Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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A Tasty Look at Our Regional Food System

I recently had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion organized by Edible Columbus and hosted by Chef Bill Glover at Galerie Bar & Bistro at the Columbus Hilton. When I say it was a pleasure, I mean a pleasure of both the brain and the palate. The conversation was interesting and the food was delicious – a variety of dishes featuring Ohio-sourced produce and proteins that I might never have tried if they weren’t served to me, family-style, at a table full of folks I hadn’t met before that meal.

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The panel was facilitated by Nicole Rasul – a writer for Edible Columbus who recently took on a new role working on sustainable sourcing for The Ohio State University.  Participants included:

Chefs:
Bill Glover, Gallerie Bar & Bistro
Matt Heaggans, The Rossi
Seth Lassak, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

Producers:
Bryn Bird, Bird’s Haven Farms
Rob Phillips, RL Valley Ranch
James Anderson, Anderson Farms

Connectors:
Piper Fernwey, Bon Apetit Management Co., Denison University
Darren Malhame, Northstar Cafe

The discussion revolved around challenges and successes in connecting chefs and diners in central Ohio with locally-sourced ingredients. As a small-scale grower, most of the questions were above my pay grade. Over the Fence has run on a CSA model from the start and 100% of our produce goes to our supporters and to feed our own family. I have considered restaurant sales as something we might scale up to one day and have spoken to fellow urban farmers about their wholesale experiences, but hearing from some chefs about their desires and needs was illuminating. I realized that the impact we are making to the families we serve and those who follow our growing stories online is completely different than selling to restaurants, something I’m proud of and enough to keep us busy for the foreseeable future. So, don’t plan on seeing OTFUF produce on restaurant plates any time soon, though we’d love to get into the home kitchens of some area chefs.

As someone who was raised kosher, lived as a strict vegetarian for more than a decade, and now considers herself a qualitarian (I eat meat only when I know where and how it was produced), I really appreciated the discussion of locally raised meats. James Anderson, whom most folks know as the proprietor’s of Ray Ray Hog Pit but who also raises his own award-winning swine (read about it in Stock & Barrel’s recent portrait), proclaimed “I don’t grow hams, I grow hogs.” Chef Glover responded that hearing and considering  the challenges associated with processing the best animal proteins available in Ohio he has challenged himself to buy, butcher, and cook with whole animals, using all their parts. I appreciated his comments about how this challenges him as a chef, an artisan of food.

While chefs know the best ingredients are local, and therefore seasonal, it would seem most of their customers don’t. Chef Heaggans reported that, on average, diners like to eat what they like to eat, where they like to eat it. In others words, if you are a fan of the hamburger at The Rossi (which I hear is excellent), that’s what you’ll order when you go there, 9 times out of ten. I totally get that. Take me to Tip Top Kitchen and I want the pot roast sandwich. Sadly, this ties chefs hands. In order to keep customers happy and coming in the doors, so they can pay their employees and their rent, they have to keep their menus consistent.

One way to transform the way diners make choices about what they order is through education. Telling people where their food comes from might inspire them to eat differently. Glover also told stories of visiting Anderson and Philips’ farms – seeing how they raise their animals and getting to know the men and their families. That background contributes to his appreciation for the meat they produce. Some would argue it makes them taste better. I would. I think the local stories we associate with what we eat, stories which Edible Columbus helps share, have real value and I hope to see more of them on menus and in economic impacts studies in the future.

Darren Malhame of Northstar Cafe said their menu is designed to allow for seasonally sourced ingredients without changing the diners’ experience too much. Ever notice, for example, that sometimes there is lettuce and sometimes kale on your Northstar burger? He suggested we need to think of a continuum of definitions for what it means to eat local, from Alice Waters and farmer’s markets to what’s sold at the large scale grocers.

