Category Archives: Sustainable Agriculture in the News

Living Organically: Peach Mountain Organic Farm

By Bryn Mooth
Photographs by Julie Kramer
Edible Ohio Valley
Summer 2012


Above: Doug Seibert and Leslie Garcia stand in front of the barn on today’s Peach Mountain Farm. The Silo is covered in Virginia Creeper, a vine that creeps into their barn and prep area. Below: Leslie Garcia shows us one of the last strawberries of the season. Doug Seibert inspects beneficial insects in a cover crop of flowering cilantro that is roughly four feet high. He is conscious of not seeing bare ground on his land and cover crops grow in any row that is not currently in production.

An easy-to-miss driveway juts off a county road north of Spring Valley, Ohio. The gravel lane leads to a modest house tucked in amid tall shade trees. Across the yard stands a barn that’s seemingly held together by its contents: old machine parts, stacks of plastic nursery pots, seed packets, bags of soil amendment. A stooped yet graceful white-haired woman pushes a walker slowly down the pebbly drive, taking in the cool morning air.

This 17-acre Greene County spread is home to Doug Seibert and Leslie Garcia (along with Garcia’s 93-year-old mother and a big ol’ farm dog). On seven acres, the pair —business and life partners since 1991 — cultivate a huge variety of vegetables and cut flowers under the Peach Mountain Organics banner. Their farm, certified organic by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA), produces enough for Seibert and Garcia to create a simple, sustainable lifestyle on the land.

The farm’s bounty also graces dining tables throughout Montgomery and Greene counties: Seibert and Garcia sell to restaurants in nearby towns, including the popular Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs and The Meadowlark in Dayton. Their ever-changing salad mix is a must-buy at the Saturday morning Yellow Springs farmers’ market; Peach Mountain sells out of its offerings in an hour or two. “I once saw a woman in high heels running across the parking lot to get the last bag of our salad mix before we sold out,” Seibert says, laughing.

Peach Mountain is surprisingly productive: last season, they harvested just under a ton of salad mix. More than a thousand bunches of kale (“we did kale before kale was cool,” Garcia says). More than 4,000 pounds of tomatoes came out of just one greenhouse. Last fall, they planted 1,000 pounds of garlic, which this summer will yield perhaps five times that. Squash, greens of all kinds, onions, strawberries, herbs, potatoes … the list goes on. Organic certification requires detailed record-keeping of every input (seed, soil amendments, pest control, planting dates) and output.


The Business of Farming
Think about the business model for a moment: About 22 tillable acres (Garcia and Seibert have a nearby property with 15 acres under cultivation). The expenses of organic seed, soil amendments and pest management. Two highly limited sales channels: a single farmers’ market stand and a handful of restaurant accounts. A seasonal production cycle.

How in the world can anyone make even a bare-bones living raising vegetables organically? The secret, says Seibert: no debt.

By purchasing their land outright (the latest parcel at auction for a favorable price), buying used equipment and a secondhand greenhouse (deconstructed, moved and rebuilt by Doug), and keeping their staff to a minimum (two full-time summer employees), Seibert and Garcia have withstood the variability of weather and the volatility of expenses. They haven’t raised their market prices since 1991.

To be sure, the couple have a huge “soft” investment in the farm — namely, in their own labor. Farming, organically or not, is a 24/7 venture pretty much year-round. The couple seems content to take no more than they need, maintaining a simple lifestyle, and even managing to put away a bit of money to buy a small farm property in Washington State near Seibert’s grown son. They have a tidy nest egg; what’s left of any profit is reinvested in the farm. “We’ve never had a losing season,” Garcia says. “Our worst season, we each got about $365.” “It’s never been about the money,” Seibert says.

What it is about, though, is satisfying customers and being good stewards of the land. Standing in an open field behind a large triple greenhouse, her salt-and-pepper hair in two braids, Garcia says she and Seibert never for a minute considered farming conventionally. “I read ‘Silent Spring,’” she says. “I saw what happened in Bhopal, India. How many clues do people need?”

At 59, she’s a veteran of organic agriculture. Wary of the dangers of agri-chemicals and dismayed by the conventional teachings of the Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture, where she spent a year, Garcia began organically farming a few acres in Adams County in her early 20s. That farm was near Peach Mountain, reputed to be Ohio’s second or third largest peak, depending on you you ask, and it lent its name to the current operation.

Neither Garcia nor Seibert come from farm families; Seibert, 62, is a Cincinnati native who attended Wilmington College, where he lived off-campus in a “shack” with a big garden. His early career as a machinist comes in handy; someone’s gotta build the hoop houses and keep the tractor running.

