Great River Organics Looks to Build Name for Organic Produce in Central Ohio

By Susan Post, The Metropreneur, 3/3/15

Collaboration can go a long way when you are a small business owner. It means more – more resources and more ways to reach your customers. As the movement to eat local and organic continue to grow, a group of eight Central Ohio farms are banding together to form Great River Organics.

“Great River [Organics] is a farmer-owned, non-profit corporation comprised of farmers in Central Ohio looking to expand local, certified-organic products,” says Adam Welly, co-founder of Wayward Seed Farm, one of the members.GROlogo

“Our farm individually is never going to feed all of the people here in Columbus,” says fellow Co-Founder Jaime Moore. “We need a real collaborative effort.”

GRO aligns the values of these farmers, all of which are certified organic or are pending certification, with ambitious goals.

“We feel like we’re setting a really good example of what Ohio farming can be,” Welly says. “We think that this idea of creating a local, organic brand is really, really important for both Central Ohio and the wider region.”

In addition to Wayward, Sippel Family Farm, Rock Dove Farm, Sunbeam Family Farm, Harvest Sun Farms, Toad Hill Farms, Clay Hill Farms and Dangling Carrot Farm are a part of the co-op. While some of the farms were already certified organic, making sure each farm met the standards was an important part of the foundation. Welly says it gives them transparency in their processes, and a clear stance on what they stand for as they broach multiple markets.

Currently, the operation is focused mainly on the direct to consumer market, making their produce accessible through their multi-farm CSA known as The Great River Market Bag. The eight-product CSA is a mix of everyday staples and a few unique items.

“We only grew a few items for GRO in 2014, which meant we could focus on doing it really well,” says Kristy Ryan of Clay Hill Farms. “We think the quality of produce going into the CSA is phenomenal because each farm gets the freedom to grow the items that they specialize in growing.”

The CSA is delivered to about 20 community partners, mostly corporations, and includes the likes of Nationwide, Cardinal Health and Limited Brands. GRO’s collaborative effort allows the organization to extend a traditional 20-week CSA into 30 weeks starting in June and ending around Christmas, which means closer to year-round fresh, local produce.

The group is working on some other CSA options like every-other-week pickup or a peak-season selection.

“We’ve taken a lot of feedback from our customers and we’re trying to give people a wider number of options to take part,” Welly says.

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Although the CSA is the anchor of GRO, wholesale of certified organic produce is in the long-term plans. The organization is just trying to be thoughtful in the way that they grow.

“A lot of people want to buy our product, but we believe it’s smarter for us to work in the framework of what our farmers are capable of right now,” Moore says. It ensures that customers are getting the highest quality of goods. And, it takes time to expand as a farming operation.

In addition to a steady outlet for their produce, member farms are also finding huge marketing advantages as a part of GRO.

“Great River provides the farmer a network of support and marketing ability that opens up an array of opportunities that otherwise would not be available to them as an individual organic producer,” says Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm.

Ryan echoes Dilbone’s sentiments. Being a young, growing farm in rural area, “While it is very nice to live a quiet, rural life, the downside is we don’t have access to good markets,” Ryan says. “Joining GRO allowed us to pursue our farm dream and gain market share. We can enjoy the stability and benefits that CSAs offer farms, without the pressure of ‘going it alone,’ especially this early in our career.”

Overall, GRO wants to bring awareness to and help grow the local food system.

“Local agriculture needs as much support as it can get to maintain economic viability and compete with the pressures of cheaply produced “corporate organics” that are imported from other countries that we see flooding the shelves at the grocery store,” Dilbone says. “GRO provides much-needed support to local organic farmers who work diligently to provide an alternative food option that travels far less miles to your dinner plate, and with much more quality and flavor.”

“I want people to crave that information and the value and the quality of products that we offer,” Moore adds. “I want people to crave that as much as we do.”

For more information, visit greatriverfarms.org.