Al Dolder grew up in Columbus, far from rural life. Nevertheless, he dreamed of becoming a hog farmer. He is a man who finds poetry in pigs.
On our way to Al's Stonefield Naturals, photographer Catherine Murray and I drive south, then east of Columbus, meander along country roads and eventually pull up to a long driveway flanked by old stone pillars. At the end of the drive stands a faux Tudor home, modest but well landscaped.
The day is beautiful with birdsong, sunshine and wildflowers. We pass two black pigs in a field before we arrive at our destination, where Al, wearing overalls and a welcoming smile, climbs down from his red truck and greets us as we unload cameras and muster notebooks.
After high school graduation in 1974, Al moved to the farm that his father had purchased to grow nursery stock, working with him in the landscaping business and raising commodity hogs on the side. In 1982, he married wife Bonni and sold his animals.
Landscaping was steady, but Al still dreamed of hogs. After 9/11, when landscaping business began to slide, Al and Bonni decided to focus on a business centered on need—food—rather than want. In 2003, he purchased an "old-line genetics" (see sidebar) Hampshire sow named Miss Annie from Joe Malone of Lancaster, Ohio.
Al had always been intrigued by Hampshires, which the National Swine Registry calls "possibly the oldest, early-American breed of hogs in existence today." They are a black-skinned hog with erect ears, belted in white around the middle and forelegs.
"I wanted sows that could raise piglets outdoors," says Al. "Modern hogs can't—their legs are too short. You need a sow with mobility."
Meat packers want conformity. "On the kill floor, every hog needs to be the same, because it's mechanized," Al says. "My hogs are not all the same." Butcher Dale Phillips from Zanesville processes Al's hogs.
We walk out to the field to meet some hogs, who turn out to be the two black pigs we passed earlier in the car. Their white belts are hidden by the mud they've wallowed in—in that, at least, they match the stereotype—and they follow Al and a bucket of feed to a more picturesque portion of the field, so that Catherine can get a shot of pigs in clover.
But the hogs, which stand waist-high and weigh 450 pounds at this point, are curious, and Catherine and I beat a retreat over the knee-high electric fence, as Al swings a plastic bucket to discourage them from sniffing us with their muddy snouts.
"Sis," he says reprovingly to one, seeming a little embarrassed at this display of hog mischief.
Al has one boar and five sows, which he breeds in turn to produce one litter of eight to 12 piglets per month. When we step into the barn, a sow heaves herself to her feet and her piglets scatter. They are cunning at 1 month old, weighing just 15 pounds.
Al had to alter his vision of little pigs running free after he saw the coyote tracks outside the barn. He now keeps them safe inside until they weigh 75 pounds, big enough to make a coyote think twice.
Sows can weigh up to 700 pounds, and Al describes with reverence how they ease down on their elbows, listen to make sure there are no pigs underneath, then slowly lie down, careful not to crush their relatively tiny offspring.
"That's good maternal behavior, and I can select for that," Al says. Sows that are raised in confinement, of course, can hardly stand up in their close quarters, and are separated from their piglets by barriers. Maternal behavior is, in effect, being bred out because it isn't needed.
The sow silhouettes herself against the open door of the barn. "With the morning light shining," Al says, "you can see the pink of their skin." I can't see it, but perhaps the light isn't quite right. Or perhaps Al looks at his hogs through different eyes.
"Breaking Even Is Not an Option"
Despite the poetry, raising hogs is an expensive proposition. Corn costs rise. Hogs have to be trained to the electric fence. Marketing is difficult.
Al's meat has received stellar reviews from OSU's Steven J. Moeller, professor and swine extension specialist, who evaluated a carcass at the University's Meat Science Laboratory; from Adam Welly of Wayward Seed, for charcuterie; and from Jim Budros, for porchetta.
Still, Al and Bonni were ready to kiss the hogs goodbye, so to speak, when Adam suggested another route. Today Al sells at the Worthington Farmers Market and his Stonefield Naturals products include organically grown vegetables as well as pork: whole, half or by cut.
"Twenty years ago, I would never have believed the food scene today," Al says. "Thank goodness for farmers markets and the opportunity to sell people one pork chop at a time. Then they realize what pork should taste like."
He would like to expand, but not to the point where he again becomes a commodity breeder, his economic destiny determined by the whims of the packer.
"For me, satisfaction is a fine sow raising a large litter of pigs, and knowing that I have done my genetic homework."
Al cannot resist a final metaphor. "If I don't stray off the path that these Hampshire hogs have cut through the brambles of modern pork quality, they will be here for the next generation after I am gone."
The Hampshire Hog: Modern and Old-Line Genetics
The Hampshire hog developed from the Old English Breed imported to Kentucky from Britain around 1825. Good mothers and foragers, they were easy to raise outdoors.
"I always loved the history and lore of the old-time Hampshire hogs and the men who bred them," says hog farmer Al Dolder. "They were rugged and tough hogs and equally tenacious breeders."
However, in the 1990s, when food trends stigmatized fat, farmers began breeding Hampshires with the Belgian Pietrien, a heavily muscled, lean hog. In Al's opinion, "it reduced flavor and fat and made the meat grey."
That's why he raises animals bred from old-line genetics rather than modern stock.
"Genetics are everything," Al insists. "The best way to keep the genetics good is to look at the carcasses and select daughters from the sows who have the best meat qualities in their pigs."
According to Al, Smithfield Ham "destroyed the hog market in 1988" by refusing to buy commodity pork from farmers and becoming "vertical integrators," raising and butchering the hogs themselves. "A lot of family hog farms went out of business."
When a huge company like Smithfield controls the quality of pork, Al says, "after a while the consumer doesn't know what pork should taste like."
With his old-line Hampshire hogs, Al is working to change that.
Author's note: On May 29, 2013, Smithfield Ham agreed to be bought out by China's largest meat producer, Shuanghui International Holdings, for $4.72 billion.
The Willow Farmer
On a 300-acre historic farm in Roseville, Ohio, sits the creative home of Howard Peller and his wife, Maddy Fraioli. Howard and Maddy own 30-acres and share a portion of the land with local farmer, who grows certified organic row crops. While Howard raises vegetables, runs a number of small beehives and cultivates an orchard for personal use and occasional local market sales, he is an artist at heart.
They came to the land in the 1990s to raise their family amidst farm life while owning and running multiple creative businesses, namely as partners for 25 years at Fioriware Art Pottery in Zanesville, Ohio, and Howard's formal role as vice president of product design and development at the Longaberger Company.
Among many artistic twists and turns, what has remained constant for Howard is his respect for the land. As a little boy, he describes how his family lived on the edge of a field, and as he walked past it everyday he longed to have a farm one day. That innocent desire ("It wasn't very practical," he chuckles.) translated into wanting to influence his kids "to have chores and have a relationship to nature."
While his kids are all grown up now, Howard's desire to live in rhythm with the place he calls home is still strong. The seasons live in him. He lives in the seasons. And it's this regard for the Earth and its daily offerings that led Howard to become a willow farmer and basket maker.
It was also a trip to Europe, where he saw willow baskets and fell for their warm glow, lovely look and
"The baskets feel like they're still growing," says Howard as he remembers those first few encounters. "You feel the spirit of nature in them."
And it was a series of trips to Haiti, India and Jamaica that planted in his imagination the seed of farming willow. For the last six years, he's lived among local artisans in these regions, "working to aid their designs and improve techniques for making handcraft goods."
"In Haiti I fell in love with the idea of reaching into the forest, pulling down some bamboo or taking some reeds to work with," he says.
His passion led to the question: "What can I do here at the farm that I can grow that's not just food, that I can make something with? I wanted to see how life can have that rhythm where you grow something, harvest it and then make a product from it."
So amongst his orchard, beehives and plot of vegetables, Howard decided to make his own forest—a winding two acres of colorful, wispy, elegant willow. In his third year of willow farming, Howard has 6,000 willows of about 60 varieties. Willow is a great crop for erosion control, it helps stabilize the soil and some are studying its potential as a renewable source of energy. It's also, second to oak, one of the top insect-diverse species; the bugs find its chemistry tasty, making it good for the birds and the ecology of Howard and Maddy's farm.
It takes a couple of seasons to get the willow growing to a height and tension where Howard can cut it and prepare it for basket weaving. The willows are planted in the spring and harvested in the winter to be stored and dried for up to two years. "I harvest willow using a coppicing method," he says, "of cutting the whips near the ground, leaving a growing stool."
Howard then has to soften the willow back up in a warm bath to make it tender enough for the delicate handiwork weaving demands. Once the willow has its bath, Howard has about two to three days to work with it before it hardens again. He leaves the bark on the branch, unlike many European willow basket makers who strip the skin to reveal a creamy finish. Howard waits for the willow to breathe while making sure the bark is clinging just so to the bone of the branch to allow for that warm, earthy look.
"The way I appreciate nature—my respect for it, my honor for it—I don't like to bruise the material," he says as he talks about his process and the time he takes to make a basket. "I like to go in a slow, methodical pace. I'm not trying to hustle it. I honor the spirit of the material."
Howard taught himself the craft of basketry, spending time training with several basket makers in Germany, France and Denmark—places where the tradition of basket weaving with willow is well-regarded and woven into the culture. Basketry is one of the most widespread and oldest crafts in human history. Here in the United States, willow basket weaving was a part of Colonial times, but it "just never caught on," he says, to the point that it became a mainstay in American crafts.
Today, from Howard's experience, there is a small group of willow weavers in the US compared to the many groups in Europe, making his venture unique.
He hopes to move from decorative and functional willow baskets to more sculptural experiments using other materials such as metals, other woods or found objects. What underlies all of that, though, for Howard is a philosophy about making things from the "forest."
"I hope to demonstrate some values, a way of living," he says as we talk about how going slow, living off the land and the traditions of craft seem lost on the Western world.
"I'm always looking at things in a lot of multiple ways. It's from a life of observation and stewardship. It's about making something really honest with your hands and the verticality of life."
Mount Vernon Barn Company
During the 17th and 18th century, Ohio was so dense with forest that a squirrel could jump from tree to tree and make its way across the state without ever leaving a branch. That's the story Doug Morgan—lawyer, woodworker and owner of Mount Vernon Barn Company—will tell you when you walk into one of his repurposed modern-day barns.
With his palm resting on a beam of aged oak and a twinkle in his eyes, he'll take you back in time, telling you things about wood you never knew, inviting you to appreciate what a forest thick with timber meant for early settlers in Ohio: beautiful barns.
Doug is a dreamer and saving old Ohio barns, and the craftsmanship it took to erect them, is his dream. Every Saturday for the past 25 years, he has relocated, restored and repurposed historic barns and log houses in Ohio to develop a 85-acre homestead in Knox County, "so that my family could spend time in the country and walk in the woods and play in the stream, and I could plant trees, have a big garden and do woodworking."
When Doug talks about this dream, his wife, Beth Morgan, stands beside him, smiling as they show me photos of those first few years of Saturdays. Theirs was a shared vision of creating a homestead from old barns and log houses to one day create homes, recreational spaces and more for other families and communities.
Beth and Doug met in first grade in Clintonville. Doug developed his love of woodworking in junior high school where, in the 1970s, it was still part of the required curriculum. This love, coupled with Doug's interest in history, was the true beginning of Mount Vernon Barn Company, a business that readapts historic Ohio barns for new purposes.
