Tuesday, December 28, 2010

February and the start of the NASCAR season are just around the corner. This occasion has taken on an important place in the life of one of my co-workers in recent years.

She was never a big NASCAR fan, but after she married a diehard follower of the sport several years ago, she had to make some life changes. To deal with this potential source of marital strife, she called one of her friends in a similar situation to determine the best way to acclimate to her new life of NASCAR. That is when she learned the secret of the NASCAR nap.

Apparently, most of the drama, excitement and spectacle of NASCAR can be enjoyed in the first half hour and the final hour of the event. Hence, devoted wives of NASCAR fans can take a roughly two-hour Sunday afternoon nap during the middle of the race and still be able to hold competent discussions with their husbands about the event.

The secret of the NASCAR nap has transformed my co-worker from someone who would dread watching races into a fan who actually cannot wait for the beginning of the season, which kicks off right when a winter Sunday nap is particularly appealing. And, working in the agricultural industry, she also has a keen interest in NASCAR’s increased ethanol use in 2011. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the nation’s renewable fuel industry and NASCAR have partnered after the popular racing organization agreed it would fuel all races with E15, a 15% corn ethanol blend, starting with the 2011 season.

“The productivity of America’s farmers is unrivaled in the world and our ability to supply corn for food, livestock feed and fuel should be a source of national pride. This exciting new association with the NASCAR Nation will help to build that awareness,” said Bart Schott, NCGA president. “With precision farming, innovation, technology and hard work farmers can double our harvest in the years ahead. NASCAR is a high-profile way to showcase one great use for this abundance.”

As part of the multi-year agreement, American Ethanol, a family of related companies developing community-based renewable energy and fuel production facilities, will be highlighted on every vehicle running in a NASCAR race and be prominent on NASCAR’s Green Flag. In addition, American Ethanol will sponsor a new award for every race, be featured in on-site race day events and more. American Ethanol will support drivers, teams and tracks with marketing, promotional activities and advertising.

“NASCAR and American Ethanol are ideal partners,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “NASCAR is a great American sport in its third generation of family ownership, and ethanol is produced from the harvest of family-owned farms across our country’s heartland.

“American Ethanol’s new partnership with NASCAR is much larger and more ambitious than a typical sports sponsorship. Here we have an entire industry looking to NASCAR to communicate its message that America is capable of producing its own renewable, greener fuel. The entire NASCAR industry will benefit from American Ethanol’s multi-faceted support of NASCAR, as well as from thousands of farmers and members of the ethanol supply chain now serving as new ambassadors for the sport.”

Led by Growth Energy, nearly 100 different entities — from individual ethanol plants to NCGA to biotech companies — are rallying around NASCAR to communicate their ethanol message.

“E15 is an enormous opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create U.S. jobs, and strengthen national energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “There is nothing more American than NASCAR, and there is no fuel more American than ethanol. We are so proud that the bounty of American farming will be used in NASCAR racing.”

The use of ethanol will bring about a number of other subtle changes and improvements to the sport in 2011. So whether you are a diehard viewer of every moment of action, or someone more interested in the NASCAR nap, fans will have something new and exciting to look forward to this season.

For more information on NASCAR ethanol use, visit www.americanethanolracing.com.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Any time we are in a restaurant, my three-year-old daughter starts looking for those gumball/candy/trinket machines that you put a quarter into. If she behaves, a stop at one of those machines is often the reward.

Before putting the quarter in, she has her favorite item picked out – the red gum ball, the sparkly ring or the purple candy. I inform her that she cannot choose what she will get, but everything in there is good. Sometimes this works, and sometimes she is less than pleased about getting the orange gumball instead of the red.

For many years, the grocery store meat counter was much the same way. You pay your money and, while everything was pretty good, you did not really know what you were getting. Sometimes you got the red gumball. Sometimes you got the orange.

In more recent years, though, consumers started demanding more and the meat industry has responded with a myriad of labels to provide information about the product. But, some labels are vague and offer the consumer little information. For example, the term “natural” can mean just about anything, depending on how it is used.

“USDA’s definition of ‘natural’ means minimal processing and no fillers like pumping with water solution. It basically means that nothing was added,” said Sam Roberts, assistant vice president of corporate marketing for United Producers, Inc., a farmer-owned livestock cooperative. “You can walk into a grocery and see something that is all natural, but all that it means is that it did not have water added to it and that is was minimally processed. That is an ambiguous claim. You have to pick up the label and read it to really know what you are getting.”

There are more definitive food labels out there, however, for those willing to look. The key to understanding labels is doing your homework to determine what the label stands for and how it is enforced. At United Producers, Inc., Roberts works closely with the Ohio Signature Beef program.

“Our definition for the Signature Beef program means no hormones and no antibiotics all the way through the animal’s life. There have been different all-natural programs out there, but everyone has pretty much gravitated to the ‘never-ever’ program, where the animals have never been treated with antibiotics or hormones or implants. The cattle must also be in Ohio for more than half of their life,” Roberts said. “It is policed with a paper affidavit trail. The livestock producer must sign off that they do meet these criteria. I think we will see more companies get third-party verification on these kinds of programs to make sure people are doing what they say they are doing. That way you get an outside party putting their stamp of approval on these products.”

In the case of Ohio Signature Beef, the USDA does the third-party verification. A federal grader examines the affidavit form to make sure it is filled out with all of the necessary information and establishes the quality and yield grade of the carcass. In addition, the kidney is taken from some of the beef carcasses and sent to the Ohio Department of Agriculture where it is tested for any residues to assure consumers the beef is free of antibiotics.

With the detailed documentation, retail outlets (including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) have the ability to share information with consumers about the farm from which the beef originated. The popular program also has a Web site that provides extensive details about the standards and how they are enforced.

While they provide consumers with the information they want, the stringent standards and documentation of the entire process from the birth of the animal to the retail sale add costs.

“The products do cost in the neighborhood of 10 percent to 20 percent more than conventional products, but it costs 10 percent or 20 percent more to produce,” Roberts said.

Thanks to the hard work of farmers, dedication to strict standards and the system to document the process, consumers now really can get exactly want they want if they are willing to pay a little extra and do some research. Those who want lower cost food for less effort have their option at the grocery as well. After all, some people think a gumball is a gumball while others prefer a red gumball and now, they can get it. Just don’t tell my daughter.

For more about Ohio Signature Beef, visit http://ohiosignaturebeef.com/.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The holidays are here and so are the countless parties and get-togethers with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. All of these events can be very fun, but they can also be stressful, especially if you happen to be the host. The decorations, the preparations, the guest list, the food and the entertainment are plenty to think about. The inclusion of wine can add a whole new set of challenges, but a fine Ohio wine can also make the party.

“All of the holidays and celebrations get people thinking about sparkling wines, ice wines and dessert wines which are great for holiday parties and meals and are also done very well in Ohio,” said Bruce Benedict, with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “Wines are meant for consumption with food and these great wines are even better when they are matched with great food.”

For those who are less than wine savvy, these pairings can be daunting, so Benedict offers some advice on how to dazzle guests and partygoers with Ohio wines. When turkey is the main course, there are a number of wine options to consider based upon how the featured dish is prepared.

