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Issue Date: June 2009


Farm Fresh - Farmers' Profiles

Louis and Savery Rorimer, Snake Hill Farm
Louis and Savery Rorimer have been bringing their organic fruits and vegetables to the North Union Farmers Market on Shaker Square since its inception in 1995. You’ll still find one or both of them there on Saturdays mornings, eager to talk about what they do at Snake Hill Farm, which consists of 150-plus acres of pastures, fields, gardens and woodlands in Geauga County.
 
The couple also sells eggs and certified organic beef from animals they raise and maple syrup tapped from their own trees. They greet regular customers like old friends with handshakes and hugs, and happily educate newcomers, explaining, for example, that their leafy mesclun mix (salad greens) will last up to two weeks because of how fresh it is.
 
The Rorimers, now in their 60s, knew nothing about farming when they started 15 years ago. Louis is an attorney, and he still goes to the office five days a week. Rorimer was an artist. This was to be a side project, but it gradually become the focus of their lives and Savery’s full-time occupation. Hoping to make a summer home, which had been in Louis’ family for generations, a productive property, the two threw themselves into work, reading books and hiring an expert who advised them to become a certified-organic operation. “It just made sense to us,” Savery says. “We thought that food should not be full of chemicals.”
 
The Rorimers get help from a farm manager, seasonal workers, student interns and crews of volunteer family and friends. But coming to the market is something they like to do themselves.
 
“Saturdays are a social event for me,” says Savery. “It’s just a joy to be here. People thank us for what we do. It gives me such a sense of meaning and accomplishment.”

Brett Galloway, Galloway Farms Natural Beef

Brett Galloway spends his Sundays in Parma selling packages of T-bone steaks and rolled rump roasts. On Wednesdays, you’ll find him in a parking lot at the Cleveland Clinic. Both locations are outposts of the North Union Farmers Market, but Galloway enjoys taking his show on the road. His stand is a concession trailer retrofitted with two freezer cases, a counter and a “serving” window cut into the side. He hitches the mobile meat market up to a truck for the twice-weekly trips from Nova, south of Oberlin, where he tends a 150-head herd, plus 250 calves that will end up being sold off to other ranchers. His wife, Andrea, often comes along to keep him company and lend a hand.

A farm boy himself, Galloway bought the place in 1992. “I started raising beef ten years ago,” says the 44-year-old, “because my son, Chase, was getting to that age where he needed something to keep him busy and out of trouble. I decided to do it all-natural, because I’m so opposed to the hormones and drugs they use with commercial cattle.”

Galloway’s animals are fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet — grass and grain that comes primarily from his own 100 acres gives the meat a distinctive flavor. “About half the people who buy from us say they’re concerned with drugs and food safety,” explains Galloway, who also works off his farm as a butcher for three meat-packing plants. “The others just like it. Me too. I can’t order a steak in a restaurant. It just doesn’t taste good to me.”

Galloway has always had a soft spot for cattle. His dad raised them, along with milk cows, and so did his grandpa. “I enjoy being around the animals. I’ve cared for them my whole life. Believe it or not, I could just sit and watch them eat grass all day. This is what I’ve always wanted to do with my life and share with my children.”

Margaret Armstead, EcoVillage Produce

“I was raised in rural Mississippi,” says 51-year-old Margaret Armstead. “Growing things is second nature to me.” So she jumped at the chance to participate in a community garden in Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. It’s where she met Barbara Strauss and John Yokie four years ago; today, the three are partners in EcoVillage Produce, selling what they raise on the “Back 40” — a former vacant lot they moved to on Ithica Court and West 57th Street — at the Tremont Farmers Market.

Time spent behind her table chatting with customers and sharing advice about using the harvest is a highlight of Armstead’s week. For example, she’s says some of her African-American customers aren’t accustomed to cooking with fresh herbs.

“I tell them they can substitute chives for onions, put mint in salads and season a pork roast by making a few slits along the top and tucking sprigs of rosemary in each one.” Many white folks she talks to, on the other hand, don’t know how to properly cook greens. “I explain the old Southern way of doing it, simmering for two hours with salt pork, but I also tell them the new healthy technique is to chop them up and stir fry in olive oil.”

The trio behind EcoVillage Produce “get a lot out of that little half-acre,” says Armstead, ticking off a list: “three kinds of kale, herbs, peppers, cabbage, spinach, peas, beets and all types of greens — collard, mustard, turnip. And tomatoes — we got stripey Zebras, heirloom varieties, Beefsteak and a beautiful one called Orange Blossom.”