In a large greenhouse and several smaller structures, Seibert and Garcia start nearly all their crops from seed, then transplant directly into the ground in hoop houses or open beds. In addition to the salad mix and Garcia’s gladiolus, which Peach Mountain is well-regarded for, and a whole host of organic produce, the farm sells vegetable and herb plants. Until a few years ago, Garcia also grew bedding plants for retail sale; while that was profitable business, the work was exhausting and the two decided to scale back.


Fooling Mother Nature
On a cool May morning, rows of healthy tomato plants reach nearly four feet high in a greenhouse. The farm uses a clever rope-and-pulley system to corral the vines: As the tomato plants grow taller, the rope is lowered so the heavy bottom stems coil on the ground, containing the plants and keeping the tomatoes in easy reach for harvesting. Growing tomatoes under cover is expensive, Seibert says, because the close conditions are heaven for aphids, which must be controlled by introducing insects that feed on them.

In a creekside field near the main farm, Garcia picks flowers to arrange for a weekend wedding. Rows and rows of hardneck garlic, planted by hand in the fall, are already sprouting their springtime curlicue scapes. Seibert walks past a patch of cilantro that he let go to seed as a bee pasture; the tall, spindly plants are recognizable only by their strong scent, and they’re humming with insects. Seibert and Garcia use plants like clover, vetch, and field peas for all-season cover, to add nutrients to the soil. “I don’t like bare ground,” Seibert says. “You want that microbiology going on in the soil all the time.”

Organic farming is a carefully managed ecosystem — and while it tries to work within the natural order of things, it’s also a constant battle against nature. They tried raising chickens a couple of years ago, Garcia says, but the raccoons systematically picked off the flock. She points to a bed of lettuce that’s speckled with maple sproutlings, thanks to the huge trees that frame the farm. “Mother Nature wants to take over all the time,” she says. “We try to have a lot of crop diversity, but in the end, farming isn’t all that compatible with nature.”

Trial-and-error and sharing knowledge help Seibert and Garcia in this constant struggle to both sustain and control natural forces. Their success with the former and generosity with the latter have earned the two recognition and admiration from their fellow farmers. In February, OEFFA awarded them the Stewardship Award, its highest honor. Growers throughout the region cite Seibert as a mentor. “People ask me questions all the time, and I’m always happy to share what we’ve learned,” Seibert says.

Market Ecosystem
On a warming Saturday morning, there’s a line at the Peach Mountain Organics booth at the Yellow Springs farmers’ market. Seibert has pulled up a panel truck full of produce; customers snatch up salad mix and other seasonal goodies.

This single market pulls in three-fifths of Peach Mountain Organics’ annual revenue. “When we first started, farmers’ markets were at the bottom of a downward trend,” Seibert says. They’ve taken a calculated risk by investing in a single retail venue rather than participating in multiple markets or launching a CSA program, which they feel would compete with their Yellow Springs presence. “We do one market, and we do a big deal,” he says. “We spend two days getting ready for Saturday.”

Customers are loyal to Peach Mountain because of their organic, high-quality product. Like the environment, a farmers’ market is its own ecosystem, with vendors working in concert to draw big crowds that benefit everyone. Too few farmers and customers don’t come; too little variety and the farmers compete. Seibert and Garcia are always evaluating what to grow, in what quantity, and how much to bring to market. They raise cost-intensive crops like herbs and greenhouse tomatoes because they know demand is high. “A farmer can’t stand there all day and sell $100 worth of produce,” Doug says. “We want to sell out. It’s a fragile balance.” 

Bryn Mooth is an independent journalist and copywriter focused on food, wellness, and creativity, and she shares recipes on her amazing, consistent, and timely blog Cultivators is her standing column in Edible Ohio Valley, where she brings you the stories, in words and pictures, of the growers, producers, bakers, cooks, and vendors who bring great local food to our Ohio Valley tables.

Drought, Climate Change, and the Price of Corn

MSNBC Up with Chris Hayes
Sunday, July 22, 2012

Features OEFFA member and farmer Bryn Bird of Bird’s Haven Farms on MSNBC discussing the impact of drought and climate change on farming, corporate control of agriculture, commodities, and crop insurance with Chris Hayes and Amy Goodman in this three part video.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Growing organically suits Banzhaf Garten just fine

By Connie Lechleitner
May 8, 2012
Ohio’s Country Journal

For Dave Benchoff, of Ashland, what began as a backyard garden has grown into a full-time business with Banzhaf Garten Organic Farm.

Dave Benchoff checks his parsley plants in the high tunnel.