“Turkey especially pairs well with a wide variety of wines. Turkey is fairly neutral and it can go very well with Riesling and other sweet wines. Smoked turkey goes very well with richer wines,” he said. “Buttery turkey goes very well with a buttery Chardonnay. And, several Ohio wineries have cranberry wines that go great with turkey. You can take a bite of turkey and a sip of the wine and they go great together.”

The best wine to go with pork dishes can also differ based on the way it is prepared. The turkey rules apply to many pork dishes.

“Ham can be a challenge,” Benedict said. “My pick is a nice Rosé. It can be a little sweet, which goes with a nice salty ham. The nice thing about a Rosé, especially a sparkling Rosé, is that it is also a wonderful looking wine that looks Christmasy.”

Red wine is the choice for beef, including Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, or other Hybrid reds, Semi-Sweet Reds, and Rosés.

“Roast beef and red wine are about as wonderful a food/wine pairing as anything in the world,” Benedict said.

For delicious leg of lamb or lamb chops, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Hybrid Reds, or Chambourcin are great options. Seafood pairs well with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris/Grigio, and Seyval Blanc. Lighter fare of vegetables and salads goes well with light reds, Rosés, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris/Grigio.

The sweeter wines that are typically the most popular wines from Ohio producers go best with decadent holiday desserts.

“Ice wines and dessert wines are great at holiday parties and with meals that have a lot of desserts. A Port is also an excellent choice for dessert,” Benedict said. “People do not drink as much port, ice wine or dessert wine because they are so sweet.”

In general, sparkling wines (whether dry or sweet) are ideal for the holidays because they are associated with celebrations.

“Some people are intimidated by opening a bottle of champagne,” he said. “You need to twist the bottle and not the cork.”

Whatever wine you select for the various holiday occasions ahead, Ohio wines can add a local flair to any gathering. Ohio wines are piling up international awards and growing in world renown as the wine industry in the state has been making dramatic strides in recent years. The number of Ohio wineries has grown from 124 in 2008 to 152 in 2010, and wine production increased nearly 500,000 gallons from 2006 to 2008. Ohio wine production now contributes more than $580 million to the state economy and creates 4,000 jobs with a payroll of $124 million.

Ohio offers wine for every occasion (or gifts for those who may be hard to shop for) during this fun, but potentially stressful time of year for planning gatherings. So call the caterer, hang some mistletoe, get some fantastic Ohio wine and let the party begin.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year’s Eve.

There are more great resources for tips on pairing food with wine, entertaining with wine and buying wine at http://www.tasteohiowines.com/wff.php.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At my family’s Christmas tree farm each year, I get the great pleasure of accompanying other families in the search for their perfect Christmas tree – a holiday tradition that has been enjoyed for five centuries.

Little is known about the first decorated Christmas tree in Riga, Latvia in 1510, other than the tree was placed in the public marketplace and decorated by members of a merchants guild to honor the birth of Christ. A ceremony was held and the tree was burnt at its conclusion.

A plaque now marks the spot where the world’s first Christmas tree stood. This year, Christmas tree growers from around the world are commemorating the 500 years of the beloved holiday tradition.

“Christmas tree growers from Ohio are proud to be a part of this long and cherished Christmas tradition,” said Dave Reese, president of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association and an Ohio Farm Bureau member. “Many of the Christmas tree farms in the state will being doing special activities and promotions to commemorate this occasion. It is not every year you get to be a part of a 500-year anniversary.”

At the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) Convention, held in North Carolina last August, trees were on display to demonstrate the various styles of decoration through each century of the Christmas tree tradition. Here is a summary of the display provided by the National Christmas Tree Association.


The first written record of the decorated Christmas tree comes from Riga, Latvia. In 1510, the men of the Merchants Guild decorated a tree with paper roses for the marketplace. The fir tree commemorated the Holy Child while the roses a symbol for the Virgin Mary. In 1530, there is a record from Alsace, France, that trees were sold in the marketplace and brought home. Laws limited the size of the trees to “eight shoe lengths,” a little over four feet.


In the churches of this time, apples were used to decorate evergreen trees as props for the “miracle plays.” The Christmas tree with apples symbolized the “Tree of Paradise” in the Garden of Eden; it was used as a means of teaching the Bible story, of good versus evil in paradise. The first record referencing the “Christmas Tree” to describe a decorated tree was in Strassburg, Alsace, 1604. This is recognized as a pivotal event in the history of the Christmas tree.


In homes of this period, it was common to decorate evergreens with apples, gilded nuts, cookies and red paper strips. Edible ornaments became so popular that the trees were often referred to as “Sugar Trees.” In this century the first accounts of lighted candles being used as decorations on Christmas trees came from France. A letter to a friend dated 1798 described the enchanting beauty of many candlelit trees seen in the houses of the times.


The Christmas tree was introduced in the United States by German settlers first as a tabletop size and soon became a floor-to-ceiling tree. In 1851 Christmas trees began to be sold commercially when Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City. During the 1870s, blown glass ball ornaments from Lauscha, Germany, appeared as decorations. These evolved as chains of balls, toys and figures became a favored

American tradition.


The first electric lights on a Christmas tree occurred at the home of Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, in 1882. President Grover Cleveland first used tree lights in the White House in 1895. In 1903, electric lights referred to as “switchboard lights” were sold in New England; they did not become widely popular until the 1930s. Under President Calvin Coolidge, the first annual lighting of the White House Christmas tree began in 1923.

To commemorate this momentous anniversary, the NCTA released commemorative cards and ornaments featuring the original artwork of Jesse Barnes and J. Wecker Frisch for the occasion. In addition, a special ceremony will be held at the site of the world’s first decorated Christmas tree.

Whatever your plans for the Christmas season, take the opportunity to visit an Ohio tree farm to get a real Christmas tree and participate in 500 years of holiday tradition.

