At farmers markets around Columbus, Steve and Gretel Adams have acquired an apt nickname—customers have dubbed them the “flower children.” Each week the young, vibrant couple offers beautiful bouquets of sustainably grown flowers to their market patrons. These bouquets of fresh-cut flowers from their own farm bring instant joy to young and old alike.
Children they are not, but they are definitely considered young in comparison to their farming peers: Steve just turned 30, and Gretel is in her late 20s. What is quite extraordinary is that they are already experienced and seasoned farmers despite their age. They are now deep into their seventh year of farming and operating Sunny Meadows Flower Farm just south of downtown Columbus.
Before becoming “flower children,” Steve and Gretel aspired to run a coffee shop they could call their own. They both grew up in Pataskala, in a “pretty typical suburban neighborhood.” They did not have farming in their background or future. With a degree in psychology and art, Gretel was working as a social worker and was on a path to getting a teaching certificate. Steve was working at a coffee shop that he was eyeing to purchase someday. Coincidently, he was also helping out Steve Andersen of Andersen Orchard on his farm and orchard in Pickerington. Andersen became an influential and indelible mentor who let the young couple experiment with growing things on his land.
Because of their green thumbs, the Adamses sold the flowers they grew at the Granville Farmers Market for some extra income. “We only had three different kinds of flowers at first: zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos,” Steve reflected on their first trial at the flower business. Little did they know they were at the beginning of a much longer adventure than they had imagined.
The Flower Farm
As luck would have it, within a short time after their first growing season, the couple moved into Gretel’s family property that was handed down to her. Still in their early 20s, Steve and Gretel found themselves living in an old farmhouse on a large piece of land with sunny meadows and wild blackberries growing everywhere. There was a lot of space and potential. With some farming knowledge now under their belts, they dreamed of creating a homestead and living off the land.
They busied themselves with more information—from books, farmers, the internet—whatever they could get their hands on. They began to clear the meadows, cultivate the fields and put in fruit trees, growing vegetables and flowers. Soon, it was clear that they were delving into something much bigger than homesteading.
“We thought that if we could grow enough for ourselves, we could grow enough for other people, too,” said Steve. “Instead of growing 10 tomato plants, we grew, like, 500.”
In 2006 the couple both quit their full-time jobs, and started farming. Sunny Meadows Flower Farm was officially born. Besides selling at farmers markets, they also offered community-supported agriculture (CSA) options. The money up front was helpful and appreciated. It also gave them a chance to experiment with growing several types of vegetables along with flowers and some farm-raised meats.
Regardless of what vegetables they would bring to sell, however, people still gravitated towards their flowers. Perhaps it’s the uniquely designed bouquets and the uncommon, attractive flowers in them that people liked.
“We grow things people have never seen before, and those will draw more people to us. We also don’t make conventional bouquets. I like textures and layers in my bouquets because they remind me of what a garden looks like,” Gretel said.
With a reputation for beautiful flowers, grown right here in Columbus no less, requests for wedding bouquets and arrangements started coming in.
“The first wedding we did was our own, in 2008,” recalled Gretel. “I have learned and grown a lot since then. I draw inspiration from other designers around the country,” she said, clearly excited about this creative, growing aspect of her career. (From their modest beginnings of working on a few weddings a year, they now supply flowers for 30 to 40 weddings annually.)
With a few seasons behind them, they had to make a decision whether to keep farming both vegetables and flowers. In 2012 Sunny Meadows Flower Farm became exclusively what their name implies: a flower farm with high-quality cut flowers, grown sustainably without chemicals or pesticides.
“It was a good decision. We’ve found a niche for ourselves, and we continue to grow,” said Steve.
Challenges and Rewards
Like other types of farming, growing flowers can pose problems as well. Weather and pests are among the challenges that require constant attention. Keeping good records and staying on top of integrated pest management go a long way.
“We spend January planning the next growing season. We keep logs of what we plant, what bloomed when, etc.,” said Gretel.
