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October Profile

Locust Run Farm is 15 acres of paradise located in Oxford, Ohio. Harv Roehling farms about 2 acres of the farm in his fields and in his 64 raised beds, a method he adopted from Rich Tomsu. He uses the four-foot by fourteen-foot beds to grow certified organic lettuce, onions, and some tomatoes and peppers. He grows squash, tomatoes and peppers in his fields. He and his wife, Pat, managed the farm together, but since her recent death, Harv’s farm has been in transition.

Harv and Pat were married in the 1960s and moved to a house with a large yard in the Cincinnati suburbs. Pat's grandfather was an avid gardener and insisted that the couple use the lawn to grow food. Harv eventually became such an enthusiastic gardener that his passion outgrew his yard.

The Roehlings purchased Locust Run Farm in 1977 and the farm house in 1986. "We were primitive farmers," Pat, in an interview before her passing, recalled. "There was no water, no electricity."

It was only very slowly that Harv began to sell his vegetables at market. His teacher's income provided a financial cushion that took the pressure off earning fast, huge profits.

In fact, "We had no concept of how much you had to sell," Harv says. At one of the first markets he went to he set out a few grocery bags of peppers and cucumbers on a picnic bench. Farmers to the left and right of him were unloading dozens of bushels of vegetables from the backs of truck beds. "We were quite frankly, embarrassed," he says. Today, Harv is one the biggest sellers at his markets.

Harv sells at farmers' markets in Oxford, the Cincinnati suburb of Pleasant Ridge and Pleasant Run. He also sells produce to a service which buys from farmers to fill and deliver custom orders to consumers, which allows Harv to reach customers who are unable to attend farmers' markets.

Pat, until her death, had played a big role on the marketing side. Pat, who always enjoyed working at farmers’ markets more than farming, says it's important to use marketing to educate people about fresh foods and how to cook them. Pat collected recipes from her cookbooks featuring the produce she was selling and made packets to give out to customers. "Whatever vegetables we sold I had recipes for how to cook it," she said. Pat would even hand out her phone number so that customers could call her if they had questions.

She recalled one special case. "At one market we had a young man. It was his first time living alone and he didn't know how to fix all this stuff. So, each week he'd come and he’d say, 'That looks good. What do I do with it?' I’d give him the recipes and he'd go home and the next week he'd come back and say, 'Oh, that dish was so good! What do you have different this week?' Basically, he learned to cook coming to the farmers market."

Harv places a high value on being able to sell produce directly to customers. The customers enjoy being able to ask how the food was grown and Harv gets a lot of satisfaction out of interacting with customers.

He says, "When I go to market to sell my stuff, it is so uplifting because people are so appreciative of what you're doing. Sometimes people will comment that it is too expensive, but I’ve never gotten a comment saying it isn’t good. I have no desire to be the cheapest at the market but I do have the desire to be the best."

Harv has been involved with OEFFA for over two decades, since attending his first conference in the early 1980s. "The OEFFA conference to me was a godsend. I learned so much," he says. And, even though today Harv is a skilled farmer, he "always learns something" at every conference. He believes that "OEFFA offers a lot to young farmers" who are just starting to get their organic feet wet.

After becoming involved with OEFFA, Harv helped found the Miami-Oxford Organic Network (OEFFA's MOON chapter), which has branched into a local food co-operative. Harv has been working for the last decade to get the co-op off the ground. The $700,000 opening cost has slowed progress, but the group continues raising money by selling memberships to the future co-op. Although no longer on the board, Harv hopes the co-op will open its doors soon.

Harv sees a lot of hope for young organic farmers. He thinks farm profitability is bouncing back: "I see a realization by the public that food is important. And local food is important for not just the nutrition but for the economics of it, for the value to the community of having farms nearby." He says the recent increases in farming publications, farmers' markets, and best-selling books and movies are all signs of the new trend.

A tour of Locust Run Farm will make anyone believe in a bright future. The front fields are a maze of covered lettuce crops while the back fields are in larger, cultivated rows creeping with tomato vines and other vegetables. An adjacent field is just beginning to sprawl over the mulch in dark green winter squash vines.

Harv's advice for new farmers is quite simple. Start small and grow slow. Take another job or make sure you have some sort of financial safety net to support you while you learn to farm and build your markets.

About the writer: Danielle Deemer is working on her master's degree in Rural Sociology at the Ohio State University. Danielle, through her OEFFA internship, profiled some of the organization's most accomplished members and their successes, creating OEFFA’s Profiles of Success series. Lauren Ketcham has updated and edited content. This series is being unveiled throughout OEFFA's 30th anniversary celebration year.