“We weren’t always health conscious, but having kids made my wife and I study where our food comes from,” Benchoff said. “My wife has food allergies to MSG and other preservatives, and our kids were starting to have them too. Our oldest son would break out into hives if he ate eggs from the store, but yet when we raised our own, he had no problem.”

The Benchoffs have three children, a son (21), daughter (16) and son (10). Benchoff and his wife, Lori, were living in Mansfield, where he was working as an EMT instructor and firefighter, handling 911 calls.

“When we turned 40, we decided it was time for a change, and we moved to the country in 1999. We got a good deal on a 20-acre farm, and I wanted to find something to do with the land besides mow it. I started out with a garden, but it got out of control,” he said with a laugh. “Then I realized that I might be able to make a living at it.”

Soon, the Wooster native with a masters in history found himself immersed in the study of organics. His research led him to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

“The OEFFA began in 1979, and had been certifying organic production since back in the early 1980’s,” Benchoff said. “They started well before the national movement, and it wasn’t until 2002 that the USDA developed its own certification program.”

Benchoff received organic certification for his farm in 2003.

“At that time, the national standard was new,” he said. “I had several people tell me I was crazy for pursuing it, but I knew there was an interest in naturally grown produce, and it has only increased since then. It is a good marketing tool for produce growers.”

The certification process was initially extensive.

“The inspectors look at everything from your seed packets, to invoices, to harvest records and sales receipts,” he said. “You have to maintain records and document everything that goes into or out of the ground. And you have to use substances approved by OEFFA or the Organic Materials Review Institute. The first inspection took a whole day here at our farm.”

Benchoff developed his own recordkeeping system that has been well received by inspectors as well as other growers.

“I’ve actually taught my system at OEFFA workshops,” he said. “I create forms in Word that can be printed out with a computer, but you don’t have to have a computer to do this system. In fact, some people have taken my system and tweaked it to meet their own needs. The inspectors love it because they don’t have to take all day to do their records audit.”

He credits his EMT/fireman training for helping him develop the system.

Dave Benchoff shows his customized system for feeding fish emulsion fertilizer through his drip irrigation system.

“When you do EMT work, you learn to look at things in a logical way, and put it into a matrix as you survey the scene,” Benchoff said. “I like to keep things simple, so I basically took that mindset as I developed my record system for the plants.”

On a recent farm visit in late April, outdoor planting was just beginning. Cabbage and snow pea plants were in the ground in the outdoor planting beds, as well as garlic. Mown grass was already being used as mulch.

“We use it to help keep weeds down, and it breaks down into organic matter that goes back into the soil,” he said.

In addition to its outdoor planting beds, the farm is using a high tunnel structure.

“2011 was the first year of production with it, and we were still learning what we could grow in it,” Benchoff said.

The farm received a cost share grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA) to build the structure. During the farm visit, the high tunnel housed bok choy, kohlrabi, lettuce, beets, Swiss chard, oriental turnips, kale, radishes and parsley.

“What I like about the high tunnel structure is the ability to control everything from water, to nutrients to temperature,” he said. “In 2011, we had such a wet spring, where it rained for two months and there was no sun. It really hurt our production, but what we grew in the high tunnel really saved our production last year.”

Benchoff said the farm achieved 5,000 pounds of produce in 2010, however the growing conditions in 2011 dropped production in the same beds to about 4,000 pounds.

“The high tunnel gave us about 700 pounds of produce, which essentially kept us even with the year before,” he said. “Without it we would have been hurting.”

To get the most efficient production, Benchoff employs a succession planting system.

“I do very little direct seed planting,” he said. “It’s mostly snow peas, green beans, garlic and potatoes. Everything else gets started in the greenhouse, with the heirloom tomatoes being from my own seed stock.”

The successive planting concept goes to work when harvesting begins.

“It’s all in the timing,” he said. “For example, when cucumbers go into the ground, it’s time to start the next set of seeds. I know that it will take two to three weeks for those seeds to germinate and be ready, and I will have harvested the existing plants in the mean time. I’ll pull them out and plant the newer plants. It maximizes production.”

A drip irrigation system runs throughout the farm.

“It’s more labor up front, but it is so easy once it is in place,” Benchoff said.

He has also incorporated a system to run his fertilizer — fish emulsion — through the drip irrigation system as well, getting just the right nutrients to the plants.

“I use very little chemical input on the farm,” he said. “I’ve consulted with the researchers at OARDC on specific issues, and I do have corrective measures that are organic approved. For example, I use copper hydroxide for tomato blight. It is a mild fungicide that is an approved treatment.”

