COLUMBUS – Every day Dorothy Pelanda looks at her great-great-uncle’s portrait at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), reminding her to be humble, hard-working and to follow in his footsteps.
Her great-great-uncle, Gideon Liggett, served eight years (six as treasurer) on the Ohio Board of Agriculture (the precursor to ODA) in the early 1900s. And on Jan. 14, Pelanda followed in his footsteps and was sworn in as the 39th director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture by Gov. Mike DeWine. Pelanda is the first woman to serve as director in the department’s history.
“I bring to this job my good working relationship with Capitol Square so to speak,” said Pelanda, referring to her eight years as a legislator. Capitol Square refers to the Ohio Statehouse. “Our focus right now is the budget and I will argue with a passion for the things we need to do in our budget to make sure ODA is serving citizens of Ohio.”
Pelanda’s family members have been farmers since the 1800s. She lives on the small family farm on which she grew up in Union County. She served in the Ohio House of Representatives 2011-2019, serving on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Pelanda practiced law in private practice for nearly 30 years, representing hundreds of clients from Union County and the surrounding area. She is a graduate of Marysville High School, Miami University and the University of Akron School of Law.
“The most important thing is to recognize the humanness of what we’re doing. The most important job I will ever have is being a mother,” said Pelanda, emphasizing the many multi-generational farms in Ohio. Pelanda is married to Sam Gerhardstein and has three adult children.
In the future, Pelanda plans to travel throughout Ohio to “sit around kitchen tables and bring interested parties together in the spirit of negotiation.”
Tackling the issues
“We’ve inherited some critical issues,” said Pelanda, referring to water quality issue House Resolution 6 and others. Some significant issues Pelanda plans to tackle in 2019 include the meat industry, ride safety, industrial hemp and water quality.
She emphasized the importance of providing safe and clean food to Ohio families, adding, “We may be looking at a new meat processing facility.”
Pelanda also said she looks forward to working with Sen. Brian Hill on introducing legislation regarding hemp soon.
Regarding water quality issues in Lake Erie, Pelanda said there are new players with opens minds and expertise in relationship-building.
“Many of the things we will do will have results that we will not see, but we know are the right things to do. Loyalty only to the right solutions,” said Pelanda.
The director role is a two-year term limit, which Pelanda said limits the amount of change that can be done in two years. That’s why she said relationship-building is important.
“When you try to tackle a big issue, eat the elephant one bite at a time,” said Pelanda. “Term limits affect change in a two-year term. That’s where the relationships come into place, and those who will follow you.”
Her goal for young farmers is to help them understand the importance they have in Ohio’s future and become engaged statewide. Pelanda said she will promote some of the programs in existence now that focus on young farmers, encouraging farmers to become politically active and “empower them to help them know their voice matters and we need them at the table.”
She said that farmers becoming politically active in local organizations, such as Farm Bureau and Soil and Water Districts, is critical for legislators to truly understand what needs to be done. “Take on leadership roles so we can understand what your concerns are and how we can help you have the most successful business you can have,” said Pelanda.
“Farmers are the boots on the ground,” she said.
Food and agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Ohio, adding more than $124 billion to the economy each year. In addition to providing leadership for the agricultural industry, the Director of Agriculture administers numerous regulatory, food safety and consumer protection programs for the benefit of all Ohioans.