For more information, visit http://ohiochristmastree.com/ or http://www.christmastree.org/home.cfm.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where did all of the canned pumpkin go?
We had a recent run-in with a bit of food supply reality when my wife went out in search of some canned pumpkin this fall. In anticipation of making holiday pumpkins pies, she went to a couple of grocery stores to stock up on this vital ingredient for one of my favorite desserts. She was somewhat surprised when she could not find any at the first store. Fortunately for myself and the other pumpkin pie lovers in the family, she went to a second store and got the last can they had. Was this an isolated incident, or was there a pumpkin shortage?
A shortage would be of particular concern in Ohio, which is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the country. Last year, the state’s farmers harvested 1.24 billion pounds of the fruit from 7,500 acres, with a farm value of $22.5 million. Pumpkins (mostly of the jack-o’-lantern type) are the third largest fresh market vegetable crop grown in the state and account for 10 percent to 40 percent of farm markets’ annual gross income in Ohio.
To find out more about a potential pumpkin shortage, I called Linda Ballou, who is in charge of handling the submissions to the Baked Goods Committee for the famous Circleville Pumpkin Show. She had heard the rumor, but saw no evidence of a shortage in the local grocery. I also talked with Dave Renick, who grows a large crop of pumpkins each year, and he said that he has not had a short crop in the last two years.
I also conducted an unofficial online poll and heard from others that there was a shortage but that, at least in central Ohio and in other parts of the country, the shortage was over. Meanwhile, my wife was at a local bakery and the pumpkin conversation came up again. The baker said that their popular pumpkin products were going to be very limited this fall due to a short pumpkin crop. The baker said that if people want pumpkin for pies and other autumn goodies, they are actually going to have buy pumpkins and can it themselves! What?
The idea of people in our society actually coming into contact with the distasteful dirt of the fields and handle something as unseemly as pumpkin innards for something as basic as a pie is hard to fathom. And the seeds, oh the seeds! It is practically like pioneer life.
The next thing you know, housewives in the suburbs will be milking cows and butchering hogs in their backyard.
We are so spoiled by our abundant and diverse food supply that even something as insignificant as a short-lived a pumpkin shortage is hard to fathom. After all, those pumpkin pies just seem to show up on the Thanksgiving table every year along with the mountain of other food we typically enjoy.
This pumpkin debacle will surely not result in a global food disaster (though it may be the ruin of an otherwise ideal Thanksgiving dinner for some), but a limited supply of canned pumpkin in some grocery stores is a subtle reminder that we do live in a world that is sometimes out of our control. Even in our land of plenty, a simple stretch of uncooperative weather can leave us short of the abundant supplies to which we are accustomed.
Since our scare about a lack of pumpkins, I have found little evidence to support a shortage. In fact, I enjoyed part of a delicious pumpkin doughnut while writing this. And, shortage or no shortage, I know that my pumpkin pie supply for Thanksgiving has been secured, a fact that I can add to my long list of things to be thankful for. Unfortunately, I do not know that something as simple and standard as a pumpkin pie has ever made my thankfulness list before. Maybe it should have.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The fall weather in the 60- and 70-degree range is so refreshing after the miserable sweltering summer when 90-degree temperatures dominated. That hot summer weather was terrible to endure for us humans, but at least we can escape to air conditioning. The crops of Ohio agriculture were not as fortunate.

Ohio’s crops sweltered in the heat, but fared pretty well in most cases due to the regular rainfall that blessed most of the state. The hot weather also pushed Ohio’s crops, in many cases, to a record setting early harvest.

Ohio’s apple crop suffered some from the heat, but 2010 was generally a good year for apples.

“This has been a fantastic year for apple production. The quality, volume and everything have been just right,” said Ralph Hugus, owner of Hugus Fruit Farm in Fairfield County. “The summer heat was a plus and a minus. The heat and sun made for sweeter apples with better flavor, but we did have a few apples that were sun burnt. They basically cooked on the tree. That was not a big enough percentage to make any difference, though. We had the rains when we needed them all along. Dry conditions are not generally that serious of an issue with apples. Apple trees in general will tolerate dry weather better than other crops.”

The hot weather did create some challenges for marketing Hugus apples, however.

“We had an early spring and a warm summer, so we’re running a good two weeks ahead,” Hugus said. “We’ve always told customers to call us at a specific time to get specific varieties. This year they’ve been calling two weeks late because we’re two weeks early with harvest.”

The hot weather pushed the pumpkin crop along too. Dave Renick, owner of Renick’s Family Market in Pickaway County, said his pumpkins matured quickly with the heat, but got planted a little late this spring. As a result, he has a nice crop ready for customers this fall from his market along U.S. Highway 23 near Ashville. The key for pumpkins in hot weather is careful management of moisture levels with irrigation to keep the plants in good shape, he said.

Possibly the most dramatic early harvest of 2010 is for the corn and soybean crops that brought the combines out weeks early this fall. The Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service (OASS) reported on Oct. 18 that corn harvest was 64 percent complete. At the same time last year, Ohio’s farmers had harvested only 8 percent of the corn statewide. The soybean harvest in Ohio was 80 percent complete by mid-October compared to 33 percent harvested last year at the same time, according to OASS.

Jeff Roehm, an Ohio Corn Growers Association member from Highland County in southern Ohio, is even further along in harvest on his farm. He, like many other corn and soybean farmers around Ohio, was nearly finished harvesting by mid-October.

“We’re getting close to the end of harvest. We finished beans last Thursday and we’ll finish corn by the end of the week,” he said. “We’re at least two weeks ahead, maybe more than that. We like to finish beans by Halloween and corn by Thanksgiving. We’re well ahead of that.”

Yields of both crops have also been fairly strong thanks to rains throughout the season in many parts of the state that helped to counteract the extreme heat. OASS reports average yields of 167 bushels per acre for corn. The 2010 average soybean yield for Ohio is forecast at 48 bushels per acre.

Because most of the state’s winter wheat crop is planted in fields after the soybeans have been harvested, planting of the winter wheat crop is also running well ahead of schedule. Winter wheat planted in Ohio is now at 83 percent complete, up from 43 percent at the same time last year.

With such an early harvest, and pleasant fall weather, Ohioans better get outside now to take a drive, go for a country stroll or visit a farm market to enjoy the beautiful leaves, the bountiful harvest and the irresistible appeal of autumn on Ohio’s farms. Winter is coming soon.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I am fortunate to get to drive around the beautiful state of Ohio on a regular basis for my job. On occasion, I will pick a series of back roads instead of the highway to enjoy some of Ohio’s more hidden treasures.

This is especially true when autumn unfurls its tapestry of brilliant leaves beneath blue skies. Even when pressed for time, it is hard to resist the chance to take a few extra minutes to enjoy autumn’s beauty from a back road. Sometimes how you get there is as important as the final destination.

More than ever before, it seems, people are interested in taking a similar scenic route with their food. With a society further removed from the farm than at any other point in human history, people want to know more about how food gets to their plate. The food itself is important, but more people are putting more emphasis on how it was produced. The dramatic expansion of labeled differentiation for commodity food products such as meat, milk, vegetables and eggs is a clear indicator of this trend.

“We’ve seen the labels in the meat industry just go crazy in the last 10 to 15 years and I see no reason why we would see a change in that trend,” said Sam Roberts, assistant vice president of corporate marketing for United Producers, Inc. “Before that, the meat case at the grocery was all pretty much the same. Here it is. Buy it.”

More than 20 years ago, a group of Ohio cattle producers started one of the country’s first and most successful meat labeling programs – Certified Angus Beef. The program was based on the beef products that met a set of standards to ensure a high quality product.

“Now everybody is trying to look for some way to distinguish themselves,” Roberts said.

As a result, there are now enough labels out there to make any consumer’s head spin trying to keep them all straight. Each label has a different set of standards, requirements and specifications ranging from very strict and rigorous to virtually none at all. What do they all mean?

To find the best label in the grocery to fit their needs, consumers need to start by deciding what exactly they want.

“Consumers need to decide what it is they want from their food, because they can probably find it out there,” Roberts said. “Read the label and do some research to find out exactly what the labels are claiming. Read the fine print.”

For the most part, the details behind food labeling concern the manner in which the animal or crop was raised, which is important to a growing segment of the population. Labels including “organic,” “cage-free,” “locally-produced,” “antibiotic-free,” and “hormone-free” have specific requirements for how the food was produced, but it is important to note that they have no scientific difference in the final food product, according to the USDA.

