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OH Farmers Apply "You Are What You Eat" to What They Farm

Renee Winner and her family operate four dairy farms in central Ohio. (REAL Winner Farms)
Renee Winner and her family operate four dairy farms in central Ohio. (REAL Winner Farms)
November 1, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Harvest season is winding down in Ohio, and sustainable-farming advocates say it's a great time for growers and producers to learn more about what it takes to go organic. In some cases it's a matter of making the personal professional.

Renee and Alan Winner, dairy farmers in central Ohio, have been selling into the conventional milk market for years, but now are transitioning the four dairies they and their children operate. Renee Winner said switching to organic was important for them because their farming practices didn't mesh with their personal lifestyle.

"For the last 30 years, we have eaten organic," she said. "To be able to marry the way that we live and how we make our living is really something that we've talked about and planned about for years, but just didn't think we'd be able to get it done."

The Winners began the process with help from organic transition services available through the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. They just finished their third year of transition and recently had their official organic inspection.

Ohio currently ranks seventh nationally for the number of organic farming operations. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, organic sales in Ohio rose more than 30 percent between 2015 and 2016.

In order to stay viable, Renee Winner said, they felt they needed to "get big or get out," and made the decision to go organic.

"Being a smaller, organic dairy is still viable," she said, "where in the conventional market, everything is trending to larger, so you lose the ability to be yourself and to farm as a family."

She encouraged those curious about transitioning to organic to speak with other organic farmers and organic inspectors, adding that services available through the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association also are very beneficial.

"They have people there that will help you though the transition," she said. "That's been phenomenal for us, because you don't know what you don't know. They're there to tell you, 'No, this is the way to go,' and to lead you."

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association has education staff who can explain the Organic System Plan, review transition applications and provide mock inspections. There are an estimated 950 organic farming operations in Ohio.

More information is online at

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH