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Who Are The Farmers Of Tomorrow?

March 17, 2010
By Mick Luber

Where will the bodies and brains that keep the earth's bounty producing food for your table come from?

Why not your own family?

My rule at Bluebird Farm is if you can grow it in a 5-by-3 foot garden bed you can transfer that technique to a 25-by-3 bed and then transfer that skill to an acre of ground. So your backyard garden can be the start of something big.

A couple of weeks ago at the 31st Annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference ( the winner of the Sustainable Farmer Award was given to one such person. Mike Laughlin from Northridge Organic Farm started with a small backyard garden 20 years ago in Columbus and is now operating his 20-acre farm, which has 10 acres of vegetables and a herd of sheep in Johnstown, Ohio. He is providing produce and lamb to restaurants, stores and at local farmers' markets in the Columbus area.

Nothing in nature or in reality is done overnight. Mike worked a full-time job until last year with people with special needs, and the garden grew. So in his 50s he is retired, playing in the dirt and making a comfortable living at farming organically.

We all need to consider where our food comes from. There are all too true stories about contamination and a lack of nutrition in our food supply.

The idea of producing our own food in our own yards is again not only becoming fashionable but practical. It might not only provide food for your table, but might inspire someone in your family to take a step in the direction of farming as a career. Be it a child who has a good experience in the garden or an adult who is looking for a change in life direction, the garden is a good place to begin and end too.

It is not hard to get started. It can be as small as a flowerpot and a bag of soil mix or a small patch in the yard.

Of course, along with some packets of seeds.

Once, when some friends and myself had a food co-op at 21st and Market streets in Wheeling, I met a fella named John Luddny. He lived in South Wheeling between Famous Supply Co. and their warehouse. He was always talking about his garden, so I went to visit. There was a block wall in the alley with a gate. When I looked over the gate, I saw a wonder. It couldn't have been bigger than 30-by-30, but it was amazing. The whole backyard was in bloom with fruits and vegetables coming out everywhere. Everything was planted in unique containers. They were unusual in that they were backs and bowls of toilets. Along the south facing wall of Famous Supply was a peach tree. It had luscious, yellow and red blush peaches and did they taste good. John produced enough fruits and vegetables for him and his wife in that space.

I asked John where he got all the toilets and he said he just picked them up on trash days when people were replacing their toilets. He explained that he separated the tank from the bowl and filled both with potting soil and a little compost that he had made from his kitchen scraps. He said they drained well and absorbed the heat of the sun just like the wall of the famous supply building held enough warmth to make his peach tree warm in the spring when it bloomed. The frost never got the blossoms. Peaches every year.

In the '70s when I would get to the point in late winter when cabin fever was hanging on here in the country, I used to walk around on Wheeling Island through the alleys, gazing in to the back yards.

I would see all the fruit trees budding out and the gardens starting to sprout with greens and onions. I used to be envious of this climate so close to the river. Now you can get the same climate out in the country using high tunnels. They are just 4 or 6 millimeter plastic over wire hoops or 1/2- inch plastic water pipes or conduit if you really want to get fancy. It's like moving to the river from the country, as far as the plants are concerned.

You never know where the next farmers will be found or what will inspire them. But let's hope they continue so we can have good, locally produced and nutritional food in our communities. An old-time farmer told me once, when you lose your farmers you lose your independence. Where will your food come from? Maybe it's YOU or yours!

Farm on, fellow farmers! Farm on, no matter what your size!

Mick Luber is an organic farmer at Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He has more than 20 years of organic farming experience and is a regular at the Wheeling farmers' markets.

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