Archive for the ‘healthy local foods economy’ Category

Sunday afternoon I traveled to Amesville. This small Ohio village of 185 people has a colorful past that includes serving as an Underground Railroad stop and the unusual way its library was funded more than 200 years ago. In 1803 settlers wanted books, but had no money to buy them. Used to a barter economy, residents collected pelts from the surrounding forest’s fur-bearing animals (mostly racoons) and sent two townspeople east to secure the much desired reading material. Fifty-one books – mostly on religion, travel, biography and history – were purchased for $73.50 and in 1804, the Coonskin Library opened.

My destination was Green Edge Garden’s 2012 Open Farm Day potluck lunch at the Amesville Grange Hall. For those not familiar with the Grange movement, it is the nation’s oldest agricultural organization with a long history of encouraging farm families to band together for their common economic and political well-being.

March Magnolias at Green Edge Organic Gardens

Green Edge Organic Gardens is the passion and livelihood of Becky and Kip Rondy. Their 120 acre farm employs 13 people, with four interns arriving in a few weeks, making the Rondys the largest employer in Amesville Township. Their farm, primarily tended by hand, offers a wide selection of vegetables, including micro greens and specialty mushrooms. When I visited their farm in late January, I was stunned by the volume of vegetables they were growing in unheated high tunnels and their skill at making their operation year-round.

Example of a winter CSA share from Green Edge



Sunday’s event was an opportunity for their Athens Hills CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members to share a meal, meet the farm crew and take a tour of the farm to see, as Kip and Becky say on their website, “how and why we grow your food the way we do.” CSAs bring together farmers and individuals who pledge support to a farm operation to share the risks and benefits of food production.

CSA members invest in advance to cover the anticipated costs of farm operation and, in return, receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season. Through direct sales to community members, growers receive better prices for their crops, secure money up front for seeds and other production needs, and are assured of a market for these crops.  Athens Hills offers both winter and summer shares and attracts members nearby and beyond our 30 Mile Meal region.


Snowville bounty

I spoke with a mother and daughter from the Columbus area. Both were delighted to meet the people growing their food and planned to tour the farm after lunch. They love the freshness and diversity of the food they pick up each week in Columbus. The Rondys partner with other 30 Mile Meal producers, expanding what members can opt to receive. These include Christine Hughes and Bob O’Neil who offer Village Bakery bread, Warren and Victoria Taylor’s Snowville Creamery milk, Neil Cherry’s Cherry Orchards fruit, Michelle Gorman and Chris Chmiel’s Integration Acres cheeses, Jack Cantrell’s honey, and Sticky Pete’s maple syrup made by Laura McManus-Berry.

Neil Cherry

After plenty of time for socializing, the crowd headed for the kitchen where the counter was overflowing with delicious food. The desserts required their own table. Soon every seat and plate in the hall was claimed.  Special Green Edge Farm coloring books and crayons kept the little ones amused. Becky and Kip shared their story of growing Green Edge Gardens and Athens Hills CSA.

Becky and Kip talk about the farm

Leaving Amesville, driving past the fields and Bartlett pears, redbuds and forsythia glowing in the afternoon light, I felt the goodness of a place where food production, people and community are co-mingled and remind us of the power of mutual support.


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Integration Acres' Chris Chmiel speaks to crowd

At least one hundred people, representing every node (from farmer to consumer) along our food value chain turned out for Monday night’s Local Foods Town Hall meeting at the Athens Community Center.

Organized by ACEnet‘s Leslie Schaller, and supported by partners 30 Mile Meal Project, Rural Action, Athens Food Policy Council, Athens City/County Health Department, Live Healthy AppalachiaAthens Farmers Market and Community Food Initiatives, the event was the first of many conversations to showcase the economic, environmental, and health benefits and potential of our vibrant food system.

Kurt Belser

About 40 people offered commentary on their local foods needs, struggles and successes. Many stressed the need for greater investment in shared infrastructure and individual enterprises. Kurt Belser, co-owner of Athen’s newest food processing enterprise, The Wingnuttery, described his path from student to farmer at Green Edge Gardens and a stint at CFI, before he and his partner Marie DeMange launched this new enterprise. The Wingnuttery will process an abundance of local nuts (no implied comment on the local foods community meant), including walnut, hazelnut, Shagbark hickory, chestnut and beechnut. Kurt added that he was the youngest producer in the room, but was quickly followed by a man one year younger, demonstrating that our system includes a hopeful crop of young farmers!

Matt Starline

Becky Rondy

We also heard from Matt Starline, co-owner of Starline Organics, Becky Rondy of Green Edge Gardens, and Warren Fussner, an Amish farmer who sells his crops at the Chesterhill Produce Auction where he serves as an Advisory board member.

Kip Parker

Kip Parker, manager of the Athens Farmers Market, noted that 2012 marks the 40th year of operation for this highly regarded public market and that the AFM generates significant income for its farmers and other food vendors.

Michelle Wasserman

Local food entrepreneurs also spoke about the importance of our food-producing community in keeping their enterprises growing. Michelle Wasserman, Casa Nueva‘s food coordinator, underscored Casa’s commitment to support local farmers and producers. Their website lists nearly 40 Ohio sources, most of them within 30 miles of Athens.