While I’ve read Bryn Bird’s commentaries in Edible Columbus before, it was inspiring to hear her talk about her family’s vegetable farm, her perspective on how food policies are impacting local production, and her experiences working with Dennison University. Piper Fernway who manages dining services at Dennison, reported about how that school has increased its locally-sourced ingredients over the past few years. She and her staff have worked on various strategies to engage students in thinking about where their food comes from and working with local producers to find ways to get their products on more students’ plates. A few examples: merging local whole grain cereals and fruit syrups to produce an original, bright-colored, sweetened cereal students love and using a coloring page of a chicken to help students trace the parts of the animal they’ve eaten in a week, pushing them to get beyond the breast.

Edible Columbus introduced a new tool to connect producers and consumers of local foods. They hope Edible Connector will provide: “A new way for Columbus area farmers, growers, producers, chefs, institutions, food artisans, markets, consumers and others to connect and grow.” I’m looking forward to exploring the site further and seeing how it might help us extend the vision and scope of Over the Fence in the coming years to do our part to get more local ingredients into the hands, and stomachs, of central Ohioans.


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Failure in the field

Like all bloggers, I tend to emphasize our successes in the field. (I did write about some ugly carrots at one point and I stand by my love of fruta feia.) Today I thought I would share a failure.

About 3 weeks ago, we set out some red cabbage starts. You can see them on the bottom right of this image. Looking back on them now, they definitely look like they could have used a few more weeks under the lights inside before transplanting. But, it was warm and the plants on the other side of the tray were ready to go.

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Before planting, I consulted folks on the Ohio Homesteaders and Gardeners Facebook group.

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As you can see, I wasn’t alone in my poor previous attempts. I took the comments about feeding cabbage well and providing a stable environment to heart and set them out with a nice dousing of fish emulsion and a frost blanket. I should have taken more seriously the post wishing me luck.

I’m sad to those seedlings are not looking great at this point. In the photo below you can see a few (top let and bottom right) which are pretty leggy and have burnt leaves. These were two of the best looking ones I found.

Thankfully, I had some cilantro and boc choi in need of a home so I spent yesterday afternoon interplanting those between a few cabbages that will get one more chance to get going. With overnight temperatures in the 20s expected on and off this week, their outlook is not all that great.  I might try starting a few more red cabbage plants before we get much closer to the frost our date. Maybe.

Below is another problem we’re facing. The Napa cabbage we set out the same day as the red is looking good — leafing out and emitting a gorgeous green glow. However, slugs have been feasting on them. Yesterday I set out a few beer traps and hope to find some treats for the chickens later today. This is my first try with this so I’m not sure I did it right. I’ll be sure to report later.

Below is a shot of shows some of the plants that haven’t suffered much from slug attacks (see center row). I believe there’s hope for them yet…

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Jodi Kushins, Urban Farmer

[NOTE: February 27, 2020. Just re-read this post. So many things I could respond to, correct, extrapolate and report on. Maybe soon. For now, just a note to acknowledge this was written by a “younger” me.]

I was recently asked to consider the following questions as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) Women Grow Ohio project. The group’s leaders are putting together a website and plans for a second annual farm tour and wanted input from urban growers to balance out the voices of those in more bucolic settings.

How do you view your title? Are you an urban farmer, homesteader, grower, livestock farmer, gardener, or something other?

The responses shared by others before me were so eloquent. So beautiful. So confident. I felt not only at a loss for words, but humbled to be included in their group.

See this response from Sarah Campbell Taylor, for example:

Well we do call our business Jedidiah Farm. But at the risk of sounding contrary… Even though I grow on a larger suburban plot and do sell my products I don’t consider myself a farmer. I feel like throughout history and even now in many places people have done what I do- working hard to nourish themselves and others, sharing the bounty of their harvest with their community- and not necessarily considered themselves farmers. Maybe because it was just a way of life and didn’t really need a name? I hope that what I am doing won’t be unique for long, and that even people who don’t aspire to be farmers can see something in my lifestyle that they can envision for themselves.