Benchoff produces more than 40 species of organically grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a wild-crafted raspberry and blackberry stand, and a wood sales operation.

Most of the farm’s marketing efforts have concentrated on farmers markets, which has also led Benchoff to other leadership roles, including volunteering at the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy in Peninsula and Akron. The Countryside Conservancy advocates community agriculture through markets, networking and workshops to help guide new farmers.

Initiatives like the Countryside Conservancy fit well with Benchoff’s strong belief in building local economies.

“The small entrepreneurs, the cottage industries, are what America is supposed to be about,” he said. “It’s sad to me that so many of us are no longer making a living off our land.”

That passion for entrepreneurship has also led Benchoff to become involved in local producer causes. He served as an original steering committee member in 2009 when the Wooster Local Roots store was formed. The food store is open daily and features produce, textiles and crafts from local growers. The store also includes a café, which features menu items that are seasonally based on the local produce available at the market.

Now, an Ashland Local Roots store is on the horizon.

“For now, we’re holding a farmer’s market every Saturday in the building, but we’re waiting for permits and approval of the architect’s rendering,” he said. “Eventually, we’ll have a second store in Ashland based on the same concept as Wooster. And we’ve already had requests to develop a Local Roots store in Mansfield and New Philadelphia.”

Back on Banzhaf Farm, there is more to do.

“There’s always something to learn,” Benchoff said. “You have to be dynamic and adapt to change. The world is changing. Our economy is changing. And we have to be ready.”

Silencing Communities: How the Fracking Industry Keeps Its Secrets

May, 8 2012
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout

The “Rogers” family signed a surface-use agreement with a fracking company in 2009 to close their 300-acre dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania. That’s not the end of the Rogers’ story, but the public, including the Rogers’ own neighbors, may never learn what happened to the family and their land as drilling operations sprouted up in their area. The Rogers did not realize they had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the gas company making the entire deal invalid if members of the family discussed the terms of the agreement, water or land disturbances resulting from fracking and other information with anyone other than the gas company and other signatories.

“Rogers” is not the family’s real name, it’s a pseudonym offered by Simona Perry, an applied anthropologist who cannot reveal the family’s identity. Perry has been working with rural families living amid Pennsylvania’s gas boom since 2009. Mrs. Rogers initially agreed to participate in a study Perry was conducting on rural families living near fracking operations. She later called Perry in tears, explaining that her family could no longer participate in the study because of the nondisclosure clause in the surface-use agreement. She told Perry she felt stupid for signing the agreement and has realized she had a good life without the money the fracking company paid them to use their land.

Perry has been working with and collecting data on rural families living amid Pennsylvania’s gas boom since 2009 and she told Truthout that the Rogers were not the only family who could not share their experiences due to nondisclosure agreements. Perry said the nondisclosure agreements prevent doctors and researchers from gathering valuable data on the health and environmental impacts of fracking and have a chilling effect on people and communities living near the rigs.

“As communities struggle to contend with these impacts and risks in their daily lives, citizens are forced or sometimes unknowingly sign a nondisclosure agreements, [and] they have lost their freedom to speak and share their knowledge and experience with their neighbors,” Perry said. “As a result, whole communities have been silenced and repressed.”

Doctors Demand Access to Fracking Data

Controversial hydraulic fracturing oil and gas drilling methods known as “fracking” involve pumping water and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release oil and gas. Advanced techniques have facilitated an oil and natural gas boom across Pennsylvania and beyond in recent years and brought the drilling close to homes and farms.

Besides air emissions standards recently introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency,  fracking remains largely unregulated by the federal government and has been linked to earthquakes and air and water contamination across the country. Fracking companies disclose some of the chemicals used in fracking fluid, but others – and their concentrations – are often exempt from disclosure because they are considered trade secrets. Other exemptions buried in state and federal law allow drillers to avoid disclosing contents of fracking fluids after they return from deep underground.

Dr. Jerome Paulson, a physician and director of Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, said that the fracking industry has told the public that the drilling procedure is safe, so there is no reason to hide information on health impacts from public view. Nondisclosure agreements with private landowners and disclosure exemptions, Paulson said, are preventing doctors from doing their jobs and protecting the public.

“How do we provide appropriate treatment recommendations to who are ill?” Paulson asked during a press conference last week. “For the population of individuals who are healthy, how do we provide prevention recommendations when we don’t have the information?”

A spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group that represents fracking companies in Pennsylvania, was not available for comment.