For the same reason a farmer farms the land to have an intimate connection with the place where he lives, Doug and Beth are drawn to Ohio's old barns out of tremendous respect and awe for the people who created them. They want to better marry the values of old with the present moment by bringing these old structures back to life.
"When we dismantle and work with historic barns and log houses we feel a real connection with the men who built them," says Doug. "We are amazed that they were able to cut and transport the huge foundation stone, fell 80-foot-plus trees, hew the timbers, do such precise mortise-and-tenon joinery and erect the timber frames by hand with the use of a few hand tools and simple devices that utilized oxen and draft horses."
Beth notes another important detail: The construction of these barns left zero carbon footprint back in the day. Mount Vernon Barn Company continues that tradition by using "a minimal amount of fossil fuel to dismantle, move and re-erect a barn. In this day of green initiatives, it is important to note that the early-19th-century barns that we move and repurpose have a zero carbon footprint," says Beth. "The timbers were cut down, hewn and erected by hand without any fossil fuel. In fact, these structures were built prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine or the advent of electricity."
Beyond the artisan effort it took to construct an old barn, there is something in the hardwood oak, chestnut, beech, walnut and cherry that speaks to Doug and Beth's souls. The barns carry the feeling of the forest in them with their first-growth timber.
"These trees grew very slowly and therefore the wood was dense, strong and full of character," says Doug. "When we take down a barn and handle the timbers someone usually comments, 'Trees like this haven't grown in Ohio for over 100 years.' Ohio's hardwood forests are a rare treasure."
Richard Morey, a longtime woodworker, preservationist and longtime friend and mentor of Doug's, will tell you the same thing about the old barns: the wood has character. When asked what he loves about repurposing barns with Doug, Richard talks about the constant challenge of honoring the wood. He explains the way one beam's grain will spiral and pool while another beam's grain reveals line after line, and how he works to position them in a re-adapted barn so the character of both is enhanced.
Doug's dream of Mount Vernon Barn Company offers a creative home for craftsmen like Richard, Amish woodworkers and others who want to preserve Ohio's past and contemporize it to keep it alive in the 21st century. Doug says there are an estimated 35,000 barns dotting Ohio's countryside, but 20 years from now he thinks it'll be difficult, if not impossible, to find one of these barns to repurpose and restore for continued use. The wood in the barns is so prized, Doug gets calls from builders around the country looking for first-growth timber.
Doug also gets calls once or twice a week from farmers and landowners wanting to have their barns removed because they can't afford to keep them up. In some ways, the work of Mount Vernon Barn Company is a race against time. The question of what it will take to save these barns in time to put them back into use guides Doug's mission. One of his solutions is to inspire others to see the potential in the wood and how reclaimed timber can be used for the home as a coffee table, bookshelf or cabinet so Ohioans can have, if not a whole barn, a piece of its history and character.
"The great age of barns was an important chapter in our Ohio and human history, when families worked the land with simple implements and strong backs and were self-reliant. Our projects honor the long-forgotten men and women who built and used these great vernacular structures and serve as reminders of the value of hard work and self-reliance," says Doug.
"We hope that children for the next 100–200 years will be able to walk into our barns, or run their hands over the top of a harvest table made from a tree that began growing in 1690, and experience the same sense of wonder and awe that we do every day."
While Mount Vernon Barn Company continues to repurpose, relocate and re-create old Ohio barns, Doug has another dream up his sleeve: "to create an apprentice program to teach young people timber framing and woodworking. There is something fundamentally satisfying about working with your hands, whether you do it as an occupation or a hobby, and whether it's woodworking, cooking, gardening, etc. In my mind's eye, I try to picture a wonderful woodworking shop with young apprentices using chisels, mallets and drills to cut precise mortises and tenons for customers who appreciate and are willing to pay for skills that would otherwise be lost to the world forever."
A beautiful dream, indeed. We know what Doug will be up to on many Saturdays to come.
"Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple...."
―J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
For many people autumn is synonymous with football, but for me it is all about apples. Apples bring back childhood memories: eating Early Transparents off a neighbor's tree; picking apples at Patterson's in Chesterland, Ohio; and peeling apples in preparation for making applesauce and pies.
This fall marks the 32nd year that our family has picked apples at Lynd's fruit farm. Our children grew up with apples in the fall and our granddaughters are just beginning their lifelong relationship with apples.
Eating an apple is a very sensual experience and everyone has their preferences. What is your favorite apple, and why? Is it sweet, tart, acidic, with hints of pineapple, melon or pear? Is it crunchy, juicy, creamy? Maybe the apple's perfume draws you in—a nod to the apple's cousin, the rose.
I wonder: What did the first apple taste like? Who was the first to cultivate and select tastier, prettier, bigger fruits? While we do have native crabapple species, most of the apples we eat today—Malus domestica—are complex hybrids bred from species that originated in Asia Minor. European colonists brought the apple to North America in the 1600s. In Colonial America, the apple was often valued more for its products of cider and applejack than for fresh eating and cooking.
We have John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, to thank for the spread of apples throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. He planted apple seedlings in areas that were ripe for settling. Thousands of varieties originated from his apple groves; most do not exist today.
Growing apples—conventionally or organically—can be a challenge. There are many pests and diseases that attack apple trees and their fruit, yet when we buy apples we have come to expect them to look perfect and unblemished. Fortunately, there are many references that can help you if you decide to take the leap and try growing your own.
The first step is to look for cultivars that are resistant to the big three apple diseases: apple scab, fire blight and cedar apple rust. This guided my selection of Liberty (1955) and GoldRush (1973) for my own garden. This year, after three years in the garden, my trees will yield 8–10 apples each: I will not stop picking apples at Lynd's anytime soon!
Apples are propagated by grafting a desired cultivar onto a rootstock. Rootstocks have been developed to influence the growth of the preferred apple cultivar. They can control the tree size, disease resistance, productivity and stress tolerance. My trees are on one of the dwarfing rootstocks, which will keep the trees small and allow me to stay closer to the ground when picking from the mature trees. One other growing note: It is best to have at least two different cultivars that bloom at the same time. Apples, especially heirlooms, "prefer" to be cross-pollinated. Many of the newer cultivars are pollen-fertile, meaning that they can self-pollinate.
Depending on whom you consult and what period of time you reference, there are or were anywhere from hundreds to thousands of apple cultivars. As Liberty Hyde Bailey said in The Apple Tree (1922), "Why do we need so many kinds of apples? Because there are so many folks." He gleaned 878 cultivars from nursery catalogs in 1892, and then rated 107 of them for where they would best grow in the United States. The names of these cultivars are snapshots of people who grew or found them, apple and tree characteristics, apple "parents," bloom or ripening time, and places. Scott Chaussee (orangepippin.com) has posted notes for approximately 700 apple varieties. His descriptions may entice you to search out apples that are less common.
Below are a few of my favorite apples. Some make the best applesauce. Some hold their shape when cooked while others are best eaten raw. Some store well while others should be eaten soon after picking. All are available either as a tree or as the fruit.
Cortland has bright white flesh that offers a satisfying crunch; slow to brown when cut; sweet and tart at the same time with a creamy texture when baked. Does not store well; make applesauce if you still have some after 6–8 weeks of storage, or when the texture becomes mealy.
Dolgo (crabapple) is one of the larger crabapple cultivars (crabapples are under two inches in diameter; apples are bigger than two inches). Resistant to the "big three" apple diseases. Very tart fruit that makes an excellent jelly or apple butter; ripens in late July to August.
Fuji was developed in Japan, but both its parents were U.S. apples. It's crisp, sweet and stores well. I've seen recommendation for its use as a cooking apple, but I feel that the texture and taste deteriorate; it is better eaten fresh. I look for a lopsided apple that is red and yellow with a brown undertone—there is another form with streaky skin color that tastes different to me.