Farming in general is demanding, there is no question about it; growing flowers poses its own special challenges. For instance, flowers bloom when they will, and if the conditions are right, thousands of flowers can bloom nearly simultaneously. To obtain the highest-quality flowers, the harvest must take place promptly.
“If we are at market in the morning and it’s a warm sunny day, we know that we have thousands of sunflowers to harvest that afternoon,” said Steve. “It’s hard to take a break from flowers.”
Despite the challenges, the Adamses’ story reassures us that for them, the rewards of growing and selling flowers are absolutely worthwhile.
“Seeing people’s reactions to a beautiful bouquet of flowers that we grew and designed ourselves makes all the hard work worth it. That’s why I like doing wedding work. The bride comes to me with a vision, and I will know what’s in season at the time of the wedding. I get to help execute her dream. On the day of the wedding, when you see tears in the bride’s eyes when she sees her bouquet… It’s totally worth it,” said Gretel in a melodic voice that might make one imagine she was re-living those special moments.
Steve and Gretel also enjoy directly connecting with their customers where it all started—at the farmers market. They love hearing the stories people tell them about what the flowers mean to them. They love seeing husbands make wives happy with a stem of lisianthus. They love helping young children decide which bouquet to choose according to what their favorite colors may be.
“Steve and Gretel bring the best of Ohio seasonal flowers every Saturday to Clintonville Farmers Market. Their stall is always packed full of gorgeous shapes, colors, fragrances and creative combinations. I have taken photo after photo of their stall because it’s just irresistible in its beauty.”
Looking ahead, the young couple wants to make their farm and business as sustainable as possible. Besides flowers, Gretel also makes soaps and teaches classes on flower arrangements and soap making. Columbus’ own flower children have several speaking engagements coming up.
“We hope to share what we’ve learned with other farmers. It’s a way to give back to the community,” said Steve. “That’s what we got from our mentors and other farmers before us.”
Sunny Meadows Flower Farm: 3555 Watkins Rd., Columbus, OH 43232; 614-361-5102; oursunnymeadows.com
The Slow Flower Movment
Local, organic choices should not just be about food. We as consumers can choose to buy sustainable, organic flowers as an alternative to mainstream flowers grown with pesticides and shipped from across the globe.
Even though Sunny Meadows Flower Farm is not certified organic, Steve and Gretel follow organic farming practices.
• They don’t use chemicals.• They compost scraps.• They use Integrated Pest Management techniques. One example of this is using lady beetles to get rid of harmful pests.• They use very few fossil fuels. Being only six miles south of downtown Columbus, their flowers don’t have to travel very far. Because of this, too, their flowers are extremely fresh and will last much longer.• They grow most flowers from seeds or bulbs.• They create a good ecosystem on their farm.• They provide plant diversity and practice crop rotation.• They believe in and practice good work, good labor and good ethics.
Separated by 200 miles of green Ohio countryside, the two halves of Oink Moo Cluck Farms (OMC), run by siblings Tricia Woods in Johnstown and Todd Neczeporenko in Ashtabula County, form one perfect whole that brings free-range meat, poultry and eggs to eager customers in Central Ohio.
The farming gene runs deep in the Neczeporenko family. The maternal grandparents were dairy farmers and the paternal grandparents, who met in a displaced persons camp in Ukraine, immigrated in 1947 to farm 100 acres in Pierpont, Ohio.
Parents Tim (Tymofij) and Linda met in 4-H camp, married and in 1973 purchased a meat processing plant, which they ran until Linda’s death in 1988. A souvenir of Tricia’s and Todd’s childhood is a Country Kids Beef label— “Ideal for home, camping or lunch boxes”—featuring their smiling, wholesome faces at ages 4 and 2.
After a year at the Ohio State University (OSU), Todd came home to farm with his dad; he reopened the plant for deer processing in 1994 at the suggestion of a neighbor. A major remodel followed in 2000. Now all Todd and his dad needed were more markets for the meat they raised.
