By Peter H. Milliken
An East Side couple is pursuing a passion for organic farming in the city and supplying crops to two local restaurants and to a Butler, Pa., community- supported agriculture organization.
Joe Pedaline and Suzanne Murphy commercially grow salad greens, herbs, popcorn and sweet corn at Early Road Gardens, 585 Early Road, where they live.
Pedaline said he has turned his life around after his three-year federal prison term for his role in a Marshall Street marijuana warehouse ended in 2007.
“It was a mistake I made doing something illegal. I paid my price,” Pedaline said.
“I just want to stay here and out of trouble,” Pedaline said of the farm his grandfather, Joe Hubert, bought in 1943.
Murphy, a tailor by profession, joined Pedaline on the farm seven years ago, after moving here from Minnesota.
“I had my own garden in Minneapolis. I did mostly flowers, and I had a little community garden plot,” Murphy said.
“When I was 3 years old, I would go down and play in the greenhouse and be in the gardens all the time, and it just got into my blood,” Pedaline said.
Pedaline said the location of his city farm is convenient. “I don’t have to drive 35 minutes to go anywhere,” he observed.
“I’m two minutes from downtown, and it’s quiet and private here,” he added.
Pedaline, Murphy and three part-time workers farm 5 acres of the 30-acre site. The remainder is mostly woods.
“I’ve always been interested in growing my own food,” said Taylor Marucci, of Struthers, a civil engineer at Marucci & Gaffney Excavating Inc. in Youngstown and one of the farm’s part-time workers.
“I really like plants and nature,” she said, adding that she would like to reduce her food expenses and eliminate trips to the grocery store.
“It’s a healthier way of eating,” Pedaline said of consuming organic food.
“It just tastes better, and it’s better for the environment,” Murphy said.
Organic farmers don’t use chemical fertilizers or chemically based pesticides or herbicides, and they don’t use genetically modified organism products, Pedaline said.
“We know where it’s from, and we know what’s in it,” Pedaline said of crops grown on his farm.
“Anybody we sell anything to, we say: ‘You come to the farm and see what we do.’ You’ll see exactly what goes on. You’ll know what we’re putting in the soil,” Pedaline said.
Early Road Gardens is certified as an organic farm by the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
The farm supplies food to Ely’s vegan restaurant in Boardman and to Friends Specialty at the Garden Cafe at Mill Creek Park’s Fellows Riverside Gardens.
A greenhouse and three unheated “tunnel” buildings extend the growing season at Early Road Gardens, where crops are produced from mid-March to mid-December.
“Whenever we harvest, we try to replant the same day,” Pedaline said.
“I think it’s a great trend. People are getting more aware of it,” Murphy said of the organic-food movement.
“I think, 10 years down the road, it’ll be a whole different food movement in this area,” she added.
She and Pedaline lamented, however, that too few people are willing to pay the higher prices for organically grown crops, which Pedaline said are typically 50 percent higher than those of conventionally grown crops.
“Our fertilizer is twice as much. Everything we buy is twice as much. We weed by hand,” Pedaline said, explaining the higher overhead and labor costs associated with organic farming.
“People talk about wanting good food, but, actually putting their money and their cooking habits where their mouth is, is a different story,” Pedaline said.