Last Wednesday was a beautiful fall day. It was 75 degrees and sunny with clear skies. The evening was warm, but not stuffy, and the sun was bright as we drove up to Shared Legacy Farms in Elmore, Ohio. No, we were not lost. I wanted to meet the people I buy food from, and see where it grows.
Shared Legacy Farms is a 25 acre farm with 10 acres utilized for organic farming. Kurt and Corinna Bench are raising their two young boys on this beautiful farm, teaching them, and hopefully the rest of us, the story and the face behind the food we eat. I had to laugh when one of the boys picked off a giant kale leaf and was told “only pick it if you are going to eat it.” I laughed because I know in our home, we will make the strangest meals in order to use what we have, because real food is a precious commodity; we try not to waste and we try to appreciate. I think this is because we know the hard work that went into bringing that food to our table.
Kurt grew up farming. His family in Curtis, Ohio runs a conventional farm that started as a vegetable stand and took off from there. Kurt moved to the Chicago area, where he met and married Corinna, volunteering on a farm that offered Community Sourced Agriculture shares (a CSA). Not too much time later, with a little one on the way, they moved back to the greater Toledo area to begin raising their family. Corinna, being suburban raised, didn’t know a lot about farming but they decided to start a small, organic, CSA farm in addition Kurt working a full time job elsewhere. The first year they had 12 vegetable shares, and a goal to double the production the next year.
And it did! Their drive, their dream, their excellent produce, and their passion for getting to know those who buy the food from their farm continued to perpetuate the growth of their farm, to the point where they would farm late into the night in order to keep it growing. Finally, they took a step of faith and turned their dream of running an ecologically sustainable, green, organic farm for their involved community members, into a reality.
Today, the farm is their vocation. They love getting to know their customers on a personal level, learning about their families, and bringing people together across northwest Ohio. The farm specializes in organically grown vegetables, and partners with other businesses, forming a unique network. CSA members can get eggs from Weber Ranch, a local meat and poultry farm, fresh, weekly coffee from Maddie and Bella Coffee Co., and fruit brought in from neighboring farms. They also have partnered with local chefs to provide truly seasonal, local, nutritious, top quality produce to be served at area restaurants. Shared Legacy works hard to enhance the experience of customers all around the area at Fowl & Fodder, Element 112, Registry Bistro, Ballance Grille, and Maumee Wines.
I was particularly interested in the way the farm works. I learned a lot about Integrated Pest Management, and how if you pay attention to what you grow and when, you can cultivate the soil to prepare for each season without having to add chemicals. Cover crops are not a new concept to many farmers, but Shared Legacy uses them, plus compost, mulching, fish emulsion, and chickens as well. Chickens, you ask? The particularly cool chicken palace, is a mobile coop that can provide the free-range chickens with a home and natural food, in addition to providing the farmers a service of picking bugs, bug larvae, and providing fertilizer to the land. The coop is moved every two days and in that time the chickens have nice lush grass to eat, along with plenty of protein from the bugs and larvae they consume. This not only provides highly nutritious eggs but prepares the soil for the next year. Then, the worst of the harmful bugs are gone when it is time to plant, calling for less need to use other, conventional pest control options. This blew my mind! How ingenious!
The camaraderie of the workers on the farm was apparent from the first moment Corinna brought me out to the field. This evening was a harvest night when a group of people from all different backgrounds come to the farm after their own full day at work to pick the produce in return for a vegetable share of their own. I’m pretty sure the amount of fun they were having with each other equaled the amount of work they were doing. From picking kale to peppers they labored hard that evening cracking jokes and smiling the whole way. They told me about how much they learn helping out on the farm and the appreciation you develop when you spend hours hand picking cherry tomatoes. “Food tastes better when you know what went into it.” [#Truth]. The return rate for employees and volunteers is excellent. They have fun, they are appreciated, they share in life events and become extended family members; (the kind that you look forward to being around).
Kids have something to learn too, and not just the ones who come while their parents help on the farm. They too learn where their food comes from, and get to share that at school when they have kale chips packed in their lunch, the ones that they got to help harvest just days before. The Bench’s have also started a Farm Science Camp in the summers. For a week, children can come to the farm to learn and have fun with the hope of instilling lifelong habits, education on farming, and proper nutrition. When kids have an opportunity to experience and connect with how their food is made it can change their life, bringing about a generation that values their community and what all members have to share.
Do you know how your food got on your table? How about where it came from? Now, who picked or harvested it and when? Who planted it? Do you know the name if the farm, the farmer, or what they look like?
What if you knew all of that information? What if you knew the hands that cultivated what you consume, and the care that was taken?
If you take one step into the fields that grow the food you eat, it could truly change your whole perspective.