Creating sustainable agriculture in urban food deserts

Across the street from an abandoned industrial site in an older, economically challenged neighborhood, formerly vacant lots have been fitted with raised garden beds and season-extending hoop houses to allow neighborhood residents to grow fresh produce year-round. The food will be donated to schools and residents in a food desert, which is an area that lacks grocery stores within walking distance.

In partnership with the city of Dayton, Ohio State University Extension supports the Vacant to Vibrant project, which offers city dwellers the ability to grow their own foods and the opportunity to become food entrepreneurs. The project allows participants access to fresh local foods, job training, economic security and neighborhood revitalization.

Urban agriculture benefits Ohio by transforming neighborhoods through the production and distribution of food to cultivate a sense of community through food-related education and sustainable economic development.

Urban agriculture benefits Ohio by transforming neighborhoods through the production and distribution of food to cultivate a sense of community through food-related education and sustainable economic development.

OSU Extension supports urban agriculture in all Ohio counties, in an effort to increase access to local foods by helping create community gardens that promote urban agriculture — such as the Edgemont Solar Garden in Dayton — as well as opportunities for vocational agricultural training. Other efforts include classes on growing and marketing produce and basic agricultural principles.


  • According to Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, urban agriculture, which allows cities to put vacant lots into use, creates opportunity for the future and can be a sustainable way to bring money into a community.
  • In one year in Cuyahoga County, OSU Extension provided 33 urban agriculture workshops attended by 452 community members.
  • OSU Extension also supports
    239 Cleveland-area community gardens that yield nearly $3.1 million in produce annually.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Urbanized Area and Urban Cluster designations, 81 percent of Ohio’s population is urban.
  • More than 1,200 OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in nine of Ohio’s most populated counties provide more than 61,000 service hours annually to address local gardening needs.

The Ohio State University’s hops research helps farmers, growing industry

Dave Volkman formerly grew produce on his 12-acre Maineville, Ohio, farm. But by attending a workshop on hops production offered by Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension horticulturist Brad Bergefurd, Volkman learned about the crop’s potential strong profit and high demand. As a result, he traded in his produce for hops. Volkman now has more than 400 plants on 12 acres, supporting two Ohio craft breweries. He also formed the Ohio Hop Growers Guild, which currently brings together more than 50 Ohio hops growers. Hops are a key ingredient in beer manufacturing. Thanks to The Ohio State University’s ongoing hops research and trials, hops are making a resurgence in Ohio after a 100-year absence. With Ohio-grown hops in high demand from Ohio microbrewers, the economic potential for growers and the state’s economy is significant. Ohio growers are poised to capture the $30 million in hops sales and related jobs currently sourced out of state by Ohio’s growing craft brewing industry.

As Ohio brewers seek out locally grown hops, research and education from Ohio State help growers such as Dave Volkman, bottom, and wife Nina Volkman, top, increase production.

As Ohio brewers seek out locally grown hops, research and education from Ohio State help
growers such as Dave Volkman, bottom, and wife Nina Volkman, top, increase production.


• One hundred Ohio breweries produce 1.09 million barrels of craft beer annually, requiring 4 million pounds of dried hops at 4 pounds per barrel — worth more than $30 million — all currently purchased from out-of-state farms.

• To meet this demand, an estimated 6,000 acres of hops are required by Ohio craft brewers at current-use rates. Today, 100 acres are planted with hops in the state, so the potential for growth is enormous.

• OARDC’s hops research trials are helping growers identify the following: new hops varieties for Ohio, effective pest and disease management techniques, successful fertility and irrigation management methods, and mechanical harvesting tools.

High cost of foodborne illnesses: OARDC researcher provides state-by-state breakdown

Public health policymakers view the work of Robert Scharff, right, as invaluable when determining how to direct tight resources to fight foodborne illnesses.

Public health policymakers view the work of Robert Scharff, right, as invaluable when determining how to direct tight resources to fight foodborne illnesses.

Foodborne illnesses cost Ohio up to $2.9 billion every year. In other states, such costs range from just $181 million all the way to $12 billion, according to a 2015 study by Robert Scharff, economist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Costs fluctuate between states for a variety of reasons, including population, cost of medical care, climate and other factors, Scharff said. Those variations can have a significant impact on local decision making.

Scharff’s Journal of Food Protection study is a first-of-its-kind economic analysis designed to offer public health authorities detailed information to help evaluate the cost-effectiveness of food-safety education efforts and how best to prioritize resources.

“Take an illness from a pathogen like Vibrio,” Scharff said. “It’s associated with seafood, particularly raw seafood in summer. States with higher shellfish consumption — those in coastal areas — have a higher incidence, and so it makes sense for them to devote more resources to battling it.”