“There will be a lot of people who argue based on science on both sides of the issue whether these are better for you or not,” Roberts said. “There are organizations out there that would use emotion rather than science-based facts to influence consumer decisions. There is no science out there that proves that most of these products are any better for you, but it is the consumers’ prerogative to buy them. People assume products like all-natural beef that has not been treated with antibiotics is better for them and the animal. This may be the case, but it also may not be the case. There have been a lot of misconceptions out there.”

In terms of the quality and nutritive value when it gets to your dinner plate, a steak is a steak and a pepper is a pepper. Most of the time, the label is only about how it got there.

Some people will always want the easiest, cheapest and fastest food available, which is fine, and the industry will continue to provide it for them. Labels are for those that are more interested in taking a little more time and expense to go the scenic route.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I used to drink pop, now I drink coffee. I used to love chocolate, now I prefer a good steak.

As we mature, our tastes inevitably change, often starting with a preference towards sweet and shifting towards more refined foods. That, at least, is the general trend with wines, as more seasoned wine drinkers generally prefer dry wines.

Most Ohio winery owners will tell you that their sweeter Catawba, Niagara and Riesling wines are among the most popular sellers because that is what less experienced wine drinkers tend to prefer. Plus, Ohio has a long history of sweet grape and wine production, particularly along the Ohio River and Lake Erie. The trouble in terms of wine is the sweet grapes that readily grow in Ohio do not produce the fine dry wines revered by mature wine drinkers around the world.

That is changing, however, as Ohio’s wineries have made great strides in recent years in vinifera grape production. The grapes are growing and the wines are improving, but changing Ohio’s long-standing reputation as a sweet wine state may take a while.

“Ohio still has a stigma for only having sweet wines,” said Bob Guilliams, owner of Raven’s Glenn Winery in Coshocton County. “People are reasonably open to the product once they try it and Ohio’s wine quality is improving every year, but the bar is set pretty high with Europe and California. We are facing this international standard and nothing happens fast with wine.”

As viticulturalists in Ohio have improved the production techniques and grape varieties that can make fine wine and perform in Ohio’s conditions over the last several decades, Ohio’s wines started to come of age. It was not until more recent years, however, that the wine world began to take notice. Ohio wines have started picking up international awards in the last several years.

At the same time, Ohio’s wine drinkers have taken notice of the state’s flourishing wine industry. Per capita wine consumption in Ohio (and around the country) has been steadily increasing for many years. And, while sweet wines are still very popular, interest in the drier wines has picked up as well, particularly with the younger crowd.

Around 60% of our customers at the winery are female, there are a lot of couples and they are getting younger, in their mid 20s. And we’re finding that our younger wine drinkers tend to be more sophisticated than some of our older customers,” Guilliams said. “Now young people can enjoy the explosion of great wines we are seeing from Ohio and around the world.”

What once was just a handful of mainstream mass marketing wine makers has grown much more in terms of local flavor and expertise in Ohio as the number of wineries around Ohio has exploded like an uncorked bottle of Champagne. As an example, when Lee Wyse and his wife started their Coshocton County Rainbow Hills winery 23 years ago, they were the 36th licensed winery in the state and the first one in the region. Since then, the number of Ohio wineries has grown dramatically. By 2008, there were 124 wineries in Ohio and in 2010, there are more than 140. Ohio wine production now contributes more than $580 million to the state economy and creates 4,000 jobs with a payroll of $124 million.

The growth in Ohio wine production has followed the growing appeal as wine is finding its way into a broader cross section of society.

“We are building a generation of wine drinkers in this county,” Wyse said. “Thirty or 40 years ago, it was only the very rich or the winos that drank wine. In the last 20 years, more people have started drinking wine and Ohio has been able to move into the wine industry very well.”

For Wyse, like many others, the sweet wines still reign supreme in terms of sales, though he prefers to drink the dry wines. Wyse has enjoyed watching Ohio wine drinkers mature along with the industry in the state. And he knows that for wine connoisseurs of all tastes, today’s Ohio wine industry offers a sweet surprise, especially for those who like it dry.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Autumn is setting in — time for crisp nights and tales of ghosts and goblins. Most everyone loves a good ghost story in the fall for the shivers it sends down your spine and the pause it gives you before walking into a dark room.

Unfortunately, though, most ghost stories are tame compared to the tales of terror being told about our food system. Biotechnology, mega-farms, salmonella, e. coli, and other ag-related terms sound as if they came from a ghost story. Movies like “Food, Inc.” are drawing more viewers than the most popular horror films.

Even as Halloween approaches, you will probably be just as likely to hear about foodborne illness, frankenfoods and corporate agriculture as Dracula, Casper and the Wolf Man. It seems that conjuring up new food fears has proven to be big business for opponents of U.S. agriculture.

High fructose corn syrup has been one of those subjects of unwarranted fear in recent years, as the corn sweetener has been blamed for everything from the obesity in the U.S. to diabetes. The truth, however, is not so scary, according to the Corn Refiners Association.

“A sugar is a sugar and your body can’t tell the difference,” said Audrae Erickson of the Corn Refiners Association. “High fructose corn syrup is a homegrown sweetener that creates jobs for Americans and offers an affordable option for consumers.”

Here are some facts about high fructose corn syrup from www.sweetsurprise.com, a Web site on the topic from the Corn Refiners Association.

· The American Medical Association concluded that, "high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners."

· The American Dietetic Association concluded that, "No persuasive evidence supports the claim that high fructose corn syrup is a unique contributor to obesity."

· Research confirms that high fructose corn syrup is safe and nutritionally the same as table sugar and honey.

· In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally listed high fructose corn syrup as safe for use in food and reaffirmed that decision in 1996.

· High fructose corn syrup has the same number of calories as table sugar and is equal in sweetness. It contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients and meets the FDA requirements for use of the term “natural.”

· High fructose corn syrup offers numerous benefits. It keeps food fresh, enhances fruit and spice flavors, retains moisture in bran cereals, helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist, maintains consistent flavors in beverages and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed in condiments.

· Many confuse pure fructose with high fructose corn syrup. Recent studies that have examined pure fructose have been inappropriately applied to high fructose corn syrup and have caused significant consumer confusion. High fructose corn syrup never contains fructose alone, but always in combination with a roughly equivalent amount of a second sugar (glucose). 

Despite these facts, consumers that have heard the manufactured horror stories about high fructose corn syrup are demanding products that do not contain the corn based sweetener. As a result, more costly imported sweeteners (such as cane sugar) are being used to create inferior products that cost more and offer no caloric, health, or nutritional benefits over the same products containing high fructose corn syrup.

“Most people do not realize the cost of what they are asking the food industry to do,” Erickson said. “Consumers are doing nothing but hurting their pocketbooks by demanding no high fructose corn syrup. And once they learn the facts about this corn sugar, they are very favorable to it.”

