A Cooperative Small Farm Effort to meet Local Demand for Staple Seed Crops in the Appalachian Ohio Region
Green Edge Gardens Organic Farm http://www.greenedgegardens.com
On May 21, 2009, we planted the following approximate row-crop recipe:1/4 acre Black Turtle Bean, ¼ acres Adzuki Bean, ½ acre Amaranth and ¼ acre Black Oil Sunflower. These were planted using a one-row Earthway seeder and took about 12 hours for the first planting. The seeder has no plate that corresponds with any of these crops, so, we applied tape to close holes partially and/or completely. We hope to find a tractor-drawn 2-or 4-row planter. Fortunately, amaranth, which was the most over-seeded crop, due to its tiny seeds, is also a crop that is not significantly negatively affected by over-seeding. The amaranth emerged as a great stand.
The beans also emerged well, the black turtle beans being much faster to jump up and get
size than the Adzukis. Apparently, birds ate the majority of the sunflower seed out of the ground from the first planting, so we re-seeded on the 28th, the same day as mowing cover crop rye in
preparation for the summer planting of buckwheat, in the hopes that the treasures born of
1.5 acres of adjacent tillage would provide a distraction from our sunflower seed. This
seemed to work, because we observed satisfactory emergence the second time around.
For the first three weeks, we cultivated between the rows of all crops with wheel
hoes, putting in around 17 hours. The sunflowers were soon destroyed by deer predation, as were the adzuki beans, so we converted that ground into buckwheat. The adzuki beans were right next to the black turtle beans, and they were mown down by deer evenly and fastidiously, while the
black turtle beans were virtually untouched. The black turtle beans looked very healthy and vigorous through June, and the spaces between the rows were quite clear of weeds, but in late July, in-row weeds began to overtake them, ultimately making combine harvest infeasible, although it seems that they were able to fully mature, and the weeds did not likely affect productivity. For this
reason, it is clear that a tractor-drawn rotary hoe is invaluable for an organic grain and
bean operation. We are looking for one. On July 8th, we broadcasted 11/2 acres of Buckwheat, using a PTO driven conical spreader, and this stand emerged excellently, except for, as expected, in a small soggy corner of the field. The stand also flowered very evenly and fully, and when we walked out into the field, the hum of pollinators was nearly deafening. We used the weedy Black Turtle bean for a field day demonstration, in which participants hand harvested the beans. We then demonstrated several threshing techniques, including hand threshing and the roto-hoe chipper/shredder that we had converted into a plot thresher.
The pull-type combine, an Allis-Chalmers All Crop that we had purchased from a farmer
in Northern Ohio, was set to harvest oats. Amaranth harvest seemed quite effective at
virtually the same settings, with a clover screen and the fan baffled completely, so as not
to blow the seeds out. We have approximately 400 pounds, which we are currently
preparing to clean and package for testing the CSA, buying club, and retail markets.
Buckwheat, however, was being completely pulverized between the rasp bars and
concave bars. Being that this machine is so old, that it had been used only on oats for at
least the past 22 years, and that it had worked well on amaranth, we were reluctant to
make any drastic changes to its settings. We tried adjusting ground speed, PTO speed,
and concave spacing, but it seems we can make little progress without removing one or
both of the concave bars, which is a very involved process. By the time we had
experimented with the above adjustments, a lot of the crop had been lost to shattering and
deer predation. Buckwheat was a loss, and it doesn’t seem feasible to plan on harvesting
buckwheat with this combine next year, especially since other farmers we have been
working with also report difficulty in keeping their buckwheat from deer. There are
farmers with combines and binders around here that would be able to harvest buckwheat,
but we have to work out the deer issue.
We have planted about a half an acre of Oberkulmer spelt (best variety for bread-making)
on October 7th, and plan to plant at least an acre of amaranth in the spring. We hope that
spelt will also be amenable to harvest by the All-Crop with little deviation from the oat
I. King Family Farm http://www.kingfamilyfarm.com/
We were greatly hindered by the late and copious rains of spring, in planting our 3.5
acres of Reid’s Yellow Dent heirloom corn (this variety was discovered in the 2008 trial
beds of SARE project FNC07-663, when a local baker requested it and used it for his
masa-and tortilla-making) and 1.5 acres of Black Turtle Beans. An equal amount of
Adzuki beans had been planned for planting, but we were unsuccessful in finding a
planter plate that did not pour the tiny beans out at far too high a rate.
Planting of the corn did not occur until June 19th, and planting of the beans did not occur
until June 21st.