Enter Tricia, who had already graduated from OSU in elementary education. She was working for Sprint, where she still works today as a client executive, when Todd appealed to her for help. Oink Moo Cluck was introduced at the Worthington Farmers Market in 2005, and after a slow first year, business boomed and has been booming ever since.
Protector of Orphans
Tricia is the blond and sentimental dynamo behind OMC operations. “I can’t stand to raise animals to butcher,” she confesses. “Todd raises and packs.” Since moving to the countryside in 2010, Tricia has added eggs to the product line with 200 laying chickens.
One of just a few large animals at Tricia’s place is Orphan Annie, who rode from OMC Ashtabula to OMC Johnstown as an orphaned newborn calf in the backseat of Tricia’s Buick Enclave. Tricia raised Annie on a bottle, and she is now a companion to Earl, a stray goat who was deposited at the farm by neighbors.
Tricia has expanded the reach of OMC far beyond the Worthington Farmers Market, employing Kala Schiff, who started helping them at the Clintonville Farmers Market when she was just 15, and now at 21 handles all the summer markets. (See sidebar for market schedule.) OMC also provides the protein supplement for Bird’s Haven Farms’ community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in Granville.
“They approached us,” Todd says. “They liked that we controlled all aspects of the raising and processing of the meat.”
In addition, OMC sells through Azoti, a distributor that provides a way for businesses such as Grange Insurance, Safelite and the OSU Medical Center to offer local foods to their employees.
Todd is the pragmatic face of OMC, a lifelong farmer who finds the questions that he is asked about livestock care baffling. “Of course I take good care of my animals,” he says. “Any good farmer takes care of his animals.”
But he understands completely why OMC’s meat is so popular.
“Our customers like knowing that the product they buy has never left our family. We buy the animals as babies and have total control, and we’re competitive because there is no middleman, no processor to pay. Our quality is good and consistent.”
This year OMC adds “Baa” to their business, if not to their name, with lamb from Terri and Dick Steyer at Sadie Flats Farm. “We raise what we sell,” explains Todd, “But there are lots of small farms who can’t market or don’t want to. If they raise the animals the way we want, then we will process and sell it for them. It helps small farmers and makes everybody happy.”
The Neczeporenko family includes wife, Jana 8-year-old Alana and 7-year-old Zane. “Zane the insane Ukraine,” his father adds. The kids do their part on the farm by feeding the meat chickens, which are free-range like the cows.
“I don’t think there’s a better way of growing up than on a farm,” Todd says. “It teaches you responsibility.” And also where meat comes from. One of Zane’s friends insists that the chicken he eats is “not like your chickens. Mine comes from a store.”
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Selling OMC products has been a satisfying family experience. Tricia sees her dad every weekend when he delivers the meat and works at the Worthington market. “The customers bring him coffee and brownies. He enjoys it.”
Todd points out that because of market sales, he was able to purchase his grandparents’ original 100-acre farm when they passed away, adding it to his own 100 acres, which abuts theirs. Now the farm will stay in the family for another generation.
“It works out great for everybody,” Todd says.
What’s Your Beef?
The most important thing to remember when choosing a cut of meat from OMC is that they do the butchering. “We have certain cuts we always sell,” says Todd. “But I can cut whatever you want.”
The product line has doubled since 2002. Flank and skirt steak, which Todd used to add to the ground beef, now shine as their own cuts due to popular demand. Keeping it in the family is Cousin Mike’s Barbecue Sauce, which flavors all the barbecue pork, chicken and beef products.
Todd and Tricia agree that pork is the most popular. “We have good friends who raise 4-H feeder pigs, and that’s who we buy our piglets from,” Todd says. “People love our hot dogs. And our bacon. And our pepper bacon.”
Prepared Items to Heat & Serve
Smoked whole chickens
Beef jerky (a variety of flavors)
Smoked pork chops
Barbecue shredded chicken
Rib eye steaks
Beef stew meat
Breast (boneless & bone-in)
Fresh whole chicken
Chipotle-honey chicken sausage
Apple-maple chicken sausage
Lamb (through partnership with Steyer Farms)
Chops (loin & rib)
Where to purchase OMC products:
Farmers Markets: Sa: Worthington, Granville and Clintonville; Tu: Hilliard; W: Bexley; Th: New Albany.