Headaches, Nosebleeds and Sealed Records

Chris and Stephanie Hallowich and their children thought they had found their dream home when they moved onto a farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, but they did not know the prior owner had leased the gas rights to a fracking company, according to Matthew Gerhart, an attorney for the group Earthjustice. The family soon found themselves surrounded by gas development as fracking companies exploited the gas-rich Marcellus Shale that runs under much of the state.

The Hallowich family became outspoken opponents of fracking and said that they and their children began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds, burning eyes and sore throats as drilling operations expanded on their land and in their neighborhood. The family tried to get the attention of the media, state regulators and the gas companies, but ended up filing a lawsuit in 2010 and abandoning their home.

The lawsuit was settled in last year. The settlement hearing was closed to the press and the gas companies persuaded a common please judge who approved the settlement to permanently seal it from public view, according to Gerhart, who assumes the settlement includes a nondisclosure agreement. Two area newspapers, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer Reporter, have since sought access to the court records, but were initially denied. Last week, the newspapers appealed the judge’s decision denying them access to the records to the state’s Superior Court.

Dr. Paulson joined Earthjustice, Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other groups in filing a brief in support of the newspapers’ appeal, arguing that the public deserves access to crucial information about the potential health impacts of fracking.

“We’re involved in this case because the gas companies insistence on confidentiality is the tip of the iceberg, for one example of a pattern of secrecy and in other contexts,” said Gerhart, who hopes that the effort to unseal the records will be a step toward greater industry transparency. “… We need real data and access to the real people that are affected by fracking.”

The brief filed by Earthjustice and the doctors’ groups lists 27 cases in heavily fracked states such as Colorado, Arkansas, Texas and Pennsylvania where details of the case or the settlement are being held out of public light due to sealed court records and nondisclosure agreements.

For farmers, fracking means salvation or ruin

By Mary Esch
May 20, 2012
Albany, N.Y. —When Dan Fitzsimmons looks across the Susquehanna River and sees the flares of Pennsylvania gas wells, he thinks bitterly of the riches beneath his own land locked up by the heated debate that has kept hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of New York.

“I go over the border and see people planting orchards, buying tractors, putting money back in their land,” said Fitzsimmons, a Binghamton landowner who heads the 70,000-member Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. “We’d like to do that too, but instead we struggle to pay the taxes and to hang onto our farms.”

While New York state has had a moratorium on shale gas development for four years while the Department of Environmental Conservation completes an environmental impact review, thousands of wells have gone into production in Pennsylvania.

Both states, along with Ohio and West Virginia, overlie the vast Marcellus Shale deposit, which has been made productive by the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking.

In the middle of the debate over whether the gas unlocked by fracking is worth the risks of drinking water contamination and adverse health effects are the landowners who must decide whether to sell their mineral rights. Many are dairy farmers and many struggle under heavy debt.

While Fitzsimmons and others in his coalition look south and see the land of milk and honey, other farmers point to Pennsylvania as a case history for how the shale gas boom can be disastrous to agriculture.

Pennsylvania dairy farmers Carol French and Carolyn Knapp travel to other shale gas states giving talks on gas drilling. They tell of methane-contaminated wells; contractors destroying valuable timber for access roads; pipelines making cropland inaccessible; years of agricultural production lost and uncompensated; road damage that isolates families for weeks.

“I never in my wildest dreams envisioned the industrialization that comes along with this process,” Knapp told an audience in Pittsboro, N.C.

Siobhan Griffin, who raises grass-fed cows in Westville, N.Y. and sells organic cheese, doesn’t see gas as the answer. Rather, she fears for her cows if drilling comes to neighboring leased land. She points to Pennsylvania, where 28 cows were quarantined  from sale after they drank wastewater, and Louisiana, where 17 cows died after drinking contaminated water.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators cited East Resources with a violation in 2010 in connection with the state Agriculture Department’s quarantine.  Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality fined Chesapeake Energy and Schlumberger Technology $22,000 each in connection with the 2010 cow deaths.

“I can’t blame dairy farmers for signing,” Griffin said, “because of the cheap food policy in this country. Farmers are stuck in the middle. They don’t make enough margin to pay their bills.”

While conventional dairy farms struggle, sustainable agriculture is growing, thanks to demand from New York City. Ken Jaffe raises grass-fed beef in the western Catskills and sells it to co-ops and high-end restaurants in the city, 160 miles to the southeast. He said gas drilling could destroy the livelihood of thousands of small farmers who cater to that market.

The Park Slope Food Cooperative, which buys upward of $3 million worth of products from upstate farms, has told farmers its members won’t buy products from any area that allows fracking, because they fear contamination. Chefs for the Marcellus, a group of restaurateurs, is calling for a ban on fracking.

Members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York passed a resolution in January calling for a ban on fracking.

But the 30,000-member New York Farm Bureau supports natural gas development “as long as it can be done safely,” said spokesman Jeff Williams. “We’ve been working with DEC to get them to craft the strongest regulations in the nation.”

Landowner coalitions say they’re not relying solely on the state to protect their land, but have built extensive protections into their leases.

“I turned down an offer of $700,000 because the lease was really bad,” said Jim Worden, who raises cows, corn, soybeans and oats near Binghamton. “We won’t sign a lease that jeopardizes our family’s future. It’s not so much about money as about protecting yourself and the environment.”

Fitzsimmons and other coalition members traveled to Albany recently to proclaim the rights of landowners to profit from their mineral resources and seek a halt to a growing movement of local drilling bans.

Dairy farmer Jennifer Huntington in Otsego County sued the town of Middlefield over one such ban because it prevented a planned conventional gas well on her land. A judge upheld the ban but Huntington plans to appeal.

“We would have used the royalties to update the anaerobic digester  that we installed in 1984,” Huntington said, referring to technology that produces methane fuel from manure. “We would have purchased a better oil seed press to more efficiently press soybeans for biodiesel. We would have invested in our farm, our land, and our employees.”

With gas prices at record lows, Worden doesn’t expect drilling to expand rapidly in New York even if the DEC decides to allow fracking. If he can’t profit from gas, he said he’ll find another way to make ends meet.

“It’s a struggle, you know, but you just do what you need to do,” Worden said. “You sell some trees, do firewood, or do some work for somebody else. Same as we always have.”

Would-be farmers find urban oasis

Shawn Fiegelist recently opened City Folk’s Farm Shop in Clintonville. The shop is geared to those interested in urban farming. The shop is at 4760 N.High Street.

By Kevin Parks ThisWeek Community News

April 27, 2012


Those who want to grow their own food in an urban setting now have a one-stop-shop for supplies.

It’s called City Folk’s Farm Shop, and while it’s located at 4760 N. High St. in Clintonville, owner Shawn Fiegelist said in the month it’s been open, she’s had customers from all over Central Ohio.

“This is a store for people who like to grown their own food in the city, and people who like to be self-sustained,” the Tiffin native said.

Fiegelist, who moved to Columbus in the early 1990s and initially worked in ad sales for the Columbus Dispatch, said she’s like many small-business entrepreneurs: When she couldn’t find what she wanted in any store, she decided to open that store.

Like the customers City Folk’s is attracting, Fiegelist said she’s interested in having some control over her source of food, and knowing better what’s in the food she and her husband eat.

“I think it’s a growing trend,” she said.

But finding supplies for those following the trend wasn’t that easy. Fiegelist said she wound up doing a lot of shopping online or having to travel to farm-supply stores well outside of Columbus.

Now, people who want to provide organic feed to chickens they’re raising in their back yards can find it right in the city.

“That stuff’s hard to keep on the shelf,” Fiegelist said.

The three main product lines at the store are garden tools and supplies, feed and supplies for back yard animals, and “homesteading” supplies, she said.

Fiegelist said the store aims to be there for urban farmers in every season, from organic and heirloom seeds, soils and fertilizers for planting in the spring to supplies used in preserving food for the winter.

Joseph Swain, owner of Swainway Urban Farm in Clintonville, said he thinks the shop is a great benefit.

“It’s just pushing the back yard garden movement forward and giving people accessibility to supplies that aren’t readily available to people growing their own food,” he said.

Fiegelist said the store is a big supporter of buying local, working with Columbus- and Ohio-based companies such as One20 Farm, Swainway Urban Farm, Gregg Organics, Livingston Seed, Ohio Earth Foods, Price Farm Organics, Rain Brothers and Conrad Hive and Honey to provide products and supplies needed to live a greener and more sustainable lifestyle.

“One of the pillars of the business is we offer classes and education,” she said.

Recently, urban homesteading blogger Rachael Tayse taught 16 or so participants the ins and outs of raising chickens in the city.

The next class is set for 7 p.m. May 29 and will feature Marne Titchenell, a wildlife program specialist with Ohio State University Extension Service. Its title: “Attracting Bats to Your Back Yard.”

After her ad sales experience with the Dispatch, Fiegelist worked for some radio stations and ad agencies. Most recently, she was a research director for Time-Warner Cable.

“I’ve always been interested in how small businesses work,” she said. “I will tell you, you’re never prepared for it until you do it.”