About 4.5 hours were put into planting and cultivation of the beans and corn, with a
rotary hoe for the first few weeks of cultivation after emergence, and then with a tine
The beans were moderately weedy in some spots, but overall in good shape. At harvest,
which was done with an International 1460 combine, it was immediately clear that hilly
portions of the field were a detriment, preventing the cutter bar from skimming close to
the ground, and leaving a 10-40 percent of the pods on the stalk. Beans in Southeastern
Ohio, and other parts of Appalachia, will have to capitalize on local and small scale
market niches to compensate for lower per acre yields.
We unloaded the beans into a bulk bag, which was in the bed of a pickup truck and held
open by one of the frame carts that were manufactured by a local metal fabricator for that
purpose. We have a yield of about 400 pounds, which is soon to be run through our seed
cleaner. This has not happened yet, due to the workload we have had as described in
The late planted corn made a very vigorous stand of healthy looking plants, many with
two large ears each. However, as summer wore on into fall, it began to look doubtful that
the corn would mature in time, let alone dry down enough before winter. As it turned out,
the corn matured before frost, but, when we sent a representative sample in to a lab, it
came back at 19.7% moisture, and high mycotoxin levels, including a 5.9 ppm level of
deoxynivalenol (vomitoxin). We have since discovered that 2009 was an unprecedented
season in terms of corn losses from moisture and mycotoxins, due to the very wet spring,
the cool summer, and especially the wet late summer/fall.
II. Belly Bowl
The testing of varieties of beans and amaranth for future commercial use has gone well,
despite some drawbacks. Although we have built a 7-8 foot tall deer fence, the gate was
left open on one or two occasions by various members of the community, and, between
the deer and the rabbits, several beds of beans were mown down before harvest. We
could see, however, that two varieties, Ford Hook Lima and Red Kidney, performed well,
although they did not seem to set their pods any higher than the Black Turtle beans,
indicating that they would be equally difficult to harvest with a combine.
We are developing our cooperative farm plan and considering whether to expand our
2010 commercial bean portfolio to include these other beans that we have tested at Belly
Bowl. We have gotten feedback from potential buyers that it would be easier to sell beans
if there are multiple varieties to offer.
As for amaranth, it seems that, even if we decide on a variety other than “Plainsman”,
which is the only variety for which large quantities of seed are offered, we would have to
conduct a multi-year program of raising enough seed for a commercial scale plot. Indeed,
we have found that several varieties not only produce larger heads of seed, but also bear
stunningly beautiful flower heads. We feel that these flower heads offer another product
for extra income to a grain amaranth farmer in the form of bouquets. Even the Plainsman
variety produces a striking red flower.
As a result of some of our outreach efforts and our working relationship with local
organization, Rural Action, we began meeting in the spring with Amish farmers in
Chesterhill, which is just over the county line, to the east. They are very interested in our
work, both as an opportunity to sell crops, and to have us custom grind for them. Joe
Hershberger has been the most involved, and he and his son purchased and planted six
acres of buckwheat seed through us, in hopes of harvesting and selling it to us.
Unfortunately, their buckwheat fields sustained almost complete damage from deer
They also purchased and planted 9 acres worth of Oberkulmer spelt (one of the premier
varieties for baking) seed through us this fall, with the intention of harvesting and selling
to us in July.
When we found out that our corn crop was a loss, we started testing the open-pollinated
dent corn that Joe’s family has been saving for generations. The first crop, a white dent,
tested well, and we purchased it for 15 cents per pound and started milling. Our maiden
voyage corn flour has been purchased by Avalanche Pizza (130 lbs), Crumbs Bakery
(100 lbs), and Casa Nueva (47 lbs). We have also provided samples to Ohio University’s
Dining Services, Salaam Restaurant, The Farmacy (a retail natural food store), and the
Bulk Food Depot (also a retail natural food store), and we are in communication with
each of these organizations about purchasing our flour. Each of them wants to cook with
(even develop more recipes for) or carry our flour, and we are making arrangements to
send our beans and corn flour out with Green Edge Gardens CSA boxes, as well as in
coordination with the two food buying clubs in the area, but we have used up Joe’s corn;
we had not met him before he planted his corn, and we already had a plan for corn at the
time, so he had not planted much. We have tested the corn grown by two of Joe’s
relatives, and it is too moist and toxic to process for human consumption.
We are making the plans with Joe for this year’s corn crop, so that there will be enough
to meet our projected demand.