The facts about food and agriculture make them much less scary. If you want scary, try telling all those little ghosts and goblins trick or treating next month that they cannot have any high fructose corn syrup. With no such treats, the trick will be on you.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and resides in Baltimore, Ohio. This column is brought to you by Ohio agriculture. Contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I tend to believe that “more is better” with foods like pizza, steak, bacon, and desserts, but the reality is that most of the time the opposite is true. Even though these things are good, “more” is usually not so good.
I found this to be the case in my garden sunflowers this year. The instructions on the side of the plant fertilizer box say, “Mix one measuring cup with one gallon of water.” So if one scoop grows big sunflowers, wouldn’t two scoops grow really big sunflowers?
This year, I tried it. We had two different plantings of sunflowers. One group got two scoops and the other group got one (the recommended rate). And, as it turns out, most of the sunflowers with the smaller recommended rate ended up significantly larger. Why is that?
While far from scientific, my little study correlates with some real research being done with nitrogen (N) in corn. N is a critical nutrient in corn production and farmers, crop consultants, the Joyce Foundation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) are teaming up to find out how much is really needed.
“We are getting good data now and we’re getting guys ratcheted into a finer N rate. As tight as the economics are in agriculture, you can’t spend money on N that you do not need,” said Joe Nester, of Nester Ag Management in Bryan. “We’re trying to get a target pretty close to what the crop is going to need for optimal yield. This isn’t something that you can say, ‘We’re going to raise 160 bushel corn and we need this much N.’ That is not the case at all. This can vary by farming operation, practice, soil condition, weather, drainage and a whole bunch of different things that come into play. But with this program, farmers are learning about what affects their N and they are making some adjustments in their application with the rate and the timing of their N.”
The soil and the plant can only handle so much N, the rest leaves the soil, often in the water. In the past, when the N cost was very low, the safe bet was to add a little extra to make sure that it was not the limiting factor in corn production. High N cost and increasing awareness of the potential water quality impacts, however, have made that safe bet of the past not so safe anymore. But determining how much N is needed to maximize corn production while minimizing costs and environmental impact is not easy.
Working with farmers and EDF, Nester coordinates the On-Farm Network in part of the Lake Erie Watershed to find out how much the N application rate can be reduced without hurting corn yields. The study includes N rate test plots in the fields, soil samples, aerial imagery, corn stalk nitrate tests and yield data. This is a tremendous logistical effort that is time consuming, but it provides a fairly complete picture of how much N is needed.
Nester is working with 90 farmers in his area and the On-Farm Network is also tied in to identical projects in several other watersheds around the country. The results have been surprising in that the most productive soils are often requiring the least amount of N.
“We’re finding that the highest yielding areas of the field top out at the lowest N rate and the lowest yielding areas of the field might need more N to reach an optimum yield -- exactly opposite of what we thought before,” he said. “The reason is recoverability. In the good areas of the field, I may have three times the root system I have in the poor areas of the field so the plant can recover more N.”
These results are allowing farmers to reduce their N rates accordingly, which improves the profitability and environmental sustainability of their farms.
“We’re finding that farmers who participate in the program are reducing N use by 10% to 20% because they see that they can do this and be more profitable,” said Karen Chapman, Great Lakes regional director for EDF. “This is not an environmental program, this is an economic program. Reducing nitrogen offers an economic value to producers and they are contributing to improving water quality at the same time.”
Like my sunflower experiment, this type of research is important because there are times when more is not better and less is more. I am not yet convinced, however, that this applies to bacon.
For more information about the On-Farm Network, visit http://www.isafarmnet.com.

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and resides in Baltimore, Ohio. This column is brought to you by Ohio agriculture. Contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It was a tough year for many wheat growers in Ohio and the United States with poor weather and disease problems. Many were questioning whether to even plant wheat this fall. But then, news of a drought in Russia began to spread. In response, the per-bushel wheat price exploded.

“Prices were skyrocketing as old crop wheat prices climbed over three dollars in less than a month,” said Doug Tenney, an economist for Leist Mercantile in Circleville. “Russia has been ravaged by a summer drought that is drastically affecting wheat yields for this year’s crop. Last year they exported 18 million tons. Traders during mid-July pulled that number back to 11 million tons. The Russian weather was a big reason for the higher prices. In early August, Russia suddenly announced wheat exports would be suspended for the rest of 2010. The market responded by skyrocketing even higher, closing up the sixty-cent limit. Then the very next day wheat prices were down the sixty-cent limit as Russia revealed they would be honoring their export commitments if supplies were available.”

Even after the prices dropped, they were still much stronger than they had been and the high prices renewed farmers’ interest in planting wheat this fall.

“While seed wheat supplies are tight and dwindling with time, it appears wheat is now back into the picture for many producers,” Tenney said.

Today, Ohio agriculture is more globally interconnected than ever before. Buying trends in China, the whims of Indian consumers or a drought in Russia can have a tremendous impact on the crop field just around the bend. We live in an increasingly small world, but why is that?

A big part of the reason, particularly in Ohio, is the modern transportation systems that allow farmers to produce grain and efficiently move it anywhere in the world. Without the ability to get their crops to the consumers (whether in Columbus or Calcutta), crops are not worth much. Ohio is blessed to be at the center of the world’s transportation hub with a Great Lake, numerous interstate highways and railroads and a mighty river running along its southern border that connects the state’s agriculture and manufacturing with the world.

At Cincinnati, the Ohio River picks up a tremendous amount of agriculture shipping from the rich farm fields of southwest Ohio and southeast Indiana.

“A lot of grain funnels down into these facilities on the Ohio River,” said Scott Thibaut, facility manager for Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. in Cincinnati.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Cincinnati market will ship around 30 million to 32 million bushels of corn and 18 to 20 million bushels of soybeans in a year. The corn, soybeans and wheat that leave facilities on the river are hauled in 220-foot-long barges that are pulled by towboats. A truck can haul 1,000 bushels, a rail car can haul 3,500 bushels and a barge can haul 55,000 bushels of grain. As the grain moves down through the Mississippi River, as many as 45 barges can be hooked to one tow for hauling nearly 2.5 million bushels in one trip. This provides extremely efficient shipping of farm and manufacturing products from the U.S.

Unfortunately, the efficiency of U.S. river shipping has been suffering recently due to the aging system of locks and dams that were built 50 to 60 years ago, or longer. Bigger ships, older systems and increased traffic are slowing down shipping and creating a massive problem that will need to be addressed in the near future.

“We can keep putting Band-Aids on these problems, but eventually we’re going to have to fix them,” Thibaut said. “Grain transportation does not always get the attention because it is still working so well. But one day, it is going to stop working and we will have big problems in agriculture and Ohio commerce as a whole. Just think of what that means for the economy of this state. If we start seeing problems further down the Mississippi River, it will affect the economies of many states.”

The undertaking of upgrading the locks and dams will be very costly and very challenging, but vitally important. U.S. agriculture has been a crucial component of the economy, the environment and the food supply in today’s ever shrinking world. The farmers of this country can continue to produce enough to accomplish this goal, but a world supply of grain is worthless if we can’t get it to the world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Starting in late July, a sea of dedicated Ohio youth clad in plaid shirts, jeans and shiny belt buckles congregated in Columbus for the Ohio State Fair, the pinnacle of livestock shows in the state. They arrived toting meticulously groomed and cared for market livestock of every kind — from goats to beef cattle.

Many of these young people have been perfecting their showmanship skills since they could carry a show stick and have spent months painstakingly working with their animals. They go to great lengths to make sure every hair is in place and every comfort is provided to maximize the animal’s performance.

