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Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association picks new leadership, gets ready for 2023 Farm Bill

Rachel Tayse, the new executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
Rachel Tayse
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Courtesy
Rachel Tayse, the new executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, otherwise known as OEFFA, recently announced its new executive director.

The association prioritizes sustainable and organic agriculture, it holds agriculture conferences, certifies organic farms and serves as an advocacy institution for farming policy both at the state level and nationally.

Rachel Tayse will be taking over outgoing executive director Carol Goland.

Goland said she decided to “pass the torch” to the next leader after serving the organization in her role for nearly 20 years, according to a press release from OEFFA.

Tayse — who runs the Harmonious Homestead in Columbus — was already working for OEFFA as a program support and systems manager at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. She previously served as an OEFFA board member, as OEFFA's beginning farming program coordinator, and as an OEFFA-certified farm operator.

WYSO’s food reporter Alejandro Figueroa spoke with the new director, Rachel Tayse, about the organization's priorities for the upcoming year. 

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Rachel Tayse: OEFFA exists to support organic and sustainable farmers and those who use organic and sustainable farm products, which could be anyone who eats and lives and works in our area. Although we are the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, we actually work with a 12 state region and sometimes beyond that to influence national policy. And we envision a world in which there is fair, just clean food for everyone, and the environment exists to support that.

Alejandro Figueroa: And you know, as far as policy work goes, the Farm Bill is something that is going to be really big this year, what are some of the priorities for OFFAA there for this year?

Tayse: Yeah, so OEFFA has a robust policy platform and I would really refer people to our website for that. But I know we care about those organic integrity. That's one of the priorities, is making sure that the label, the federal label that we certify and other organizations certify really means something.

We would love to see, I know the policy program is working on issues within the Farm Bill, that we hope to remove some of the traditional barriers because the offices of the USDA have in the past marginalized particularly black farmers, but also indigenous and queer farmers. And so through cooperative agreements, the USDA often uses organizations like OEFFA to be an intermediary, and we advocate for more of that work to happen.

We also believe in fair and just food systems and want to see in the Farm Bill programs and funding for the kind of food system work that will reinvigorate the smaller and more localized and regional food systems that will keep us sustainable as a whole and resilience to things like the pandemic, where we saw real breakdowns in the food system.

Figueroa: Does OEFFA, or do you, feel in some way optimistic about where Ohio, the Ohio farming industry is headed? Like yes, there are these state and federal programs that are addressing some of these things. Soil erosion, nutrient management, water pollution. Do you think things are moving fast enough?

Tayse: I think there are more and more people who are aware, either through direct experience or through the stories and news reports and things that they read that we are really doing a lot of damage as a society to our own environment, which is what we have to live in.

I am hopeful when I see especially not just individuals, but businesses making choices that promote climate resilience and increase regional food system investments and things like that.

Figueroa: Why would you say this work and this advocacy and policy work matter? Especially to people who might not be in this industry at all?

Tayse: I think it comes back to the way that food is produced affects us all. And when there are too many farmers who are using unsustainable practices, it has the potential to contaminate our waterways and our air and remove the valuable soil that we have for future generations. And OEFFA wants to make sure that consumers have equitable access to the types of foods that they believe are grown in a way that is supportive of their values.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming