Program addresses incubator farm

HARTFORD – Area representatives from Presbyterian churches recently learned of plans to establish an incubator farm at Joseph Badger Meadows to help the hungry and impoverished in the area.

Incubator Farm Manager James Walawender shared JBM’s vision for the incubator farm as the newest mission project of Eastminster Presbytery. It will be developed with institutions of higher education and non-profits throughout the region, and has received funding from the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Walawender said the first phase of the farm includes 13 acres of corn.

Pastor Steve Fortenberry of Common Ground Church in North Lima said the church purchased a greenhouse for the JBM Farm.

“Our faith teaches us to provide care to others who are impoverished and hungry. Faith communities are doing good work for relief and responding to the hunger needs of many people who are socially disadvantaged,” Fortenberry said.

He said plans are to produce more food locally.

“Ohio is the sixth-most food insecure state. Youngstown is a very impoverished area where many get food from food banks,” Fortenberry said.

He said there will be collaboration with The Ohio State University and Lorain Community College to educate 10 to 15 students at JBM to learn how to grow and manage specialty crops such as berries, pumpkins and tomatoes.

Fortenbeery said those educated will include disabled and special needs adults who can earn a specialty crop certification. Training of students would be at the farm.

He said 80 percent of food banks are in churches which will be able to use the locally grown food.

Plans are to work with Mahoning Valley Hope Center, Fifth Sparrow, Lake to River Co-op, Mahoning Valley Rescue Mission and Lorain Community College, and OSU Agriculture Center.

“We have some of the best minds and institutions helping us to help those who are socially disadvantaged,” Fortenberry said.

He said the effort shows how people of faith can share resources to help provide opportunities for people they are trying to serve.

“I never thought as a church we would be involved in agriculture. We can make an incredible difference,” Fortenberry said.

Walawender, who serves as the farm incubator manager, said he grew up with an appreciation for agriculture and with his degree in environmental studies worked on a sustainability agriculture farm in Texas.

In January, Walawender connected with area farmers during their non-growing season and addressed organic farming.

He said plans are for JBM have 13 of 51 acres for growing corn and then transition to specialty crop vegetables, with future plans for livestock such as dairy cows, chickens and goats.

He said organic dairy farmers in Pennsylvania would be interested in cutting the grass at JBM for the hay.

Walawender said plans are to grow “fresh healthy produce year round at JBM and use this opportunity to draw interest to the camp programs and get campers interested in agriculture.”

Plans also are to keep part of JBM as a camp recreation center.

“This is a really significant project that will help support local economic development. It is a real encouragement for all of us,” Fortenberry said.