Scharff’s analyses have gotten the attention of public health authorities nationwide.

“Scharff’s work has been indispensable to our efforts,” said Sandra B. Eskin, director of food safety with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “His estimates of the economic impact of these illnesses — considered both on a nationwide and state-by-state basis — help make the case that the benefits from policies aimed at preventing food safety problems clearly outweigh costs.”

Robert Scharff’s study, “State Estimates for the Annual Cost of Foodborne Illness,” provides both conservative cost estimates — following the model typically used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — as well as higher estimates that include loss of quality of life, which is the model used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Using those models, the costs related to foodborne illnesses in Ohio are estimated to be:
  • $1,039 to $1,666 per case
  • $156 to $250 per resident, annually
  • $1.8 billion to $2.9 billion in total annual costs


4-H water projects are making a splash in Ohio, around nation

OSU, CFAES, 4-H, AG Innovators Experience

Ohio 4-H is leading efforts to help youths gain a deeper understanding of one of the most vital 21st century concerns: assuring access to fresh, clean water.

Water is rising in prominence in Ohio 4-H youth development activities.

In the Water Windmill Challenge, teams create mock-ups of wind-operated water supply systems.

“There are many possibilities of how to meet the challenge,” said creator Bob Horton, Ohio 4-H specialist. “If their structure fails, students quickly want to reinvent it. They don’t realize it, but this activity introduces them to engineering.”

 In Ways of Knowing Water, a project idea starter for individual 4-H members, activities help youths sharpen awareness about their local watershed and where their household water originates.
Meera Nadathur, 15, of Hamilton County, took the Ways of Knowing Water project and plans to study environmental sciences in college
“With 4-H, you get to actually experience what you’re learning
about,” she said. “You don’t just learn by reading about it. It really enhances the whole experience.”

In a new idea starter, Field to Faucet: Nutrients, Sediment and Water Quality, activities focus on preventing harmful algal blooms. Co-author and 4-H educator Jackie Krieger said, “For many around the world who have little access to fresh, clean water, we owe our best science and dedicated action to understanding this basic human need. Who knows what spark might be ignited in the minds of 4-H members by these activities?”


OSU Extension’s 4-H STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education program is making a mark regionally and nationally by developing projects including:

  • The Water Windmill Challenge. In 2015, nearly 10,000 youths in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin participated in this challenge as part of the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience, sponsored by the National 4-H Council and Monsanto.
  • The Fish Farm Challenge, which was named as the 2014 4-H Ag Innovators Experience. More than 8,000 youths engineered a system to evenly dispense soy-based fish food pellets in an aquaculture tank.
  • The 4-H National Youth Science Experiment, the world’s largest youth-led science experiment. Ohio 4-H created the activities used in this program in 2008 and 2012.


‘I want to be a scientist,’ thanks to 4-H Agri-science in the City

Not a teacher. Not a fireman.

When he grows up, 8-year-old Jamir Green wants to be a scientist.

“It seems fun,” he said. “You can make chemicals and medicines.”

As a second-grader at George Washington Carver STEM Elementary School on Cleveland’s East Side, Green was inspired by Rob Isner, who has led the school’s 4-H Agri-science in the City program since it began in 2014.

In Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Tony Staubach offers the same program at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy.

As 4-H staff members, Isner and Staubach integrate food- and farm-related science activities during school, in after-school programs, in 4-H clubs and at summer day camps.

Thanks to a new 4-H program, many students at George Washington Carver STEM Elementary School in Cleveland now say science is their favorite subject.

Thanks to a new 4-H program, many students at George Washington Carver STEM Elementary School in Cleveland now say science is their favorite subject.

“When I started the program, most students said science was their least favorite subject,” Isner said. “Now, more than half say it is their favorite. They only have the agri-science program once a week, but we’re having an impact.”

Annette DiGirolamo, a recently retired second-grade teacher at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, said the program is “invaluable.”
“The students have watched chicks hatch, explored the properties of air, and conducted experiments with force and motion, sound and vibration,” she said. “The scientific process is continually reinforced, fostering skills of observation, critical thinking, accurate data collection and cooperation.”
Agri-science in the City programs provided by Ohio 4-H focus on students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
  • In Cincinnati, nearly 500 students participated from March 2014 through May 2015, when students who say they believe it is possible to farm in the city increased from 54 percent to 74 percent, and students indicating they want to work in food or farming increased from 15 percent to 31 percent.
  • In Cleveland, nearly 600 students participated during the 2014–15 school year. At the end of the year, 83 percent gave the program an “A;” 67 percent said they wanted to learn more about agriculture the next year; and 42 percent said it was “very likely” they would attend a career tech program in agri-science in high school.