Despite the challenges that have arisen in the 18 months to two years since Fiegelist began considering the idea that grew into City Folk’s Farm Shop, the owner said she’s glad she took the plunge – and glad she decided to do it in her own neighborhood.

“Clintonville seems to be a hot spot for it,” Fiegelist said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s gotten good response. The people have been so nice and welcoming, and they’ve offered good suggestions.”

Feds back down on farm work rules

Associated Press
By Rick Dandes
April 27, 2012

WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure from individual farmers and rural organizations, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday that it would be dropping an unpopular plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms.

The proposed rules would have banned children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment; it would also have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feedlots, grain bins and stockyards.

Labor officials claimed the goal of the regulation all along was to reduce the fatality rate for child farm workers, but it had quickly become a popular political target for Republicans who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.

“It was a ridiculous regulation,” said Clarence Reilly, a farmer from lower Augusta Township. “Riding farm equipment is how I learned to farm and it’s how my son is learning. And by the way, he loves it.”

“Isn’t that the point?” said Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The regulations would have jeopardized the role parents play in teaching children the value of on-the-farm work.

The decision is a major victory for farm families in Pennsylvania and across the nation, he continued. “The proposal brought into legal question whether children of farmers, whose business was part of a family partnership, LLC (Limited Liability Company) or family farm corporation, could allow their own children to perform typical farm chores, such as milking cows, if they were under the age of 16.”

PFB was also troubled by a proposed rule that would have severely restricted non-farm youth involved in FFA and 4-H programs from working with any livestock for the purposes of agriculture education.

Strawberry Hill Farm providing produce, eggs and beef for the community

Coshocton Tribune

May 1, 2012

By Valerie Boateng

FRESNO — When Ron and Mary Meyer moved back to Coshocton in 2003, they started farming in what they described a “chemical freeway.”

Today, Strawberry Hill Farm is operating in an organic manner.

“We have been certified organic since 2006. We concentrate on raising vegetables and fruits in an invasive, organic method on an acre and a half,” Ron said. “In addition to that, we have five acres of pasture and six acres of hay fields we raise our own beef cattle, laying hens on the pasture … and also during the summer we’ll raise meat chickens on the pasture.”

Some of their products can be found at Local Bounty.

The goal for the farm is not to maximize profits but to build the health of the human and natural communities, Ron said.

“We feel one way we can do that is by following organic practices,” he said.

Being organic means more than just not using chemicals.

“It’s a lot more of what we do than what we don’t do,” he said. “Organic farming is about building healthy soil, and that’s what we do. We build the health of the soil because healthy soil makes healthy plants and that makes healthy food. There are a lot of ways we build healthy soil, we compost, rotate crops, interplant … one thing we’re trying to do is build the health of the microbial community in the soil.”

While being certified organic involves fees, paperwork and inspections, Ron said farms are allowed to call themselves organic without certificate if sales are less than $5,000 per year and they follow the national organic standards.

The produce portion of the Meyers’ farm is certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

“To meet that certification you have to maintain extensive records, be inspected annually, follow national organic standards which are guidelines on how to grow and how to manage your operation,” Ron said.

The cattle and laying hens are not certified organic.

“For our hens to be certified organic, they would have had to have been raised as chicks on only organic feed. It’s hard to find and extremely expensive so we haven’t gone that route,” he said. “In most ways they’re raised very naturally.”

The 39 hens and one rooster at the farm have unimpeded access to the pasture. Being able to roam freely on the Fresno hillside means healthier birds and some say tastier eggs.

“These chickens are free range, they’re able to come in and out of the chicken house onto the pasture at will,” he said. “They eat lots of grass, lots of insects, lots of vegetation.”

In the winter months, the birds are kept in an enclosed chicken house and put on a feed diet. It’s been about a month since they’ve been freed again.

“They were learning again what it’s like to be free and running around the pasture,” he said.

Meyer has made working on the farm his full-time job. He tends to the hens several times per day, collecting their eggs from a nest box which he then processes. He sells to customers at the farm, through a local community supported agriculture program, farmers’ markets and at Local Bounty.

“I open the door about lunch time for them to roam and they come back in to roost at night,” he said. “They come in on their own, and that’s where the phrase ‘Coming home to roost’ comes from.”

The golden comet chickens lay brown eggs. The color of egg, Ron said, is determined by diet and type of bird.

“We have customers who won’t buy any other eggs except these or ones they know have been raised on a pasture,” he said.

Visually, when cracked open and dropped in a frying pan, the yolks of the eggs are a deep gold color, unlike the pale yellow of a store-bought egg.

“There is a difference in taste, and I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “They taste fresh. … And in a fresh egg like this, when fried it stands up. Store eggs often have been in there a while and it’s flat.”

