Member of Edible Communities
Issue No. 22
Celebrating Local Foods, Season by Season
THE GRO ISSUE GREAT RIVER ORGANICS THE FUTURE OF LOCAL AND ORGANIC FARMING IN OHIO FARMER-OWNED COOPERATIVES • CAMPING 101 • SHAGBARK TAMALES • HOLY GUACAMOLE HOMEGROWN HEROES • OHIO’S HEIRLOOM VEGETABLES • THE COMMON MILKWEED
Departments Letter from the Publisher
Agriculture in Aggregate
One Brick at a Time
Letter from the Editor Notable Edibles Local and In Season
Move over, middleman. these farmers are joining forces. By Gabrielle Langholtz
building a local, organic supply chain with Great river organics By Adam Welly, Photography by Catherine Murray
Policy Matters From the Kitchen Worth the Trip Edible Outdoors
In the Garden Edible Traditions
Why the farmers of Great river organics are true stewards of the land By Claire Hoppens, Photography by Catherine Murray
Locally Grown Investment Financing local, organic agriculture and its future sustainability By Nancy McKibben, Illustrations by Sharon Teuscher
Edible Wellness 18
From the Good Earth Advertiser Directory Last Seed Cover The farmers of the farmer-owned cooperative, Great River Organics, from left to right: Lisa and Ben Sippel of Sippel Family Farm; Becky Barnes of Dangling Carrot Farm; Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm; Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill Farm; Tim Patrick of Toad Hill Farm, Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm, and Todd and Heather Schriver of Rock Dove Farm. Photo by ÂŠ Catherine Murray, PhotokitChen.net
Photo by ÂŠ Catherine Murray, PhotokitChen.net
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letter from the Publisher
his is the first issue where we have chosen to have people on the cover. We have always wanted our covers to be beautiful and to reflect the season. When deciding on a cover photo the question we ask ourselves is: Is it coffee table worthy? This issue is.
edible Columbus Publisher & Editor in Chief
We made the decision to put the farmers who have started the Great River Organics farmer-owned cooperative (GRO co-op) on our cover because they are the reason we publish Edible Columbus. Our mission has always been to connect you with the farmers in our community. These organic farmers are doing hard, complex, and important work that benefits our community and our future access to locally grown organic food.
Tricia Wheeler Associate Publisher
Alexandria Misch Managing Editor & Editor
Colleen Leonardi Contributing Editor
Jaime Moore Recipe Editor
Organic farming is both a simple and a very complex subject. Simple in that if we imagine farming being done in the traditional way by our early ancestors it would be similar to organic principles being applied today—crop rotation, natural inputs, a system of animals and plants benefiting from one another, respect for the land and soil, and a sense of community where people shared their knowledge and passed down their expertise from generation to generation.
Sarah Lagrotteria Copy Editors
Doug Adrianson • Susanna Cantor Design
Melissa Petersen Organic farming is complex today because the landscape and the stakes have changed. In this issue, we will touch on many of the complexities, from financing a farm and its growth (see page 54) to how to create a system that allows organic farms to grow and succeed in today’s marketplace. How do we ensure that organic farmers have the support they need to sustain their farms so they can pass on their knowledge to the next generation of farmers? I think here in Ohio the answer begins with the GRO coop—a group of very intelligent, committed farmers, who are working together to build a sustainable model for the future growth of organic farming. The questions we need to ask ourselves are do we want chemical-free food to be available to our grandchildren and their grandchildren? Do we care about the soil, our land, and our food system? If so, we all need to get involved in helping to further the movement. I have asked the farmers featured in this issue what would help them. Their answer: Commitments. Up-front commitments from families and individuals who would commit to buying a CSA, and institutional buyers, like hospitals and colleges, who would commit to buying quantities of produce before it is grown. Those commitments allow the farmers to plan ahead. When the farmers need financing, showing the bank customer commitments is really important. So, a simple answer is they need our commitment. On our last page we have outlined a list of helpful ways to get involved. I hope your summer is full of joy and happiness.
Tricia Wheeler PS: We’d love to connect with you online at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and our website. Stop by and let us know what you’re savoring in our local food community!
“an organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system that has the integrity, the independence, and the benign dependence of an organism.”
—Wendell Berry, “The Gift of Good Land”
Sarah Maggied Contributors
Michelle Ajamian • Bryn Bird Amy Bodiker • Holly Davis • Julia Flint Julie France • Molly Hays • Claire Hoppens Gabrielle Langholtz • Colleen Leonardi Nancy McKibben • Alexandria Misch Catherine Murray • Robin Oatts Sharon Teuscher • Carole Topalian Susan Vance • Stephanie Wapner Adam Welly • Teresa Woodard Contact Us
P.O. Box 21-8376, Columbus, Ohio 43221 email@example.com ediblecolumbus.com Edible Columbus
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Edible Columbus is published quarterly and distributed throughout Central Ohio. Subscription rate is $25 annually. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used without written permission from the publisher. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies and notify us. Thank you.
he irony of local, organic food is that it used to be available to everyone, and now it’s practically for the privileged few. Before it was a thing it was a way. Now, local, organic food sales account for less than 5% of total U.S. food sales, and while organic food is in demand, the farmers don’t have the land, capital, supply, or infrastructure to catch up with growing needs.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
More people want local, organic food, I think, because instinctively they know it tastes better, nourishes them closer to the bone, and is better for the planet. As Michelle Ajamian says of Shagbark Seed & Mill’s heirloom corn (page 16), “The reason these traditional foods are so important is that they tie the crop to the cuisine, and traditional cuisine is such because it developed around crop rotations, seasonality, and viewing food as medicine, a delicious medicine.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Summertime in Ohio is a chance to see and taste how this delicious medicine called local, organic food is created. And that’s why we devoted this issue to a local, certified organic farmer-owned cooperative that is dedicated to nourishing Ohio for the long-haul—Great River Organics (GRO). Our special GRO section (page 33) includes an investigation into farmer-owned cooperatives across the country by Edible Manhattan editor and author Gabrielle Langholtz. Gabrielle’s article sets the stage for what’s possible here in Ohio, making the case for why Adam Welly, Jaime Moore, and the farmers of GRO have every right to dream big. As Adam writes (page 38), GRO is centered on how we can “build new institutions of local food, centered on transparency and an honest effort to leave our farms in a more pristine state than when we started.” This commitment to the health and quality of our food and soil is what makes organic farmers some of the last political activists standing. The British Journal of Nutrition recently published a comprehensive study by European researchers and Charles Benbrook of Washington State University, demonstrating that organic food offers 20% to 40% more antioxidants than industrialized food and fewer amounts of chemical pesticides and toxic metals. If organic food offers this kind of well-being to our body,
what does it offer to our local soil and the planet Earth? Dr. Matt Kleinhenz, professor at The Ohio State University’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, shares his insights (page 60), and Amy Bodiker’s article (page 59) speaks to how “the health sector has emerged in recent years as an important driver in the growth of local food production.” Yet Ohio has some work to do. To get this very real and nourishing sustenance into the hands of more folks conversations need to be had and the humanity of what it means to eat well needs to be revived. And this is a part of GRO’s mission. As Jaime Moore says, “We can meet your needs, you just gotta tell us what they are.” So I ask: How can we as citizens now be in conversation with the farmers who have invested their hearts and souls into being in conversation with the land that serves all of us? Check out our last article (page 64) as to how you can take action. This issue also offers some choice food destinations in Athens and the region of Appalachia for your annual road trip (page 23), as well as a guide to first-time campers and our best picks for camping sites throughout Ohio (page 2). I love our two stories about Hayden Bowlin and Te’Lario Watkins (page 8). They know what the GRO farmers know—the pleasure and practice of putting their hands in the dirt and in the words of Te’Lario watching “things grow big!” And Bryn Bird’s article about Homegrown Heroes, a program allowing veterans to return to the land to farm, is a real reminder of what this time of year inspires—freedom. And that’s what this issue is about—offering information so you have the freedom to choose when and how you want to invest in local, organic farms and foods now and in the future. I want to thank Adam, Jaime, and all the farmers at GRO for their commitment to us. It is a beautiful, life-sustaining bond. In gratitude,
Photo by © Sarah Warda, SarahWarda.CoM
letter from the editor
Hayden’s Homegrown Growing salsa and sales
lenty of teens have summer jobs: dog-walking, babysitting, lawn mowing. Then there’s hard-working Hayden Bowlin, 14-yearold owner of Hayden’s Homegrown. This summer marks the fourth year the Powell eighth grader will grow, assemble, and sell his eponymous salsa kits. Hayden’s salsa story begins with a prologue when, at age 10, his family’s garden produced a surfeit of tomatoes and onions. At his mom’s suggestion, Hayden shared the surplus with neighbors. They offered him money; he demurred. But, a business plan was born. The following summer, Hayden planted four tomato plants, “a couple peppers, and a bunch of onions:” the holy salsa trinity. That July, he launched Hayden’s Homegrown, packaging his vegetables with homemade garlic sauce into handsome $5 salsa kits, which he sold at Powell’s Farmers Market. That first year, he sold 10 to 15 kits each Saturday, selling out most weeks. He’d found his summer job. It helps that Hayden loves growing things, a passion he traces to his family. He credits his green thumb to many gardening mentors: his mom, maternal grandparents, paternal grandmother. And he reflects warmly on his earliest years, at his family’s former two-acre Hilliard home. “My mom has pictures of me when I was 3, picking radishes; it was my favorite thing. I could just go along, playing in the yard, and pick a carrot, or a tomato, and eat it.”
does it all. Well, almost all. “I like to sleep in,” he admits, “so my mom likes to help water in the morning.” Indeed. Still, good gardeners don’t always good businessmen make. Hayden, notably, enjoys both. Staffing a market stand early every Saturday is worlds away from weeding rows. And yet, Hayden reports, “People really enjoy talking to me, and I really enjoy talking to them!” Even when, say, it’s pouring down rain? “It’s still fun!” He’s a natural. Fun in part, no doubt, due to strong sales, which are in turn due to Hayden’s savvy marketing. Tomatoes aren’t exactly scarce at Ohio markets, come midsummer. But by packaging his wares in salsa kits, with that signature zesty lime-garlic sauce bonus, Hayden brings serious value-added, plus huge entertainment, to the equation. His customers include grandparents and grandkids; people hosting parties; and “a lot of parents, because it’s just fun and easy and you can’t mess it up.” Five dollars rarely deliver so much. So what’s next for this 14-year-old entrepreneur? With weekly sales of 20 to 25 kits, Hayden’s extending his season to eight weeks. He’s also “aiming to add bruschetta kits this year,” a natural line extension. Also? He’d like to see his kits at local-area Whole Foods. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But so is a 4-yearold salsa kit company, owned by a 14-year-old. In other words: keep your eyes peeled. Look for Hayden’s Homegrown from early-to-mid July (when the tomatoes come
Eleven years on, Hayden speaks with a gardener’s attentive curiosity, about his current Powell plot (“there are no big trees, so it gets good, full sunlight”), and about his latest experimental crops, like rhubarb and loofah. From starts to weeding—”my least favorite part!”—to harvesting, Hayden
in), through early September, at the Powell Farmers Market Saturdays, from 9am to Noon. The market is located in the parking lot of 240 N. Liberty St., Powell. To learn more call Hayden at 614-889-7555.
—By Molly Hays, Photography by Robin Oatts
The (Mini) Mushroom Maestro Te’Lario Watkins II and his homemade mushroom farm
how a young child a seed’s magic, and you can expect surprise, typically; awe, even; a budding gardener, if you’re lucky. But if you’re 7year-old Te’Lario Watkins II’s family? Buckle up, because before you know it, you may find yourself with a mushroom farm where your spare room once was, plus summer weekends suddenly set aside for mushroom sales.
Young Te’Lario’s growing journey began with a Cub Scout project last spring, which set him up with his first two seedlings: one catnip, one basil. It was love at first plant. Pride and enthusiasm fill his voice, as he enumerates each step of his seeds’ care: “I watered them. I kept them in my guest room. I used a grow light.” Water, shelter, light: the small, steady, vital attentions of gardener and crop, caregiver and charge. With a Columbus winter on the way, and a longing to foster their son’s new passion, Te’Lario’s family hit on mushrooms, which could be grown entirely indoors. Beginning with a boxed kit from Back to the Roots, Te’Lario tended his new crop, spraying it twice daily, watching, waiting, until finally, finally, they were ready. Two weeks—“a long time!”—after the kit arrived, Te’Lario harvested his first oyster mushrooms. Which, for the record, he loves to eat, in pasta alfredo. And on pizza. Naturally. Te’Lario was hooked. He soon became a Junior Brand Ambassador for Back to the Roots, a childcentered role for which he interviewed with the company’s co-founder, via Skype. As an ambassador, Te’Lario sold three kits; wears his Back to the Roots T-shirt with pride; and shares his mushroom-growing experience with peers and grown-ups, alike. Many kids would’ve stopped there. Not Te’Lario Watkins II. He was just getting started. 10
This spring, Te’Lario and his family converted their guest room into a minimushroom farm, erecting shelving, installing grow lights, and embarking on five different mushroom crops: shiitake, oyster, golden, pearl, and blue. This new, substantial mushroom endeavor is no kit. Te’Lario and his parents begin by prepping the mushroom’s growth medium, straw, which must be pulled from the bale; cut into two-inch lengths; boiled for two hours to sterilize; carefully cooled to precise temperatures; and finally, packed into baskets, where it’s inoculated with mushroom spawn. “He wanted to do it, so we went full throttle,” says LaVanya Watkins, Te’Lario’s mother, in a shining example of maternal understatement and support. Three weeks of misting and monitoring later, the mushrooms are mature and ready to harvest. And what will Te’Lario do with his bounty? Learn to grow something else, still: a small business. He and his family will market his fresh, homegrown mushrooms at the Easton Farmers Market on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm on June 4, 11, 25; July 9, 23; August 6 and in May through September every second and fourth Saturday from 11am to 2pm at the 400 West Ridge Market. And what lies ahead for this mini-mushroom mogul? At 7, only time will tell. Though when asked what he loves best about growing things, Te’Lario’s answer speaks volumes, and suits farming and sales, alike: “I love to watch things grow big!” Learn more about Te’Lario and his mushroom farm at tigermushroomfarms.com.