GoldRush was developed by the cooperative breeding programs of Purdue, the University of Illinois and New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Stations. Their goals for cultivar development are disease resistance, long storage and good to excellent flavor. GoldRush has a complex tartness, stores for at least four to five months. It is a beautiful apple that bakes well.
Honeycrisp was developed in the early '60s by the University of Minnesota in its search for cold-hardy apples. It is very CRISP and tart initially; it sweetens as it can be stored for up to six months. It doesn't have the best disease resistance, so may not be the best choice for a home orchard.
Jonathan is a beautiful dark-red apple that has a spicy tart flavor and is one of my favorites to use in combination with other apples in pies and applesauce; often is in the cider you buy. Like Honeycrisp, Jonathans are susceptible to the "big three" apple diseases.
Liberty is a modern hybrid that has excellent disease resistance and a good flavor reminiscent of McIntosh. Can't wait to experiment with cooking them this year.
McIntosh is an heirloom and my favorite apple. The flesh is pale green with a lovely perfume. Excellent fresh, baked and in pies. It does not hold its shape, so it forms the "sauce" in pies and crisps. It has been the parent of many heirloom and modern cultivars.
Melrose, the official apple of Ohio, has yellow skin that is overlaid with red. Some may find the russetting (brown dots or netting) a bit harder to chew, but that makes it less palatable to insects, too. This is an apple from my youth that made its way in to many pies. Its slightly acid flavor deepens as it stores. Good as a fresh apple and a cooking apple.
Stayman Winesap is either one apple or two apple cultivars. It depends whom you talk to. Both are harvested late in the season, usually in October after a frost. It is a starchy apple, with a spicy-floral fragrance, that sweetens as it stores. Good for eating and for baking where the starch turns into sugar.
Yellow Transparent (Early Transparent) is the sweet-tart-crisp apple we ate off the tree in the summer. Best for sauce or cider as it doesn't hold its shape and doesn't store well.
Two excellent books that can guide your apple growing choices:
The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips and The Fruit Gardener's Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry.
Thank you to Robin Rinaca, owner of Eastern Shore Nursery of Virginia, for sharing her experiences with apples.
Local Grilled Cheese with Apples & Honey
By Tricia Wheeler
Apples and cheese—a perfect classic pairing made even better with a smear of your favorite mustard, a generous drizzle of local honey and two slices of crusty bread.
Slices of crusty bread
Favorite cheese (I prefer Canal Junction Charloe.)
Apple slices (I prefer a crunchy, tart apple.)
1. Melt butter in a heavy-bottom skillet—dip one side of each slice of bread in butter.
2. On the side with no butter, smear mustard on 1 slice of bread, honey on the other, and then layer on cheese and apples.
3. Put back in skillet and toast on each side until cheese is melted and bread is brown and toasty. Slice and serve.
By Tricia Wheeler
Dehydrate local apples for a healthy snack! Slice apples thin and dry out in a dehydrator or low oven on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. The apple slices are finished when crisp and crunchy. I like to sprinkle my apples with cinnamon or a little sea salt before drying.
My work in local food systems often reminds me of an ecology class that I took in high school.
I remember being intrigued by the diagrams of "food webs" in my textbook: A squirrel eats acorns from an oak tree, which later sheds its leaves in the winter. The oak leaves decompose and become food for earthworms, which then become food for robins, who then become a meal for a bobcat.
With no outside inputs other than rain and sunlight, a food web depicts a highly interconnected and diverse system capable of regenerating itself in perpetuity.
I have often used the term local food web to describe a similar pattern that I observe in the development of local food systems. A healthy local food system works through an intricate web of collaborations and exchanges between farmers, processing or distribution businesses, consumers and waste managers. It minimizes outside inputs of nutrients and energy while maximizing synergies, such as utilizing food waste for composting or bio-gas energy production.
