COMMENTARY

Paying tribute to a friend and colleague
Ben Stinner’s work as ‘dreamer and weaver’ in sustainable ag leaves a deep legacy

Posted January 6, 2005

For more information
Click here to view the announcement of Ben Stinner's memorial service on the Ohio State University Extension website.

To make a contribution, or to learn more about the Ben Stinner Endowment for Healthy Agroecosystems and Sustainable Communities, contact The Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, Ohio, 44691; tel. 330-287-1321.

Wooster, Ohio, December 11, 2004:Snowflakes drifted across the rhododendrons lining the walkway as throngs of colleagues and friends filtered in to the experiment station where Ben Stinner worked for 22 years. Benjamin R. Stinner, W.K. Kellogg Foundation-endowed chair in ecological management at Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, died Nov. 23, 2004, in an automobile accident in Wooster, Ohio. He was just 50 years old.

Ben was a professor of entomology at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and an international leader in agroecology and sustainable agriculture. He had a bachelor's degree in biology from Susquehanna University, a master's degree in biology with an emphasis on insect ecology from Bucknell University, and a doctoral degree in entomology and ecology from the University of Georgia. He was a member of Ohio State University Extension's Sustainable Agriculture Team and a co-organizer of and participant in Extension's On-Farm Research Program. Along with his wife, Deborah, also an agroecologist and the leader of OARDC's Organic Food and Farming Education and Research (OFFER) program, Ben worked on the ecology and economics of whole-farm systems, arthropod ecology, nutrient cycling, the role of organic matter in soil fertility, and the ecology of Amish farming. Many of us knew Ben through his work in the OARDC's Agroecosystems Management Program (AMP), an interdisciplinary project that brought together scientists and non-university stakeholders to develop practical management solutions for family farms.

At the memorial service we learned that Ben came from humble coal-mining territory near Lykens, Pennsylvania, in the Appalachian range. As a boy, he absorbed lessons in art, music and organic gardening from the women of his extended family. Those early experiences—that connection with the land—helped shape his life and encouraged him to pursue sustainable agriculture and agroecology as a career and avocation. His daughter, Kristina, described the fun-loving, quirky side of Ben that so many knew and loved. His son, Jed, who is studying environmental sciences, appeared alongside his father in many of the slides that were shown, the two together outdoors, enjoying the natural world.

Friend after friend—from deans of agriculture to farmers—shared stories of Ben, his love for “digging in the dirt” and his passion for linking science with practical application. Eulogy after eulogy portrayed Ben as a dreamer and a weaver—a person who combined the creativity to imagine new and better ways of doing things with the skill to bring together the often disparate worlds of academics, civil servants, and farmers. Overall, the service was a celebration of Ben's life—a life full of love for his family, for nature and for his work. “He is here,” Deb said. “He will continue to live through our work.” Deb asked the mournful gathering to continue Ben’s dream of a sustainable future for family farms across the nation. Already, just a few weeks since Ben’s untimely death, a Ben Stinner Endowment has been established and funds have been received to help perpetuate this vision.

Ben’s ashes will be scattered in Pennsylvania, where the hills and creeks and grouse that nurtured his early life will welcome him home. Ben will be remembered for his visionary leadership toward a new and much brighter future for agriculture in Ohio. He was a brilliant thinker, an inspiring mentor, a great friend, a devoted husband and father. Thank you, Ben.

May you rest in peace.

Kathleen Delate
ISU Associate Professor, Horticulture and Agronomy

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