Jessica Kopelwitz, co-owner of Fluff Bakery, expressed her appreciation to the farmers and food producers who provide many of her menu ingredients. Just a year old, Fluff has already created seven jobs.

Christine Hughes, co-owner of Village Bakery and two other eateries that extensively use local ingredients, urged attendees to oppose hydrofracking operations in Athens and surrounding counties.  Hughes stated that farming and fracking cannot coexist without damaging our local foods economy. She cited instances in New York State where major purchasers of regional foods, concerned about groundwater supplies and crops and animals tainted by the chemical brine used in this industrial process, are terminating contracts with farmers near fracking operations.

Connie Davidson

Local foods remain a draw for visitors to the region. Connie Davidson, owner of Sand Ridge B&B, said her guests enjoy her locally sourced breakfast menus that are prepared with foods from King Family Farm, Integration Acres, Sticky Pete’s, Crumbs Bakery, several produce vendors and Bircher Retreat Farm.

Larry Payne

Representatives of county government also spoke, with Athens County Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Larry Payne acknowledging the personal and public benefits of local food production.

Several members of the Athens Food Policy Council – including Mary Nally, Bob Fedyski, and Larry Burmeister – spoke about their involvement in promoting a healthy, equitable and sustainable food system.

Warren Taylor

The last speaker of the evening was Warren Taylor, co-owner of Snowville Creamery and one of several regional farmers and producers that have launched a food distribution center in Columbus to increase local foods market opportunities. While known for his often lengthy treaties on food sovereignty, Warren was upbeat and the only person to speak for the allotted time of 90 seconds!

John Gutekanst

Local foods – of course – also made an appearance – corn chips from Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. and Frog Ranch salsa. John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza, brought in armfuls of delicious thick pizzas for the crowd. During his turn at the podium, he said that his business will use two tons of King Family Farm sausage on their pizzas this year, a delicious example of the economic impact of choosing foods produced within our community.

For more on this event, read Brenda Evan’s Town Hall Trumpets Local Food Economy story.

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Nearly there

Yesterday was a hot, steamy day – perfect for getting out of Athens and heading into the hills of Morgan County.  The approach to the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) was marked by a tiny barn wearing a painted quilt square. The sun was shining as we pulled into the already packed parking area around 3:15pm. Ahead stood the auction pavilion, its open side doors catching any breezes.

the crowd examines lots of color and vegetation

CPA is now managed by RuralAction;  its mission to bring people to a rural site to buy quality produce and to provide Chesterhill with a rural food destination and economic hub. In 2010, The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs published a report on the development of the CPA which offers a detailed history of CPA’s beginnings and evolution.

At the far end of the barn several tables nearly groaned under the weight of pot luck food and drink. Cold water with fresh mint, an array of salads (Shagbark Seed & Mill Company’s spelt berries were spotted in one), focaccia from John Gutekanst’s Avalanche Pizza, and plenty of cookies and other sweet nibbles. Just behind the pot luck tables, I stepped up to the window to register for a bidding number and was ready to survey the auction’s goods.

awaiting the ride home

Off to the left side of the building, I could see some of the horses and buggies used by the Amish farmers to bring their produce to the market.  While the auction sells produce from non Amish farmers (known colloquially as English),  any producer can be part of the auction.

Brandon Jaeger

The region’s food-focused community was well represented: Leslie Schaller from ACEnet, Community Food Initiatives‘ Ronda Clark (and her daughters),  Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger, owners of Shagbark Seed and Mill Co., and someone who has become a major customer of CPA, Matt Rapposelli, the executive chef at Ohio University.

Rural Action's Bob Fedyski

Many of Rural Action’s staff and board were on hand including those charged with working on sustainable agriculture and the CPA – Bob Fedyski and Tom Redfern.

Not surprisingly, the heat gave way to a heavy downpour and flashes of lightning and the large pavilion doors were pulled down. But by the time the auction began at 4 pm, the sun returned and the bidding began. Lots of lots…asparagus, rhubarb, maple syrup, bird houses, popcorn (unpopped), wood shavings, garden stakes, and plenty of garden seedlings and hanging flower baskets.  My favorite items were some beautifully made apple crates (which I didn’t get), but I happily came home with some sweet potato starts.

heirloom tomatoes ready for the garden or porch

I highly recommend a trip to the CPA. It’s colorful, there’s a real feeling of community, and you can get some great deals. Auctions take place every Monday and Thursday through October 22nd, with the doors opening at 3pm, giving you plenty of time to check out the various lots.

Before heading back to Athens,  I said goodbye to the patient horses.

see you soon

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The crowd checks out the auction offerings

Next Thursday is the opening day of the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) and you are invited.  Morgan County (OH) is home to this well-known local foods destination, with auctions scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays through October.  Each event offers the opportunity to buy seasonal produce, plants, crafts, and more, in a wide variety of lot sizes, for both the home and business.