While there usually are two sides to every argument, Ron sides on the belief there is a greater nutritional value of an egg from a free range bird on a pasture instead of birds raised on a factory farm where chickens are in cages and fed a rationfeed.

“There’s got to be something different in the composition of the egg … so I side with the people who say ‘Yes, these are a lot more healthier for you,'” he said.

Currently, the eggs and a cookbook about preserving food, written by Mary and the couple’s daughter, Susanna, are their only items sold at Local Bounty. Produce might come later if crops survive March’s unseasonably warm temperatures.

“The apple and few pear trees are blooming too early because of the warm weather,” he said. “They probably started blooming three weeks early, and I’m afraid we lost all of our apple crop.”

Strawberries on the farm typically are turned into jam or sold by the quart. Blueberries typically go from the bushes to the farmers markets.

“The blueberries are so precious we just sell those right away if we have them,” he said.

Bryan store, All Things Food, taking organic path

By Mary Alice Powell
March 13, 2012
Toledo Blade

BRYAN — The owners and the products at All Things Food in downtown Bryan are home grown.

Natives of the Williams County town located 69 miles west of Toledo, Staci Stevens and Monique Tressler opened the grocery store in September as a source for locally grown and organic foods.

“We want people to get back to real food,” Ms. Stevens said.

“Our motto is responsible food means the animal, the farmer, the land, and the consumer,” Ms. Tressler said.

The ground lamb from the store freezer is from Earthway Foods in Osseo, Mich. The jar of apple butter was made by Ravens Roost in Bryan. While chatting with Ms. Stevens and Ms. Tressler, I sipped organic herbal tea in a hand-sculpted mug and nibbled on flaxseed crackers that are an example of the raw food trend that retains nutrients because the cooking temperature does not exceed 110 degrees. The crackers are a product of Foods Alive of Hamilton, Ind.

Ms. Tressler is a former pre-school teacher who changed her diet to organic and healthier foods when she weighed 250 pounds and began suffering from Crohn’s disease.

Ms. Stevens returned home to Bryan from California where she had worked in restaurants and did some organic farming. The store fulfills her life-long dream having her own food-related business that connects people with local farmers.

Products range from apples and eggs to herbs and pastas that are displayed for both shopper and curiosity-seeker. Herbs, spices, teas, and coffees are in clear glass containers. Meats, milk, cheese, and eggs are in a self-serve refrigerator. When the local produce season opens, the owners plan to have a large representation of northwest Ohio fruits and vegetables. In the meantime, greens in the hoop houses at Kinsman Farms in Archbold will be ready for picking in mid April.

Before opening the store, Ms. Stevens and Ms. Tressler visited farmers markets throughout northwest Ohio, Indiana, and southern Michigan to get acquainted with local growers and invite them to participate in their store.

“We had to do a lot of networking to make this work,” Ms. Tressler said.

Karen Wood of Bowling Green an urban agriculture student at Owens Community College who is an All Things Food shopper, explained what buying locally means to her.

“If we don’t support our local farmers, there won’t be any more and there will be another Walmart on the bean field,” she said.

In addition to the extensive stock of edible products, kitchen tools, cookbooks, and local pottery are sold.

Ms. Stevens and Ms. Tressler are active in the Williams County community and frequently do public speaking. They are members of Eating Local Foods, the organization where they met. It is a network of northwest Ohio people who promote a sustainable, local food system through education.

The annual convention will be held Nov. 24 at Northwest Community College in Archbold and is expected to draw 100 members and food vendors.

Andrew Philpot, of Bean Creek Farm in Archbold is conference chairman. Mr. Philpot supplies the store with organic mushrooms, eggs, and goat milk soap.

Because they opened the store with more determination than money, the partners are proud of the appliances and fixtures they bought through Craig’s List. A demonstration counter and tables and chairs are the store centerpiece where customers gather for demonstrations and lectures, or just for a cup of tea or coffee.

The public is invited to events that are scheduled each month. Home cooks interested in scratch baking from grain to flour can attend an appliance demonstration March 31. Linda Yoder of Mark Center, Ohio, will demonstrate the Nutri-Mill appliance.

Recipe demonstrations are given by chef Vincent Pavon, who moved to Bryan from northern California to help sister Monique’s new venture. Although he worked in fine dining restaurant kitchens on the West Coast, he said, the lessons in Bryan are more basic techniques. He will prepare the lunch to be served at the Eat Local Foods conference Saturday in Archbold.

All Things Food is at 114 N. Main St., in Bryan. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.