Things I consider myself:
A mom who loves good eats.
A producer.
A revolutionary (I hope?)
A gardener/orchardist/goatherd[er]!
An experimentalist.
A person with a conscience.

You know the saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”? Well I love food. So I grow it and I share it.

When asked if she’d describe her approach “a homesteading lifestyle”, she responded:

Our lifestyle definitely includes homesteading, but I don’t think it encompasses the scope of what we are trying to accomplish because homesteading focuses on self-sufficiency while we our interests lean more towards sustainability, stewardship, community building and regenerative living.

Like Sarah, I named our project Over the Fence Urban Farm but felt a little funny about it for the first few years. Ultimately I called it a farm because it sounded better than Over the Fence Urban Garden. I second guessed my decision repeatedly and felt like a bit of a fraud when visiting larger operations. But, after a few weeks of thinking and living with this question, I am happy to call myself an urban farmer. Here are a few things that ran through my mind that helped me come to this conclusion.

After hardening off hundreds of spring greens seedlings, I started sprouting another few more hundred.

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Spring Greens Seedlings, Round 2

My yard doesn’t look anything like the (sub)urban lots around me. It looks like a farm. A small farm, yes, but a farm nonetheless.

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Through my efforts I am feeding others. Our small, backyard CSA fed 20 families last season. Granted, we didn’t meet all of their produce needs, but we made a healthy contribution.

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In the end, like Jedidiah Farm Over the Fence is not just about growing good food. I often refer to it as a community kitchen garden and feeding ourselves and others is certainly at the top of our agenda. But a large part of our mission is developing healthy soil and beneficial insect habitat, educating others to better grow their own gardens, and creative community building (see more on this in “Art Education in My Backyard: Creative Placemaking on an Urban Farm.” I don’t think these things are exclusive of being a farmer. To suggest otherwise ignores the role farmers play in our lives, communities, and ecosystems.


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The Hardest Cut

With the help of Ann Ralph and encouragement from Lindsey Norman at Bootstrap Homestead, Cora and I pruned the apple trees today. We had to make some tough decisions about branches I would have otherwise deemed the strongest and most developed. But today I learned how to make “the hardest cut,” a term Ralph uses in reference to lobbing off central branches.

Ralph is a proponent of short, open centered trees which she sees as healthier, more abundant, and easier to harvest. They are easier to net for bird and squirrel protection. And, they are easier to fit into small spaces like ours.

I first read Ralph’s work in Mother Earth News (see “Create Small Fruit Trees with this Pruning Method“) and found her book at the local library after Lindsey suggested it. I would recommend it to a friend. We followed some of her basic pruning advice as well as the section on making corrections in the second year to amend the shape and preliminary scaffolding growth of the trees.

I’m not convinced I did everything right. Maybe Ralph will see this and let me know…

Note the branch going up the center of the frame


After the hardest cut.

Sacrifice.

Cora, always eager to help especially when sharp tools are involved.

  

Feels like we cut down just about as many branches as we kept.

 


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We GREW Our Own Protein!

DSC_0074My freshman year of college, I heard John Robbins speak about his book Diet for a New America (1987). It was my first  introduction to the impact our food choices have on the planet. I was already a vegetarian, though I can’t remember why. After hearing Robbins and reading his book, however, I could articulate a clear rationale for giving up meat. Robbins cited quantitative comparisons between the amount of resources it takes to grow a vegetarian versus a meat-based diet. For example, 20 herbivores could live off the same amount of land it takes to feed just one carnivore. He argued fewer people would be starving to death if everyone ate less meat. His observations seem all the more relevant today in relation to current discussions about irrigation in California. The idea that one pound of factory-farmed meat requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce makes those one gallon almonds seem downright sustainable.