Children enjoy the fruits of local farmers

The May 12thfestivities will begin at 3pm with a community potluck and speakers, followed by the auction at 4pm. Children are invited to take part in planned nature activities. This year’s opening day celebrates the unique combination of public and private investment that has made this regional local foods hub possible.

The auction is owned by Rural Action, a membership-based organization promoting economic, social, and environmental justice in Appalachian Ohio.  After working for five years with the founders of the CPA,  in 2010 the organization brought together stakeholders throughout the region to secure the future of this community-based economic infrastructure. Financial support came from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), as well as a core group of local community investors, farmers, and supporters, and a loan from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Kentucky.

Won't be long before the auction has an abundance of tomatoes

In 2010, ARC –  a regional economic development agency which represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government – announced funding of $50,000 in support of CPA, as part of its economic initiatives in Appalachian Ohio. The mission of the commission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia.  According to Louis Segesvary, ARC’s Public Affairs Officer, “The member states of the Appalachian Regional Commission are funding more and more food-related job creation projects to take advantage of Appalachia’s resources.”

Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Tom Redfern, notes, “With the increased emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables as a way to improve health, initiatives that support the local farm production necessary to capture those markets allow us to win at both the economic and health level.”

For more information on the Chesterhill Produce Auction, contact Tom Redfern by calling 740.767.4938, or by emailing tomr@ruralaction.org. Information on the Chesterhill Produce Auction is available here.

The Produce Auction takes place at 8380 Wagoner Road in Chesterhill, Ohio.

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One food fight wafting through the locavore blogosphere is the attempt to write off the movement as merely a bunch of foodie yuppies in pursuit of white eggplants or edible flowers. But there’s much more going on in the efforts to localize food economies, including work to assure that healthy, local foods are available to all. Here in the 30 Mile Meal region of southeast Ohio, partnerships are turning the well worn adage about giving a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day… into ‘teach kids to grow food and develop business skills and they’ll have more life choices.’

Young entrepreneurs at the Athens Farmers Market

In 2005, Community Foods Initiatives began a community garden program at the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Hope Drive Apartments, a public housing complex for low-income individuals and families. Soon a group of youths ranging from 12 to 18 were organically growing vegetables and making value added food products to sell at the Athens Farmers Market. Their earnings support YEAH! (Youth Entrepreneurs At Hope) Kids.

Now CFI is partnering with Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. to help seven YEAH! Kids acquire business skills. In this venture, the young entrepreneurs purchase locally grown black turtle beans, corn and spelt flours and spelt berries from Shagbark, a recently-started local company focusing on staple food products. After making these wholesale purchases, they repackage the foods and sell them at Shagbark’s Athens Farmers Market booth.

“This is a great opportunity for kids to learn money management skills and familiarize themselves with inventory, packaging, processing and customer relations,” says CFI Community Garden Manager Lisa Trocchia-Balkits. “It prepares them for work in various ways, and exposes them to local food options that support healthier lifestyles.”

Shagbark Seed & Mill Company owners Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger

Reflecting on the potential impact of the grant Shagbark received from the Wallace Foundation to partner with CFI and the YEAH! Kids, Michelle Ajamian notes, “This is a really exciting partnership for us. Working with CFI means that we go beyond being a boutique business and it allows us to be part of an effort to provide healthy food access to low-income residents.” She adds, “CFI projects at the Athens and Trimble Township Farmers Market, Trimble Tomcat Culinary Club and Athens City School Family Fun Nights is going to make this possible.”

The YEAH! Kids are already showing some business savvy. They’ve scheduled their sales at the Athens Farmers Market to coincide with upcoming holiday meals and gift-giving. So stop by the Saturday Market on November 20th and December 11th and 18th and see what the YEAH! Kids are offering.

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Is 11 year old Birke Baehr the youngest local foods advocate in the U.S.?  He recently spoke at the first TEDxNextGenerationAsheville, a gathering for young people to discuss and connect on a wide range of social issues.  I think you’ll enjoy his inspiring talk.

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John Gutekanst

What’s it take to make a 30 Mile Meal? Plenty of partners and as the former executive director of ACEnet, June Holley, would say, “lots of network weaving.” A tasty example of this ‘tapestry of local’ is the recent addition of spelt flour to pizzas made by John Gutekanst’s Avalanche Pizza.

In his blog, Pizza Goon, John tells the story of discovering locally grown spelt and Brandon Jaeger during a 2009 visit to the farm of Joe Hirshberger in Chesterhill. Brandon and Michelle Ajamian (owners of the Shagbark Seed & Mill Company) had asked Hirshberger, an Amish farmer, to grow spelt for them. SS&MC is an offshoot of the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative that works with regional small-to-mid-sized farms to produce, process, market, and distribute fresh, whole, sustainably-grown staple foods.

Serving up local-lious food

Whenever possible, Gutekanst uses locally grown ingredients in his pizza-making and like other 30 Mile Meal champions, showcases the farms and farmers that provide them. A recent series of Avalanche ads puts the faces to the food – Michelle, Brandon and spelt. They also remind us that as we nourish our bellies, we can also nourish the local foods community.

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