Once they get to the fair, the animals are cleaned to a show ring sheen and clipped to eye-appealing perfection. When the show arrives, the young exhibitors toil in the sweltering heat to present their animals to the discerning eye of the judge.

After the champion has been chosen and the ribbons awarded, tears are shed as the animal and exhibitor part after spending countless hours together in preparation for this event. Then the exhibitors dry their tears and begin planning to do it all over again for the next Ohio State Fair. Why? They love working with animals and providing a source of high quality food for consumers.

As they grow up, the most dedicated and gifted of this elite group may attend college to further develop their passion for working with livestock. Of this group, the best of the best may have the chance to return to family farms or set off on their own to raise livestock as a profession. Professional athletes make up around 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, 2 percent of the U.S. population farms.

To play the game of production livestock, even for these gifted few, is a daunting challenge. There is a tremendous initial investment for an extremely risky business venture that, if all goes well, promises only modest returns. Yet these dedicated few farmers continue to toil every day with their animals. Why? They love working with animals and providing a source of high quality food for consumers.

This small, gifted group of people have worked with, shed tears over, groomed, cared for and loved animals since the time they could walk. That is why they chose animal agriculture as a profession.

Now, put yourself in their shoes when an activist group from out of state, run by people who cannot tell the difference between a show stick and a feed trough, comes to Ohio to tell livestock producers how to run their businesses. That is exactly what happened this summer when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced their plan to put an issue on the November ballot to implement restrictive measures on animal agriculture. This ended in late June when HSUS announced that they would not pursue a ballot measure after an agreement was struck with Ohio agricultural leaders and Governor Ted Strickland.

This agreement is a list of recommendations that the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (put into place last fall with the passage of Issue 2) will consider as they formulate the animal care rules for the state. Both sides of this contentious issue say they can live with the agreement, but it still does not necessarily sit well with some in the livestock industry.

“The reality is that those of us in the livestock business have been very independent for a lot of years. That makes it tough when other people start telling us we have to do things differently,” said Jeff Harding, vice president of livestock marketing for United Producers, Inc. “The whole issue of livestock handling and care does not have a simple solution for everyone involved. This agreement hopefully allows for viable solutions and adjustments to be found based on science. It is not perfect, but I think it is something we can live with.”

This year, despite the ongoing debate about the agreement, things will go on as usual at the Ohio State Fair. Hard work, sweat, ribbons, and tears will all be present and the future of animal agriculture will put on another great show. They will keep meticulously caring for their animals each year. And maybe, one day, the best of the best will put their years of love and expertise to work to provide your food for a living, if we let them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The images from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are fueling the fires of outrage around the world. One look at the floundering wildlife mired in a black sheen, empty boats symbolizing a docked fishing industry and the grim faces of those in the coastal tourism business paints a bleak picture of our current and future domestic energy supply that is so heavily dependant on oil.

But no matter how upset you are by these terrible images and the extensive long term ecological damage that will result from this massive disaster, one fact remains: as we move forward, we are going to need more energy. The day when America wakes up to find that it no longer needs any oil is not coming any time soon, and in the meantime we need to seek out new and less disaster-ridden energy alternatives.

Congress is gearing up vigorous discussion of a new energy bill and at the same time, the Ohio Corn Growers Association (OCGA) is asking, “Why not more ethanol?”

“Corn growers believe a strong commitment to domestic energy production can supply the nation’s thirst for dependable, safe and abundant energy. The country already has one dependable and safe energy product that will help us reach the nation’s domestic energy goals. Ethanol is here, ethanol is now and ethanol is part of our future,” said Dwayne Siekman, CEO of OCGA. “We want everybody to realize the economic benefits of ethanol. There is nothing else in the agricultural industry that rivals the economic potential. There is an economic benefit to consumers. I have been buying E85 for 60 cents below unleaded for about 3 months now.”

The cost of ethanol makes it very attractive for fuel blenders to use increased amounts with unleaded gasoline, but they are limited to a 10% ethanol blend under current regulations. The ethanol industry is pushing for the U.S. EPA to raise the limit to 15%.

“Increasing the limit to 15% is reasonable. This will create jobs, it will expand the industry and it will help agriculture. It will do a lot of good things – less dependence on foreign sources for our energy needs, it’s better for our environment -- there’s no down side to this. I have no idea why we wouldn’t move in this direction and agriculture is up to the challenge,” said Governor Ted Strickland, who sent a letter to the EPA encouraging a decision to raise the limit for ethanol blending. “It’s a value added product. In the past, before we had these ethanol facilities, Ohio corn was sent out of the state to some other community that benefited from taking it and adding value to it by making ethanol. Now we’re doing that right here in Ohio and that is good news. I would like to see it expand.”

In addition, legislation is before Congress to continue a much-needed incentive, called VEETC, a 45-cents-per-gallon tax credit for fueling stations to blend ethanol with gasoline. There is also a new energy bill on the horizon, making it an important and critical time to highlight ethanol’s many environmental and economic benefits to our country and the state of Ohio.

Ethanol production has grown dramatically more efficient in the past few years, and is considered “energy positive.” Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that for every unit of energy required to make ethanol, 2.3 units of energy are produced.

In addition, according to a University of Nebraska report last year, ethanol directly emits an average of 51 percent less greenhouse gas than gasoline, as much as three times the reduction reported in earlier research, thanks to recent improvements in efficiency throughout the production process.

As the upsetting images of suffering from the Gulf continue to flash across our television screens, the extensive baggage of our dependence on oil will be at the forefront of public debate on the street corner to the highest levels of our government. And, hopefully, so will ethanol -- an alternative fuel that looks pretty good compared to the alternative.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The moon was out just after mid-day in Licking County in mid-June after Lori confronted some signature gatherers at a Licking County Kroger.

Lori was leaving the store after getting some groceries when she spotted the two male 20 something paid signature gatherers roaming the parking lot. They were trying to drum up support for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) ballot measure this fall.

The group needed 402,275 valid signatures by June 29, which means they will likely need more than 500,000 actual signatures, to have enough legitimate names on the list to get their measure on the ballot in Ohio. The group was off to a surprisingly slow start earlier this spring with signature numbers that were far below what HSUS was hoping for.

To remedy the problem, HSUS sued the state of Ohio over a statute that was written to make sure only Ohioans could gather signatures to change state laws. HSUS won the legal battle and then let loose with paid signature gatherers around Ohio to make a major push for the November ballot.

This meant that for much of June, these signature gatherers could be found around Ohio working to strategically gather signatures in the counties that they most needed them. The signature gatherers are permitted to be present on any public property and it sounds as if they had a fair amount of success.

In many cases, though, they ran into folks like Lori who were not so supportive of their cause. As Lori left the store with her two children, she was approached by the signature gatherers who asked, “If you support the humane treatment of animals in Ohio, could you please sign this petition?”

She had a few words for them: “This is my county and my home and what you are doing will affect my farm, so get out of here.”

After putting her two very embarrassed children in the car and telling them, “Do not get out no matter what happens,” Lori went and confronted the signature gatherers, again asking them to leave. The two young men again refused to leave the private property (owned by Kroger), so Lori went and talked with the manager of the store. She found out that this was the second time in two days that the signature gatherers had been asked to leave, so the manager advised that Lori call the police, which she did.