Also: Buy at Oink Moo Cluck Farm; website or email; special order custom cuts; home delivery; pre-order and pickup at farmers markets.
On an eight-acre farm at the edge of Plain City, Barry Adler flips conventional notions of farming upside down. Fueled by a lifelong passion for horticulture and penchant for sustainable agriculture, Barry operates RainFresh Harvests, Central Ohio’s only greenhouse powered by a wind turbine and solar panels and heated with solar thermal collectors. It’s a dream realized through years of tireless work, widespread technological advancements and his own farming experience and, now, it’s one viable enough to supply more than a dozen local restaurants and businesses with fresh produce and herbs.
It was a brush with Northstar Café founder Kevin Malhame nearly 10 years ago that motivated Barry to make RainFresh a reality. Barry recalls Kevin mentioning “he was from Columbus and thinking about starting a restaurant that featured locally grown crops and I mentioned that I was thinking about growing herbs organically year-round in a small greenhouse and field operation. When he said he would be willing to buy all the herbs that I could grow, that was enough to get me motivated.” To this day, Barry grows greens and produce for Northstar Café, along with Third & Hollywood, Tucci’s, Matt the Miller’s and Columbus Whole Foods Markets, among others.
Barry had, prior to the fateful meeting, taken a close interest in the 1970s organic growing movement in California, studying biodynamic farming at the University of California, Santa Cruz before earning a master’s degree in Horticulture from Virginia Tech, which ultimately segued into a 22-year career at Scott’s Company in Marysville.
When land, time and an outsourced job at Scott’s provided an opportunity to implement his vision, Barry began a year and a half of research into bio-integrated greenhouses.
“I was also fortunate to be volunteering at Green Energy Ohio... when grants through the state of Ohio became available to reimburse expenses for developing renewable energy projects. This helped, along with a family loan, to get me into business growing in a renewable energy greenhouse of my own design,” Barry said.
From a distance, RainFresh Harvests and surrounding scenery are not unlike other nearby farms, on land no less bucolic. A large, barn-like structure anchors the property, a greenhouse sits close by, land is tilled for summer planting and a small pond reflects golden light. And, perhaps, this is a more marvelous component to Barry’s work—that powerful technologies and growing potential lie in unassuming spaces.
The largest, and arguably the most advanced, structure at RainFresh Harvests is the RainFresh green bio-shelter, which contains facilities for year-round growing, worm composting, aquaculture, rain water collection, herb drying and food processing. The green bio-shelter has operated off the grid since 2005, harnessing energy from solar panels on a south-facing roof and from a wind turbine onsite. Powered by the same alternative energy sources, radiant floor heating keeps temperatures steady through unpredictable winters.
Just beside the bio-shelter sits the passive solar green house, an unheated glass structure with ground insulation to take advantage of streaming sunlight and wintertime soil thermal mass.
In addition, Barry raises fish in an outdoor aquaculture pond.
“Right now I’m growing food fish,” Barry said of the pond stocked with blue gill and perch, though mosquito fish and koi have been farmed in past years.
Barry is able to extend the growing season for chosen crops utilizing the bio-integrated greenhouse year round and planting outdoor crops around late May each year. Quality crops, he said, “start with good varieties of seeds.” Healthy growing media and temperature regulation, and properties in the vermacompost (worm composting), help fend off diseases and give plants a nutritional advantage.
Herbs, including basil, spearmint, oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme, are picked young and washed three times before making their way to restaurants. Barry grows arugula and mizuna all year long, along with tomatoes, peppers and berries when seasonally viable. Despite the visibility in Whole Foods and on menus around town, Barry maintains a focus on meeting his current demands, and does not attend farmers markets or run a community supported agriculture program. The quality of his products, delivered in reusable containers to restaurants, depends on delivery within 24 hours, strict sorting standards and young, unmarred harvests.