In the meantime, we are communicating with larger organic corn farmers to the North
and West of us (still in the state of Ohio), who have corn that is suitable for human
consumption, and plan on purchasing enough to supply our customers with flour until this
This year, our project has been featured twice in one local newspaper, The Athens News-
on April 13th, we had a story which was referred to by a photo inset and caption on the
front page, and on August 24th, our story was full front page photo, a feature length story,
with another embedded picture, and a side panel detailing the nutritional and historical
characteristics of some of the crops we are working with.
On the 25th of February, 2010, the other local newspaper, The Athens Messenger,
featured us in a front page story, complete with the image of our current product label
and a photo of breads that a local baker has been making with our flour.
We wrote an article that was published in the May-June issue of the local Sierra Club
Our project was featured in the annual report of the local organization, Rural Action,
which has helped with outreach and as a fiscal partner for bringing in funding.
We coordinated a visit, on May 26th, to Green Edge Gardens, King Family Farm, and
ACEnet (now the site of our facility), by Steve Bosserman , who is working on a USDA
Specialty Crop Research grant to support the cultivation of cohesive regional food
systems in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and Steve Faivre, who once worked within
John Deere as an engineer, and is now working for a private consulting firm that serves
John Deere. Faivre was there to take in information about our project and about other
small farm operations in our region, and he provided a great deal of advice and machine
design ideas. It was primarily his influence that caused us to choose the flexible crop
handling system we have (bulk bags instead of bins)
We wrote a feature length story that was published in the spring 2010 issue of the
Permaculture Activist (released in February). It occupied six pages and included five
We attended the Central Appalachian Network’s (CAN) annual conference, “Growing
Healthy Food Systems from the Ground Up”, in the spring, representing our project, and
meeting many people from the central Appalachian region who are interested in our
In mid-October we were invited to give one of the three keynote presentations at the 3rd
annual Stinner Summit, facilitated by OSU’s Agro-Ecosystems Management Program
(AMP). Beforehand, representatives from AMP came to Green Edge Gardens, King
Family Farm, and our still mostly empty facility, and made a video of interviews and
scenery that was displayed at the Summit.
Brandon Jaeger was one of three presenters at the Community Food Initiatives (CFI)
Benefit Dinner, and we made samples of foods made from the crops we are promoting,
which were included in the bread baskets and desserts for the evening.
The staple food project has been represented at multiple local, regional, and national
meetings, including the Athens Food Policy Council, the Ohio Food Policy Council, and
the Leopold Center’s Communities of Practice Workshop (SARE funded) in Iowa. Our
project was also the demonstration subject of a Leopold Center conference call on
We recently attended the OEFFA Grain Growers Chapter Meeting to learn about what
other grain farmers are doing and to let them know about our work.
We have had a great deal of involvement from students at OU, conducting various
administrative and event planning tasks:
A PhD candidate in organizational communication who grew up on a farm in Illinois, and
is working on her dissertation about farm values.
A masters student in Environmental studies
An undergraduate botany student
An undergraduate Economics student who spoke about our project in a public speaking
class and answered questions for his fellow classmates.
We will have three upcoming OU student interns working with us on outreach,
communications, and farming.
We presented on our project to a Freshman English class.
We were also joined in our work by a VISTA volunteer from Rural Action.
On July 30th, more than fifty people from the region attended a meeting of the
Appalachian Staple Food Collaborative (formed subsequent to the start of the project
being reported on herein), to inform interested parties about the work of the
Collaborative, as well as to facilitate breakout sessions in which attendees contributed to
forming the next steps for the Collaborative. Participants ate from many tables of a wide
array of foods produced from the crops we are focusing on, and several dishes had been
prepared by local food business collaborators. Participants also filled out surveys about
how they would like to be involved in the Collaborative, as well as which products they
would be most interested in purchasing.
The Project has web presence on Facebook (Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative190 members, including students, farmers, businesses, non-profits, and locavores),
http://localfoodcleveland.ning.com/groups?page=2 (34 members), the NCR-SARE Field
Blog, as well as several youtube videos, including some featured in an expose on our
project by a local pizzeria/bakery, and an interview with us about our work by one of our
funders, The Athens Foundation. Here is page one of google’s search results on
Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative.
