Fall 2011 –
On a chilly, wind-filled Sunday in November, around 30 students and community members met at the Shriver Center to embark on an informative and green adventure through the farms of Oxford. The students’ rode in a caravan of borrowed cars to different farms, picking up ingredients along the way, and ending the evening by eating a delicious dinner made with local food.
The idea for the Food Farm Crawl was that of Jenna Saponaro, a Miami University senior working on her capstone in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She began working on the idea during the first few weeks of class and admits that it took the whole semester to plan out.
Saponaro wanted to put together something that would connect Miami with the surrounding community. She thought using local food would be an interesting and different avenue.
“My goal was to introduce students to Oxford’s food system and show how they can support the local economy therefore supporting members of the community,” said Saponaro.
The Food Farm Crawl began at Locust Run, which local farmer Harv Roeling has owned for 20 years. He is currently in the process of turning over the farm to another local woman, Kristie Hutchinson.
Roeling and Hutchinson grow 10 different types of lettuce in both greenhouses and outside. They use soil block and trays to start out the plants, and then move them to larger beds where wood chips and netting are placed over them to keep weeds and animals out.
They don’t use pesticides or chemicals of any kind, so the lettuce can be classified as organic. They also grow spinach, carrots, arugula and beets in their greenhouses.
To help keep the costs down for customers, they try not to use growing lights and when they do have a pest problem, they spray organic substances like water or come up with a cheap and sustainable solution.
Roeling and Hutchinson have learned that getting rid of pests is not always the best solution because another pest might take its place. “You should never kill off one part of the food chain,” said Hutchinson.
They currently work with MOON Co-op and are hoping to add Richards Pizza (with 5 locations) to their list of customers by May. Since they only have 55 beds of lettuce, they will have to work harder to accommodate new customers.
The students in the group then spent time picking different types of lettuce for the meal later.
“I don’t think it’s hard to be in farming, you just have to be patient and not get discouraged,” added Hutchinson.
The next stop on the Food Farm Crawl was Artistry Farms, about 5 miles south of Oxford. Debra Bowles runs a business centered around her nine goats and the milk that they produce, although she also has several ducks and chickens.
She sells various cheeses and soaps at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Since she is the only employee and has a herd of nine, she only milks once a day to help save costs.
Bowles admits that her goats are not “pan-flashers” but they produce a good amount of milk over a long period of time, and that’s what is important.
She has a barn where the goats stay, but they also have the option of running down a narrow fenced in area to a large field full of mixed plants such as alfalfa, clover and grass.
She prefers Saanen and Alpine goats, but has a few goats with some Nubian genes in them. If a goat grows up with too much Nubian blood, Bowles will sell her because she doesn’t like the way the utter forms.
At peak times, Bowles can make almost 1 gallon of milk per day. She uses most of this milk to make her cheese.
On the side of her house, she created a separate cheese room where she cultures and packages the cheese. When she first started, she had to get everything approved and checked out since she was planning on selling the cheese.
She has now been making cheese for almost 30 years. Bowles laughs at the regulations set up for thousand acre farms that she has to follow and the inspections that she has to allow.
“But look where I am now,” said Bowles.
The third Food Farm Crawl stop was at the MOON Co-op Market, behind Little Caesars in Tollgate Plaza. The students were allowed to look around, ask questions and purchase anything they might want.
The purpose of stopping at MOON was to raise awareness for its opening in Oxford and to show community members what it is like inside, for those that had not been.
After picking up extra ingredients at MOON, the caravan moved to Saponaro’s house where appetizers were already available.
Dr. Alfredo J. Huerta, from Miami’s botany department, spoke while students munched on goat cheese, apple slices and fresh bread. Dr. Huerta went over several slides of information about organic food in the U.S.
He explained why organic food is a commodity and how organic food is classified as such. While many things are labeled “organic,” there are actually three different kinds of labels, and Dr. Huerta advised everyone to “take them with a grain of salt.”
After a dinner break of salad, that students had picked earlier, a vegan soup with potatoes and swiss chard, and more bread, Harv Roeling spoke to the students about supporting local farmers.
Roeling advised students and community members to get back to knowing where their food comes from and buying local. He spoke about several organizations that help people know where their food comes from and also helps to familiarize them with local farmers.
“You can control the kind of food you’re going to eat with the relationship you have with the farmer,” added Roeling.
When Saponaro decided on speakers, she chose Dr. Huerta and Roeling for a very specific reason. “I really wanted to get two different but equally beneficial perspectives,” said Saponaro.
Saponaro was grateful for support she received from Slow Food Miami, Green Oxford, The Botany Club and GreenHawks Media, especially with advertising and attendance at the Food Farm Crawl. She also had a lot of help from the community and the network she created with farmers and professors while planning the event.
“There is a lot of social and ethical issues surrounding food, and I’ve been exploring that,” said Saponaro.
By: Ariana Williams