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.