great river organics

Farmer Power

By Claire Spurlock / Photography By Catherine Murray | June 15, 2015
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farmer machinery on a farm

Why the farmers of Great River Organics are true stewards of the land

Tim Patrick of Toad Hill Farm
Tim Patrick of Toad Hill Farm

Tim Patrick Toad Hill Farm Danville, Ohio

Tim Patrick has been growing vegetables at Toad Hill Farm since 1992, making him the most tenured farmer in Great River Organics (GRO). His approach to farming is straightforward, but beyond great modesty there lies a wealth of experience and devotion to top quality produce.

From early spring until December, with the help of high tunnels for season extension, Tim cultivates three to five acres for the Worthington market, a small CSA membership, Raisin Rack grocery store, a handful of restaurants, and GRO.

For 20 years Toad Hill Farm attended the North Market’s farmers market, where Tim encountered Adam and Jaime of Wayward Seed. They stayed in contact, and welcomed Toad Hill into GRO as a veteran in the farming community.

Toad Hill was certified organic for a decade, but went without the designation recently. “We’ve been practicing organic methods throughout the entire time,” says Tim, making recertification for involvement in the co-op simple.

This year Tim will grow, among other things, eggplants, summer squash, tomatillos, cu cumbers, and collard greens. Tim notes that not much has changed about the varieties he cultivates since he began working the soil in his early 30s, more than 20 years ago.

“I like being outside,” Tim says. “And there’s a certain amount of creativity in it. You can go different directions.”

As for the farmers markets over the years? “They’re definitely better,” says Tim, though he’d like to see “more chefs pounding the pavement,” sourcing their seasonal produce at the markets, meeting the growers themselves.

“I’ve learned a lot along the way. There’s more information out there than when we started. There’s a tremendous amount of organic vegetable farming, small-scale farming—there’s more products and equipment and books,” Tim says. And, he thinks, there’s room for local farming to grow.

While others may seek a different satisfaction in farming, there is something to the solitude at Toad Hill Farm.

“It’s just like working for yourself,” says Tim. “I enjoy the independent nature of it.”

Todd and Heather Schriver of Rock Dove Farm
Todd and Heather Schriver of Rock Dove Farm

Todd Schriver Rock Dove Farm West Jefferson, Ohio

Process-driven, highly technical farming practices reign at Rock Dove, where farmer Todd Schriver relishes every opportunity to problem-solve.

Todd grew up farming in central Indiana. At the start of his career, however, Todd worked for a sheep dairy in Vermont. He considered moving a similar operation to Central Ohio but didn’t find the feasibility of the project encouraging. Instead, he met Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm. The two farmed together until the end of the 2009 season, when Todd split off, got married, and started his own, 15-acre operation.

The land he purchased previously grew corn and soybeans, so it took three full years to convert the soil before Rock Dove Farm could certify organic with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), the standard 36-month transition time designated by certification agencies.

Todd calls himself a systems-oriented farmer. His farm specializes in technically demanding, high-density, fast-growing crops. “Our biggest thing is head lettuce,” he says. “That’s probably 20–30% of what we do.” Other greens include kale, arugula, chard, and salad blends.

“The way I go about things is really a process about identifying potential problems and thinking about how solutions could work,” says Todd. Then, he considers “standardizing processes so they could be applicable to other farms.”

He remembers talking about something like GRO with Adam as early as 2006.

“As it is right now there really isn’t a good system in place to support local growers. And GRO is providing the opportunity not just for marketing but also for development,” he says. “For me, I’m really good at producing but I don’t have as much patience with marketing. For other growers, maybe they can use some of technical expertise to help their production side.”

Instead of a traditional CSA program, supporters of Rock Dove can purchase “Farm Bucks,” a program launched in 2014 with such success that it will return this season. Vouchers purchased through the farm, at market, or online are redeemable at Rock Dove’s Clintonville market farm stand for a customizable bounty of produce. “Come and get what you want,” Todd says, “Instead of getting a box full of what we want.”

“There’s no special box I could put together to make everyone happy,” Todd says. “Some people love beets. Some people hate beets. Some people like chard. Some people never want to see chard.”

Rock Dove’s produce can also be found at the Worthington Inn, Skillet, Portia’s Café, and the Bexley Co-op

Lisa and Ben Sippel of Sippel Family Farm
Lisa and Ben Sippel of Sippel Family Farm

Lisa and Ben Sippel Sippel Family Farm Mt. Gilead, Ohio

Lisa and Ben Sippel were 23 when they bought their farm in 2004. With no family farming background, “We dove straight in,” says Lisa. After receiving his degree in environmental studies and geography from Ohio Wesleyan University, Ben was interested in how agriculture was blamed for problems throughout history. “He wanted to prove that you can actually make a living doing sustainable agriculture and not ruin the world at the same time,” she says.

