Back in February, I attended our local Science Pub’s event “Smart Food Safety” with Battelle Memorial Institute‘s Ashley Kubatko. Ms. Kubatko focused primarily on counterfeiting and fraud, then used that as a jumping off point for food / agricultural security as it pertains to national security.
When I consider agricultural security, I think on a couple of levels:
- I am concerned about the global food distribution network and what happens if we have an event that cuts off routes of distribution.
- As a corollary: How can we increase local production / consumption to ensure the Resiliency of the Whole Community (this is the majority of why I arranged the farm visits below)?
- Are local farmers (regardless of scale of their operation) being included in the conversation on food/agricultural security with Emergency Management / Homeland Security agencies?
Being the type of person that likes to see things for myself and learn from others, I reached out to a friend of mine and asked if I could visit her family farm in rural Eastern Ohio, and if she could show me some manner of livestock operation while I was out there.
^^ Pretty typical farm. On this side of the acreage is the farmhouse & livestock barn (including a few cows, goats, and chickens).
Shana Angel (née Beppler) and her husband, Jonathan, are farming the Angel Family Farms, a plot of land that has been in Jonathan’s family for quite some time (you can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). They are currently using it for a couple of purposes including:
- As an educational / outreach tool to demonstrate modern farming best-practices,
- As a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) venture, and
- To provide some food for themselves.
Both are passionate about what they do and are active in the agricultural community of Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Shana has a degree from The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences. Jonathan is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (also from OSU ~ College of Veterinary Medicine) specializing in large animals. They are active in organizations such as their local Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Young Agricultural Professionals, and Leadership Tuscarawas. In short ~ they’re individuals I trust to provide solid, research-backed information.
^^ Shana & Jonathan Angel (photo via the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Instagram Page).
Their produce farming operation includes a handful of rows of various crops that are watered through a pretty ingenious watering system. First up, they run a piece of equipment down the field that mounds the dirt, lays irrigation tubing, and covers the mound with a sheet of plastic (to reduce evaporation). Then you walk the length of the plastic and cut holes into it and drop your seed/seedlings. The whole setup is then irrigated by a system set up from a raised IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) that serves as a water holding tank (fed from a well) which then uses gravity to feed the water to the rows.
I strongly support the old-school multiple crop arrangement as part of bullet point #2 above ~ How can we increase local production / consumption…? Obviously, having a variety of crops, as opposed to a massive monoculture operation, can be a meaningful contribution to building resiliency.
^^ Jonathan walking the crop rows. You can see the IBC irrigation unit at the end of the field.
Honeybees are also an important part of the operation ~ there’s been a lot of ink spilled over the major issues resulting from the mass deaths of pollinators. Having a well-stocked honeybee operation plays a role in the general health of the environment (and pollinating a large percentage of food crops we rely on) ~ not just generating local honey for the CSA and personal usage.
^^ Liquid gold in one of the approximately 20 hives around the property.
After some time walking around the farm and learning a bit about their operations, we went over to Jimita Holsteins ~ owned and operated by Jim and Rita Rowe (bought by Jim’s parents nearly 60-years ago) ~ to see a local, medium-scale, dairy operation. (You can read more about Jimita Holsteins via Farm and Dairy HERE.)
^^ View from the holding pens of the Jimita Holsteins facility.
The Rowes took time out of their weekend to show me around the entirety of their operation, to see the cows, explain how they handle waste products, the cooling systems used to reduce the temperature of the milk and hold it consistent, the shipping process, and agricultural security issues.
Mr. Rowe explained the process of drawing samples of milk at each farm which is then tested as soon as the tanker arrives at the processing facility. Any trace of antibiotics means that the farmer whose sample tested positive just bought a tanker-full of milk that can’t be used. The valves on the tanker are secured and sealed and transit occurs non-stop after the last pickup. This plays a dual role: to enhance the security of the product and to handle the risk of the product being subject to a rise in temperature.
^^ Milking parlor with Mr. Rowe off to the right.
We then had a fairly lengthy discussion of what would happen if the cows were to be infected by an act of terrorism (or other contagion) and how the process would involve a large number of stakeholders, including the USDA, CDC, County Emergency Management Agency, Ohio EMA, and others.
While I still harbor concerns over the risk to our nation’s agricultural security (predominantly due to the vast expanse of area dedicated to agricultural production and the declining number of people necessary to perform farming operations ~ resulting in a general inability to have watchful eyes over the full range of the process), I was happy to hear from Mr. Rowe that the issue of what can be done by farmers to ensure agricultural security has at least been discussed at the local level between the County EMA, the Farm Bureau, and farmers.
This visit was certainly enlightening and helped me to gain a more personal appreciation for some of the food / agricultural security issues that I have seen come up over the years. As above, I still have some concerns and think that we should never neglect preparing / training for the potential of an agricultural terrorism event. However, I think that we have some good people out there that not only care about their operations’ success, but also value the importance of their work to feed and provide for citizens everywhere, care about the quality / security of their products, and are keeping a watchful eye.
I also appreciate the generous hospitality of Shana & Jonathan Angel and Jim & Rita Rowe for taking time out of their weekend to show me around and answer my questions.
And with that ~ enjoy this photo of a “Big Job” fire truck in one of the barns!
#NeverStopLearning #NeverStopPreparing #FarmLife #AgSecurity