Lori then called her husband who said, if needed, he would come bail her out. After that she went to again confront the two young men. For every person they would approach, Lori would explain that these people were not from Ohio and were trying to change our constitution in a manner that would cripple Ohio’s agricultural industry.

The two young men did not seem to like this at all. They offered Lori some choice phrases regarding her lips and where she should place them. Then, one of the young professionals proceeded to drop his pants and bend over to illustrate and offer clarity to his previous statement.

Shortly afterward, the police arrived and escorted the fine young men from the premises. Lori returned victorious to her car to find her not-any-less-embarrassed children waiting for her and seemingly ready to head home.

Despite the efforts of Lori and others, it appears that HSUS was successful in getting the necessary numbers for the ballot courtesy of the assistance of such fine young people trying to make a difference. Ohioans for Humane Farms, an affiliate of HSUS, expected to turn in more than 500,000 by the deadline.

Similar stories (minus the mooning) were popping up all over Ohio in town squares, DMVs, public libraries and other places. Only time will tell the end result this November, but either way, it seems that we have all lost a little something if tactics such as these are permitted to make a mockery of our laws and state constitution. If you don’t believe me, just find an HSUS signature gatherer and ask them where — top or bottom — they think Ohio’s agricultural voters rate. Maybe they will show you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From my childhood, I can remember John Denver’s catchy tune about an evening spent in Toledo, “Saturday night in Toledo Ohio, is like being nowhere at all…” I remember wondering if Toledoans resented the song or if they could chuckle right along with everyone else about their fine city.

Though clearly not a New York, London, Paris or Los Angeles on the hot world metropolitan scene, Toledo does have some global merit in the estimation of many who happen to reside there. For one thing, the highways and rails that run through the city give Toledo a legitimate claim to be quite a crossroads for Ohio and the country.

“Every city has a map to show people that they are the center of the world,” said Joseph W. Cappel, the director of cargo development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “I think Toledo can back that argument up.”

About 700 great lakes vessels and 80 ocean freighters visit the Port of Toledo’s 15 terminals every year bringing in steel, fertilizer and other bulk goods. On the way out, the monstrous vessels haul boatloads of corn, wheat and soybeans to feed a world clamoring for the bounty produced by Midwestern farmers.

“Grain is a big part of U.S. exports,” Cappel said. “We import a lot of things, but in Toledo, port-wide, it is a 50-50 mix of imports and exports.”

The Port of Toledo has three riverfront grain terminals served by rail, ship and truck operated by The Andersons, Inc. and ADM, Inc. that have a combined 22-million-bushel storage capacity.

“With soybeans, we probably average 20 million bushels going out for export every year and corn we probably average 25 million bushels a year, mostly grown in a 150-mile radius in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan,” said Don Wray, plant operations manager for The Andersons. “Just one vessel going out holds four 75-car train units.”

The Andersons’ two terminals are used for separate handling of corn and soybeans to improve the logistics for the company and the delivery for the farmer customers.

“We will dump 400,000 bushels of corn and 500,000 bushels of soybeans a day in the peak of the season during the fall,” Wray said. “Most of the beans go out on vessels, but the St. Lawrence Seaway basically closes in January. Then we are strictly rail to the East Coast or hauling corn to the southeast.”

When shipments go out the St. Lawrence Seaway, they often head north to Canada or continue east to Africa. The outgoing grain is also important to the shipping industry.

“It offers a boon to the economics by backhauling loads of grain out when they bring something in,” Wray said. “This opens up a way for us to be much stronger in the world market. The St. Lawrence Seaway and the Port of Toledo give us another important way to market grain.”

The Port of Toledo is going to serve a more vital role moving forward with improvements that are planned for the near future.

“The Port of Toledo has been really fortunate to get a lot of grant funding and we are adding two new cranes that will be two or three times faster than what we have,” Cappel said. “We’ll really be able to speed up loading and unloading with the improvements we have coming. The Toledo port will be the fastest at handling materials in the Great Lakes. With this new equipment we will definitely be able to play a bigger role than we have in the past.”

In addition, more rail access, dredging sediment and other quality-of-life/tourism-type improvements will add vitality and functionality to the area in coming years. The Port will also benefit from a general re-focusing of attention on the importance of water transportation.

“There is a big focus at the state and federal levels to work on improving marine shipping for the environmental benefits and to reduce the congestion with rail and trucking. More people are looking to utilize our waterways to their fullest capacity,” Cappel said. “As the world population grows, more products will need to be shipped and this is the most environmentally friendly way to do it.”

Toledo seems poised to work toward Cappel’s lofty description as the center of the world. Though for John Denver fans, I fear no amount of global shipping will make Toledo amount to more than being nowhere at all.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June is Ohio Wine Month and many wine drinkers will be flocking to their local wine shops to peruse the fancy-clad bottles adorning the shelves. Of course, like a book cover, the myriad of wine labels feature fancy artwork and lingo to woo potential buyers. But what do all of those fancy wine words really mean? Christy Eckstein, the executive director of the Ohio Grape Industries Committee, helped walk me through the definitions of some of those fancy sounding wine words to help us all become more fluent in vino-ese.

Legs: The ribbons of wine that cling to the side of a swirled glass are legs. The legs you see are related to the alcohol content of wine and sometimes to the sweetness level. In general, the higher alcohol content, the more legs there are. Thick, sweet wines often have more legs. Legs are easy to see and easy to talk about, but they are not necessarily connected to quality.

Vintage: The vintage is the year the grapes were harvested to make the wine. This is important to consider for a number of reasons.

“The vast majority of wines being made today are bottled to drink now. Our preservation methods are much better than they used to be. The percentage of wine that can be kept over a three or four year period of time is tiny,” Eckstein said. “Reds can age longer because of the tannins that break down and add new flavor with age. The flavor becomes more concentrated and pronounced. There are a few wines that are ageable, and most of them are reds. Ports, ice wines and sherrys that are very sweet can also be aged a few years.”

Reserve: This fancy sounding term means different things in different places. Spain and Italy, for example, have strict rules and qualifications for use of the term. The U.S. does not. In general though, reserve can mean a late harvest or grapes that are set aside for a specific product. Some Ohio wineries use the term for special wine that has been set aside.

Late harvest and ice wine: Late harvest generally means that the grapes are left on the vine longer than usual. With the ice wine, the grapes are actually frozen while still on the vine.

“The solids in the grapes don’t freeze but the water does, and that concentrates the sugars and flavors,” Eckstein said. “It could be Thanksgiving or Christmas before you get that freeze so you’ve got birds and animals going after the grapes, and it is more work to make.”

As a result of the extra production challenges and highly concentrated product, ice wines are sold at higher prices and often in smaller bottles.

Appellation: An appellation is a designated wine-growing region governed by specific laws. Ohio has five appellations including an island appellation with North Bass Island in Lake Erie, which is the Isle St. George Appellation.