—By Molly Hays, Photography by Robin Oatts
Organic Means Non-GMO T
here are so many good reasons to support certified organically grown food, especially when it comes from your local farmer. But did you know that certified organic food is also nonGMO? When you purchase 100% certified organic products you can rest assured that the broccoli, kale, carrots, or beets you’re taking home were raised without the use of genetically modified organisms.
While the monarch butterfly on the non-GMO label is sweet, it doesn’t guarantee your product is farmed with organic standards in mind. As Renee Hunt, Program Director at the Ohio Ecological Food & Farming Association (OEFFA), says, “GMOs have never been allowed in organic. The irony is that food labeled as nonGMO can be raised with synthetic pesticides and without regard to its environmental impact or treatment of animals. Organic is non-GMO and so much more.”
So look for the certified organic label when you shop to make sure you’re getting nonGMO and organic food all in one. Be curious of products or producers who use the term “organically grown” but don’t carry the label; it usually means they’re not certified organic. Ask questions of them to find out where they are in their organic certification process. “In the absence of mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the organic label—the gold standard in eco-conscious labels—is the best way to identify non-GMO food,” says Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator at OEFFA. “Organic is non-GMO and more. Not only are organic farmers prohibited from using GMO seed or feed, but organic farming also emphasizes soil health, protects natural resources, restricts the use of synthetic chemicals, and provides healthier food. Moreover, the organic label is highly verified and organic farmers undergo a rigorous annual certification process.” —Colleen Leonardi
local and in season
What’s In Season* Early Harvest: June Fruits: black, Purple, and red raspberries; Strawberries; Gooseberries Vegetables: broccoli; Green Peas; asparagus; Lettuces and Greens; rhubarb
Peak Harvest: July to August edible Flowers Fruits: black, Purple, and red raspberries; everbearing Strawberries; blackberries; Gooseberries; Peaches; Currants; tomatoes; Cantaloupe Vegetables: Green Peas; Sweet Corn; bell, hot, and Sweet Peppers; Cucumbers; eggplant; Carrots; Garlic; Leeks; okra; Lettuces and Greens; Potatoes
Late Harvest: August to Early September edible Flowers Fruits: apples; everbearing Strawberries; Fall raspberries; blackberries; Peaches; Grapes; tomatoes; Cantaloupe; Watermelon
* Editor’s Note: Make some time at the farmers market to talk to your farmer and find out what’s growing this summer, and what’s not. be flexible and learn what’s in abundance this summer from the farmer who grows your food.
Photo by CaroLe toPaLian
Vegetables: Sweet Corn; bell, hot, and Sweet Peppers; eggplant; Carrots; Garlic; Leeks; okra; Lettuces and Greens; Potatoes
the seasoned farmhouse the Seasoned Farmhouse, created by Chef tricia Wheeler, is a recreational cooking school, learning garden, cookbook library, specialty culinary boutique, and private event space located in Clintonville. the year-round cookery, gardening, and educational programming celebrates seasonal ingredients from the bountiful farms and artisan producers throughout ohio. the school’s changing rosters of instructors come from near and far to share their craft and their passions. We believe there is nothing more rewarding than cooking for those you love. the Seasoned Farmhouse is a place to learn and connect with our food and our community. the Seasoned Farmhouse is also available for private events from corporate team-building to special dinner events with family and friends. our space is designed for groups to cook together, to dine together and to gather for private cooking and gardening demonstrations. We hope you will join us for classes at The Seasoned Farmhouse. For full class descriptions, dates and times, and more information please visit theseasonedfarmhouse.com.
Summer Highlights at The Seasoned Farmhouse Fresh from the Beach Crabmeat Chef tricia Wheeler will cook with fresh crabmeat delivered from the Carolinas. enjoy the flavors of lump crab cakes, deviled crab salad, crab stack with salsa, and a special key lime dessert.
Homemade Dressings for Pasta, Potato, and Grain Salads Chef tricia has the essential technique to master your summer salad dressings—a must-have class for your picnics and events.
Summer Fish experience the summer flavors and techniques for cooking Chef tricia’s favorite fish from ian holmes, founder of Coastal Local, featuring tricia’s special shrimp ceviche and a few other fresh-caught surprises. Pop-up Dinner with Chef Joshua from Veritas Restaurant in Delaware, Ohio details on the website.
Make the Most of Mint explore the many uses for mint in salsas, savory salads, and main courses.
Small-Batch Canning with Chutneys and Relishes Chef Sara bir has mastered the art of small-batch canning delicious relishes and chutneys using summer produce. Join her for this hands-on class.
Baking Bread Series (classes will be offered individually) Learn the tried-andtrue recipes and techniques of professional bread-maker Sarah black. each class will introduce a new bread type, including baguettes, focaccia, ciabatta, and cast iron skillet breads.
Authentic Louisiana Jambalaya From the bayous of north Louisiana, antonio taylor cooks up his authentic chicken and sausage jambalaya, fried green tomatoes, and a homemade bread pudding with rum caramel sauce.
Ohio Sweet Corn & Heirloom Tomato Tasting Chef tricia slices up her favorite heirloom tomatoes from Jorgensen Farms and pairs them with ohio sweet corn.
Cooking from The Farmhouse Garden Pick from the garden and prepare a medley of vegetarian dishes with herbs and vegetables as Chef tricia introduces techniques for spontaneous cooking with what is in season and how to preserve from your garden.
Summer Fruit Desserts Pies, tarts, a rustic crostata, a crumble, a skillet clafoutis—Chef Sarah Lagrotteria will cook up these summer fruit desserts and more. don’t miss this opportunity to create some homemade sweets this summer.
A Southern-Style Dinner Chef tricia Wheeler and Chef Sarah Lagrotteria serve a four-course Southern Meal, with dishes like grilled peaches, onion and bacon salad, Southern-style buttermilk fried chicken with corn pudding and peach shortcakes.
Summer Salads Fall in love with your salad bowl with farmhouse garden lettuces, source vegetables, fruit, and proteins from local farms, grilled fruits and complimentary dressings.
Wine and Brine: Water Kefir Join Janine harris-degitz for an intimate evening of wine, local cheese, honey, local bread, and the art of making your own water kefir.
Cake Decorating damaris oldfield knows a thing or two about decorating cakes. in this hands-on class students take turns at cutting, filling, and icing a cake smoothly and beautifully. Pasta Workshop Chef tom hughes introduces the history and purpose of pasta shapes. know which shapes should be paired with which sauces and learn techniques for orecchiette, penne, and fusilli pasta. Clintonville Farmers Market Lynne Genter leads a tour of the Clintonville farmers market. eggplant and watermelon will be highlighted as you prepare watermelon salad, eggplant sandwiches, and watermelon sorbet back at the Farmhouse. Tailgate 101 Join Chef anton thurn of thurn’s Specialty Meats as he treats you to the art of tailgating that would make any buckeye proud. Farm-to-Plate Ginger Join an ohio-based ginger farmer and learn the many uses of ginger in cocktails and dressings with seasonal vegetables and ohio-raised Pork. Discover Pawpaws: Ohio’s Foraged Fruit Gem ohio’s woods are lush with pawpaws and this forgotten fruit is making a comeback. Join us for a demonstration on how to cook with them.
Homegrown Heroes How the USDA is building bridges for America’s veterans to continue farming by bryn bird
ach summer American flags adorn paper plates filled with local sweet corn, watermelons, and hamburgers. Summertime memories are packed with Memorial Day cookouts and 4th of July festivals. These get-togethers with family and friends celebrate the freedom we Americans so cherish, and honor those patriots who sacrificed to defend it. In past, we saluted our veterans in the community with parades, now the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) looks to salute those veterans growing your summertime favorites. Rural America has a long history of serving our country in both agriculture and defense. While only 17% of the population live in rural America, more than 44% of military recruits are from rural communities. Both urban and rural veterans returning from service often find solace in the quiet and the tranquil countryside. For some, farming is the perfect transition when they return home.
In the past, when veterans went to Veteran Affairs (VA) for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services there were no programs in agriculture. Since the end of World War II, veteran services centered in urban communities with services and opportunities encouraging the migration of veterans to cities. It all changed, in 2008, when a group of veterans formed the Farmer Veterans Coalition (FVC) and showcased to both the VA and the USDA how careers in food and agriculture are often a perfect bridge for them. In 2014 the Farm Bill included historic language, defining a veteran farmer as a farmer who has served in the Armed Forces and not operated a farm for more than 10 years. This distinct classification allows for veterans to receive federal assistance from the USDA that includes conservation programs, direct operating loans, and allocates $9 million annually in competitive grants to organizations providing training, edu-
cation, outreach, and technical assistance to veteran farmers.
“Smelly boots are also just a central part of life in both jobs.”
One of the most creative veteran farmer programs includes the Transition Incentive Program (TIP). The TIP allows retiring farmers with land in The Conservation Reserve Program to sell or lease to veteran farmers and be eligible for additional payments. This ensures land transitioning out of CRP is made available to new farmers while ensuring it is farmed or grazed in a sustainable manner.
Rick believes USDA’s programs to assist veterans begin faming are complimentary to services already provided by the VA. While most self-employed farmers struggle with health insurance, veterans are eligible for VA health insurance. Many veterans may receive monthly retirement or disability payments from the VA. These added incomes offset the limited profitability of starting a farm.
“USDA has stepped up and is eager to partner with the VA by supporting veterans transitioning to farming” says Marine Corps Captain Guy Zierk. Guy is with the Wounded Warrior Regiment and stationed in Central Ohio. His mission is to help disabled veterans transition into civilian life. He sees the USDA’s work as win-win for both veterans and rural America. “Military members are extensively trained in operational planning for every part of a mission. These skills directly transfer to farming and are a critical element in creating a profitable farm business in rural Ohio.”
“For me working outdoors, doing something different every day, doing nothing but creating life and doing good for the world has been healing and purposeful,” says Rick. In addition to these programs, the USDA is currently committed to four main goals for veteran farmers. The “Homegrown by Heroes” label, the creation of a veteran farmer app, a 25% increase in veteran hires within the USDA, and ensuring all county extension officers are educated on how to support transitioning military members. Support farmer veterans, like Rick, through the
Rick Barnett is an Army veteran currently working on my brother’s farm, Bird’s Haven. “This is the first job I have had since leaving the military in 1995 where I have yet to wake up and not want to go to work.” Rick has had several different careers since serving in Somalia and Haiti. He began working in agriculture two years ago.
Farmer Veteran Coalition. Visit farmvetco.org to share this program with a veteran you know. Visit ediblecolumbus.com for a complete list of Ohio farms that have been certified “Homegrown by Heroes.”
Bryn Bird is a farm girl hailing from a dirt road outside Granville, ohio. She grew up raising live-
“It simply utilizes every aspect of my military training and uses it for good. We were trained in planning, construction, engineering, and overcoming weather conditions. Often we were required to use whatever tools were available to get the job done—something that is required on a daily basis in farming.” Rick then laughs,
stock and produce on her family’s farm, bird’s haven. She holds a master’s degree in public health from George Washington university and is now empowering the rural lifestyle through her work with the Canal Market district in newark, ohio, and serving on the board of directors for the ohio ecological Farm and Food association.
PhotoS CourteSy oF MiCheLLe aJaMian
from the kitchen
The Culture of Corn Shagbark Seed and Mill’s journey to make tortillas and tamales by Colleen Leonardi
“the reason these traditional foods are so important is that they tie the crop to the cuisine, and traditional cuisine is such because it developed around crop rotations, seasonality, and viewing food as medicine, a delicious medicine,” says Michelle Ajamian, co-owner of Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. with Brandon Jaeger in Athens, Ohio. We’re all cooling off at Casa Nueva, waiting for tacos made with Michelle and Brandon’s new line of corn tortillas, created from the same Ohio-grown certified organic corn that is the backbone of the famous Shagbark corn chip. Shagbark currently has 140 acres of certified organic crop in production in Ohio, most of which will yield 280,000 pounds of corn this year (along with pinto and black beans, buckwheat, spelt, and heirloom popcorn). According to Michelle, while there are 80 million acres of corn being grown in the United States, only 2% of that acreage is organic. Michelle and Brandon’s business make up a nice piece of the Midwest pie of organic corn production. So it’s with much love and rigor that Michelle and Brandon recently turned their attention to making corn tortillas available to their Ohio market. And it’s a partnership of passion with another local business. The tortillas would not
Top left: Brandon Jaeger of Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. in El Naranjo, Mexico, learning how to make traditional tamales and tortillas with the Paz family.
be possible without Koki’s Tortillas on East Sullivant Avenue. Michelle knew she wanted a producer who was as close to the source of tortilla production as possible. Koki’s is run by the Paz family, namely Aveleno, who came from Mexico to America at the age of 16 and traveled all over the country—California, Texas, Michigan, and Florida—learning the trade of tortillas before landing in Columbus. “It’s about peasant food,” Michelle says as we talk about the kind of tortillas Shagbark and Koki’s produce. She tells me the story of Chef Thomas Smith at The Worthington Inn and how he handed one of Shagbark’s tortillas to his line cook. The cook took the tortilla in hand, held it up to his nose, breathed deeply the scent of the soft circle, and with eyes aglow, indicative of a longing for his land and people, said, “MEXICO!” The flavor of the tortillas affirms this timeless craving. The tacos at Casa are hearty, nourishing, and grounding. They’re the kind of tacos I could eat every day as a staple, and not simply because of Casa’s culinary coolness—it’s the stamp of Shagbark’s corn. And this brings us to why these traditional foods, made the traditional way, are so important—they keep us healthy. Authentic corn tortillas are made with masa, corn that is soaked in water and rock lime, a process known as nixtamalization. “It’s an extreme alkalinity of lime,” says Brandon, “that unlocks the niacin, which is otherwise unavailable and a difficult-to-get nutrient. It also makes the corn more
digestible.” Shagbark tortillas and tortilla chips are made from corn that’s 100% nixtamalized. Corn has a long history of being brought from America to communities around the world without transferring the “culture with the crop.” Michelle talks of peasants in Italy who, when corn was brought to the region, were given corn to live on, which they ground into polenta. Living on polenta led to “maize sickness,” even death, because the unprocessed corn created a niacin deficiency in them—a disease known as pellagra. There are stories, too, of how people in the South after the Civil War got sick and died trying to survive on grits. In both cases, people skipped the step of soaking the corn—the nixtamalization process—and went right to eating unprocessed ground corn. To fully understand this necessary process, and the culture from which it was born, Brandon and Michelle traveled to El Naranjo, Mexico, to visit the Paz family and make tamales and tortillas with them. “We could tell that the Paz family was appreciative because we were interested in all aspects of their food traditions. At home, we eat tortillas and beans every day. We love that food,” says Michelle. After a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride through the mountains of Mexico, Michele and Brandon arrived at the Paz family residence. Aveleno’s sisters led the process of cooking the masa, and the whole family participated in spreading the dough over cornhusks and banana leaves, so the tamales could be cooked over a backyard fire.
Michelle and Brandon visited the river with Aveleno where they imagined native people long ago washed their corn, and looking down through its depths witnessed a blue-green color in the water they’d never seen before. Aveleno said, “Brandon, do you see the color of the water?” Michelle smiles as she remembers how child-like he was, encouraging Brandon to take it all in, and Brandon talks of how the water was rich with the lime from the limestone in that region.
about the process of tortillas and tamales and the culture of corn. For now, we get the benefit of their journey in Shagbark’s corn tortillas found at local, independent restaurants like Skillet, Acre, The Worthington Inn, and, in Athens, Casa Nueva and Sol, and soon to be sold in markets throughout Central Ohio.
Visit ediblecolumbus.com for a step-by-step lesson in making tamales.
Colleen Leonardi is a writer, teacher, choreographer, and editor of Edible
summer she plans on visiting Michelle and brandon to cook in their kitchen and share stories. her favorite summertime memory is savoring blue-
And we also get Michelle’s recipe for tamales— some summertime fun for the soul.
berry pie with her brother while gazing out on the mountains of Montana.
“I’d love to go there for weeks,” says Michelle, and they’ll most likely return soon to learn more
Michelle Ajamian making homemade tamales
Shagbark Tamales By Michelle Ajamian 2½ pounds of Shagbark fresh masa ¾ cup lard or coconut oil ½ cup veggie or pork stock
Soak cornhusks in warm water for 30 minutes until pliable. take four husks and make long strips you will use to tie tamales. Mix masa with spices, broth, and fat until it has the consistency of cookie dough. Lay out husks on a towel and pat dry.
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, cumin, and chili powder 2 teaspoons salt
using a wooden spoon, hold a husk in your hand and spread a spoonful of dough on the husk, leaving clear the 1–2 inches of the top and bottom and ½ inch on the sides. (you don’t have to be precise; you just want room to roll and fold and tie.)
Filling 3 cups of one or combination of sautéed
add a few teaspoons of your filling down the center of the dough. Fill the bottom of the husk, then roll the tamale, and use a bit of husk to tie the top.
vegetables, pulled seasoned pork, fresh corn, green chilies
When you are finished filling all the tamales, stand up in a steamer and steam for 40 minutes.
1 cup of grated cheese 32 corn husks, plus a few to cut into strips for tying tamales
you may alternatively make a dessert tamale by using sweetener and fruit with coconut oil and cinnamon or other spices that go well with fruit.
worth the trip
Holy Guacamole H Hungry? Let’s taco ’bout it
oly Guacamole’s inside-of-an-avocado-colored food cart sits at the back of an empty gravel lot along the main road through The Plains, Ohio. From the road, a large vertical banner announces to the passing traffic, “TACOS HERE.” I’m standing next to the cart when a passing mini-van’s horn honks and a passenger waves out the window.
by Julia Flint • Photography by Sarah Warda Rudy Ramirez, Evelyn Nagy, and their son, Alexandro, each wave back. It’s one of Rudy’s regular customers, Evelyn tells me. Evelyn has met with me to talk about Holy Guacamole, though she says the business truly belongs to Rudy. Four years ago, the couple bought the former hot-dog cart with money loaned to them by friends. Evelyn has continued to work full-time as a case-manager. While both she and Alexandro are likely to lend a hand at special events, it’s Rudy who operates Holy Guacamole day-to-day. Alexandro climbs up and sits on the hood of his father’s truck. He and Evelyn answer my questions while Rudy steps away to help a customer. Alexandro, now 11, tells me that he is attempting to learn how to cook, and that he likes to help his mom and dad in the garden picking tomatoes, except that he also has a little bit of a fear of getting dirty. Evelyn shares that Alexandro was a big influence on her and Rudy’s decision to start Holy Guacamole. With the addition of a beautiful baby boy to the family, Evelyn tells me, she and Rudy needed to keep working and raise their child. The food cart, where Rudy is his own boss and sets his own hours, allows them to do both. Once a center of activity for the Adena Indians, The Plains, Ohio, is home to about 3,000 people today. At least two Adena mounds still exist in the area, sharing the landscape with the amenities of modern culture, including a McDonalds, Subway, several family-owned restaurants, and the Holy Guacamole food cart. The cart is open in the same gravel lot every Monday through Friday, and occasionally on Saturday. The official hours are 11am– 6pm, though the menu informs patrons that these times fluctuate with the weather, and I’m sure with whatever else life throws Rudy’s way. With a restaurant on wheels, Rudy is able to go where called. Once a week Rudy says he drives the cart to the East State Street Technology Park in Athens, Ohio, during the lunch hour. Rudy might also set up at Shade Winery, where guests can enjoy a taco or tamale with a glass of locally made wine. Rudy lists a few additional dates when he’ll be selling food; he can’t name all the events, but he knows the location and when to show up. Evelyn says that now people are calling them for work, not the other way around, and she and Rudy and Alexandro are all happy that the business is growing. Holy Guacamole’s menu has the essentials of a rural Ohio Mexican restaurant, though Evelyn tells me they made a conscious decision to avoid labeling the food as exclusively “Mexican.” Rudy is originally from Guatemala. In addition to the pork burrito, which Rudy tells me is his most popular dish, the cart’s menu includes tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, and salads. Other items, like Rudy’s homemade tamales, are available as specials. Beef
the secret to rudy’s cooking, he tells me, is that all of his sauces, the verde, rojo, mole and habanero, are homemade. rudy makes his own pico de gallo and guacamole as well. tongue, Rudy says, is a big hit when he has it. Other days he serves up fish tacos, or chorizo—a spicy pork sausage. The secret to Rudy’s cooking, he tells me, is that all of his sauces, the verde, rojo, mole and habanero, are homemade. Rudy makes his own pico de gallo and guacamole as well. And while Holy Guacamole’s menu stays the same throughout the year, the best time to dine is absolutely in the summer months when fresh produce is readily available locally. Evelyn hands me a tri-fold for the Chesterhill Produce Auction, where Rudy drives to purchase tomatoes, onions, and peppers when they are in season. She says they also grow some of the produce and herbs themselves, though it’s far less than what the business requires. Located in neighboring Morgan County, the Chesterhill Produce Auction provides Rudy with an alternative to buying food from what he simply refers to as “the truck.” Truck tomatoes, in the winter months, are likely to have arrived at Rudy’s cart from as far away as Mexico or Guatemala. But May through October, just outside of Chesterhill, Rudy and others bid on locally grown produce lots at wholesale prices. Managed by the member-based development organization, Rural Action, the Chesterhill Produce Auction connects regional growers with wholesale buyers such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, and in recent years, a growing number of food carts. Rural Action has been instrumental in the cultivation of a vibrant and healthy local food economy in Southeast Ohio. Another key organization, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, or ACEnet. ACEnet runs a shared-use commercial kitchen incubator facility in Athens, where Rudy and more than 100 additional tenants cook, bake, bottle, and manufacture an impressive variety of food products that are sold locally, regionally, and internationally. A typical day for Rudy starts at 6am inside the commercial kitchen facility at ACEnet; all of Rudy’s food prep happens here. And when the cart closes, Rudy returns to ACEnet with whatever leftovers he has and whatever dishes need to be washed. Although using ACEnet’s kitchen adds several miles to his daily commute, Rudy tells me that Holy Guacamole couldn’t operate without them. It would be impossible for Rudy to prepare everything he needed for his day inside of the cart, where there is barely enough space for the two of us to stand. Rudy says that he can only keep enough food on hand for three to five hours’ worth of taco, fajita, and burrito sales, and that sometimes he returns to ACEnet between lunch and dinner rushes to resupply.
Rudy says he would like to also bring his cart to uptown Athens, where he would be closer to ACEnet and to the 20,000 college students who flood the brick streets between classes. In The Plains, there’s little foot traffic, but Rudy has his regulars. Some chat with Rudy while he makes their food, others honk their horn when driving past. And Rudy says that the customers are absolutely the best part of his job. As I’m leaving Holy Guacamole I notice a few yard signs displayed near the road. Like Rudy’s cart, there is a good chance you’d miss them if you didn’t already know they were there. “Fresh. Fast. Delicious.” one of them advertises. And my personal favorite: “Hungry? Let’s Taco ’bout it.” Visit ediblecolumbus.com for more of our favorite local food trucks in Athens this summer.
Julia Flint lives, eats, writes, and gardens in athens, ohio, where she will be beginning a master's degree program in Latin american Studies this fall. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to Find a Taste of Athens Food Carts Boogie on the Bricks Saturday, June 20, Court Street, athens, ohio Last Call at Ohio Brew Week Saturday, July 18, Court Street, athens, ohio ohiobrewweek.com Ohio Pawpaw Festival September 11 to 13, Lake Snowden, ohio ohiopawpawfest.com Final Fridays on the Square June 26, July 31, august 28, September 25 Public Square, nelsonville, ohio nelsonvillefinalfridays.com
worth the trip
I Brake for Appalachian Fare
gardens at Beagle Ridge Herb Farm, or enjoy a picturesque lunch at Key Ingredients at Fort Chiswell Mansion. To the south in Elkin, North Carolina, load up on fresh produce and wines at Elkin Farmers Market and Elkin Creek, Carolina Heritage and RagApple Lassie vineyards. •
I-75 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia): Break the boredom with a stop in
Winchester, Kentucky, to sample local cheeses at eight stops along the Beer Cheese Trail. Just north of Cleveland, Tennessee, check out two wineries—Morris Vineyard and Savanah Oaks Winery. Travel farther south to Calhoun, Georgia, and discover not only its outlet mall but two farmers markets. Payne Farms raises a variety of crops from strawberries
Regional treats to flavor your summertime journeys
to pumpkins. Nearby, Carney Farms offers plenty of U-pick and farm stand produce at this five-generation family farm. In the historic town of Dallas, Georgia, there are two local farm stands—the Dallas Farmers
by teresa Woodard
Market and the Paulding County Farm Bureau Market.
oo often Central Ohioans like me bust through Appalachia as they rush off to the beach, Smoky Mountains, or Major League baseball parks. They check Google Maps for the fastest route and limit passengers to one bathroom break and one drive-thru meal. This summer, consider adding more flavor to the journey with a pit stop at one of the 283 culinary finds highlighted in the online Bon Appetit Appalachia! map guide of local farms, farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, wineries, craft breweries, and other culinary destinations. “For people who are headed to the beach, you pass right through the heart of Appalachia,” says Paige Alost, executive director, Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Tourism Advisory Council Member of the Appalachian Regional Commission. “So break up the boredom of the road trip and taste some of the region’s best catfish, fried chicken, fresh greens, and finest bakeries in some of the most unexpected places.”
Ohio food destinations are also featured in Bon Appetit Appalachia!. Within the state’s Appalachia region, Paige says there are several great day trips with culinary twists. “From Columbus’s central location,” says Paige, “several spokes swing out to Appalachia from the edges of Cincinnati to southeastern Ohio and on to the edges of Cleveland.” Here are three of her recommendations: •
Dover: “School House Winery is one of my favorite wineries,” says Paige.
This 127-year-old one-room school house, has been beautifully renovated into a boutique winery serving award-winning wines. Other area Bon Appetit Appalachia! nominees include Bread Head Bakery & Coffee Shop, Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market, SHY Cellars restaurant, and Westbrook’s Cannery. •
Bainbridge: Just west of Chillicothe, travel Route 50 toward Bainbridge
to discover a thriving Amish community including Bainbridge Produce Auction, Yoder Lawn Furniture, Paint Creek Orchard, Upper Crust
The Appalachian Regional Commission recently launched Bon Appetit Appalachia! to showcase the 13-state region’s most distinctive foods from New York to Alabama. For Paige’s upcoming trip to visit family in Louisiana, she consulted the Bon Appetit Appalachia! and is making plans to stop at Belle Chevre, an internationally renowned goat cheese creamery that’s inspiring a revitalization of its hometown Elkmont, Alabama. Belle Chevre owner, Tasia Malakasis, even hosts an annual Southern Reinvention artisan festival each October. To give Central Ohioans a sampling of other flavorful pit stops, we identified a couple of popular travel routes south and compiled our finds from Bon Appetit Appalachia!: •
Bakery, and various produce stands. •
Seaman: “Keim Family Market—this is my regular stop on my way to
Cincinnati,” says Paige, who lives in Athens. “I order a ham sandwich on homemade bread with homemade mayonnaise.” She says to plan to spend an hour to explore the market’s bakery, deli, bulk foods, canned goods, and wood shop. As an added bonus, she says there are clean bathrooms and an outdoor play space. “Wherever you’re going this summer, Google Maps will give you seven different ways, so try the longest route with plenty of backroads to get the full regional experience,” says Paige. To learn more, visit visitappalachia.com/bonappetitappalachia/.