Heart-Healthy Garden Program: ‘The Gift that Keeps on Giving’

Don Tedrow in Ross Heart Garden

Don Tedrow assists another Ross Heart Hospital Community Garden participant harvest radishes after a summer 2015 healthy living class.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Don Tedrow’s heart is full of gratitude.

In January 2015, Tedrow was shopping at a home improvement store when he began feeling “strange, feeling some pressure,” he said.

He went home, and he and his wife headed to the Emergency Department at the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“They kept me overnight, did some tests, and found out I had an 80 percent blockage in my main artery,” Tedrow said.

After a stent was inserted to open the blockage, Tedrow participated in the medical center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

“That was excellent,” he said. “A life-changer.”

While there, Tedrow learned about the new Ross Heart Hospital Community Garden program, a collaboration between the medical center and Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), which he participated in during the summer.

“It was the perfect follow-up,” Tedrow said, “because I had learned how to exercise in rehab, but I didn’t know what to do with my diet.”

The program, which combines gardening with healthy-living classes, started in 2015. It was the brainchild of Jim Warner, food and nutrition program director with the medical center’s food service administration. Warner also is involved with a similar program with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

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Ohio State’s Agricultural Fertilizer Program Helps Farmers Keep Phosphorus on Fields, Improve Water Quality

water quality farm2COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is ramping up its efforts to improve Ohio’s water quality through a new fertilizer applicator certification training program that’s designed to help growers increase crop yields using less fertilizer more efficiently, thus reducing the potential for phosphorus runoff into the state’s watersheds.

Introduced last fall as part of Ohio’s new agricultural fertilization law, the program has already trained 3,211 Ohio growers who farm more than a million acres of farmland statewide, said Greg LaBarge, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist and one of the leaders of Ohio State’s Agronomic Crops Team. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

Offering the certification training program is part of the college’s goal to improve the state’s water quality by informing growers how to lessen the use of phosphorus and keep more of it on the field, while increasing crop yields and boosting farm profits, LaBarge said.

“The training covers water quality and crop production best management practices, including encouraging growers to adhere to the principles of applying the right fertilizer at the right rate at the right time and in the right place,” he said. “By advocating the continued improvement in nutrient use and efficiencies, the training can help growers boost farm profits by using just enough nutrients to maximize yield, which reduces the potential for water quality impact offsite.

“The training benefits farmers and Ohioans by reducing the water quality issues that we have in the state.”

Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important source of harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo.

The training, which is offered by OSU Extension agronomists in partnership with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), fulfills the education requirements of the state’s new agricultural nutrients law, which requires farmers who apply fertilizer to more than 50 acres of farmland to become certified with ODA.

According to the new law, the deadline for growers and chemical nutrient applicators to complete the certification process is Sept. 30, 2017. The certification is valid for three years, at which point the applicator will require recertification.

The training offers guidance on:

  • Nutrient Management Certification Program.
  • The Link between Phosphorus, Harmful Algal Blooms and Agriculture.
  • Soil Testing for Confidence and Adaptive Management.
  • Best Management Practices for Phosphorus.
  • Yield and Water Quality Impacts.
  • Best Management Practices for Nitrogen, Yield and Water Quality Impacts.

An overwhelming majority of participants who have completed the OSU Extension program, 89 percent, say the training improved their knowledge about nutrient management, LaBarge said.

Additionally, 77 percent of farmers in attendance agreed that “Farm field phosphorus loss is a significant problem to Ohio water resources,” he said.

A majority of those participating in the first training classes, which were held in Fulton, Hancock and Paulding counties last month, farm in the Maumee River watershed area that drains into Lake Erie.

In fact, most farmers in that area are willing to take at least one additional action to reduce nutrient loss on their farm if they feel like the action will both benefit their farms as well as water quality, according to new research from Robyn Wilson, a CFAES associate professor of risk analysis and decision science.

“Most farmers are willing to adopt a new conservation practice if they believe that nutrient loss from their fields will have a negative financial impact on their crop production and if they believe that if they put best management practices in place on their farms, the techniques will work,” Wilson said.

More training dates for farmers and nutrient applicators to obtain the educational requirement for the Agricultural Fertilizer Applicator Certification will be offered by OSU Extension, with sessions likely to be offered in December and in the early months of 2015, LaBarge said.

As sessions are scheduled, details will be posted online at

Participants will be required to preregister for these meetings.

For more information, contact LaBarge at 740-223-4040 or

New Research Finds Some U.S. Soybean Yield Losses Caused by Weather Variations

soybeans2COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers have determined that precipitation and temperature variations over the past 20 years have suppressed the U.S. average soybean yield gain — how much it improves every year — by around 30 percent, contributing to an industry loss of $11 billion nationwide.