We have been contacted by, or found in some other way, similar projects in other regions
of the continent. We have been in mutually beneficial communication with the following
Farmer Ground Flour, in New York State
The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project in Washington State
We have also been made aware of the following similar work:
Sunroot Gardens, in Portland
British Columbia Grain CSA
Field Days held at
I. Green Edge
Green Edge Gardens was the host of an Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
(OEFFA) statewide tour (64 people), as well as a local OEFFA chapter tour (21 people)
and a CSA membership tour (50-60 people), and the staple foods project fields were a
section of each of those tours. Several of the OEFFA attendees were farmers who were
interested in this nascent niche and had many questions.
At the local chapter tour, we hand harvested the black turtle beans, which were too weedy
to combine, and hand thrashed them, as well as demonstrated the converted
chipper/shredder to thresher design. We also served samples of foods made from the
crops we are featuring.
A sustainable agriculture class from Ohio University also visited the farm and learned
about the project, as did a class from Hocking College.
Other visits include a local old-time farmer who used to harvest oats with an All-Crop
pull-type combine. He came to help us with our maiden combine voyage and to advise us
A supporter of the project, who grew up on a wheat farm in Washington state, brought
her father to the farm when he was visiting our area. He also gave advice (an All-Crop
was the first combine he owned and operated) about adjusting to try to meet the needs of
buckwheat in harvest, as well as about general techniques.
Two groups (total 14 students) of OU Senior Mechanical Engineering students who have
chosen to work with our project for their Senior Capstone Design projects visited the
farm to see the crops and the combine working. One group is designing a
portable/stationary thresher and a cleaner, and the other is designing a spelt and
II. King Family Farm
King Family Farm was also the host of a OEFFA tour of about 90 people, and a tour from
the Appalachian Regional Commission (about 20 people), where attendees were exposed
to the project.
III. Belly Bowl
Once again, we hosted several work parties and field days attended by community
members and OU students, and served food samples.
We got community members involved in painting the walls of our new space on the
ACEnet campus by putting the word out on Facebook and email listservs. Around 12
people attended and helped paint and eat featured food samples.
We held a meeting of the voluntary advisory board (about 15 people-OSU ag. Extension,
local business owners, non-profits, etc.) of the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative at
ACEnet, and, as part of the meeting agenda, walked over to our facility and gave a tour of
all of the equipment, including a corn-grinding demonstration.
The OU Senior Design Mechanical Engineering students have visited the facility multiple
times to learn about and see demonstrations of the de-huller and the seed-cleaner.
In the very near future, we will have the following three big tours of our facility:
a. On March 5th, the annual conference of the Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO), will be
visiting to see a demonstration of the seed-cleaner and the mill. We will then be featured
in a panel discussion about securing localized processing infrastructure on the following
day during the conference.
b. On March 30th and 31st, the Central Appalachian Network (CAN) will be hosting their
“Growing Healthy Local Food Systems From the Ground Up” Conference, and, once
again, our facility will be on tour, and we will be members of a panel.
c. On April 23rd, our facility will be part of OU Office of Sustainability’s Earth Month
The design work of the Senior Design students will soon be taken over by one or two
graduate students in Mechanical Engineering, which will last for about a year and be
involved in farm and community garden work of the staple food project.
5. Processing and Market
We have provided samples of corn flour, ground by our new stone mill and bought
from local farmers, to several local food preparation and retail business, and have
received very positive feedback. We have purchased, ground, and sold all of the corn
that passed the moisture and mycotoxin tests for human consumption (247lbs plus
60lbs of sample), and we are getting ready to purchase food-grade, organic corn from
larger farmers in other parts of Ohio, in order to get some practice with the equipment
and to further test the market until this year’s harvest. We have received eager orders
from more and more local businesses, and we are looking forward to offering our
flour and beans in Green Edge Gardens’ CSA program, as well as in two local food
We have also received interest from food buyers in the Columbus area (## miles
west), such as Luna Burger and The Greener Grocer.
We are working with a local machine fabricator with a background in agriculture to
develop a machine that will de-hull spelt and buckwheat. It proved difficult to keep
buckwheat from deer predation this year, so it may be some time before we focus on
that dynamic crop again, but our farmer team has nearly 10 acres in spelt planted, to
be harvested in July. Spelt is a more nutritious relative of wheat, and grows better in
our climate. There is considerable and growing local demand, but spelt has a much
more tightly bound hull that requires a special process to remove.
A local partnership between Ohio University’s Mechanical Engineering Department
and an alternative school is developing methods to press oil from sunflower and other
seeds, toward the purpose of fueling the schools heating and cooling needs, as well as
demonstrating to farmers options for producing on-farm fuel. The sunflower seeds they
had custom grown by a local farmer were heavy with weed seed, and they brought them
to us for cleaning. Although we had not purchased screens for our cleaner custom made
for sunflower seeds, we found the best match from those that we had, ran them through
twice, and sent them back cleaner than they had hoped, and at half the weight.
Recently, we have been contacted by a conventional feed farmer just a couple hours west,
who wants to start growing and direct marketing flax seed. He wants to know if we
would clean his seed. We told him that we would be up for trying, as a test of our
machines and of the service as a viable income for such a business model.
6. Intentions for this year
There have been a few particpant changes to this project. King Family Farm has dropped
out of the project entirely, due to issues of time primarily, and secondarily, of wanting to
focus on growing more of their own feed on their own acreage.
Newly involved farms are Joe Hershberger, in Chesterhill, OH, and Starline Organics, in
We will be planting 6-8 acres of heirloom dent corn in Chesterhill, and we may add some
acreage in beans, either black turtle or one of the two varieties that have shown promise
in our test plots at Belly Bowl Farm.
II. Green Edge
At Green Edge Gardens, We are growing a half acre of spelt, and will plant two acres of
amaranth in the spring, to produce crop that will be used in the recipe development,
market testing, and feasibility study for a USDA Value-Added Producer Planning grant
for which Brandon Jaeger has applied, if receives it.
A farmer who is only a few miles away from Green Edge Gardens contacted us after
seeing our publicity, with interest in putting six acres into production for us. We are
looking primarily at oats for him.
II. Starline Organics,
A local Organic farm in Athens County, that raises primarily produce and meats, has
signed up to grow a one acre test plot of beans (either Black Turtle or Red Kidney, yet to
be decided). They have a planter, a rotary hoe, a tine cultivator, and a combine.
III. Belly Bowl
We will continue to test other varieties of crops, particularly beans, to give us an idea of
which varieties to next incorporate into commercial production.
We will be continuing to grind 2009 organic food-grade corn from farmers in other
regions of Ohio, until our own 2010 harvest is realized, so that we can get wholesale and
retail market feedback and get markets accustomed to our product and label.
For the same purposes, we hope to have a spelt de-huller up and running in the next few
months, so that we can de-hull and grind the spelt that we purchased for seed, but never
got into the ground due to fall rains and too much work at King Family Farm. This will
have most of the kinks worked out of the operation by the time we harvest the nine acres
of spelt growing in Chesterhill, and the half-acre at Green Edge Gardens.
We will explore the feasibility and logistics of doing custom cleaning for other farmers.
Brandon Jaeger has applied for a USDA Value Added Producer planning grant to partner
with local professionals to compose a business plan, market feasibility study, and recipe
development for converting the prototype staple crop processing facility into a full-
fledged self-sustained business. The primary value-added crops and products will be
amaranth and spelt, to be value-added into popped amaranth cereal and spelt flour.
A local worker-owned restaurant, Casa Nueva, has expressed interest in a plan to
collaborate with us on developing a masa and corn tortilla recipe, so that they can use
tortillas produced locally from local corn in their dishes.
In general, this year, we will be looking very closely at all inputs in the processing
operations, particularly time, and determining the cost of everything, such as, for
example, the difference in time input for packaging and distributing bulk quantities
versus small, retail quantities, in relation to their respective returns.
We will explore several of the markets that have shown themselves to us, as well as look
for other markets.
In addition to enthusiastic corn flour orders from local bakeries and restaurants, as well as
assurances of adding new recipes to their menu, several local retail stores are excited to
put our products on their shelves. They feel that demand for such locally produced staples
is strong among their customers.
Additionally, we will be offering samples of our corn flour in conjunction with the Green
Edge Gardens CSA Program and the two food-buying clubs in the area. This is exciting
because they are already organized groups of people in our target market (fresh and local
food), from whom these products can fetch a good retail price. Furthermore, one of the
buying club pickup sites is right there at Green Edge Gardens, the other is in the parking
lot of ACEnet, where we are renting the space for our processing facility, and we order
our personal food from both. This is, of course, a very convenient setup for distribution.
Additionally, some retail and food preparation enterprises in other regions of Ohio have
contacted us. Luna Burger (http://www.lunaburger.com/lunaburger/Home.html), a
vegetarian burger company in Columbus, is very interested in our black beans, The Local
Roots Café (http://www.localrootswooster.com/), a cooperative of customers and
producers based in Wooster, Ohio, has contacted us about our products, The Greener
Grocer (http://www.thegreenergrocer.com), in Columbus wants to put our products on
their shelves, as well as moving them through their broader network, Local Matters