I’ve read countless other arguments for eating a vegetarian diet since that talk. I’ve been inspired by folks who have tried to grow a well-rounded diet including Quarter Acre Farm and Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, OH. And so it was with tremendous pride that I cooked a pot of chili tonight using beans we grew ourselves. Beans that were fed purely by rain showers.

IMG_2841Last year our friend and CSA member Pam brought us a packet of Scarlet Runner Bean seeds she’d saved from the previous season. She said they would grow pretty vines with bright red flowers (see top of post) the humming birds would coming flying for.

They did. And when they were gone, we gathered the beans and saved them to plant again this season. While we planted the seed beans all along one fence last year, this year we spread them throughout the garden in keeping with our goal of providing invitations for pollinators throughout the farm. The bees, birds, and beans have benefit.

With extra room to roam, the beans are flourishing. Last week Cora shelled a full cup of dried ones that I soaked and cooked to use in the chili in place of kidney beans. See this post from Eat the Weeds and Other Things, Too for more information on harvesting and processing these little gems. We’re looking forward to getting a few more cups this season and sharing seed beans with our supporters next year.

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I Heart Our CSA!

This afternoon our CSA members turned up and knocked out some seriously good and important work. Here are a few highlights.

Sarah and Emily helped my harvest nearly 40 lbs of new potatoes. Then Melissa helped me replant the row with some quick growing haricot-vert and cilantro.

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Carrie harvested beans that have already come in.

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Liz and Melissa did some heavy weeding to help prep the old garlic bed for fall crops.

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Elizabeth pruned basil and Sarah followed behind with fish fertilizer.

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Pam worked her magic on the tomatoes.

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And Andrew checked after the irrigation system.

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Love you guys.


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Ugh. So much to write about…

I’ve been woefully behind in my blogging this summer. Here’s a list of things I want to tell you all about and promise to update you on soon!

Our (614) photo shoot.

Our experience with the OEFFA Women Grow Ohio Farm Tour.

Our Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education High Tunnel and Season Extension grant.

The crazy rain we had late-June through July and its effects on our activities.

But, now it’s late and I’m tired. Sorry.


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Answering the Call

I put out a somewhat desperate call to our CSA supporters last week. After two weeks of rain, our ongoing transition to the next round of crops, and attempts to keep the weeding and pruning and fertilizing at bay, it was time for a BIG workday. Thanks to all who answered the call – Sarah and David, Damon, Melissa, Elizabeth, and Jessie – we managed to fit seven hours of work into one! Thank you, thank you, thank you all!

Here are a few photos from the day.

The carrot bed was cleared….

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….and got some broadforking, to make room for the squashes that are already making their home on its southern edge.

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The first round of green beans got some support.

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The “extra” row of tomatoes and the tomatillos got some much needed food.

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Also done but not pictured – carrots cleared from another location to make room for more beans. “Garden of Eden” variety. Sounds about right to me.

Namaste.


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Field Report Photo Dump

Well, it’s been a month since I posted any pictures from the field. So much has changed. Plants have come and plants have gone. Here are a few highlights.

Potatoes are up and booming.

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The view down low looking across mustard, peas, chives, tomatoes, carrots and more…

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(from top to bottom) Pac Choi, leeks, and state fair-sized radicchio.

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Sampling of our first few weeks’ offerings. (from top left – romaine, pac choi, red sails leaf lettuce, french breakfast radishes, spinach, kale, and mustard)

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Me, harvesting radishes. (Photo credit Melissa Freuh)

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The radishes. Can’t get enough of those pink ladies.

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Melissa helped get the sweet potatoes in the ground. It’s gonna be a jungle out there.

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This tray was completely full of lettuce starts. Now they’re all in the ground. Around 150.

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Trying Surround kaolin clay repellent on the cucurbitaceae family this year. We’ll let you know how it goes.

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Family reunion. Cucumbers and squashes waiting for a home.

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You gotta reap if you’re gonna sow. Thinned the mustard to make room for the cucumbers.

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After a very LONG wait, peas!

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