As fall is flying by and we are faced with the reality of the colder months ahead of us, securing a source for local food through the winter may feel like a daunting task. Yet farmers like Kip and Beck Rondy of Green Edge Gardens are readily prepared to offer year-round CSA shares to continue Columbus consumers' commitment to living local in Central Ohio. Visit their website or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your share for the winter.
Original article by Claire Hoppens
Photography by Sarah Warda
The spring rains and summer sun are generous, to be sure, but Kip and Becky Rondy are in the business of outsmarting the seasons.
At Green Edge Gardens, the Rondy’s farm in Amesville, Ohio, a year-round growing season fuels a year-round CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), supplies the Athens farmers market, fulfills long-standing wholesale relationships and employs a full-time staff of 11. It’s a methodology that the Rondys have employed since taking over Green Edge Gardens in 2004 after a decade-long stint in horticulture.
“We had a couple greenhouses already and set up a couple more. We realized we can extend the season dramatically,” said Kip. “A little bit of skill and a whole lot of luck fell into it.”
What began as one high tunnel is today, 10, all of them stretched through a grassy valley at the heart of the farm. High tunnels, constructed by stretching plastic over a half circle of bowed piping, create a greenhouse effect for the contents within. Solar radiation alone heats the interior of the tunnel, while humidity and temperature can be adjusted by rolling up or down the plastic sides. Plant growth inside the high tunnels is stimulated by the warmth of the sun year round.
Growing through all seasons, “allows us to keep our employees year-round, not constantly re-training people, and that’s a real important thing. Plus, we get a premium for our vegetables in the winter,” said Kip.
The benefits of season creation, beside extended harvests, are present in Kip and Becky’s commitment to their team. Most farming jobs are structured around a singular growing season, where work is temporary and turnover is common.
“Our goal is to establish a retention pattern, looking at getting cost down and wages and benefits up,” said Kip. “When you have that core of people that are committed, you can start to use everybody’s talents.” For instance, when Green Edge team member, Natalie, suggested they try growing ginger, Kip embraced the idea. It was an all-around success, and a profitable crop.
It’s farming like this that “allows people to stay and develop their own potentials—and everybody has potential,” said Kip.
Green Edge Gardens, with pockets of dense forest and intermittent fields, is a brilliant emerald in summer. Settled amidst Appalachian foothills, the farm is surrounded by intensely lush peaks. Humidity hangs low, and the sun follows suit.
Although he has farmed in West Virginia, Kip said there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. “There are good transportation routes and community, especially since Athens is so pro-food and pro-small farm.”
A means of mutual support for Kip and his community, and a vehicle for superb summer produce, is the Green Edge Garden CSA program known as the “Athens Hill CSA.”
Community Supported Agriculture is, according to Green Edge Gardens’ website, “a unique collaboration between farmer, land and community members. Members of a community purchase a “farm share” for the growing season in return for a weekly portion of the farm’s harvest throughout the season.”
Miranda Kridler, CSA coordinator for Green Edge Gardens, explained that since its launch in 2006, the CSA “provides a really wonderful way to connect directly with our customers.”
Green Edge Gardens prepares its CSA for just under 250 families in the winter, and around 200 in the summer months. Shareholders choose between a full, certified organic vegetable share for a 20-week delivery or half share, delivered biweekly. There are pick-up locations across Athens, Columbus and Belpre.
Green Edge partners with a bevy of local food producers that participants may add to their produce share. A “combination share” contains seasonal vegetables, plus fruit from Cherry Orchards, cheese from Integration Acres, fresh-baked bread from The Village Bakery, a gallon of Snowville milk and eggs from High Bottom Farm. An a la carte “sweet” share includes Sticky Pete’s maple syrup and Cantrell honey. A “staple” share now brings Shagbark Seed & Mill popcorn, flour and heirloom beans.
A CSA, from a consumer perspective, is an exercise in resourcefulness.
“It’s a big commitment,” said Kip. “You have to be extremely organized. Things have to be cooked.”
“Those people are doing as much to change the way things are going in agriculture as the farms are,” he added. “It’s a 50/50 partnership.”
Both Kip and Miranda cite the weather as the ultimate challenge for a CSA producer. “It’s very important to grow slowly and manage expectations,” said Miranda. “We’re always trying to assess what our strengths are, and what our community is looking for.”
Kip noted that the CSA pattern is in flux. The challenge is “trying to figure out what customers want and how we can meet those needs,” he said. “It’s a dynamic thing.”
With the CSA, lasting emotional rewards follow prolonged physical work. “At the end of a day, when we’ve packed food for 200 families and everything is in the cooler and ready to go, there is something so satisfying about that process, to be a part of something doing good,” said Miranda.
Innovation on the farm is spawned by commitments like the CSA, where more than 400 local families share everything from beets to microgreens and summer squash. Since the new, young ginger proved fruitful last year, the Green Edge team will grow fresh turmeric this summer, “another root that is not readily available as a local product,” according to Miranda.
Green Edge also supplies to a devoted clientele at the year-round Athens Farmers Market, and to restaurants in Athens and Columbus.
Kip and Becky are fixtures. At the market, they are as desirable as their produce. It’s an important point of connection, where the public gets a chance to shake hands and share words with very busy farmers.
Something about the Green Edge spirit, be it kindness, quality or loyalty, comes up again and again in their home community and in Columbus, where Kip makes personal deliveries all Wednesday, every Wednesday.
“If I leave around 6:30am and get back at 7:30 or 8:30pm I’ve done okay,” he said. Stops might include the Northstar Cafés, Worthington Inn, Skillet, the Greener Grocer and Basi Italia.
John Dornback, chef and co-owner of Basi Italia, has worked with Kip and Becky for 10 years. From Green Edge Gardens, John has sourced greens, lettuces, sprouts, nuts, berries and tomatoes, among other things.
“Kip and Becky and their whole team have provided us a steady, thoughtful and conscientious palette of fresh goods to work with and provide our customers with the best Ohio has to offer,” John said.
“Becky has always been there for us when we needed something and Kip always arrives at the restaurant with a smile on his face no matter what challenges he has faced that day,” he added. “They just both always do their best and we appreciate that so much.”
Farming for the good of the Earth, for the future of the Earth, is engrained in Kip and Becky’s processes. So it was no surprise when the Rondys were presented the 2014 OEFFA Stewardship Award at this February’s conference.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association recognized Kip and Becky for their commitment to sustainable agricultural practices.
“Kip served on OEFFA’s certification committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” noted Becky. “I was on the board as education chair for some groups,” she said. “That’s how we met.”
The goal for Kip and Becky is to be financially and environmentally sustainable. It is also to develop a strong, stable farm team. And as Kip explained, there is potential to revitalize the town of Amesville by growing business there, and recreating an infrastructure that once stood strong.
“It’s about building community, that’s what it’s all about,” said Kip. “The community won’t look like it did in 1930s and 1940s, but it will be something we can recognize.”