I have seen many examples of how communities evolve their own local food webs, creating pathways for sustainable local economies. In Cleveland, for example, there is a growing network of independently owned restaurants that feature locally grown or prepared foods on their menus. Increasingly, much of this food is grown within city boundaries.
The six-acre Ohio City Farm, located near the West Side Market, supports five urban farm enterprises that employ recent immigrants, adults with developmental disabilities, recent college graduates and area residents. Produce is literally walked down the block to restaurants like the Flying Fig or the Great Lakes Brewing Company. The brewery contracts with refugees at the farm from Bhutan, Burundi and Liberia for vegetables and hops for specialty beers. In turn, the brewery delivers spent grain from the beer-making process to the farm to boost the fertility of its soil.
East of Cleveland, a new local foods initiative in Youngstown combines urban farming with the development of a kitchen incubator. Like Cleveland, Youngstown has been investing in its local food economy as a part of an economic revitalization strategy following decades of loss in steel and manufacturing. The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. partnered with Common Wealth to get support from the national Healthy Food Finance initiative. This program includes Iron Roots Farm, an urban market farm occupying 1.5 vacant acres of abandoned land. A vacant house on the property will be turned into a training center to encourage residents to farm vacant lots in the city.
To complement this, Common Wealth developed a cooperative kitchen in a former restaurant and bar that can be utilized by urban or rural farmers or aspiring food entrepreneurs. Together, these initiatives hope to turn the abundant vacant land and buildings in Youngstown into assets for the local food economy.
Local food efforts can also stimulate economic activity in small towns and rural areas. Located in Wayne County, one of Ohio's most diverse and productive agricultural counties, the Wayne County commissioners helped to secure two vacant downtown storefronts to help start the Local Roots Cooperative. Local Roots is a "hybrid" cooperative whose membership includes over 130 farmers and over 600 consumers.
Jessica Barkheimer, one of the co-op's founding members, recalled the difficulty of assembling the ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal from local farmers one year. This difficulty in accessing local food, even in an area as agriculturally rich as Wayne County, prompted Jessica and others to form the cooperative. Today, Local Roots improves market access through a retail space for local food, artisan goods or home-produced items in addition to a café and shared-use kitchen.
North of Wooster sits the small college town of Oberlin. Home to a world-renowned liberal arts college and music conservatory, Oberlin has been on the leading edge of many social movements. An early leader in the education of women and African Americans, Oberlin also was among the first institutions in the country to develop a local food procurement policy in the early 1990s. Today, "the Oberlin Project" involves both the city and the college in an effort to transition toward a post-fossil-fuel economy. Growth of local food systems is a part of this strategy, which includes a comprehensive plan to increase local food processing and distribution, utilize waste as an input to local agriculture and promote urban agriculture. In the past year, the Oberlin Project has organized a network of local farmers who are exploring new production techniques that store large amounts of carbon in soil and plant biomass. This provides a promising solution to climate change, offsetting the carbon releases of the community through investments in farms in the surrounding area.
From large cities to small towns, these local food webs signal a new approach to community economic development, rooted in place and based on the coming together of diverse players. These food webs provide powerful tools for communities to improve access to local foods, strengthen farm-to-table networks, utilize vacant land in cities or respond to the threat of climate change. What's more, there is increasing collaboration between communities who often share experiences and best practices with each other.
Over the past decade, I have witnessed an incredible growth of local food efforts across Ohio. Like those food webs in my high school textbook, each of the communities I described has its own web of complex connections that add up to healthier and more resilient communities and local economies.
Inspired by what I was seeing as I visited different communities, I organized NEOFoodWeb.org as a tool to share best practices and creative solutions for local food efforts. Take a moment to visit the site, see the inspirational work of individuals all over Northeast Ohio and think about what role you'd like to play in your own local food web!