“This is the time of year when people are thinking of Thanksgiving, and they do more thinking about their food than any other time of year,” says John Fitzpatrick, Organization Director of the Medina County Farm Bureau.
With food on so many minds, it is also the ideal time of year to dispel misconceptions about agriculture. Fitzpatrick, it turns out, is the perfect person to do that.
“I am the son of a farmer’s daughter,” he explains. “In my generation and her generation, daughters were typically not in line to inherit a farm. I tell people I grew up in L.A.—lower Akron. My mother married a rubber worker in Akron, but my grandfather had a farm, so I spent a lot of time there.”
Though Fitzpatrick grew up around farming, he never expected that he would end up working in the industry. For many years, he worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he regularly worked with local farmers. Eventually, he transferred into a career working with the local branch of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
Did you know?
Ohio has 86 Farm Bureaus.
The Medina County Farm Bureau is one of 86 county farm bureaus, and together they comprise the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Each group has a goal of fostering partnerships between farmers and consumers, and they help advocate for issues impacting farmers to provide a wide variety of food choices to locals.
Our primary crops are corn, soybeans, and hay.
Driving down any country road in the county will bring you face-to-face with fields of corn and soybeans galore, but did you know we also grow a lot of hay? That is used to feed our livestock, including cows, sheep, and goats. It is also used as feed for horses, which Fitzpatrick shares a surprising fact about: Medina is currently home to more horses now than when we used horses in place of machinery on farms.
According to 2014 statistics released by the Medina County Farm Bureau, 30 percent of gross agricultural income is attributed to livestock sales or livestock-produced products, such as milk or eggs. 56 percent of 2014’s gross agricultural income came from traditional rowcrops (our corn and soybeans), and 14 percent came from “other” products, including greenhouse and nursery sales.
You are what you eat.
Cows eat a combination of grains and grasses. They eat corn, soybeans, and field grasses, which includes alfalfa and other things labeled as “hay.” The grains that they eat are what marbles the meat. Marbling refers to the distribution of fat within a cut of meat. A high quality steak, for example, would contain an even distribution of hard, white marbling, which would melt as the meat cooks to make it tender, juicy, and flavorful. While the genetics of individual cattle breeds greatly influence the flavor of the meat, so, does the diet we feed them. Grain is an important ingredient in making a perfect steak, as too little intake of grain could impact its flavor.
While incorporating a smaller amount of grain into a cattle’s diet can impact the taste of the meat, too much grain can adversely affect the health of an animal, which often leads to a misconception that too much fat in meat is bad for us. In fact, Texan researchers Dr. Stephen Smith and Dr. Brad Johnson found in a 2015 study that beef in its various forms is good for you, regardless of high fat content. This is because as cattle put down marbling, saturated fats are replaced with oleic acid, a healthful fatty acid that increases high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). They concluded that providing cattle with a diverse diet including grains is important not only to a more tasty cut, but is it is also important in providing health benefits to us. In short, a balanced diet is a universal necessity, and it is worth knowing what factors contribute to keeping you healthy.
Agriculture is our number one industry.
“Agriculture employs more people, pays more taxes, and generates more total dollars than any other industry in Medina County. Most people don’t think of it that way, because our industry is built of 920 smaller farms.”
Fitzpatrick estimates that over 4,000 locals are working in agriculture, excluding seed dealers and corporate dealers. Though they work on farms ranging from only a few to a few thousand acres, farmers generate a gross agricultural income of nearly $60,533,000. Economists estimate that farm dollars circulate seven times in the local economy, which means that our agricultural roots are continuing to fuel our county’s overall economic health.
That dirt on your veggies won’t hurt you.
Nowadays, many fear that our culture is becoming more frenzied about bacteria. We keep hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes on standby, but bacteria is not necessarily our enemy. In fact, exposure to certain bacteria is crucial to our survival.
Many people are well aware that our bodies contain bacteria, such as those that aid in digestion. However, it is easy to forgot about the “hygiene hypothesis.” This hypothesis states that a lack of exposure to bacteria in childhood suppresses the development of a healthy immune system, which can lead to health issues and allergies later on.
“Antibacterial agents may seem like a good thing to have on hand, but in excess they are potentially dangerous,” Fitzpatrick points out. “For example, many homes in our county have septic tanks, which rely on bacteria to break down waste. Effective septic tanks will distribute sewage product into the ground, which fertilizes the soil and eventually filters through the soil and rocks. It ends up back in our aquifers, which provide drinking water. The process is very simple, but it can be complicated through the use of large amounts of antibacterial soaps.”
We have all encountered the scent of fresh manure spread upon a field, and it is easy to focus on the “dirtier” side of agriculture. But, just as waste from septic tanks fertilizes the ground, so does manure. Natural fertilizer leads to flourishing fields of crops, which photosynthesize carbon dioxide and emit clear oxygen. Farming is important to the maintenance of our fresh, clean air and clear blue skies.
We need to share the road.
As the economy changes and suburbia encroaches on farmland, the small family farm out of our childhood fairy tales is no longer economically viable. Many farmers rent lots for planting, which means that equipment must be transported via road.
Farming is an industry that is tied to the land, so a farmer cannot pick up and move their business. As a result, farmers tend to be dedicated members of their community, and are often involved in improvement efforts.
Now is the perfect time to get involved with the agricultural side of our community, as farmers have more time outside of the planting and growing season. getting to know the Medina County Farm Bureau provides a hands-on opportunity to get involved, ask questions, and express concerns. For more information on upcoming events and what you can gain with a membership (and, no, you do not have to be a farmer to join!), visit MedinaFB.org.