I-77 (West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina): Stop in Charleston, West Vir-
ginia, at Tricky Fish restaurant for smoked pulled pork, fried bologna, and Italian sausage from nearby Sandy Creek Farms. Across the street, Bluegrass
Teresa Woodard writes home and garden stories for regional and national mag-
Kitchen serves up eclectic comfort food in its beautifully restored 1920s
azines. She also blogs with two other writers at heartland-gardening.com.
dining room. Further down the highway near Wytheville, Virginia, pick highbush blueberries at Henley Mountain Berry Farm, tour the display
101 Good tips for first-time camping adventures this summer by Susan Vance
To me, the word “vacation” means camping. In our family of five, every summer held the promise of a vacation. My memories of each summer are of adventure. I know now that we camped our way through every state in the lower 48, staying in dozens of state and national parks along the way because restaurant meals and hotel lodging were financially out of the question. If you are a first-time (or first-time-in-a-long time) camper, start small. Pick a night you can spend away from home, identify a location you want to visit and start planning. A part of planning might even include a daytrip to the area to hike and explore available camping space. Don’t get overwhelmed. Animals need food, water, shelter, and space to survive. Take science as the lead and apply the same concept to packing for a camping trip.
Food Pack a cooler with sandwiches, fruit, and other easy-to-eat snacks. The fewer dishes and cutlery you need to remember the better. You might have a quirk or two that you want to plan for (like morning caffeine or evening sweets), so add a percolator, s’mores supplies, or anything else you want or need to make yourself comfortable. Bring matches and some kindling, if you’re headed somewhere that allows fire, or a cook stove, if you’re going all out, but don’t pack firewood. Plan to purchase firewood from the campground or a local provider. Transporting firewood risks transporting non-native invasive insects into the areas you are visiting, not to mention there are some quarantines in portions of Ohio that make transporting firewood illegal.
Water Probably the most important component of all, make sure you pack potable water, or have identified a source for drinking water at the campground where you are staying. It isn’t safe to drink standing water, running water, or any other wild water source unless you are experienced in treating that water for consumption, so
play it safe. Pack or plan for at least a gallon of water per person, per day.
Shelter A sleeping bag and pillow are important. A foam pad under your sleeping bag is lovely. Don’t fret if you need extra padding under your sleeping bag. You’re used to sleeping in a bed or other softer surfaces, so make your transition to the ground easy on yourself. Tents aren’t absolutely necessary (literally sleeping under the stars is a real thing), but they are really nice to have. If you are a first-time camper see if you can borrow a tent. Whether you buy or borrow, practice setting up the tent in your yard/garage/living room before you hit the road. You’ll appreciate the confidence it gives you, not to mention the peace of mind knowing you’ve checked your equipment. If you arrive at your destination on a Friday afternoon and are overwhelmed by the beauty of the area, resist the urge to take off exploring until you have your tent set up. You’ll be happier to come “home” to a nicely prepared shelter rather than trying to set up in the dark.
PhotoS by aLexandria MiSCh
f the water doesn’t boil on the camp stove, don’t put pasta in it. When you load your cooler into the car, cover it in a wool blanket (it stays colder, I swear!). And my favorite food-related camping tip: If the camp store doesn’t have milk for your cereal, buying Cool Whip instead will make you the best dad ever.
Space Unless you are camping in your backyard, it is likely you’ll want to get out and explore. Plan your trip to an area where you can get out for a hike or explore a local destination. Ohio State Parks have their own free mobile app (search Ohio State Parks Guide in your mobile app store) to identify amenities like paddling, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Ohiocampers.com hosts a searchable list of private campgrounds that hold membership to the Ohio Campground Owners Association as well as nearby things to see and do. For some destinations a reservation is a good idea.
Some of Edible Columbus’ Top Camping Sites 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Tar Hollow Lamping Homestead A.W. Marion State Park Lake Hope Mohican State Park Burr Oak
Creature Comforts Food, water, shelter, and space are essential. Most would argue a flashlight is essential to answering nature’s call in the middle of the night. Here’s a starter list of non-essential essentials that make camping trips much more enjoyable: •
First aid kit
Toiletries (including toilet paper)
Trash bags to pack out any waste
Weather preparation (packing/dressing in layers, change of clothes, rain gear, extra shoes/boots, jackets, etc.)
Pets Several Central Ohio campgrounds welcome your well-behaved dog. Pack for their food, water, shelter, and space needs and allow for creature comforts like a favorite toy. If you choose to travel with your dog, research the regulations on pooches at the campground and surrounding trails you want to visit. Know how your dog reacts near strangers (some campsites are close to neighbors and have shared amenities). If barking is a potential problem, if you plan on hiking trails closed to pets, or if you’re going to explore areas your dog isn’t welcome it is best to find alternate accommodations for your pet.
Susie Vance is a native ohioan and current Columbus resident who works for the ohio department of natural resources and enjoys traipsing across the state hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping.
in the garden
The Common Milkweed Ohio homesteaders growing milkweed for the monarchs by Stephanie Wapner
Above: “Using the common milkweed as their inspiration, Jennifer and Steve intend to build awareness and demand for it and other native plants that foster this and similar natural relationships.”
T PhotoS CourteSy oF JenniFer kLeinriChert
he common milkweed, perceived by many as an invasive vine, is easily forgotten. Yet to North America’s most iconic butterfly, the monarch, the flowering plant is both a rich, scented herb and a critical factor in its survival. For this reason, the milkweed and other species of oft-neglected native plants are valuable partners of homesteading entrepreneurs Jennifer Kleinrichert and Stephen Ross.
Jennifer and Steve chose the common milkweed as their inspiration because it represents the “imperceptible interface” between growing food and creating native wildlife habitats to which they have committed both their personal and professional lives. In 2010, they left their naturalist jobs in New Mexico and bought a three-and-a-half-acre property in Cardington, Ohio, about 40 minutes north of downtown Columbus. By the time you turn off the county road and pull into their driveway, the surroundings are so lush and rural that downtown Columbus feels hours away. A year after acquiring the property, which they describe as being nothing but “grass and trash piles” at the beginning, Jennifer and Steve were living their dream of a thriving homestead where they could both grow their own food as well as create a mini-ecosystem of the native plants that attract pollinators necessary for agriculture. They both initially “worked out” for local nature organizations and managed their land around that work, but a few months ago Jennifer left her day job and made the leap into full-time
growing, with the ultimate goal of running a native plant nursery as well as using the resources on their land to produce and sell homemade soaps and wood products. They now cultivate all of their own vegetables, dried beans, and most of their fruit, and their three chickens, who live in a cozy yellow coop that matches the couple’s house, lay all the eggs they need. They transformed the property almost singlehandedly, salvaging wood for the fence and gates from local refuse. Around the tidy, well-organized edible beds grow dozens of different species of native plants carefully selected to attract native pollinators, including both honey and native bees. The plants also invite the native predatory insects that feed on plant-destroying bugs and help ensure the viability of Jennifer and Steve’s food. Strolling around the property, they casually identify each species and occasionally stoop down to protectively stroke a leaf, reminiscing about where they first encountered it and explaining its benefits. They have a variety of sun, shade, and woodland flora, plants that might flourish in different home garden settings. The varieties are not only grown to support the couple’s diets; many of these plants also provide a valuable home for the birds, butterflies, and caterpillars that need native plant species for both homes and food, and the common milkweed is an example. Historically treated as an invasive species, milkweed has become less available as a result of deforestation and urban development.
bottoM PhotoS © by robin oattS, GenreCreatiVe.CoM, toP Photo CourteSy oF JenniFer kLeinriChert
“Their most recent addition to the land is a small wetland behind the house that immediately became home to a population of frogs and toads who happily ate the flies and slugs. Mosquitos attracted by the water also serve as food for the amphibians, as well as the bats in the barn.”
Jennifer Kleinrichert and Stephen Ross at their homestead and Monarch Waystation, The Common Milkweed.
historically treated as an invasive species, milkweed has become less available as a result of deforestation and urban development. this has led to a decline in the north american monarch population, which relies on the milkweed as a primary food source.
This has led to a decline in the North American monarch population, which relies on the milkweed as a primary food source. According to The Ohio State University’s Chadwick Arboretum, common milkweed and other nectar sources for monarchs have declined as genetic crop modification and roadside management practices increase. The Arboretum also states that 90% of milkweed butterfly habitats appear within agricultural landscapes, thus creating a call to both professional planters and home gardeners to help continue to propagate these species. Jennifer’s and Steve’s homestead is a certified Monarch Waystation, designating the area as having sufficient milkweed resources to support sustainable monarch generations. Using the common milkweed as their inspiration, Jennifer and Steve intend to build awareness and demand for it and other native plants that foster this and similar natural relationships. Their vision to accomplish this is a native plant nursery business. As Steve says, they intend to “add more people to the choir,” building consciousness of native plants and repopulating Ohio’s home gardens and farms. Launching the nursery is no small task. Beginning with seeds planted in tiny pots, they now have beds of thousands of tiny, delicate seedlings, which must be individually separated and reseeded into larger pots in order to germinate.
Five Native Wildflowers to Know & Grow
As the full-time member of the team, Jennifer starts her day with piles of paperwork—filing insurance and license applications and researching retail opportunities to sell their products. She also writes and updates their blog, and is always searching for assistance from conservancy organizations. They hope to be approved for a grant to build a high tunnel and to qualify for a program that helps agricultural organizations with property and structural planning. They also want to educate home gardeners about the importance of considering native plants from an agricultural perspective, in response to the reduction in pollinator plants and honeybee populations nationwide. Jennifer and Steve see themselves as critical advocates for these vital natural resources, thereby supporting both local farmers and the state’s agricultural heritage. Asked how they succeed as both entrepreneurial partners and spouses, they simply respond that a shared passion for “growing things to eat and things to support eating” means they spend their time together doing what they love— and that never feels like a burden. They share equally the pride and love for their home with a sense of responsibility for every species on their land, and they consider the impact on each animal, bird, plant, and vegetable before bringing something new into the mix, always striving for harmony. Their most recent addition to the land is a small wetland behind the house that immediately became home to a population of frogs and toads who happily ate the flies and slugs. Mosquitos attracted by the water also serve as food for the amphibians, as well as the bats in the barn. The water also attracts tree swallows, which Jennifer and Steve listen for eagerly every year. When the swallows begin to trill, they know that spring has arrived.
Courtesy of Jennifer Kleinrichert and Stephen Ross For more ideas visit their blog, thecommonmilkweed.blogspot.com
Stephanie Wapner holds an Mba from the ohio State university where she is now a Phd student. She is an active participant in Central ohio’s local food
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum): Shade to part-shade, 1–2 feet, purple flower, spring. important early-season bloomer that is visited by
movement and writes about the connections between food, cooking, health, and community development.
many bee species and other beneficial insects. Riddell’s Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii): Sun to part-shade, 2–3 feet, yellow flower, autumn. Goldenrods and asters are crucial late-season pollinator plants and no garden should be without them. Many bees gather nectar and pollen for the winter from these plants. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa): Sun to part-shade, 2–4 feet, purple flower, summer. Very attractive to many pollinators including bumble bees, butterflies, and clearwing moths. Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa): Sun, 1–2½ feet, orange flower, summer. Milkweeds are visited by myriad bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. they are also the host plant for the monarch butterfly. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): Sun, 2–5 feet, pink flower, summer. excellent bee, butterfly, and other beneficial insect plant.
Great River Organics
hat does the future of local, certified organic food look like in Ohio? What will it taste like? Who are the key farmers? And what type of investors do we need to provide capital to support these farms as they work to offer more good food to the people?
Our GRO Issue examines these questions and more, highlighting the farms of the farmer-owned cooperative, Great River Organics (GRO). They are Ohio’s future in local, certified organic food. And they are central to a nationwide new farm movement spearheaded by smart, forward-thinking farmers joining together to take back the land and farm for the betterment of our planet, our health, and the sustainability and longevity of our national food supply. Read on as we look at multiple aspects of the local, certified organic food chain and how you can get involved. —Colleen Leonardi
The farmers of the farmer-owned cooperative, Great River Organics, from left to right: Lisa and Ben Sippel of Sippel Family Farm; Todd and Heather Schriver of Rock Dove Farm; Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm; Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill Farm; Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm; Becky Barnes of Dangling Carrot Farm; and Tim Patrick of Toad Hill Farm. Photo by © Catherine Murray, PhotokitChen.net
Agriculture in Aggregate
Move over, middleman. These farmers are joining forces.
“everybody thought we were crazy,” says Jaime Moore of Wayward Seed Farm. “But these aren’t just ideas we’re making up. They’re ideas that very smart people are implementing around the country.”
by Gabrielle Langholtz She’s talking about the driving concepts behind farmer-owner cooperatives—like Great River Organics (GRO), which she and seven other Central Ohio farmers joined forces to form last year. The locavore movement has taken root across the country, with farmers markets sprouting by the thousands in cities and suburbs, where growers set up tents and tables, selling their corn and cu-
cumbers, lettuce and lamb, directly to customers, one bag at a time. They’re a boon to eaters, who tuck into just-picked salad greens and heirloom peaches. And they’re famously good for farmers, who get to keep the customer’s dollar, rather than see the lion’s share go to brokers and middlemen. But what about bigger farmers, and bigger buyers, who need to do transactions on a larger scale? The ones who need to work by the pallet, rather than the pint? Enter the farmer-owned cooperative. In these groups, farmers join forces—by the handful or by the hundreds—to sell what they grow, in aggregate, into the wider marketplace, especially to larger wholesale buyers like supermarkets, restaurants, and food-service providers. Rather than go
Great River Organics stand behind a table all day to sell small amounts to one eater at a time—or stay on the farm and hope a broker buys their crops at a decent price—farmers in a cooperative sell together to compete on a larger scale in a way they simply do couldn’t alone. “Farmers often lack power in the marketplace and are at the mercy of the middlemen who set the prices. Cooperatives extend farmers’ reach into that value chain to help return more money to the farmer,” says John Cleary, New England Coordinator of Organic Valley. Headquartered in Wisconsin, the brand boasts nearly 1,900 member-farmers, making it the largest farmerowned cooperative in the world. “Companies have historically ripped off farmers by saying ‘here’s the price, take it or leave it’” explains John. “But this system lets farmer be price-setters, rather than price-takers. A corporation’s primary purpose is to generate money for their owners or shareholders—but in cooperatives, the shareholders are the farmers.”
“by pooling resources, farmers can become more efficient,” says John. “it multiplies your power.” That’s exactly what motivated Jaime and her fellow founding farmers at GRO. They’d watched for years as big businesses in the Columbus area were guided only by their bottom lines, shipping in produce from distant lands if it cost even a few percentage points less than the fruits and vegetables grown here in Ohio. Area supermarkets and restaurants are huge purchasers of produce, but it was hard to get her carrots in the door when systems are built for massive, international buyers. And to add insult to injury, as local became a buzzword, she saw plenty of mislabeling and misunderstanding. “A lot of shoppers ultimately don’t know where the food is coming from. They go, ‘I shop at my local grocery store, so I’m buying local.’” But she says there “a big misconception” when big grocers sell millions of dollars of California produce but brag about spending a hundred dollars on some local cherries.
Not that big brands are inherently evil, but they typically buy from brokers who do what’s best for their own bottom lines, with no consideration for the family farmer or the Ohio economy. Sure, it’s understandable that Columbus supermarkets and restaurants like the convenience of ordering from one list, clicking through a site at 1am and having everything from lettuce to lemons arrive on a single truck the next day, rather than needing to liaise with a dozen different local farmers. But Jaime says that mindset underestimates what local farms like hers can deliver. “They say ‘small farmers can’t support my needs, can’t keep up with my demand,’—but that’s not true, they just need to be clear about what that demand is.” Tell me what you want, in other words, and I’ll grow it. GRO, after all, now offers certified organic produce from 160 Ohio acres. That’s not small potatoes. And cooperatives don’t just make transactions easier on the buyers—it’s also easier on the farmers. “It’s such a pain, selling to all these individuals,” says John. “Marketing is a huge job, and these cooperatives can take on that function for all the member farmers.” And by pooling resources, each farm needn’t invest in its own infrastructure—such as a washing and packing line for produce, or a bottling plant for dairies. “By pooling resources, farmers can become more efficient,” says John. “It multiplies your power.” Of course, cooperatives aren’t new; they’ve been around for more than a century. But John explains those were usually servicing generic commodity markets and as farms got bigger, commodity prices fell, dominated by big producers. Many of these older cooperatives lost their power in the ‘80s, victims of huge forces of consolidation and globalization. Like the rebirth of farmers markets (which of course were pretty much the only way anybody bought food throughout history, until a century ago), recent years have seen something of a rediscovery of the cooperative concept. One leading example GRO looks to is Eastern Carolina Organics, which sells produce from more than 40 farmers to more than 100 accounts. While technically not a co-op—they’re an LLC—the brand is still a grower-owned distribution company. CEO and co-founder Sandi Kronick says, “We set ourselves up borrowing all
Great River Organics the principles and values and operational system from the co-op concept. Because when farmers are invested in the company, they’re much more likely to preserve its long-term sustainability. We found it to be a very positive pressure. We’re not just another group knocking on farmers’ doors telling them we wanted to help them, and then go away in a few years.” Like Jaime, she emphasizes that when farmers sell together, they’re much better positioned to fit larger systems. “Grower-owned cooperatives can offer quality at the volume they need, as well as things like insurance and payment terms, but still represent transparency,” which is increasingly attractive to the end user (also known as an eater). If you’re a big buyer, continues Sandi, “you might need several pallets of cabbage, and still want to have a relationship with the farm. You can’t [easily] have a relationship with 40 farms, but you can make one call to the co-op, and have one cabbage delivery come in—from 40 local farms.” You might say that the locavore movement is growing up—and Sandi sees these bigger buyers within that context. “It plays into wanting to know where the food comes from, the face behind their food,” she says. “A lot of research shows the greater level of trust people have when
buying food from a farmer. Now we’re seeing the wholesale community—retailers, food service, and distributors—trying to be more transparent, and provide that face.”
them owned by farmers, is an enormously simple way to be sure you’re always caring about the farmer and not swayed by cheaper prices coming out of Mexico.”
And as John noted, Sandi knows when sales are streamlined, it’s easier on the farmer, too. “It’s hard, as a farmer, to do it all,” she says, citing everything from planting, irrigation, soil quality, weed management—you know, farming—and then they’re also supposed to handles sales, logistics, communications, and marketing?
All of which has enthusiasm as high as summer corn at GRO. Just one year in, they’ve expanded from their CSA and are selling to four area grocers, including Lucky’s Market, Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, and a super-supportive Whole Foods in Upper Arlington where the new buyer is, as Jaime puts it, “super excited.”
“Most farmers do not want to do this middleentity service. It’s a huge burden!”
But Jaime’s not resting on those locavore laurels. “We’re showing what we as growers can do, proving ourselves,” she said. “We’re meeting a buyer today to talk about cabbage—they want 20,000 pounds. They want to make sure it’s a true commitment. And I say, ‘Hey, we can meet your needs, you just gotta tell us what they are.’”
And when big buyers buy local, the results aren’t just good for the farm families selling their peaches and tomatoes. Area farms also employ more members of the community and deposit more money into the local bank, not to mention making decisions that take into consideration their own air quality and well water, rather than be tempted by a cost savings that will pollute the communities of distant strangers. Even the bestintended corporations can only care so much, when the bottom line is the bottom line.
Gabrielle Langholtz is editor of Edible Manhattan and author of the New Greenmarket Cookbook. She’s grown organic vegetables in the Catskills, run communications for the nyC Greenmarket, and is married to the head livestock farmer at the Stone
That’s why, explains Sandi, “embedding these middle-entity services with not just a desire to help farmers, but institutionalizing by making
barns Center. She prefers carrots to sticks.
One Brick at a Time Building a local, organic supply chain with Great River Organics by adam Welly • Photography by Catherine Murray
he story of our cooperative, Great River Organics (GRO), is one of great compromise, frustration, and, ultimately, success. I am truly proud that we never gave up. We had tried to create a growers group in a myriad of ways over several years. We kept talking, we kept thinking ahead, and we finally found a way.
In anticipation of these coming changes in the marketplace, Wayward Seed Farm partnered with Local Matters, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other farmers in 2010 on a two-year feasibility study to research the development of an all-organic farmer-owned cooperative in Central Ohio. Our findings were mixed. Farmers certainly wanted to sell more products and create a better interaction with the wholesale business arena. We found, however, funding and capacity barriers too great at that time to develop a business plan.
After a seven-year effort to create a platform for farmer-owned distribution, we started with the name Great River Farms in late 2013. We had two of our farmers who were in their last year of transition to be available for certified organic status. We couldn’t yet market all of our produce as organic and we patiently waited for all of our farmers to unify standards of marketing and production. In our first year of business, we fostered a new multi-farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and wholesale program. With the start of our second year, we have officially transitioned ourselves to Great River Organics, a farmer-owned, certified organic cooperative.
It took almost two more years to organize ourselves into Great River Organics, an organization that strives to build prosperity through product standards, research, sales, and logistical services. GRO gives our farmer-owners an opportunity to grow more food and perhaps recruit new farms that align under the banner of a new, Ohio organic brand. More than anything GRO creates a new professional organization for us to interact with the community.
Over the past five years, we have seen the marketplace dramatically evolve. Many of the member farmers of GRO started their farms around the farmers markets, small restaurant relationships, and CSAs. CSAs were really the growth model for small, organic farms looking to find a more stable marketplace to sell their products and utilize the upfront dollars to invest in on-farm efficiencies.
During the early phase of our feasibility study, Adam Utley, my good friend and colleague, and I wrote down a roadmap to improve local food supply chains. I’m glad we did. The tenets of GRO were founded in this original roadmap, which described how we could build new institutions of local food, centered on transparency and an honest effort to leave our farms in a more pristine state than when we started.
All markets change, however, and the CSA market has taken a sharp downturn in the past several years. Increasing competition among farmers, a thriving natural grocery store industry, and, lastly, the advent of third-party food delivery services falsely marketed as CSAs have all contributed to change the landscape. Fifteen years ago, the farmers market or a CSA was your go-to for organic foods. In today’s market, every restaurant seeks farmto-table credibility; local means moral, and everything—I mean everything— is sustainably grown.
Here is what Adam and I call “The Six Values:”
Great River Organics
1. Commitment to Farmer-Owned Distribution Great River Organics is farmer-owned and operated. Our farmer members own the value chain from seed to delivery; 100% of profits stay with the farms. We operate the farms, we pursue sales relationships, we coordinate production among the farms, and, finally, we operate a warehouse to conduct distribution. To gain prosperity on a small to medium scale, farmers need to own as much of the value chain as possible. We can cut our costs as producers by cooperatively purchasing packaging, fertilizer, potting soil, and even equipment. By unifying our production standards and working together, we produce larger lots of food that can better serve our markets. It’s simple. When farmers organize and work together, everyone can benefit more equitably.
3. “Seat at the Table”: Inclusion of farm producers as stakeholders in policy decisions It is absolutely important for farmers to demand their presence at policy meetings. As much as it is important for our representatives and policy makers to determine our needs through surveys and marketing trends, farmers are many times absent in the policy discussions that decide grant streams and community funding. Producer pools must aggressively reach out and make their needs known. Farmers can’t just use their demanding schedules on the farm as an excuse for not engaging with our policy officials. They work on our behalf every day. We can’t complain about food safety regulations, or other topics when we aren’t at the table to discuss these potential changes to our farms. It is our responsibility as producers to take our seat and speak out on policy.
2. Certified Organic Farming Practice Our farmers have chosen to pursue certified organic practice as our baseline farming method. We believe that this is essential to provide transparency to the consumer day in and day out. We want to foster a new future for ecological farming where practices continually improve. By agreeing to set standards as a co-op we can move ahead together as better stewards of our land and an example to new and emerging farmers. If GRO can build more successful, organic farm businesses, then young people can observe this type of farming as a viable economic opportunity that also has environmental, social, and economic benefits for the community. As I tell my young farm workers, “We have to transition organic farming from a summer rite of passage for new college graduates to a viable career option.” Yes, certified organic brings a premium for our farmer owners. It should—great food quality is what we seek to produce; food grown through deft agricultural practice.
4. Traditional Lending and Community Investment in the New Farm Movement Just like growing consumer choices, organic producers need more investment options today. We are repeatedly told that our type of farming is too risky, or that the yields are too low. This is a ridiculous argument to make in 2015. Ohio regional, organic farmers are under-serving their highdemand marketplace. We need to build capacity today through on-farm investments in land, equipment, and infrastructure. How can we finance expansion when lenders won’t assume more of the risk with us as producers? It is time for consumers to realize that voting with their fork has limited Above, left to right: Adam Utley loading in pallets of food for distribution. At the GRO hub, getting ready for market bags for their CSAs.
Great River Organics impact to help scale new farm value chains. We need local and regional lenders to act as a conduit for community investments in Ohio farms. If farms have lending needs, their journey for investment must be more simplistic and fair. (See page 54 for the article “Locally Grown Investment” about investment strategies for local, organic farms.)
5. Gaining the Commitment of Institutions as a Sustainable Customer In the past few years, there’s been movement toward including large buyers such as schools, hospitals, and universities as capacity-builders for a new farm economy. A very large buyer could utilize massive allotments of produce in a given season, which translates to a huge growth and stability opportunity for farmers. This has been a difficult nut to crack, however, because institutions almost universally assume that certified organic food is too expensive for their budgets. But when we meet with institutions, they are surprised to learn that simply isn’t the case. Certified organic shouldn’t be a scarlet letter; it should encourage a buyer to feel confident about our farmers’ transparency. GRO believes institutions can be leaders in finding common ground with farmerowned production groups to secure measurable levels of their supply chain both regionally and organically.
6. Bridging the Gap Between the Urban and Rural Culture Through Community Engagement It is imperative that an urban movement of consumers and producers interface more regularly with their rural stakeholders. Too often the food movement strikes up contentious feelings regarding grant streams, production feasibility, animal husbandry, and labor practices, just to name a few. The distance between urban viewpoints and rural ones is a centuries-old quandary that seems at times too difficult to tackle. GRO and other farmerowned businesses need to have more discussion and interaction with their urban supporters on a frequent face-to-face basis to understand our differences and cohesion. Whether it is a large on-farm event once or twice a season, or a local discussion group that meets monthly, we need to shape an “Ohio” vision for organic and new farm agriculture that has a realistic scope. We will need to bring our rural and urban communities together because remaking our agriculture system is a “Purple State” reality. Great River Organics and its farmers have a bright future. Our success will be paved through continual reciprocity on the farm and in the marketplace. I think it’s the responsibility of our generation—the new and emerging organic producers of this era—to build upon the work that our mentors so tirelessly legitimized. As a community, we’ve gone from fringe to mainstream conscience over the past 30 years. My hope is that it’s only just beginning. Learn more about Great River Organics at greatriverfarms.org.
