When we started to dabble with organic farming in 2006 we envisioned the potential lifestyle of an artisan. We were choosing a micro scale of specificity and specialty growing which could produce truly epic products. We championed ourselves as the new “cool” of vegetable nerds. Today this would be described as “hipster.” Hell, I’ll own up to it. Todd Schriver (now co-owner of Rock Dove Farm) and I were the weirdest, most cantankerous pair of food connoisseurs this side of Brooklyn. We came to vegetable farming through our work and friendship in the new world of artisan cheese making. Todd went to Vermont in 2005 to study with Woodcock Farm, an excellent producer of raw sheep milk cheeses, and I was finishing my time at Curds and Whey in the North Market. By the fall of 2005, I had tasted more than 600 cheeses. My palette had graduated with a PhD in terroir, seasonality and regionality. While I wanted to start a restaurant that I could share my sense of place, I was also being pulled back towards the rural life of production through cheese making. And I couldn’t just own a cheese shop or have a restaurant. That wasn’t authentic enough. I wanted a pastoral existence, something simplistic.
I love that time of our journey which helped foster Wayward Seed Farm. We were ambitious and mildly arrogant about our ability to produce great foodstuffs here in Ohio. Couldn’t we just change the quality and joy people had with food in our community? Baby Swiss, fruit wines, and trail bologna needed to go. We can do cool stuff here too. Someday, my grandkids will enjoy a well-aged wheel of blue cheese and some sparkling hard cider that was made right here in our community. It won’t be a choice of snobbery or elitism; it will be a daily celebration of who we are as Ohioans. It will be our culture, our pride, achieved through a dedication to excellence and ethical business practice. I had a vision of our future, and in 2006 we started Wayward Seed Farm as the small embodiment of these values. I could see a day when people would start to slow down enough to enjoy their food in the same spiritual way that many older, established food cultures of the world do today. It’s like that first ear of corn you eat in July and when you go back to the kitchen to get another one or when you see kids spitting out watermelon seeds at an August picnic. We committed ourselves to this vision and its infinite possibilities.
This preceding passage gives one much insight into the intoxicating beauty of the food movement and more importantly exposes the naïve nature of 25 year olds. It takes a lot of moxy and stupidity to become an organic farmer. As many of you know, I’m a risk taker and I would move mountains to see this reality come true. That’s why Jaime and I started our CSA program.
We were brought into the CSA world by our friend and fellow farmer, Sandy Sterrett of Elizabeth Telling Farm in the fall of 2007. She asked us to provide a fruit share for her existing CSA members. We had strong connections to the fruit farms in Sandusky County where Jaime and I grew up. We brokered the fruit share with great results and decided to dive into our own vegetable CSA in 2008. We started with about 60 members that first year. Many people ask why we took on a CSA based on its difficulty and need for maximum diversity of products. We started a CSA because it was a necessity to build a farm and company from extremely humble beginnings.
Our first plot in 2006 was an acre that my boss at the time let me use rent free. We had a rototiller, some hoes, lots of Rubbermaid containers and a small drip irrigation set up. Todd and I started our first transplants on my mother‘s back patio, to her chagrin. She loathed the mess we made every Friday night after harvest and the swamp we made of her yard from all of the washing. You can understand the nature of this business very quickly. To make a living, to employ workers, you must scale your business and solidify production systems. Todd and I were having a blast growing over a 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and trialing odd vegetables like salsify, but Jaime set us on a course for business success. Her education and experience in hospitality management immediately forced us to think more professionally about the venture. She thought of things like marketing materials and packaging for our products. As passionate as Todd and I were about growing the food, Jaime was equally passionate about creating a brand that meant integrity.
This brings us back to the choice of CSA and its meaning to our operation. We actually became a business because of the CSA program. Jaime was able to leave her job at the time to run our administration and distribution operations. Todd and I acquired more equipment and expanded our acreage markedly. Additionally, Jaime founded several farmers’ markets in town to expand local food’s footprint in the Columbus area. We found a stable market and financial funding mechanism in our CSA program. CSAs have and will continue to be the centerpiece of the local food movement. Customers want convenience, value and quality in their sourcing of local, authentic foodstuffs. We hope today’s investments will foster a successful future for consumers and farmers alike!
Today, I am pleased to say that my personal legal issues have been resolved. I can continue to work on our farm now and in the future. My actions hurt many, especially my family and close friends. I chose not to speak about these issues publicly due to its sensitivity, and because of the severity of its potential repercussions to my freedom. I am sorry that my actions jeopardized our ability to fulfill our CSA obligations to you, our membership. I love to do this work; it’s my life’s work. Sometimes I have been too frustrated by my failings as a farmer and a person. Organic farming’s ethics are about failing just as much about succeeding in the early years. It’s hard. I returned to work this past September and simply spent all my time at the farm or my home, without distraction. I was afraid to face people out of shame and fear, mostly because of the intense publicity of my legal charges, and so I chose to isolate myself to a small group of family and friends. This had a negative impact on my social relationships, but allowed me to recommit my efforts to the farm. I hope you’ll agree, we had a fantastic fall season! I worked hard every day to maintain those Honeystick carrots, broccoli, Lacinato kale, and other fall specialties. I slowly regained more confidence by working around our work share members whose dedication and support really made me feel better about myself.
I’m still keeping things basic, but feel so optimistic about Wayward Seed Farm’s future. I’m looking forward to this season more than any other. I hope our members do too…