In Ohio alone, that soybean yield suppression is estimated to have cost some $2.9 billion during the past 20 years, according to a new study co-authored by a field crops expert in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Global annual temperatures have increased by 0.4 C (0.72 F) since 1980, with several regions exhibiting even greater increases, said Laura Lindsey, a soybean and small grains specialist with Ohio State University Extension and a co-author of the study. OSU Extension is the college’s outreach arm.

And for every 1 C (1.8 F) rise in temperature during the growing season, soybean yields fell by about 2.4 percent, the study found.

In Ohio, that translates into about a third of a bushel per acre per year yield loss, Lindsey said.

“During the past 20 years, temperature and precipitation have been changing, and that change is associated with yield reductions and economic loss that is region-specific,” she said. “States including Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and North Dakota have experienced negative impacts on yield due to weather variables.

“Missouri suffered the most negative impact with an estimated loss of $5 billion during the past 20 years, while Ohio had the next highest loss, at $2.9 billion.”

The study, which appears in the February 2015 journal Nature Plants, was co-authored by James E. Specht, researcher with the University of Nebraska; and Spyridon Mourtzinis, Francisco J. Arriaga and Shawn P. Conley, all researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study is based on data gleaned from 12 states, including data from Ohio State researchers’ Ohio Soybean Performance Trials, which document temperatures, changes in cultural practices, soybean varieties and technology in soybean production from 1970 to the present, Lindsey said.

The U.S. is one of the world’s largest soybean exporters, with some 80 percent of its soybeans being grown in the upper Midwest. Since most of that production is not irrigated, soybean production in the region is highly affected by weather conditions during the growing season, according to the study.

While more state-specific research is needed to help mitigate some of the weather variability, according to the study, some crop management strategies could help limit the potential negative impacts of weather variations on crop yields.

“Strategies include the development of new cultivars and hybrids, the use of altered maturity groups, changes in planting dates, the use of cover crops, and greater management of crop residues from the previous year,” Lindsey said. “If we don’t develop strategies to mitigate weather variability, it could have a long-term impact on soybean farmers, the soybean industry, trade policy, consumer food prices, food security and the economy.”

The study’s other contributors and co-authors include William J. Wiebold, University of Missouri; Jeremy Ross, University of Arkansas; Emerson D. Nafziger, University of Illinois; Herman J. Kandel, North Dakota State University; Nathan Mueller, South Dakota State University; and Philip L. Devillez, with Purdue University.


140467212The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences engages in research, education and outreach efforts that benefit all Ohioans, its families, communities, industries and environment. Here you will find examples of projects and initiatives that positively impact Ohio in a variety of critical areas, from enhanced agricultural production to food safety and from water quality to youth education.Ohio State University.

OSU Extension helps communities prepare for shale-related impacts


Shale workers keep area hotels filled to capacity. While that’s an economic boost, leaders like Norm Blanchard work to minimize the drawback of potential tourists being turned away.

In 2010, Guernsey County’s unemployment rate was 14.7 percent. Thanks to shale development, it tumbled to 5.7 percent by May 2014.

That’s all well and good, but the shale-related boom has other implications.

“A gas and oil guy from Midland, Texas, came to speak and told us to be prepared for our population to grow from about 11,500 to 100,000 in the next 15 years — at least, that’s what happened in Midland,” said Norm Blanchard, president of the Cambridge-Guernsey County Community Improvement Corporation. “When that hit the newspaper, we got calls. What are we doing to plan for this? How would we handle that kind of growth?” On the flip side, how should the region prepare for when shale development declines?

To help, Ohio State University Extension is tapping a $200,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to work with four regional EDA offices representing 25 eastern Ohio counties. Together they are examining shale’s economic, social and environmental impacts and developing plans for sustainable development.


The OSU Extension project is:

  • gathering and analyzing volumes of data to track the area’s economic, social and environmental conditions, including measurements on employment, population, income, charitable giving, school enrollment, crime, housing, noise, traffic counts, air quality, and water quantity and quality.
  • examining the growth and contraction of specific industry segments. This will allow targeted actions to help local businesses adjust when the active shale construction phase ends.
  • identifying sectors that need local investment. In some areas, the focus might be on infrastructure; others might zero in on housing, community amenities, entrepreneurship or workforce training.
  • working with regional EDA offices to foster long-term planning across community and county lines.
  • piloting educational materials in Guernsey County, thanks to another $20,000 grant. Community leaders across the Midwest will be able to use the materials to incorporate shale development into their strategic planning.

“OSU Extension is not only giving us guidance, but they’ve been in touch with other states that have already been through shale development, and they’re providing us with that experience and expertise,” Blanchard said.  “It’s been invaluable.”