Great River Organics
Farmer Power Why the farmers of Great River Organics are true stewards of the land by Claire hoppens • Photography by Catherine Murray
cumbers, and collard greens. Tim notes that not much has changed about the varieties he cultivates since he began working the soil in his early 30s, more than 20 years ago.
Tim Patrick Toad Hill Farm Danville, Ohio Tim Patrick has been growing vegetables at Toad Hill Farm since 1992, making him the most tenured farmer in Great River Organics (GRO). His approach to farming is straightforward, but beyond great modesty there lies a wealth of experience and devotion to top quality produce. From early spring until December, with the help of high tunnels for season extension, Tim cultivates three to five acres for the Worthington market, a small CSA membership, Raisin Rack grocery store, a handful of restaurants, and GRO. For 20 years Toad Hill Farm attended the North Market’s farmers market, where Tim encountered Adam and Jaime of Wayward Seed. They stayed in contact, and welcomed Toad Hill into GRO as a veteran in the farming community. Toad Hill was certified organic for a decade, but went without the designation recently. “We’ve been practicing organic methods throughout the entire time,” says Tim, making recertification for involvement in the co-op simple.
“I like being outside,” Tim says. “And there’s a certain amount of creativity in it. You can go different directions.” As for the farmers markets over the years? “They’re definitely better,” says Tim, though he’d like to see “more chefs pounding the pavement,” sourcing their seasonal produce at the markets, meeting the growers themselves. “I’ve learned a lot along the way. There’s more information out there than when we started. There’s a tremendous amount of organic vegetable farming, small-scale farming—there’s more products and equipment and books,” Tim says. And, he thinks, there’s room for local farming to grow. While others may seek a different satisfaction in farming, there is something to the solitude at Toad Hill Farm. “It’s just like working for yourself,” says Tim. “I enjoy the independent nature of it.”
This year Tim will grow, among other things, eggplants, summer squash, tomatillos, cu-
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Todd Schriver Rock Dove Farm West Jefferson, Ohio Process-driven, highly technical farming practices reign at Rock Dove, where farmer Todd Schriver relishes every opportunity to problem-solve. Todd grew up farming in central Indiana. At the start of his career, however, Todd worked for a sheep dairy in Vermont. He considered moving a similar operation to Central Ohio but didn’t find the feasibility of the project encouraging. Instead, he met Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm. The two farmed together until the end of the 2009 season, when Todd split off, got married, and started his own, 15-acre operation. The land he purchased previously grew corn and soybeans, so it took three full years to convert the soil before Rock Dove Farm could certify organic with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), the standard 36-month transition time designated by certification agencies. Todd calls himself a systems-oriented farmer. His farm specializes in technically demanding, highdensity, fast-growing crops. “Our biggest thing is head lettuce,” he says. “That’s probably 20–30% of what we do.” Other greens include kale, arugula, chard, and salad blends. “The way I go about things is really a process about identifying potential problems and thinking about how solutions could work,” says Todd. Then, he considers “standardizing processes so they could be applicable to other farms.” He remembers talking about something like GRO with Adam as early as 2006. “As it is right now there really isn’t a good system in place to support local growers. And GRO is providing the opportunity not just for marketing but also for development,” he says. “For me, I’m really good at producing but I don’t have as much patience with marketing. For other growers, maybe
Top left to bottom right: Tim Patrick of Toad Hill Farm, Todd and Heather Schriver of Rock Dove Farm, and Lisa and Ben Sippel of Sippel Family Farm.
they can use some of technical expertise to help their production side.” Instead of a traditional CSA program, supporters of Rock Dove can purchase “Farm Bucks,” a program launched in 2014 with such success that it will return this season. Vouchers purchased through the farm, at market, or online are redeemable at Rock Dove’s Clintonville market farm stand for a customizable bounty of produce. “Come and get what you want,” Todd says, “Instead of getting a box full of what we want.” “There’s no special box I could put together to make everyone happy,” Todd says. “Some people love beets. Some people hate beets. Some people like chard. Some people never want to see chard.” Rock Dove’s produce can also be found at the Worthington Inn, Skillet, Portia’s Café, and the Bexley Co-op.
Lisa and Ben Sippel Sippel Family Farm Mt. Gilead, Ohio Lisa and Ben Sippel were 23 when they bought their farm in 2004. With no family farming background, “We dove straight in,” says Lisa. After receiving his degree in environmental studies and geography from Ohio Wesleyan University, Ben was interested in how agriculture was blamed for problems throughout history. “He wanted to prove that you can actually make a living doing sustainable agriculture and not ruin the world at the same time,” she says. In their very first season the Sippels introduced a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offering, which allowed supporters of the farm to share risk through investment and to reap the rewards of fresh, seasonal produce. Twelve seasons later, the CSA is still a core concentration of their farming, though it has downsized over the past few years to accommodate a changing marketplace and other goals on the farm. Together with their two children, the Sippels grow more than 10 acres of produce on a 77-acre farm, including 15 acres of woods and some pasture. Because of the diversity of product nec-
Great River Organics
essary for their CSA, they grow more than 40 different crops. Each week they are also responsible for supplying one or two vegetable to the GRO market bags, which can vary based on availability and weather. In 2011 Ben and Lisa started a sheep dairy, which produces sheep and cow’s milk cheeses under the name Kokoborrego Cheese. “It was the first sheep dairy in the state,” says Lisa. “We added that because we wanted to diversify and not rely completely on vegetables.” Since sheep’s milk is seasonal, lasting only five months a year, the Sippels purchase cow’s milk from a neighboring dairy to maintain year-round production. A few years prior, the Sippels planted an apple orchard, which is now fruit-bearing. While they’ve always followed the organic growing practices, Sippel Family Farm was certified organic last year, encouraged by their membership in the GRO cooperative. Now, Lisa says, she looks forward to continued specialization on the farm, with secondary market sources that can accommodate harvests too large or irregular for a typical CSA. “That’s the way GRO is going to be most beneficial. It’s going to allow small farms to focus in on what they’re good at, what their land can do well, what they have the equipment for—that’s the ultimate thing that GRO offers us. It offers us the chance not only with a CSA portion, but the potential for wholesale beyond that.” Sippel Family Farm brings produce and cheese to the Clintonville, Westerville, and Worthington markets each week, and Kokoborrego cheese to the New Albany farmers market and Shaker Heights market in Cleveland.
Adam Welly & Jaime Moore Wayward Seed Farm Fremont, Ohio Adam and Jaime are a force in local farming. Their combined skill sets, years of experience, and drive to develop and strengthen communities of growers through GRO illustrates the scope of their leadership. The farm began on a half-acre of land in Sandusky County close to where the pair grew up, behind the facility where Adam worked as a paint striper. “In that little plot of land there was so much diversity of food,” says Jaime, “just because of trial and error.” Adam credits his experience of farming in northern Ohio for the understanding he has of microclimate and regionality. Neither Jaime nor Adam shied away from the innate risks in farming or the monumental workload. And so, Wayward grew, expanding acreage near Fremont to Oakvale Farm in London, where Wayward Seed settled into a robust market schedule and CSA demands based out of Columbus. Now, just shy of their 10-year anniversary, things have come full circle. This year marks Wayward’s return to farming in Sandusky County. For the past few years Jaime and Adam have worked alongside a farmer near Fremont to convert some of his acreage and greenhouses to certified organic. “We worked side-by-side with him,” says Jaime, and now that he’s retiring, “we have 32 acres of land that we’ve been we have been transitioning to organic, ready to go.” Jamie will stay in Columbus, running the market stands, working out of the GRO hub, and helping to coordinate between operations. Adam will farm up north, maintaining weekly deliveries to Columbus on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Top left to bottom right: Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm, Becky Barnes of Dangling Carrot Farm, Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill Farm, and Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm.
Together, they focus on fulfilling 150 CSA shares for Wayward Seed, organizing hundreds more for GRO, launching GRO’s wholesale component, and communicating with growers
invested in the viability of their farms, the cooperative, and of local, organic agriculture.
Becky Barnes Dangling Carrot Farm Williamsport, Ohio All the way from her post-collegiate home in Montana, Becky Barnes felt the pull to return to Ohio. “I asked myself, ‘What did I want to do to be fulfilled in life?’ I worked in Montessori schools and had various jobs out west,” she says. But those roles failed to satisfy her growing curiosity for farming. Eight years ago, Becky returned to the land where she was raised in Pickaway County to start Dangling Carrot Farm. She rents land originally owned by her grandfather, a grain farmer, since passed down to her brother and cousins. “I grew up so close to my family, every day playing or working on the farm,” Becky says. “I did miss it.” What began as a three-acre enterprise now holds steady at seven acres, with a 25-foot barrier from the grain farm on all sides, a requirement for organic designation. This May, Becky will be inspected for her very first organic certification. “I never really thought about the need to be certified organic since, at markets, I would just tell people what my growing practices were.” Knowing inclusion in Great River Organics (GRO) requires it, however, Becky realized “that it really was the next step.” In its infancy, Dangling Carrot had a presence at six markets throughout the week. While the visibility was essential, the hours were brutal. “The hours I would put in the first three to four years were kind of incredible,” says Becky. Going to town just two or three times a week now (including the Worthington and Clintonville Sat-
urday markets), “is so much calmer and more peaceful, and I am really grateful for that.”
its first year of eligibility for organic certification this June.
Last year, Becky delivered produce to 12 restaurants and groceries in Central Ohio, including Rigsby’s Kitchen, Northstar Café, and Harvest Pizza. She anticipates that GRO will help to further simplify her delivery schedule, allowing for more time on the farm.
“There’s not a lot of farmers who have certified up here. A lot of people use the word at market, but I’ll be really happy to know we’re through the process and I can tell my consumers I’ve gone through the extra commitment,” she adds.
“One of the big advantages of being in this co-op is that instead of using up most of the day doing drop-offs a couple times a week, the goal is to drop off to the hub mostly,” she says. Becky has also been able to focus on growing fewer crops in greater quantities, “instead of growing 100 different things, since it’s hard to watch as each one is coming up and having hands on all of them.” “Growing on a bigger scale with fewer crops has been great for me. And that’s food for the GRO bags, too,” she adds. This year, Becky will grow heirloom tomatoes, egg-
Most recently, Kristy placed five acres of farmland into conservation with the Farm Service Agency, set aside to encourage a natural habitat for quail and pheasant. A transplant from New Jersey, Kristy farmed with Adam Welly of Wayward Seed and Steve and Gretel of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm. “It’s sort of the synthesis of my life experiences that led to this in my late 20s,” she says. “I started pursuing this, living off the land.” After searching for land of their own, Kristy and Aaron realized, “what we wanted was in his family’s backyard, literally, so we decided to come back here and give it a go.”
plant, greens, beets, carrots, and garlic, among many others.
Kristy Buskirk Clay Hill Farm Tiffin, Ohio Amidst a sea of conventional farms, restoration is key to longevity for Kristy Buskirk’s Clay Hill Farm. Diving into their second season, Kristy, with help from her husband, Aaron, will cultivate more than two acres of produce on a 52acre plot of land, passed down from Aaron’s family. While the lineage endured, Kristy hopes to rebuild the soil, especially as Clay Hill enters
“We’re giving life into a new iteration of the family farm,” she says. This year, she’ll plant two and a half acres of crops, but hopes to expand that to 15 acres in the future, resting half at a time. Kristy takes her produce to farmers markets in Bowling Green and Tiffin, but covers the Columbus market with distribution through GRO, thanks to a connection forged long ago. “I’m growing a ton of onions this year,” Kristy says. “Spring onions, scallions, my greenhouse is full of onions and they look beautiful.”
“as it is right now there really isn’t a good system in place to support local growers. and Gro is providing the opportunity not just for marketing but also for development.”
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Clay Hill will also produce head lettuce, collards, and bunched greens, Kristy’s “bread and butter.” She’ll grow three rounds of green beans, two standard and an heirloom snapping bean called Dragon’s Lingerie, “a beautiful white and purple speckled bean that has a lovely flavor,” says Kristy, to be included in the GRO Market Bag. “Adam has been quite a mentor to me,” she says. “He brought me into the fold of these growers since we’ve worked together. He knows my work ethic and the standards that I hold because I refined them with him. Adam taught me that quality will always win in the market place.”
Ben Dilbone Sunbeam Family Farm Alexandria, Ohio Before planting roots in Central Ohio, Ben Dilbone collected valuable farming experience across the country. In college, he interned and took classes at Evergreen State College’s studentrun farm in Olympia, Washington. Ben then interned for a summer at the Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, where highly specific produce is grown based on the needs of chefs around the country. Upon graduating, he worked as a farmhand across Wisconsin. “I basically got my hands dirty, got into working with sustainable agriculture. It just kind of became my thing,” he says.