What makes Barry’s operation so unique and environmentally viable is an interdependence that persists among all the elements on the farm.
“There is interaction between biological systems so that waste from one system is fertilizer for another system,” Barry said. Collected rainwater soaks the root systems of basil and other herb roots, before draining into fish tanks. Overflow water from the fish tanks is used on grass fed to ducks. Leftover grass is mixed with mulch and fed to worms, which in turn creates healthy compost and serves as food for fish and ducks. The processes are cyclical and efficient, eliminating a great deal of waste from each step of the growing process.
“There are advantages to using natural resources efficiently,” Barry said. “It’s a little more complex to do that. The challenge is to design things to stay in balance.”
RainFresh Harvests, structurally and logistically, stands to set an example for the future of farming in Ohio.
“The true advantage of growing this way is growing as efficiently as possible,” Barry said. “using as few non-renewable resources as possible.”
RainFresh Harvests: 9559 Industrial Parkway, Plain City, OH 43064; 614-738-9559; rainfreshharvests.com.
Cara Mangini of littleeater is on a mission to change vegetables’ place in our food culture. As in—steak, move over, veggies aren’t just a side dish anymore.
Behind her plan to make vegetables more convenient and approachable is her desire to help us overcome childhood memories of bland zucchini and frozen peas. As chef and owner of littleeater, Cara prepares fresh salads year-round and sells them at Hills Markets, the Clintonville Community Market and The Greener Grocer in North Market. She also has her pop-up restaurant, littleeatery, which debuted last year and will be back on Thursdays and Fridays starting in June at the new Hills Market downtown.
“Littleeatery allows me the opportunity to do different types of foods that I can’t do in a packaged product. I can do green-based salads that I can’t do packaged,” Cara said. “There are some vegetables that pop up for a short time that are hard to keep on the salad packaged product menu for an extended amount of time, so the eatery will allow me the opportunity to feature produce as it pops up and be flexible enough to adjust when a farmer gets something really special in for a short time and give access to customers.”
It’s in her cooking classes and on her blog, littleeater.com, that Cara shares her passion as a teacher and a writer for healthy food—a passion she’s had from a young age. Her family, whose Italian heritage imbued her with a natural interest in Italian food and culture, made food the center of their life and their celebrations.
“Somewhere along the way I became very interested in the connection between food and health,” Cara said. “That naturally turned into an interest in vegetables when I realized that traditionally, my Italian heritage is rooted in this very intuitive understanding of how to prepare and include vegetables in meals.”
Cara spent a decade in the Paris and New York City fashion and beauty worlds pursuing other passions before she discovered the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York and decided it was time to follow her first love—food. Her travels in France, Italy and Turkey had made her aware of how deeply vegetables were missing from her cooking as well as from American food culture. She became determined to change that.
While she is inspired by her Italian heritage and the French standards of food quality and presentation, it is Turkey that moves her most.
“I find myself very excited and inspired by those flavors, and there is this natural understanding and proficiency in working with fresh produce and vegetables that just blows me away,” Cara said. Her work is constantly informed by her experiences in Turkey, where cooks use complex flavors of herbs and spices to create well-balanced, satisfying food with vegetables and legumes.
After culinary school, Cara took on food jobs with a specific focus on vegetables, from working as the vegetable butcher in Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York City to farm liaison and line chef at the Farmstead restaurant and adjoining farm in Napa Valley. She has worked with chefs such as Scott Conant, Gerry Hayden, Claudia Fleming, Peter Berley, Ian Knauer, Dave Martin, Andrea Beaman, Jeremy Bearman and Stephen Barber. Everything she did built up to her dream of opening littleeatery. It was her time as a vegetable butcher, though, where she gained a perspective on people’s views of vegetables and discovered how much she loved teaching others.
“Even the most sophisticated New Yorkers didn’t know and understand the simplest ways to prepare vegetables. Even they were extremely intimidated by produce and how to prepare it,” she said. “I taught people how to create a really simple dish to accompany these other things, but also that vegetables can be the main dish and can be the inspiration.”
