • The capitalization rate decreased because of less costly interest rates
  • Crop prices increased
  • Crop yield averages increased

How have your taxes fared? Do you know of a farmer/farmers struggling to pay their property taxes?

Photo obtained from: indianapublicmedia.org

Competition for Conservation Efforts

High crop and land prices are competing with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a voluntary program that helps agricultural producers use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits.

Producers enrolled in the CRP maintain long-term, resource-conserving ground cover to control soil erosion, improve water and air quality and enhance wildlife habitat. While land is typically enrolled in the program for 10 or 15 years before it can be re-enrolled, it’s going to be difficult to convince farmers to do so this year.

“Currently, about 30 million acres are in the program,” said Brent Sohngen, agricultural economist with The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. “But with crops reaching higher prices, such as soybeans, which increased 9.5 percent last month to $13.13 a bushel, more farmers are likely to consider returning their farmland to crops rather than participating in CRP.”

This year, contracts covering more than 6.5 million acres of CRP land will expire — the second-largest turnover in its 26-year history according to USDA data. In total, the amount of land in the CRP has decreased since 1988, decreasing 20 percent from a peak of 36.7 million acres in 2007.

A recent Chicago Tribune article states that while not all of the conservation land will be suitable for crops, economists say as much as half may be put back into farming for the first time in decades.

Throughout Ohio, about 338,117 acres of farmland are currently enrolled in the conservation program and of those, 26,561 acres are set to expire this year.

According to an Ohio’s Country Journal article, in a move to encourage farmers to enroll a maximum of 1 million new acres of land into the CRP, the USDA increased a one-time signing bonus for the program to $150 per acre from $100. However, the increase was only available to owners of approved land that featured wetlands and benefited duck-nesting habitats and certain animal species.

Farmers had until April 6 to register for the CRP. In May the USDA will reveal how many acres are enrolled. It will be interesting to see what this impact will be.

Did you or do you know a farmer who enrolled in the CRP? What do you think about the program? Do you think we’ll continue to see a decrease in the number of acres enrolled in this year’s program?

Photo obtained from: nyalt.org

An Easter Egg-travaganza!

Spring has sprung in Ohio! The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and preparations are underway for the Easter holiday, which includes decorating eggs for display, eating or hiding for an egg hunt.

As the second leading egg-producing state in the nation, Ohio has certainly put its fair share of eggs in Easter baskets. According to the Ohio Poultry Association, the Buckeye State, which is home to more than 40 million egg-laying chickens and young hens, produced more than 7.6 billion eggs in 2011.

Decorating Easter eggs, which has been a popular, centuries-old tradition in many cultures, can range from the easy — immersing a hard-boiled egg into a dye mixture of water, vinegar and food coloring — to the complex, including creating intricate designs from yarn, beads, flowers and even jewels.

In an About.com article about the history of egg coloring, author Peggy Trowbridge Filippone highlights several decorating styles that elevate the Easter egg into a work of art, including traditional techniques from the Ukraine and the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Ukrainians often decorate eggs in a style called pysanky, which is derived from the word for write and involves drawing elaborate designs in wax and then dyeing the eggs. The Pennsylvania Dutch commonly decorate eggs with coils of grass and scraps of calico cloth in a style called binsegraas.

Of course, the most well-known and by far the most expensive Easter eggs were those created by Peter Carl FabergĂ©, a Russian jeweler who designed “eggs” from gold, silver and jewels during the 1800s.

Whether you plan to hide or eat your Easter eggs, food safety is a must. Here are a few tips from the agriculture extension at the University of Arkansas to follow when preparing and handling eggs:

  • Inspect eggs for cracks and only purchase eggs stored in a refrigerated case
  • Store eggs in their original cartons in the refrigerator, not the refrigerator door
  • Raw and cooked eggs shouldn't be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours
  • Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water and rinse them before handling eggs when cooking, cooling, dyeing and hiding them. Wash your children's hands after they've handled the eggs, too
  • For Easter egg hunts, avoid areas where eggs might come in contact with animals or lawn chemicals
  • Account for all hidden eggs and refrigerate immediately; Discard cracked eggs
  • Refrigerate hard-cooked eggs in their shells and use them within a week
  • Consider cooking two sets of eggs — one for an Easter egg hunt or display and the other for eating
  • For maximum food safety, use plastic Easter eggs filled with candy instead of real eggs

Photo obtained from: mccormick.com