For three seasons, Ben transitioned the farm, formerly in corn and soybean rotation, to be fit for organic growing, including cover cropping, composting, and reviving nutrient levels in the soil. “To me,” he says, “organic agriculture goes beyond the soil, but the basis of farming organically is the soil.” “Seeing that transition, seeing how the soil looks and feels, seeing how the plants respond to an organically managed system versus the over-farmed land with conventional agriculture, seeing the transition of the fields has been outstanding and motivating. You can see what you put into it and what you get back out,” Ben says. Right now, Ben grows an array of produce to satisfy CSA and wholesale needs. He, like other farmers involved in GRO, hopes to streamline his crop selection and find ways to specialize as Sunbeam, and GRO, grow. “I think that’s the strength of GRO: trying to talk about what we can do and how we can do it to better serve the local Columbus food scene on a playing field that benefits everyone and makes more logical sense,” he adds. Thus far Ben is focused on high tunnel tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and head lettuce, along with onions, watermelon, and green beans. Sunbeam Family Farm is present at the Tuesday and
Sunbeam Family Farm is entering its fifth season. Ben describes the farm’s origin like a big garden, one that grew enough produce, at high enough quality, to sell at the Granville Farmers Market. “We blossomed from there,” he says. Now, Ben helms seven acres, with an additional two acres farmed off-site but nearby.
Saturday markets in Granville.
raised in a nomadic and adventurous family, Claire Hoppens called five states home and attended three colleges before earning her degree in magazine journalism from the Scripps School at
Sunbeam “was a joint venture between me and my family, our lives coinciding,” Ben says. Ben’s mother and father, Cynthia and Chuck Dilbone, have active day-to-day roles in the farm, including working the markets, CSA coordination, and bookkeeping.
ohio university in 2011. Claire is currently a Managing Partner for northstar Café, one of the many Columbus mainstays to solidify her love of people, food, and our vibrant city.
A Taste of the Past
GRO’s heirloom vegetable varieties are rich in flavor and history by teresa Woodard • Photography by Catherine Murray
Adam Welly and the farmers of Great River Organics (GRO) are all about preserving and interpreting Ohio’s heritage foods. Meet them at local farmers markets, and their unabashed passion for their farms’ unique produce is evident. They’re on a mission to recruit more fans for some of the state’s most flavorful, colorful, and time-honored produce crops. Adam grew up in Fremont, Ohio, learning that the soil in which you grow food makes a difference in how it tastes. “The melons from Fremont’s sandy loam just don’t taste the same as ones grown in Central Ohio’s clay soils.” He’s returned home to farm in a region known in the late 1800s to have one of the largest concentrations of vegetable farming in the world. This summer, he invites you to try some of his favorite heirloom vegetables.
Opposite: Top left to bottom: Shishito Peppers, Sheepnose Pimento Pepper, and Rossa di Milano Onion.
Shishito Peppers Shishito peppers are the Japanese cousin to Spain’s famed Padron peppers. Harvested in late July until frost, these bite-sized mild peppers are a cinch to prepare. Simply toss them in olive oil and char-grill or pan-sear them until their skin blisters, then season them with a pinch of sea salt. Pick them up by the stem and eat them—seeds and all—in one bite. “You’ll enjoy their dark rich flavor, which is similar to a poblano pepper but even more pronounced,” says Adam. “Also, try simmering them in a crock with miso and sesame seeds.”
Sheepnose Pimento Pepper This ultra-sweet pepper is one of Adam’s all-time favorite things to grow. An Ohio heirloom, the pepper originates from the family of Nick Rini of Hartville. It is one of the 200 heritage foods listed in the Ark of Taste by Slow Food USA. When Wayward Seed Farm first started, Adam discovered this pepper as he was searching the Seed Savers Exchange catalog for Ohio heirlooms to grow. This ended up being one of the first the farm tried. Through GRO, the co-op farmers hope to market the peppers more widely and anticipate great potential for the pepper to become one of the state’s signature crops, much like sweet corn. The peppers average four inches wide and three inches tall. The plants yield a steady supply of peppers until frost. “Try them pickled, canned, stuffed, or baked,” says Adam. “This pepper also makes the best pimento cheese spread.”
Rossa di Milano Onion “Frankly, Rossa de Milanos are the only onions you need to buy,” says Adam. “They’re not sexy (medium-sized, pale red onions with a gray shallot core), but they’ll make sexy ingredients like Tuscan kale taste even better.” At Wayward, Adam has been growing this onion staple from seed since 2006, and, each year, he saves some seeds for the next season. As a core ingredient for so many recipes, Adam says the Rossa de Milano’s flavor is unrivaled. “When slowly cooked in olive oil, the caramelized onions are pure sugar. When served raw, they are very robust.” The onions are harvested in late August and can be stored until February.
Great River Organics
don’t be fooled by the size of these flat beans. they’re not unshucked fava or lima beans.
Nelson’s Golden Giant Tomato This Crayola-yellow, Ohio heirloom tomato is from Nelson Grey of Milan. When other heirlooms crack in the fields after a big rain, these 12-ounce to one-pound meaty tomatoes hold their form. Famed seed collector Al Anderson of Troy, Ohio, gave Wayward its first Nelson Golden Giant seeds, and the farm has since saved and shared seeds with other co-op members. Nelson Golden Giants are very late-ripening from late August until frost. “The best way to eat them is at a cookout,” says Adam. “Slice them on a burger or a BLT.” He also suggests cooking them down in a fresh tomato sauce and tossing them with Italian flat beans.
Hinkelhatz Pepper Another Ark of Taste entry, this 150-year-old heirloom heralds from Pennsylvania Dutch country. In fact, its German name translates “chicken heart” to describe its size and shape. Adams urges Ohioans to adopt this pepper as their go-to regional hot pepper. Harvested from a two-foot bushy plant in September, the Hinkelhatz has a very unique, tangy hot flavor like a Scotch Bonnet with a bouquet. “Try it pickled, or roasted and purée for an enchilada sauce,” says Adam. “It’s also tailor-made for hot sauces for Bloody Marys.”
Dragon Carrots West Coast grower John Navazio bred these refined, purple carrots using heirloom stock. “Kids and parents fell in love with them at the markets,” says Adam. “They catch attention, but they’re not just for show—they’re really delicious.” Tests show they’re also nutritious with high levels of anthocyanin and other antioxidants. Adam says Wayward grows the carrots in limited quantities, since their fragile tops can make harvesting difficult. Try cutting them on the diagonal to expose their golden center and roast them with thyme and butter. Also, enjoy their wild, spicy-like flavor in a raw carrot salad.
salsa romesco. Adam says local food connoisseur Jim Budros challenged Wayward to grow them. Through trial and error, the farm learned the fallplanted green onions wouldn’t overwinter in Ohio. Instead, they found the calcots could be successfully planted in the spring for a fall harvest. “The key is the length of the white shank,” says Adam. “The longer the better.” GRO is trying to recreate calcots’ revelry in Central Ohio. One fall day at the North Market, Adam says they started grilling calcots and sold $1,000 worth of the green onions in one day. Capture the revelry in your own backyard by serving these at your next barbeque.
Italian Flat Beans Don’t be fooled by the size of these flat beans. They’re not unshucked fava or lima beans. Rather, they’re larger green beans that stay tender when lightly sautéed or blanched. GRO farmers cultivate the bean plants in hedge-like rows, which yield “fantastic harvests” in September. These flat beans, also known as Romano beans, can be substituted in any recipe using green beans.
Scorzonera Some call this unique, Mediterranean root vegetable “black salsify,” or “oyster plant,” since it tastes like an oyster when toasted or stewed. Adam says Wayward decided “to grow the weirdest root crops ever and see what sells.” He says this dandelion-like plant fills the bill with its chicory-like greens and strong root. Scorzonera adds a distinct flavor to fall and winter vegetable soups and stews.
Gilfeather Turnip Adam argues the Gilfeather Turnip is not a turnip but actually a rutabaga. “It’s not fine in appearance, but fine in flavor,” he says. Wayward started growing this rare, white-rooted vegetable in the farm’s early years to add to its collection of unusual root crops. The plant is named after John Gilfeather of Wardsboro, Vermont, and is a recent addition to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.
Calcots These long, juicy green onions are a seasonal treat from Catalonia, which hosts festivals celebrating their harvest. At these rite-of-spring events, the calcots are grilled over an open fire and served wrapped in paper. Festivalgoers devour the scorched onions by grabbing their green stalks, discarding the blackened roots, and eating the soft white part, either solo or dipped in
Visit ediblecolumbus.com to learn about the favorite heirloom varieties of the other farmers at GRO.
Top left to right: Dragon Carrots, Nelson’s Golden Giant Tomato, and Italian Flat Beans.
Great River Organics
Locally Grown Investment Financing local, organic agriculture and its future sustainability by nancy Mckibben â&#x20AC;˘ illustrations by Sharon teuscher
Great River Organics
espite a decade of rapid growth and increasing interest in sustainable agriculture and farmers markets, your local organic farmer may still have trouble obtaining the credit he needs to grow and prosper. What can the local community do with its investment dollars to support the kind of food system we want?
Saturday morning means farmers market. I rise with anticipation, gather my environmentally friendly shopping bags, and head on down to chat with and buy from local farmers. It’s the highlight of the weekend, this opportunity to purchase fresh, healthy, organic food, support my local farmer, safeguard my family’s health (we are what we eat!), and strike a blow against Big Ag.
To provide an organic alternative to conventionally grown farm products, organic farmers need to scale up to meet this demand. In this case, bigger can also be beautiful.
Skilled, reliable labor.
Business growth planning, marketing, and
The expansion of market opportunities, es-
What a Farmer Needs So consider the case of the small-scale organic farmer who wants to grow more organic food. What does that farmer need? According to Michael Jones, owner of Good Food Enterprises and a board member of GRO:
pecially wholesale. But: •
Land in Ohio is expensive, and good farmland often goes to developers who will pay a higher price for it.
But there is a worm in that organic apple.
The Bigger Picture The worm is lack of investment capital to build and grow sustainable agriculture. Small is beautiful, as E. F. Schumacher so memorably said, particularly when we see the small farmer as standing in heroic opposition to the harmful monocultures of Big Ag. But could bigger, in this case, be better? Consider that only about 8% of food now purchased in the United States is organic. Adam Welly, owner of Wayward Seed Farm and a founding member of Great River Organics, a farmerowned cooperative (GRO: see article on page 38), says that Kroger, Whole Foods, Giant Eagle, and other grocers with broad regional distribution have contacted GRO about providing locally grown organic produce because there is huge consumer demand for it. But, Adam says, right now our organic producers cannot grow enough to fill local shelves. Wouldn’t it be a good thing for locally grown organic food to be widely available in grocery stores? More people would buy, and the price would become more accessible to everyone as the supply grew.
“this allows the farmers to make long-term investments in soil fertility, leading to better yields and healthier food,” kevin says. “this long-term approach is a win-win-win. the farmers have long-term land access, the environment is better off, and the investors get better returns on the investment.”
Farm equipment and infrastructure are generally financed and paid off out of future earnings. A tractor costs $60,000 new.
The Farm Safety Modernization Act, currently in the rulemaking stage, will mean more regulation, and therefore, more expense.
Skilled farm labor deserves a good wage.
Selling to retailers requires attention to food
member Dangling Carrot’s Becky Barnes lost a field of carrots due to flooding, the insurance adjustor paid her claim based on the market price of conventionally grown carrots, rather than the premium price of organic carrots. The lending climate may change when organic farming has a longer track record. But what can the organic farmer do now?
recall policies and procedures, food safety and commercial liability insurance. •
Product branding is another growth expense; if a farmer does not have the time or expertise to brand and market his products, then he must hire someone else to do it.
Clearly, a small-scale organic farmer who wants to grow needs access to affordable capital. Farming is capital-intensive, with the farmer generally spending most of the year preparing for the few income-producing months. Since so much of farming is forward-looking, farmers need equally forward-looking capital partners to back them.
Traditional Lenders are Leery of Organic Farming If you can write a reasonable business plan and own a large, conventional farm that grows corn, soybeans, or grain, you can usually get a loan from a conventional lender like a bank, credit union, or farm credit bureau, because the investment risk metrics for conventional farming are well known to these institutions. Additionally, the Farm Service Agency (FSA), a department of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), extends loans to farmers who have been spurned by conventional lenders. But banks and other lenders have less interest in small loans, and still less interest in supporting organic farming, which they perceive as risky. Due to the lack of risk data, crop insurance is also problematic. For example, when GRO
Impact Investing When conventional models don’t work, new models arise. Socially responsible investing has a long history—for instance, Quakers prohibited their members from investing in the slave trade. A more recent model is RSF Social Finance, a non-profit inspired by the beliefs of Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Since 1984, RSF has made more than $375 million in grants and loans in the categories of Food and Agriculture, Education and the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship. Today we often speak instead of impact investing—investing that generates a social and environmental as well as financial return. Impact investing in agriculture is much more common in the West and the Northeast, but we in Ohio can look to other models and decide if we want to emulate them, or create our own, or both. A paragon of impact investing is Iroquois Valley Farms. In 2007, the company created a private equity firm to buy farmland in the Midwest and lease it indefinitely to farmers who promise to farm the land sustainably. This model helps the farmer, since it takes three years to transition farmland from a conventional to an organic model, with no income in the meantime. Managing Director of Business Operations Kevin Egolf cites two main factors for the success of the private equity firm: “indefinite ownership investment model and patience investors,” that is, investors who understand the model and “are not asking for a quick return or exit.”
“This allows the farmers to make long-term investments in soil fertility, leading to better yields and healthier food,” Kevin says. “This long-term approach is a win-win-win. The farmers have longterm land access, the environment is better off, and the investors get better returns on the investment.”
Closer to Home In 1999, The Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy was created as a private non-profit to partner with Cuyahoga National Park. Countryside’s mission is to maintain the rural character of Cuyahoga County by allowing farmers to manage the land through sustainable farming, much like public land in Europe is leased to farmers to preserve and protect it. In 2015, an additional two farms will be leased to join the 10 already a part of this successful program. Might a similar approach work with certain state parks in Ohio? OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association), the non-profit responsible for the organic certification of Ohio farms, has made loan money available to qualifying organic farmers through the OEFFA Investment Fund and Zip Kiva. (See OEFFA website for details.) Even the enterprising individual farmer can think outside the box to influence his financial destiny. GRO member Todd Schriver of Rock Dove Farms has created three- and five-year farm bonds for those who want to invest in his farm.
Slow Money Central Ohio Created to encourage investors to find ways to invest in their local sustainable farmers, the nonprofit Slow Money has loaned more than $40 million to local food enterprises and organic farms since 2010. Slow Money is a national but highly decentralized movement. Michael Jones is a member of the Slow Money Central Ohio (SMCO) steering committee working to develop the group’s goals.
Great River Organics In addition to matching sustainable investment opportunities with potential investors, he envisions educating the public about Slow Money’s aims. He adds that one of their goals is to match “more structured” community investment opportunities with “on-farm project needs that ultimately expand the organic supply chain.”
The Challenge and the Opportunity
GRO says, “organic is the mainstream and conventional is the anomaly?” Then we need to ask ourselves, especially if we are people of means, whether we are willing to finance that growth.
For more information about how you can get involved, contact Michael Jones at email@example.com; Slow Money Central Ohio at firstname.lastname@example.org; and Great River Organics at greatriverfarms.org.
“This is not philanthropy,” says Adam. “We’re legitimate businesspeople, and we want investment, because Ohio has great potential to be successful in creating a sustainable supply chain.”
Nancy McKibben is happy to combine her loves of eating and writing with the opportunity to advocate
Organic agriculture speaks not only of healthy food, but of healthy soil, air, and water; the preservation of family farms; the ability of farmers to earn a good living; and the ethic of giving back to the earth as a necessary component of receiving from it.
Adam welcomes investment in GRO, and he also encourages organic farmers and would-be investors—including local credit unions, whose mission is rooted in community investment—to be “big, bold, and audacious” in considering new ideas and creating hitherto unimagined investment opportunities in sustainable agriculture here in Central Ohio.
But lofty language is cheap, and action is needed. Do we the people of Central Ohio want the supply of sustainably grown food to substantially increase, until, as Ben Sippel of Sippel Family Farms and
In the language that comes naturally to a farmer, he urges readers and potential investors: “Let’s grow this thing!”
for sustainable agriculture in the pages of Edible Columbus. her latest project is Kitschy Cat Alphabet, a rhyming alphabet book in postcards. She is also a novelist, poet, and lyricist, the mother of six, and the wife of one. View her work at nancymckibben.com; contact her at email@example.com
Great River Organics
An Apple A Day Keeps the Doctor Away How the healthcare industry is teaming up with local farms to bring more food to the people by amy bodiker
ating for health is simple enough in theory, but much more complicated in practice. Many obstacles from farm to table can stand in the way of our daily fruit and vegetable consumption.
And yet, it’s the health sector that has emerged in recent years as an important driver in the growth of local food production. As the healthcare industry considers the cost-saving opportunities in prevention strategies, wellness initiatives that promote healthy eating are gaining momentum. While smoking cessation and exercise programs are currently more popular, public health leaders are beginning to consider creative opportunities around food. With only a few nascent examples around the state, Ohio is just getting started. “(Our) state is moving forward looking at healthy food access as a social determinant of health,” says Dr. Andrew Wapner of the Ohio Department of Health. “I think that’s a positive way to approach health care and population health.” Andrew recently spearheaded the creation of Ohio’s Plan to Prevent and
Reduce Chronic Disease. Released in 2014 after a collaborative process in-
volving 150 health advocates, practitioners, and insurers, the five-year plan is a dynamic and priority-driven roadmap to better health. It was designed to preemptively address the lost productivity and rising healthcare costs caused by preventable conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The plan calls for stakeholders to work together on the shared priorities that will impact policies and improve the systems and environments to spark better health outcomes. Improving access to healthy foods is one of several calls to action in the plan. Recommended tactics that will be encouraged and monitored over the next five years include increased access to farmers markets, more local fruits and vegetables in schools, and the creation of a statewide food policy council.
FairShare is the first health insurance rebate program for CSAs in the county. Founded in 2005 by one local health plan and a small group of farms, FairShare now includes four insurers with 50 farms providing 9,000 shares to more than 20,000 customers annually. When CSAs began in the 1980s, they were considered a unique direct marketing strategy for small growers. They allow customers to make an up-front investment directly to the farmer, which in turn provides the cash required to plan for the season, purchase new seed, and make equipment repairs. By bringing insurers into the mix, FairShare has sweetened the CSA pot. Policyholders are effectively rewarded for their healthy choices with a $200 reimbursement per family after they sign up and pay for a CSA share from a selection of 50 member farms, most of which are certified organic. This rebate effectively makes fresh, seasonal, locally, and organically grown fruits and vegetables more accessible to consumers by reducing the cost of a CSA share by up to 40%. All involved say FairShare has been successful because of its triple-bottomline approach—impacting public health outcomes, customers’ pocketbooks, and farmers’ bottom lines. With sales and outreach efforts handled by the coalition and insurers, growers have focused on expanding production and serving their larger consumer base. As Claire Strader of FairShare explains, “just the fact that the rebate is publicized by the insurers increases the profile of CSA in the community, which is good for farms, farmers, and local organic food.” For those working to build a healthier and more sustainable food system, the unique success of FairShare’s collaboration cannot be understated. Despite the recent surge in farmers markets and popularity of buy-local campaigns, local food sales are still only estimated at 1.5% of the value of U.S. agricultural production. Changing something as complex as our food system is a multifaceted and lengthy enterprise. It requires innovative approaches and cross-sector collaboration. Whatever the motivation—cultural, economic, environmental—all stakeholders in the food movement from farmers and health advocates to entrepreneurs to environmentalists must consider new approaches to the way we produce, consume, and distribute food. There’s nothing stopping Ohio’s CSA growers, customers, insurers, and health advocates from replicating something like FairShare in our state. With the momentum of the Health Department’s Chronic Disease Prevention Plan at our backs, it will be exciting to see what healthy-eating innovations develop here.
Amy Bodiker is a food systems expert who works as non-profit fundraiser. She is the chair of the Franklin County Local Food Council and coordinates the Veggie SnaPS incentive program at area farmers markets. Learn more at amybodiker.com.
Living into these recommendations will require creativity and innovation. One model initiative to consider is the FairShare CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Coalition in southern Wisconsin, an innovative partnership between health insurers and local farmers.
1 USDA Economic Research Service, Vogel, Stephen, and Sarah A. Law, “The Size and Scope of Locally Marketed Food Production,” February 2, 2015. (Indeed, federal support for “specialty crops”— the USDA’s name for the fruits and vegetables we eat—only makes up 1% of the $956 billion allocated in the 2014 Farm Bill. )
from the good earth
The Whole W Organic Process
“As one looks at their plate through the year, at home or at some other place that they are dining, a larger percentage of that can now be organic in its origin than two decades before,” says Dr. Matt Kleinhenz, professor at The Ohio State University’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science.
Soil research bears fruit for organic vegetable production by Julie France
A new composition on your plate means more than just a healthier diet. With the rise in popularity of organic food and its availability comes the increase in organic farms and the proper certified organic farming techniques. For Matt, the growth of organic farming practices leaves behind an excess of research to be done on the effects of organic farming and how to enhance it.
Photo by Catherine Murray, PhotokitChen.net
ith extreme weather from dry periods to wet, climate variability keeps agricultural researchers in business. Yet enhancing how produce bears the weather isn’t the only mystery researchers are trying to solve.
Great River Organics
“Let’s go way, way, way back. Before there were farmers we followed our food,” Matt says. “Something changed in that people started to produce their food in place. Now, the moment you do that you set the stage for altering the environment.” Organic farming isn’t exempt from such alteration of the environment. Just consider the effects of not using herbicides. “If organic growers cannot use an herbicide like traditional growers can they might have to drive across the field several times with an implement behind their tractor to disrupt the weeds but not the crop, and in the process, you know, they may have an effect on the soil that’s different from an herbicide,” Matt says. Yet, in order to analyze those effects, community is key. Matt says, “Working directly with organic farmers in addressing short- and long-term needs that tends to be, at least in my experience, the most powerful research.” Matt is doing exactly that as he is working with many farmers and researchers of various expertise across Ohio to research soil management. “One project that we are involved with right now is examining different approaches to soil management and their effects on the soil, the crops, and the farms, and one of those approaches is called soil balancing, and so we are looking at a soil balancing approach versus other types of approaches together as famers and a research community,” Matt says. Above the ground, Matt and his partners are involved in another project concerning microbials, which are beneficial microbes that when put into contact with soil or plants can make both of them healthier.
Apart from researching effects of organic farming, Matt and his team have spearheaded research that evaluates the quality of organic vegetables so that some day if there is a move to place nutritional value labels on fresh produce, just like labels found on processed foods, there will be ways of measuring such nutritional value. This research into the nutritional value of organic vegetables has come in handy for Matt in another project where the findings will help prepare the market for a possible change in farmer compensation. “Most farmers are compensated by how much they grow. If the product meets the minimum standards of the market, they don’t get [paid] any more for having a higher quality product,” Matt says. “In time though, all of us maybe want to reconsider that math and think about compensating farmers based on the quality of their product, including its nutritional value.” So, what’s the drive behind enhancing organic vegetable production, whether it’s through rewarding farmers for high quality food or figuring out the microbial puzzle? Well, for Matt, it’s the very special place farming holds in our society. “All businesses are important, but certain businesses have connections to culture, society, and the individual a little bit more so. Farming happens to be one of those that at least in my experience is very strongly connected in many different ways to daily lives,” Matt says. “So, in as much as we’d like to proceed with farming remaining a business, we also want to ask it to do so much more and research can help in that whole process.”
Julie France is a freelance writer and recent
“Much like you and I would go to a store and see 50 different versions of ibuprofen or 50 different versions of aspirin, organic growers see many dozens of microorganisms and it’s not always for use on their farm and it’s not always clear which are the most beneficial. So, we’re helping sort that out,” Matt says.
graduate of kenyon College. She enjoys writing features that illuminate people living their passions—especially when it concerns a healthier lifestyle. to see more of her work, visit journalismjuliefrance.wordpress.com.
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Do Your Bit
by holly davis • illustration by Sharon teuscher
Our goal for this issue is to provide readers with a better understanding of local, organic food, why it’s important, and the challenging landscape farmers face. But we realize that knowing more doesn’t necessarily make you feel less overwhelmed. You might be wondering, “What can I do?” or “How can I do more?” If you feel inspired to get involved, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Buy A CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares are offered by more than 12,000 farms across the country according to the USDA. When you purchase a CSA membership, you receive produce and/or other farm products at pre-determined intervals throughout the growing season. CSAs originated as a means to provide farmers with a stable market, and serve as a direct consumer investment in those farms. In a true CSA, 100% of your purchase directly benefits the farm. But be aware and ask questions—some third-party organizations offer produce subscriptions labeled as CSAs, but they are not. In a true CSA, 100% of your purchase directly benefits the farm, with no markups and no middlemen. Produce subscription programs are an outlet for farms to sell their food, but do not provide the same direct-to-farm benefits that a CSA offers both growers and consumers.
Re-think Your Food Budget. We spend less of our money on what we eat than any other country. Americans spend just over 6% of our total budget on food, whereas France spends nearly twice that amount according to the Gates Foundation. Sustainably and organically grown food costs more, and it should. Improved working conditions and increased wages mean higher food costs. In a country where poverty among farm workers is more than twice that of wage and salaried employees (PBS), we should all be shifting our priorities to not only eat better, but also to support the men and women providing our families with hard-won, handcrafted food.
Give. Think hard about what you have to offer, and then offer it. Is it time? Money? Influence? All three? Join a co-operative as a supporting member. Consider making a low-interest loan to a farm or co-op seeking investment. Volunteer your time to a co-op and/or a farm in whatever way speaks to you, be it pulling weeds and packing food, or donating your professional skills to support a farm’s success (think marketing, design, promotions, etc.). Spread the word through your network about the importance of supporting farms with direct purchases. Create and promote a CSA delivery to your workplace. Commit to building your shopping and eating habits around the growing season of your region, and encourage others to do the same.
Hold Businesses Accountable. When you eat in a restaurant advertising its farm-to-table commitment, channel your inner Portlandia and ask questions. Spend your money with businesses that are truly building a menu around locally sourced items and purchasing from farms frequently and substantially—and not just buying small amounts of produce here and there to capitalize on a trend. Farmers are held to a high level of transparency and accountability to disclose exactly how their product was grown or raised, but restaurants can advertise themselves as local, farm-to-table, and even go so far as to publish farm names on their menus and social media profiles with zero accountability. It’s on us as consumers to demand more from them.
Buy Organic. If you’re one to purchase fair-trade at the grocery, then you should also be purchasing local and certified organic produce. If you’re currently doing neither of these things, now is a great time to start. It’s better for our soil, our water quality, our wildlife, our health, and the health and safety of the people that are growing our food. It also ensures farmers a premium for their product, which helps ensure the longevity of the farm itself. Remember— no farms, no food. Dig In. Get to know your farmers. Introduce yourself and make a genuine effort to get to know them. Build personal relationships with at least one farm that’s farming for a living, not just as a hobby. Volunteer your time to their field or market stand. Help pack CSA shares. Make a standing commitment. These experiences will not only offer the farm much-needed labor support, they will bring you to a better understanding of just what it takes for that glorious bunch of beets to arrive at your dinner table. A more personal relationship with your farmer equals a more intimate relationship with your food. Investing in your local food economy, both emotionally and financially, isn’t always comfortable. But it’s always worth the effort. Tear out this page and place it on your fridge as a reminder of how you and your family can get involved. If you’d like more specific suggestions or support on any of the ideas above, email Holly Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.