Estate bottled: There are three main parts to this. The wine must designate an appellation and both the vineyard and the winery must be located in that region. The winery has to have management over the vineyard that produced the grapes. The wine must also be produced from crush to bottle in a continuous process without leaving the winery premises. Those seeking Ohio wines should look for estate bottled wines or Ohio Quality Wines that are made with a 90% minimum of Ohio-grown grapes. 
“If they are looking for truly local Ohio wines, the Ohio Quality Wine program will really help them find wines made with locally grown grapes,” Eckstein said.

As the international awards pile up and the standing of Ohio wines grows in world stature, more people are seeking out wines with Ohio appellations. The wine industry has been making dramatic strides in quality and quantity in recent years. The number of Ohio wineries has grown from 124 in 2008 to 143 in 2010, and wine production increased nearly 500,000 gallons from 2006 to 2008.

Ohio wine production now contributes more than $580 million to the state economy and creates 4,000 jobs with a payroll of $124 million. No matter what your fluency with wine lingo, those kinds of numbers in a struggling statewide economy add up to a definition of success that anyone can understand.

For more information about Ohio wine, visit www.tasteohiowines.com.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Every morning, millions of people begin their day with a delicious bowl of cereal. Most of that cereal comes in a fancy box with a lot of fancy sounding ingredients such as sugar, wheat, corn syrup, honey, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, caramel color, soy lecithin, sodium ascorbate, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, thiamin hydrochloride, Vitamin A Palmitate, folic acid, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.

While this is a fine option for many breakfast eaters, there are a growing number of people seeking out something simpler that they know the origin of and the farmers who produced it. This crowd does not need a fancy box, a colorful character or a catchy slogan. They just want healthy, straightforward food that they can enjoy without a dictionary for the ingredient list.

This is the market that seeks out cereal from Starline Organics in Athens County.

"Our cereal only has three ingredients, and you can pronounce all of them — organic spelt, honey and coconut oil,” said Matt Starline, who owns and operates the 50-acre certified organic farm in Athens County with his wife, Angie.

Their multiple flavors of "Puffed” and "Crunch” spelt cereals come in a clear plastic package and sell as fast as the Starlines can get it made. The young couple has a passion for organic production and they are focused on bringing innovative products to the Athens-area market’s seemingly insatiable appetite for all foods local and organic.

"We wanted something that was shelf stable that everyone could eat, even people with allergies,” Angie said. "We wanted something that added value to our products and we started talking about making cereal. Spelt is becoming popular again and it is low in gluten and has high water solubility for easier digestion. And, spelt has higher protein, fiber and iron than wheat.”

With a product catering to the organic market, the rapidly expanding low gluten market and those seeking foods with local flavor, the Starlines quickly discovered that they had a popular product at the bustling Athens Farmers Market.

"People just keep coming back,” Angie said. "They love it and we’re the only ones that have it.”

The product has become a favorite and, compared to the other organic crops they produce, spelt is fairly easy to grow. The couple grows 6 acres of spelt, a fall planted crop that is ready for harvest in July or August.

The spelt is harvested and stored in bins before it is hauled north to Millersburg where Stutzman Farms (an Amish processor) converts the spelt into the cereals. The honey and maple syrup used to flavor the cereals are also produced in the Athens area.

"We haul up a couple hundred pounds for a month’s supply or so and we have to keep hauling more up every trip,” Matt said. "They de-hull and then puff it and add the local honey or maple syrup.”

The cereal is bagged and ready to sell to clamoring customers at the farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Along with the cereal, the Starlines sell a wide variety of organic produce, herbs, Shiitake mushrooms, lamb, pork and beef at the year-round Athens Farmers Market. Local restaurants are also eager buyers of Starline Organics products.

"We’re fortunate in this area to have a lot of restaurants looking for local food and we have the Athens Farmers Market that will have 3,000 people on a good Saturday,” Matt said. "With the restaurants, we know what they are looking for and what they can take, but at the farmers market we try to find out what the customers want and they usually buy what we have.”

Behind spelt, the next largest acreage on the farm dedicated to a single crop is for producing 2-row malting barley for a local brewery. The barley is produced in much the same way as the spelt, and after the brewing process, the certified organic barley is fed to the livestock on the farm. They also raised organic produce and livestock.

The couple sees a bright future ahead farming with their hard work, dedication to quality and ingenuity — simple, straight-forward ingredients that any market can appreciate. 

For more information about a tour of Starline Organics this summer as a part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, visit www.oeffa.org.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Whether playing sports, writing, reading, mastering a musical instrument or just about any other endeavor, everyone from the elementary spelling champion to a professional athlete at the pinnacle of his sport understands that “practice makes perfect.”

Well, it seems that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) feels a little out of practice these days based on the recent decision to re-register atrazine again in 2010.

After a 15-year study, the EPA just re-registered atrazine in 2006 based on overwhelming evidence of safety from nearly 6,000 studies -- the most stringent, up-to-date safety requirements in the world. Despite the exhaustive regulatory and scientific review process supporting its use, the agency is looking into atrazine again as part of a Scientific Advisory Panel review this year.

“This product has been registered for over 50 years and has gone through a series of re-reviews that are very thorough. The label is the law that is dictated by a very rigorous scientific process,” said Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of legislative policy. “When the EPA looks at risks, they do a very thorough job of testing it.

“They look at drinking water, food, farmer risk, and they look at the ecological risk. Atrazine passed that test in 2006. The science actually just proved itself, and I’m confident that the science will prove itself again.”

The EPA is required to do a re-review every 15 years, but recent media events by activist organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Land Stewardship Project and Pesticide Action Network North America suggest a coordinated campaign to call atrazine’s safety into question and politicize what should be a scientific process. As a result, more tax dollars will go to re-reviewing the safety of atrazine well ahead of the required schedule.

This process is costly, and it backs up the EPA’s work on other efforts.

“This unnecessary new review appears to be driven largely by a political agenda and not science,” Sharp said. “The EPA has to review hundreds of products each year. By pulling this product back in, it will delay their work on other products. It looks like the EPA will take a good part of this year to review atrazine and the science. I don’t know what the timeline is after that.”

The re-review also leaves farmers again wondering if this valuable tool for weed control, particularly in no-till corn, will continue to be available.

“Atrazine is a tool that allows farmers to adopt no-till. No-till allows them to leave their land better than they got it with fewer emissions and less runoff, and atrazine is a critical piece of no-till corn,” said Dwayne Siekman, executive director of the Ohio Corn Growers Association (OCGA). “We have the utmost confidence in its efficiency and safety, and at $28 per acre in cost savings, its loss would result in a huge hit to farmers and Ohio’s economy.”

According to the OCGA, the latest push to re-review atrazine, again, is a part of a larger agenda. Activists continue to target atrazine because it is one of the most tested and most widely used herbicides. If they can set the precedent of getting atrazine banned, they can get just about anything banned. 

It is unsettling how quickly the EPA sided with the urging of activists and jumped on the opportunity to re-review the corn herbicide. Corn growers, and a long list of agricultural advocates, are asking that the EPA once again use sound science (and not political science) to conduct the review process.

With their push for regulating greenhouse gases, dust, ditches and numerous other aspects of agricultural production, does the EPA really need more practice? It seems that the EPA already has plenty of experience. And, considering over-burdened taxpayers in a struggling economy are funding the effort, it would seem that in this case, a little more practice does not make perfect. 

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at mkcreese@yahoo.com