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

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