In Napa Valley, she felt firsthand the thrill of taking food literally from field to table, and she learned how much work and planning goes into sourcing food that is truly local.
“The goal was always to understand vegetables at their source so I could ultimately teach people about selection, storage and all those things we all assume we know, but we don’t,” Cara said. “To have that connection between where the food comes from and the table was incredible. And to see a place that was really committed to it was an important inspiration to me. It’s really hard to be committed to local … building relationships and just overall ensuring quality is a big job.”
It’s a job that Adam Welly of Wayward Seed Farm knows well. He supplies Cara with certified organic vegetables from his farm and orchestrates the agricultural balance that produces quality food for retail and wholesale buyers as well as community supported agriculture customers.
The expansion of Wayward Seed Farm from an acre of land in production in 2006 to 20½ acres in 2013 reflects the overall increase in demand for healthy, wholesome food.
“Our success certainly speaks volumes about the consumer trend towards healthy, nutrient-dense, local and most importantly certified organic products,” Adam said.
It was a matter of chance that brought Cara to Columbus, and she’s grateful to be here.
“I have been blown away by the work of the farmers and food producers in this area that have been an integral part of my business,” she said. “There’s a lot of room in the marketplace for more food producers and there’s a great audience here—people are really hungry for it.”
Learn more about Cara and littleeater at littleeater.com.
Zucchini with Basil, Mint and Ricotta
Recipe courtesy of Cara Mangini
Cara considers this a “very quintessential veggie dish” and says it’s perfect for anyone who has bad memories of vegetables as a child. —LW
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle
3 to 4 small- to medium-size zucchini, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seeds (optional)
Course sea salt and pepper
Juice of half of a lemon
¼ cup of basil
2 to 4 tablespoons of mint
⅓ cup part-skim or whole milk ricotta
Heat oil on high in a large sauté pan. Once the oil is hot, turn down the heat to medium high and add the zucchini. Toss the zucchini in the oil. Add cumin (if you would like), salt and pepper. Sauté the zucchini until golden and just soft, but not mushy. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the zucchini, and toss or stir. Add the herbs, reserving some for garnish. Transfer the zucchini from the heat to a serving platter.
Add a dollop of ricotta to the top, more fresh herbs, a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Serve immediately.
Cara’s Cooking Tips for Five Summer Vegetables
The first step to creating delicious vegetable dishes, no matter the variety, is to use local, seasonal produce, which makes for the freshest, most flavorful ingredients.
Zucchini: Look for vibrant green, no brown spots or shriveling. Try it raw. Use a regular, manual vegetable peeler or one with a julienne blade to cut the zucchini, lengthwise into long thin ribbons. Dress them with lemon, olive oil and a bunch of fresh herbs or use them like pasta and toss them with your favorite sauce or pesto.
Tomatoes: Try as many heirloom varieties as you possibly can and get to know your favorites. Don't store them in the refrigerator. Leave them out. Slice, and generously sprinkle with coarse sea salt and a drizzle of your best olive oil for instant gratification. Layer with fresh mozzarella (or fresh goat cheese), torn basil and a thick slice of grilled eggplant for an instant meal.
Peppers: Get your hands on shishito or padron peppers. Sauté them on high heat with olive oil until they soften and start to blister. Douse them in a squeeze of lemon juice and a touch of coarse sea salt for a quick and easy summer appetizer.
Corn: When you are preparing corn off the cob, use the cobs to make stock. Throw them into a big pot of boiling water and simmer on their own or with other scraps like onion, garlic, carrots, herb stems, for at least 45 minutes to an hour.
Eggplant: Try different varieties and don't be afraid of all the different shapes and sizes. Look for smooth skin. Avoid soft and shriveled spots. Eggplant becomes bitter as it ages so use it as soon as possible. Make this roasted eggplant dip: toss a large dice of eggplant, an onion, a red pepper and a couple cloves of garlic and roast at 400° until soft and cooked through. Puree in a food processor (or by hand with a masher) with more olive oil, tomato paste salt and pepper.