Appalachian Farms Thrive, Even in Winter

The local food economy thrives year-round in and around Athens, Ohio. Season-extension techniques and coordination with area businesses and restaurants keep local farms growing – and selling – through the winter. Ohio University's Post newspaper has the story.

Local farms harvest during winter months, supply Appalachian region with fresh produce

A farmer walking through his pasture in the winter wind may seem like a daunting task, but for Kip Rondy of Green Edge Gardens, spending the day in the blistering cold is just another day on the job.

During the long winter months, local restaurants and businesses have the opportunity to serve fresh ingredients from farms in the Appalachian region thanks to farmers such as Rondy.

The selection of fresh produce during the wintertime, however, is often limited. Shade River Organic Farm and Green Edge Gardens are exceptions to this rule, though. Each of these farms has tools such as greenhouses, which makes it possible for these farms to grow seasonal produce.

“We follow and abide by the rules, which means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used,” said Mike Hamilton, owner of Shade River Organic Farm.

“Everything is all natural that we grow.”

Besides selling produce at the Farmers Market, Shade supplies fresh vegetables to local businesses such as Casa Nueva, The Farmacy, Fluff Bakery & Catering, Restaurant Salaam and Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery.

Each farm has different ways to prepare for the winter growing season, but similarities — such as planting in early fall and getting requests for produce from local businesses ahead of time — are common preparation.

“The early three weeks of January is the time to do crop planning with farmers,” said Al Schmidt, co-owner of Casa. “Fluctuations in fuel costs and the weather can cause prices to increase, so it is important to plan early for my crop to ensure I receive a wholesale price for the restaurant.”

In addition to greenhouses, Green Edge Gardens uses innovative ways to grow produce and diversify their yield. The farm has a micro land room, which produces hundreds of pounds of food a week and has two harvests per week.

Among the micro greens grown are sunflowers, kale, buckwheat and radishes. Green Edge Gardens also has a mushroom room, which produces oyster and Shitake mushrooms throughout the year.

Busy Day Market is one of the small businesses aiming to support and further local farming by selling produce during the winter season.

“There are a lot of people who want to see you carrying a large variety of local products in the store all season around,” said Libby Markham, owner of Busy Day Market.

Fluff still uses local ingredients in the winter months and makes specials based on the ingredients available.

“It takes a lot of work. Some businesses just want something easy they can get from a plastic bag,” said Jason Kopelwitz, owner of Fluff. “It is a commitment, but I think Athens is unique because it values local efforts in food production.”

Rondy said that thanks to the technology farms such as his utilize, local businesses are able to keep the flavors of summer alive during the cold months.

“We don’t need to grow our vegetables in California,” Rondy said. “This is what we are doing in the middle of winter without heat in southern Ohio.”