In their very first season the Sippels introduced a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offering, which allowed supporters of the farm to share risk through investment and to reap the rewards of fresh, seasonal produce. Twelve seasons later, the CSA is still a core concentration of their farming, though it has downsized over the past few years to accommodate a changing marketplace and other goals on the farm.

Together with their two children, the Sippels grow more than 10 acres of produce on a 77-acre farm, including 15 acres of woods and some pasture. Because of the diversity of product necessary for their CSA, they grow more than 40 different crops. Each week they are also responsible for supplying one or two vegetable to the GRO market bags, which can vary based on availability and weather.

In 2011 Ben and Lisa started a sheep dairy, which produces sheep and cow’s milk cheeses under the name Kokoborrego Cheese. “It was the first sheep dairy in the state,” says Lisa. “We added that because we wanted to diversify and not rely completely on vegetables.” Since sheep’s milk is seasonal, lasting only five months a year, the Sippels purchase cow’s milk from a neighboring dairy to maintain year-round production.

A few years prior, the Sippels planted an apple orchard, which is now fruit-bearing.

While they’ve always followed the organic growing practices, Sippel Family Farm was certified organic last year, encouraged by their membership in the GRO cooperative. Now, Lisa says, she looks forward to continued specialization on the farm, with secondary market sources that can accommodate harvests too large or irregular for a typical CSA.

“That’s the way GRO is going to be most beneficial. It’s going to allow small farms to focus in on what they’re good at, what their land can do well, what they have the equipment for—that’s the ultimate thing that GRO offers us. It offers us the chance not only with a CSA portion, but the potential for wholesale beyond that.”

Sippel Family Farm brings produce and cheese to the Clintonville, Westerville, and Worthington markets each week, and Kokoborrego cheese to the New Albany farmers market and Shaker Heights market in Cleveland.

Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm
Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm

Adam Welly & Jaime Moore Wayward Seed Farm Fremont, Ohio

Adam and Jaime are a force in local farming. Their combined skill sets, years of experience, and drive to develop and strengthen communities of growers through GRO illustrates the scope of their leadership.

The farm began on a half-acre of land in Sandusky County close to where the pair grew up, behind the facility where Adam worked as a paint striper.

“In that little plot of land there was so much diversity of food,” says Jaime, “just because of trial and error.” Adam credits his experience of farming in northern Ohio for the understanding he has of microclimate and regionality. Neither Jaime nor Adam shied away from the innate risks in farming or the monumental workload. And so, Wayward grew, expanding acreage near Fremont to Oakvale Farm in London, where Wayward Seed settled into a robust market schedule and CSA demands based out of Columbus.

Now, just shy of their 10-year anniversary, things have come full circle. This year marks Wayward’s return to farming in Sandusky County.

For the past few years Jaime and Adam have worked alongside a farmer near Fremont to convert some of his acreage and greenhouses to certified organic. “We worked side-by-side with him,” says Jaime, and now that he’s retiring, “we have 32 acres of land that we’ve been we have been transitioning to organic, ready to go.”

Jamie will stay in Columbus, running the market stands, working out of the GRO hub, and helping to coordinate between operations. Adam will farm up north, maintaining weekly deliveries to Columbus on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Together, they focus on fulfilling 150 CSA shares for Wayward Seed, organizing hundreds more for GRO, launching GRO’s wholesale component, and communicating with growers invested in the viability of their farms, the cooperative, and of local, organic agriculture.

Becky Barnes of Dangling Carrot Farm
Becky Barnes of Dangling Carrot Farm

Becky Barnes Dangling Carrot Farm Williamsport, Ohio

All the way from her post-collegiate home in Montana, Becky Barnes felt the pull to return to Ohio. “I asked myself, ‘What did I want to do to be fulfilled in life?’ I worked in Montessori schools and had various jobs out west,” she says. But those roles failed to satisfy her growing curiosity for farming.

Eight years ago, Becky returned to the land where she was raised in Pickaway County to start Dangling Carrot Farm. She rents land originally owned by her grandfather, a grain farmer, since passed down to her brother and cousins. “I grew up so close to my family, every day playing or working on the farm,” Becky says. “I did miss it.”

What began as a three-acre enterprise now holds steady at seven acres, with a 25-foot barrier from the grain farm on all sides, a requirement for organic designation. This May, Becky will be inspected for her very first organic certification. “I never really thought about the need to be certified organic since, at markets, I would just tell people what my growing practices were.” Knowing inclusion in Great River Organics (GRO) requires it, however, Becky realized “that it really was the next step.”

In its infancy, Dangling Carrot had a presence at six markets throughout the week. While the visibility was essential, the hours were brutal. “The hours I would put in the first three to four years were kind of incredible,” says Becky. Going to town just two or three times a week now (including the Worthington and Clintonville Saturday markets), “is so much calmer and more peaceful, and I am really grateful for that.”

Last year, Becky delivered produce to 12 restaurants and groceries in Central Ohio, including Rigsby’s Kitchen, Northstar Café, and Harvest Pizza. She anticipates that GRO will help to further simplify her delivery schedule, allowing for more time on the farm.

