The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has named the 2023 recipients of its Stewardship, Service, and Policy Leader awards.
Jeff Dean of Sandusky County received the Stewardship Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the cultivation of sustainable agriculture; Jeff Dickinson of Delaware County received the Service Award, which recognizes extraordinary service in support of sustainable agriculture; and Scott Myers of Wayne County was named the Policy Leader of the Year, which recognizes members whose actions have promoted effective policy work for OEFFA.
These awards were announced February 16-18 as part of OEFFA’s 44th annual conference in Newark, Ohio.
2023 Stewardship Award Winner—Jeff Dean
Almost 30 years ago, Jeff Dean transitioned his family’s 900-acre conventional farm in Bellevue, Ohio, to organic, a novel method at the time.
After ten years of farming, Dean had started to look into alternative crops and growing methods when a severe drought hit in the late 1980s. Many northern Ohio farmers’ livelihoods were impacted, and that tipped the scale for him. He joined OEFFA in 1991 and became certified organic in 1993.
“Originally, I heard about the premium that organic crops were bringing and so I looked into it, did a lot of studying, and I thought it was a better way to go. And I was hooked,” he said to Crain’s Cleveland Business.
To learn the logistics of being organic, Jeff talked to fellow farmers and attended farm tours, including those coordinated by OEFFA. OEFFA members Rex Spray and Dean McIlvaine, also organic grain farmers, became important mentors.
Now, Timberlane Farms grows mostly corn, soybeans, wheat, and clover, primarily selling to mills for chicken feed. They host farm tours and are active members of OEFFA’s Grain Growers Chapter, a group of which Jeff is a charter member.
Jeff has also been an active advocate representing Ohio and all grain farmers at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a federal advisory board that considers and makes recommendations on the production, handling, and processing of organic products. He has given testimony to the NOSB, not only urging strong organic standards, but robust enforcement as well.
“Jeff served with me on the OEFFA board and the policy committee,” said Steve Edwards, OEFFA board president and award presenter. “Jeff doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, we all listen.”
2023 Service Award Winner—Jeff Dickinson
When Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio, was founded in 1990, their first hire was Jeff Dickinson. He was studying for his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University then, and started to work part time at the nonprofit educational farm and nature preserve. When he completed his degree, he was hired as Stratford’s director and has been on staff ever since.
More than 30 years later, Stratford is a popular destination for school children and adults alike to learn about the natural world. The farm welcomes more than 12,000 visitors a year through hands-on learning, camps, and other environmental programming.
At the start, his work encapsulated everything from fundraising to lawn mowing. Through Dickinson’s direction, the educational programs have continuously grown in quality, and now a professional team of staff, interns, and volunteers make the nonprofit run year round.
“Who in agriculture has had a bigger impact with children?” said Timothy Van Meter, associate professor at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio (MTSO) and award presenter. “Knowing where their food came from, how systems work, why you have a pond, why you have animals, why you have all these holistic ways of growing and being better.”
Before joining Stratford, Dickinson gained skills in farm tour development and fundraising at the Innovative Farmers of Ohio, in on-farm research at OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), and in horticulture at Meadowcreek, Inc.
“What service [is this] when you get to spend your whole life doing the things you love to do?” Dickinson said.
2023 Policy Leader of the Year—Scott Myers
A third-generation farmer, Scott Myers operates Woodlyn Acres Farm, a 2,000-acre farm in Dalton, Ohio. He started farming full time with his father, Fred, in 2001, and has since grown Woodlyn Acres into a diverse farm with organic hay, oats, cereal rye, canola, corn, sunflowers, and more.
Myers farmed conventionally the first 15 years before transitioning to organic in 2016. He now utilizes many different soil health and conservation techniques, including no-till, cover crops, and companion crops. His focus is on producing high quality, nutrient-dense grains and hay that sustain and improve soil.
He is also an active educator and advocate in farming networks. Myers is active in the Ohio Soil Health Initiative, as well as many foundational OEFFA programs, such as the Grain Growers Chapter, the 2023 Farm Bill climate working group, and the crop insurance working group. He has informed OEFFA’s comments to the NOSB, and educated NOSB members informally from a farmer’s perspective.
“Scott is fired up and ready to go. You’ve got an idea? He’s up for it,” said Julia Barton, OEFFA organic policy specialist and award presenter. “He makes time to engage on these various issues that matter deeply to him, and he uses his voice and his position to advocate for change not just for himself, but for others.”
Recently, Myers was elected to the policy committee on the Organic Farmers Association. He has visited Washington D.C., voicing farm bill priorities in meetings with legislators.
“Let’s keep this going,” Myers said. “It’s really cool what has happened in the past four or five years with OEFFA, and there’s a real possibility for change, specifically with the farm bill and so many other things that are related to OEFFA and organic farming. Organic farming is the future.”
“I am continually amazed at the passion and commitment of OEFFA members to our shared vision of a sustainable, just, and resilient food and farm system,” said Rachel Tayse, OEFFA executive director. “I congratulate Jeff, Jeff, and Scott not only for their excellent contributions to the organization, but to the leadership and mentorship they offer to build future generations of sustainable and organic farmers.”
To nominate a sustainable agriculture leader for 2024’s awards, visit news.oeffa.org/awards.