'Sustainability, Resilience, Adaptation': Students in New Ohio State Course to Plan Future of NE Ohio Family Farm

March 7, 2008

WOOSTER, Ohio — Students will help chart the future of a nearly 200-year-old Ohio family farm in a new course at Ohio State University.

 

What they learn can then in turn help other family farms as well.

“Planning and Design of a Sustainable Farm,” set to start this coming Spring Quarter, will focus on farming methods that balance production efficiency, economic viability, environmental quality and social responsibility.

It will have as its final project the creation of a comprehensive plan for the 300-acre Mellinger Farm in northeast Ohio.

Established in 1816 in northwest Wayne County, the farm is being donated to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), the research arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“There is enough diversity in the land — woodlots, pastures, field crops, a stream and spring, an attractive farmstead — that the farm could be successful with diverse enterprises like grass-fed meat and dairy, produce, renewable energy, and agritourism that serve a local market and community,” said Casey Hoy, holder of Ohio State’s W.K. Kellogg Foundation-endowed chair in agricultural ecosystems management and one of the course’s organizers. “These are emerging opportunities for similar farms and farm families all over the country, and the Mellinger Farm could provide a working demonstration.”

The two-credit-hour course will look at farm design criteria, systems integration, and the challenges farms face in plant and animal agriculture, energy production and conservation, and marketing and community connections.

Then, to put what’s learned into action, student teams will research, create and propose their own plans for a specific aspect of the farm’s operation: animal production or energy efficiency, for example.

Students will choose a specific area — say, pasture-raised poultry or wind power — to contribute to their team’s plan; will conduct a literature review on the topic; and will participate in producing a plan, discussing it with faculty and students, and ultimately melding it with the other teams’ proposals into a single, integrated plan for the farm.

“One of the more important things that the students will learn is how their area of specialization contributes to the total picture in the real world,” Hoy said. “Students don’t get enough chances to do that, and they thrive on the experience when it’s offered.

“During the course of their careers, today’s students will be facing higher temperatures, more extreme weather, less available water and much more expensive oil,” he said. “They need to learn about sustainability, resilience and adaptation, as do the rest of us.”

The course will meet two hours a week, the times and days to be determined, by video link between the OARDC campus in Wooster and Ohio State’s Columbus campus.

Sixteen faculty from seven departments will serve as the instructors.

Also involved will be innovative Ohio farmers, Hoy said, who will discuss their own efforts to transition to new enterprises and the planning and challenges involved.

The course is open to graduate students and to juniors and seniors with permission from participating faculty.

“This will be a unique opportunity for the students to work together in interdisciplinary teams, apply their expertise, and learn from the other students on their team as much as or perhaps more so than from the faculty,” Hoy said. “Their final project will represent their vision for what the Mellinger Farm could become. Aside from being an interesting academic exercise, this one has a chance of actually coming to life.”

The Mellinger Farm, for now under snow, awaits the growth and changes of spring.

The donation process started in 2002, when Ohio State’s Board of Trustees accepted half the farm from Patricia Miller Quinby and the estate of Virginia Miller Reed. Half the remainder was donated in 2005, with the rest now slated for donation next year.

“The Mellinger Farm is in many ways an archetypical farm,” Hoy said. “It’s being donated to OARDC because there were no heirs in the family to continue farming, a common scenario. It’s too small to be anything but a little piece of a successful farm in the ‘get big or get out’-scale economy, so the typical fate would have been to get swallowed up by a bigger farm or sold to a developer. But the donating family member, Mrs. Quinby, wanted it to remain a farm.

Any options we can research and demonstrate there should be options for similar farms with families on them all over Ohio and the Midwest,” he said.

For more information, contact Hoy at (330) 263-3611 or hoy.1@osu.edu.

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Author(s): 
Kurt Knebusch
Source(s): 
Casey Hoy