Learning about farming and food with OREP

Twelve teachers from the Ohio Rural Educator Program (OREP) recently explored food science in an all-day workshop. OREP teachers are middle and high school teachers from rural Ohio schools involved in a year-long professional learning cohort. This cohort provides training, resources, and ongoing support to these teachers to help bring agriculture to their classrooms. The event on food science was the culminating event for the group that began exploring food production at the Farm Science Review in the fall. Lessons from Feed the World were incorporated into the program to help teachers learn more about agriculture.

The day began at the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen, a nonprofit commercial kitchen facility designed to assist entrepreneurial efforts and expand current food-related businesses. It is located in Northwest Ohio and managed by the Center for Innovation in Food Technology (CIFT).

CIFT’s Small Business Development Specialist Kareem Hammuda and NOCK Operations Manager Paula Ray from CIFT welcomed the group and provided a tour of the facility, demonstrating the bottling processing equipment available for entrepreneurs to utilize when wholesaling their products to retail markets.

Bill Hirzel from Hirzel Farms, a member of the board at NOCK, shared the history of Hirzel Farms and discussed food supply chain issues and prices. Hirzel continues his family legacy, started in 1923 in Northwest Ohio, with products under the name ‘Dei Fratelli’.

Before lunch, participants made ice cream while learning about misrepresentation of ingredient labeling such as corn syrup and gluten-free products.

At lunch the group heard from a panel of speakers that included Christina Ovall, senior scientist at Jones-Hamilton, a chemical manufacturing company; Nathan Eckel of Eckel Grain Farms and Ohio Soybean Council board member; and Gary Wilson, Hancock County farmer and Chairman of the Ohio Small Grains Checkoff Board.

The day concluded with a tour of VitaKraft Sun Seed, a pet food company, where teachers learned the ins and outs of warehouse storage and logistics necessary to continue packaging over 140 products for dogs, cats, gerbils, mice, rats and exotic birds. Other careers at VitaKraft include mechanics to keep the production line moving; veterinarian and nutritionists to determine the mixes of feed types to keep animals healthy; human resources personnel to hire new employees; and packers, technicians and forklift operators, to make sure the packaging is correct and the product is going to the right place.