“One of the big advantages of being in this co-op is that instead of using up most of the day doing drop-offs a couple times a week, the goal is to drop off to the hub mostly,” she says.

Becky has also been able to focus on growing fewer crops in greater quantities, “instead of growing 100 different things, since it’s hard to watch as each one is coming up and having hands on all of them.”

“Growing on a bigger scale with fewer crops has been great for me. And that’s food for the GRO bags, too,” she adds.

This year, Becky will grow heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, greens, beets, carrots, and garlic, among many others.

Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill Farm
Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill Farm

Kristy Buskirk Clay Hill Farm Tiffin, Ohio

Amidst a sea of conventional farms, restoration is key to longevity for Kristy Buskirk’s Clay Hill Farm. Diving into their second season, Kristy, with help from her husband, Aaron, will cultivate more than two acres of produce on a 52-acre plot of land, passed down from Aaron’s family. While the lineage endured, Kristy hopes to rebuild the soil, especially as Clay Hill enters its first year of eligibility for organic certification this June.

“There’s not a lot of farmers who have certified up here. A lot of people use the word at market, but I’ll be really happy to know we’re through the process and I can tell my consumers I’ve gone through the extra commitment,” she adds.

Most recently, Kristy placed five acres of farmland into conservation with the Farm Service Agency, set aside to encourage a natural habitat for quail and pheasant.

A transplant from New Jersey, Kristy farmed with Adam Welly of Wayward Seed and Steve and Gretel of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm.

“It’s sort of the synthesis of my life experiences that led to this in my late 20s,” she says. “I started pursuing this, living off the land.”

After searching for land of their own, Kristy and Aaron realized, “what we wanted was in his family’s backyard, literally, so we decided to come back here and give it a go.”

“We’re giving life into a new iteration of the family farm,” she says.

This year, she’ll plant two and a half acres of crops, but hopes to expand that to 15 acres in the future, resting half at a time. Kristy takes her produce to farmers markets in Bowling Green and Tiffin, but covers the Columbus market with distribution through GRO, thanks to a connection forged long ago.

“I’m growing a ton of onions this year,” Kristy says. “Spring onions, scallions, my greenhouse is full of onions and they look beautiful.”

Clay Hill will also produce head lettuce, collards, and bunched greens, Kristy’s “bread and butter.” She’ll grow three rounds of green beans, two standard and an heirloom snapping bean called Dragon’s Lingerie, “a beautiful white and purple speckled bean that has a lovely flavor,” says Kristy, to be included in the GRO Market Bag.

“Adam has been quite a mentor to me,” she says. “He brought me into the fold of these growers since we’ve worked together. He knows my work ethic and the standards that I hold because I refined them with him. Adam taught me that quality will always win in the market place.”

Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm.
Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm.

Ben Dilbone Sunbeam Family Farm Alexandria, Ohio

Before planting roots in Central Ohio, Ben Dilbone collected valuable farming experience across the country. In college, he interned and took classes at Evergreen State College’s studentrun farm in Olympia, Washington. Ben then interned for a summer at the Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, where highly specific produce is grown based on the needs of chefs around the country. Upon graduating, he worked as a farmhand across Wisconsin.

“I basically got my hands dirty, got into working with sustainable agriculture. It just kind of became my thing,” he says.

Sunbeam Family Farm is entering its fifth season. Ben describes the farm’s origin like a big garden, one that grew enough produce, at high enough quality, to sell at the Granville Farmers Market. “We blossomed from there,” he says. Now, Ben helms seven acres, with an additional two acres farmed off-site but nearby.

Sunbeam “was a joint venture between me and my family, our lives coinciding,” Ben says. Ben’s mother and father, Cynthia and Chuck Dilbone, have active day-to-day roles in the farm, including working the markets, CSA coordination, and bookkeeping.

For three seasons, Ben transitioned the farm, formerly in corn and soybean rotation, to be fit for organic growing, including cover cropping, composting, and reviving nutrient levels in the soil.

“To me,” he says, “organic agriculture goes beyond the soil, but the basis of farming organically is the soil.”

“Seeing that transition, seeing how the soil looks and feels, seeing how the plants respond to an organically managed system versus the over-farmed land with conventional agriculture, seeing the transition of the fields has been outstanding and motivating. You can see what you put into it and what you get back out,” Ben says.

Right now, Ben grows an array of produce to satisfy CSA and wholesale needs. He, like other farmers involved in GRO, hopes to streamline his crop selection and find ways to specialize as Sunbeam, and GRO, grow.

“I think that’s the strength of GRO: trying to talk about what we can do and how we can do it to better serve the local Columbus food scene on a playing field that benefits everyone and makes more logical sense,” he adds.

Thus far Ben is focused on high tunnel tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and head lettuce, along with onions, watermelon, and green beans.

Sunbeam Family Farm is present at the Tuesday and Saturday markets in Granville.

Article from Edible Columbus at
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