Local Farm Offers Fresh Produce

NEW KNOXVILLE — While everyone else is sitting under snow, at the Eschmeyer farm spring is blooming with garlic growing, little onions shooting up under lights, and kale and chard planting just begun.

In June, those early plants will be full grown, organic vegetables showing up on tables all over Auglaize County as part of a project designed to fuel people with fresh, unusual, local produce.

But while those plants are just barely rooted, the Eschmeyer roots run deep through five generations of New Knoxville inhabitants who have farmed since 1890.

Originally Deb and Jeff Eschmeyer, owners of Harvest Sun Farms, didn’t plan to work in agriculture. Their parents had done that, but they went off to college not interested in farming until they started understanding rural food policy.

“We decided we wanted to give farming and growing a chance,” Jeff Eschmeyer said.

The Eschmeyers have been growing since 2008 when they returned to New Knoxville to be near family, bringing with them a trend called Community Supported Agriculture, flourishing in urban areas with more than 3,000 farms involved.

The movement advocates for food grown close to home sans pesticides and offering more genetic diversity than typical grocery store produce.

As for why they want to grow organic, Eschmeyer said that it isn’t a new way of thinking. The people who actually understand best seem to be an older generation that remember the way food used to taste before it was shipped an average of 1,500 miles from where it was grown.

Those people remember the taste of food that came out of their gardens compared to how produce tastes now. Food grown today isn’t necessarily chosen for it’s taste, often it’s valued more for shelf-life, he said.

CSAs are “a booming trend across the country,” he said. A farmer will sell a limited number of shares in his future crop to anyone who wants to buy.

That money is literal seed money — used to get the fields planted. Then once a week during the summer and fall, members pick up their crops from the farm. Last season, members had two heads of lettuce almost every week, tomatoes, onions, radishes and garlic among many other less usual vegetables that people cannot buy in grocery stores. The Eschmeyers succession plant through the season, and have a variety of crops depending on what part of the year it is.

“The taste of food that’s been grown locally in — what’s the word I’m looking for — in balance with nature,” Eschmeyer said. “People are just blown away by what it can taste like. The garlic is a revelation. You can’t buy hardneck garlic in a grocery store.”

Since Harvest Sun Farm began, the Eschmeyers have learned a lot they didn’t know about soil, land and farming techniques. Despite both coming from farm families, the initial season had what Eschmeyer called, “a bit of a learning curve,” on the techniques required to raise crops organically.

This season, which will begin in June and last 20 weeks, into October, will offer 35 different vegetables in more than 100 varieties including speckled roman tomatoes, beer friend edamame, and orion fennel. More information and applications to join the CSA are available at HarvestSunFarm.com.

“This is a concept that’s relatively new to Ohio,” Eschmeyer said.

“We respect agriculture. You know, I think a lot of people in rural communities understand the number of farmers have gone down. And the average age of farmers is 59 and only going up. A lot of people like to see someone start a new farm.”