Diversified Small Farming

The Rumble of Sustainability

by Ralph Rice
The rumble rolling across the Mid-Ohio Valley is the sound of Amish and Mennonite people returning to their farms. They have decided to stop the migration of their youth away from farming. They are returning to their roots and getting back to basics using time tested farming methods and animal husbandry practices.
Twenty-five years ago about 90% of Amish families made a living by farming. Today the number of farm families earning a living by farming is a mere 10%. Men and boys have been leaving the traditional lifestyle of farming in favor of vocations such as carpentry, logging and saw milling, furniture making, and manufacturing.

These jobs may provide a living, but they steal the life out of a family farm. To succeed at farming, the whole family must work together—father at the head, supported by his wife and children. Boys and girls learn responsibility and caring. The family works and plays together, thus avoiding the pitfalls that trap young people with too much time on their hands.

Outside jobs and shifting lifestyles cause the family unit to decline, just as they did in all of America's small farm communities at the conclusion of World War II. Across rural America young men left the farm in search of better paying jobs in the city, a migration that is still happening today. As our small farms disappear, rural communities disappear as well. The farm, you see, is an anchor point for a whole network of small businesses. The feed mill, hardware store, and corner grocery all depend on farmers and the local commerce they provide.

Sprawl-mart stores have been replacing many of our small and mid-sized stores. They offer a large selection of cheap goods. We as consumers are all guilty of putting price over quality and service. Once the local friendly merchant has closed his doors, it's too late for him and too late for us.

A group of visionary business-minded plain farmers got together to decide how to reverse this trend, which seemed inevitable in their communities. They realized that for a farmer to stay on the farm, he needs to be able to make a living. A farmer, who farms conventionally and sells his products on a commodity market, is subject to the global economy that drives the commodity market. Too many hogs ready for slaughter in Brazil will affect the price paid for hogs in Kidron, Ohio. The challenge is to create a market for locally produced food and keep the market supplied as demand increases. Greenfield Farms was created to meet this challenge.

The men on the advisory board of Greenfield Farms recognize the need for a safe wholesome food supply. They set out to create farm products raised in accordance with the strict organic standards set forth by the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association and the Global Alliance. All farms in the cooperative comply with these standards and embrace the idea of returning to farming methods proven by their ancestors, shunning the soil poisons used in today's conventional farming practices.

A farmer who chooses to become a part of Greenfield Farms must embrace a simple and faith-based lifestyle. He must be a member of the church and use a horse and buggy for transportation. His farm must comply with OEFFA or Global Alliance standards. The Greenfield Farms seal of authenticity is a guarantee that the food contained in the package meets all these criteria.

Greenfield Farms cheese is made from organic milk produced on neat clean farms, where cows are held in high esteem. The cows graze fresh pastures throughout the growing season. In winter they eat hay and grains produced on this organic farm, the way it was done for decades. Their milk is kept cold until it goes into large stainless steel vats where the cheese is made. The cheese house keeps Greenfield Farms milk and cheese separate from other batches. The equipment is cleaned and sanitized under the watchful eyes of the cheese maker and a USDA inspector.

This state-of-the-art facility turns fresh milk into 40-pound blocks of cheese in less than one day. After an aging process, the cheese is cut and vacuum packed into retail-size packages. The skilled workers strive for high standards of cleanliness while making some of the finest cheeses available. The cheese-making process at this facility is environmentally friendly, too. All waste solids are returned to the soil by approved applicators. The waste water is filtered through a two-acre wetland in accordance with EPA standards.

Produce bearing the Greenfield Farms seal has been raised on family farms where a hoe takes the place of herbicides. All plant foods and soil amendments, when used, are certified organic and come from compost, the sea, or Mother Earth. The gardens are planted and tended by hand with a little help from real horse power. The vegetables are graded and packed with care to ensure only the finest produce gets the Greenfield Farms seal and makes it to the consumer's table.

Greenfield Farms farmers who raise chickens for egg production also have to meet strict standards. Eggs must be collected soon after being laid. The eggs must be kept in on-farm coolers to ensure freshness. The chicken houses and all equipment that comes into contact with eggs are tested regularly for salmonella by a representative from the processing house. Every egg may be traced back to where it began, proving the high standards and safe food contained under the Greenfield Farms seal of authenticity.

Offering milk, cheese, eggs, and produce is just the beginning for Greenfield Farms, which sold its first branded product in 2004. The future is bright as the product list continues to expand. Value-added products being explored include noodles, meats, and soups.

Careful thought went into the formation of this cooperative. Established guidelines ensure quality; organic classification and other standards instill consumer confidence. Common faith and customs assure compliance in the cooperative's rules. A registered seal of authenticity guarantees each product for the consumer.

The organizers of Greenfield Farms realize they are still in the beginning stages. They're in it for the long haul. Their goal is to preserve a lifestyle so their grandchildren's grandchildren can farm for a living. They want future generations to have the option of living the farm life and making a living at it.

We small-scale farmers all face the same challenges when it comes to marketing our products. We must make an effort to educate consumers to move from commodity-based to community-based products. We must convince them to buy locally raised food. The demand is there. It's up to us to create the supply, to meet the demand with consistent quality, to produce safe wholesome food, and thereby to instill trust.

We have no better time than now to garner public trust. In the face of National Animal ID, E. coli scares, and a slowing economy based on a global market, the buying public is not just our ally, but our lifeline. Informed consumers demanding locally grown goods are like a lightening strike in the dark illuminating the path to our future.

Educate your customers. Open your farm to children and adults alike. Let them see where real food comes from and let them tell others. They will be pleased to know that by purchasing your products they are preserving a lifestyle and supporting American farms and farmers.

When the public comes to understand that local food produced on family farms is wholesome, safe, and good for the local economy, everybody wins. Family farms will become sustainable, satellite businesses once again will flourish, and community spirit will return to rural life.

It can be done. It is being done, right here in my home state of Ohio, where Amish and Mennonite farmers have banded together to form the cooperative called Greenfield Farms. Let the rumble be heard all the way to
Washington, DC. rh horse logo

Ralph Rice produces horse-powered farm products including naturally grown beef, pork, and lamb, pastured poultry, maple syrup, and honey on his farm Riceland Meadows near Jefferson, Ohio. He is a contributor to Rural Heritage. This article appeared in the Winter 2007 issue.


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