Armstead is motivated by pleasure and profit. She likes getting her hands in the dirt and sharing the experience with her five grandchildren. While the income is a welcome supplement to what she earns as a reading and spelling tutor, there’s another more powerful and personal reason she’s out there digging and planting. “The Bible tells us to cultivate the earth,” she says. “I believe in that. I truly do.”
 
Chuck Murray, Murray Hill Farm
At 9 a.m. Sunday mornings throughout the summer and into the fall, Chuck and Susan Murray pull their vintage VW van, painted with farm scenes and slogans, into the parking spot behind their allotted 10 by 10 space at the Kamm’s Corners Farmers Market. They unload fresh produce from their 35-acre farm in Clarksfield Township (near Wellington) and spend the next hour arranging the bounty — picked, washed, and boxed the night before — into picture-pretty displays on a long folding table. To get there on time, the couple wakes up extra early to care for their animals before making the hour and 15-minute drive.

There are easier ways to earn a dollar. No wonder Chuck’s advice for market patrons is, “Bring a smile. Tell the farmers you appreciate their hard work. When shoppers thank me for what we do, it makes all our efforts worthwhile. That’s what keeps me coming back.”

When Chuck bought the place in 2001, he had no intention of becoming a farmer. He just wanted to live in the country, running his advertising agency out of the house. But it seemed a shame not to do something productive with all that land. So he tried growing flowers but couldn’t sell them. Noticing the increasing interest in naturally raised, local food, he decided to concentrate on vegetables. Along the way he acquired 150 chickens and 12 sheep to supply Susan, a spinner and weaver, with wool.

With no training or experience, the 48-year-old, who describes himself as an ex-corporate type, learned by doing ... and failing. So far, he’s had the best luck with corn, tomatoes and eggs, but he is always trying something new. “I put in 2,000 asparagus plants in 2005. It takes three years before they’re ready. I brought the first crop to the market last spring. I should have a lot more this year.” When Susan was laid off from her job with an internet company in December, the farming side of the family’s life took on added importance.

Measuring his success, Murray says, “The farm’s not a money-loser, and real soon, I think it’s actually going to be a moneymaker.”
 
Baker’s Fresh Produce and Honey, Bob and Donna Baker
A bright red canopy makes it easy to spot the Baker family’s stand at the Countryside Farmers Market in Peninsula. On a typical summer Saturday, customers are lined up two or three deep waiting to buy sweet onions, red potatoes, green peppers, yellow tomatoes and clover honey. Bob enthusiastically carries on a nonstop conversation with shoppers, answering questions about what to do with okra and white eggplants, explaining that he uses no chemicals or pesticides on his crops and swapping recipe ideas for tomatillos and kohlrabi. Sons Bret, 12, and Grant, 9, take money and make change with a competency that belies their age. His wife, Donna, is at another market in Wooster with the other three kids, Joe, 15, Troy,13, and Bethany, 7, doing the same thing.

Donna’s still surprised that the kitchen garden they put in soon after they bought their Wadsworth home 16 years ago has snowballed into a business. “Bob keeps finding another patch of ground to dig up,” Donna says with a laugh. “And he’s rigged the tractor with lights so he can work after dark.” The couple now farms 4 1/2 acres, some belonging to older neighbors who “loan” the land to them so they don’t have to mow it, and tend eight beehives. They raise 42 different crops representing 230 varieties. Bob, who still has a day job at a printing company, tracks the details on an Excel spreadsheet. “We started out growing just for ourselves,” he says. “Then we put a picnic table out front with the surplus for sale. Next we set up a bigger roadside stand. Now we do two markets a week.” At the height of the season, he’s got half a ton of vegetables to load in the family’s two trucks. The kids get paid to help out, and their parents say they couldn’t do it without them. But the venture does more than provide extra income: “I believe in this as a way of life for my family,” says Bob. “I’m happiest when we’re all out there in the fields together.”

E. J. Riggin, Pleasant Valley Farm

Evan John Riggin — Ev to his friends, E.J. on the business cards he hands out to shoppers at the Coit Road Market — is 78. Every Saturday from August through October, he arrives in East Cleveland at 5:30 a.m. in a well-used pickup truck loaded with apples he grows in Willoughby Hills, on land his father and grandfather farmed before him. He first started coming to the market as a boy in 1941. “In the ’50s and ’60s, it was so busy they needed a policeman to direct traffic,” he recalls. “The market aisles were packed. We had more farmers back then, too, and the competition to sell there was fierce.”

People’s shopping habits have changed along with the neighborhood, and Coit Road is not quite the bustling place it once was. But his Golden Delicious, Melrose, Cortland and Northern Spy apples are in such demand that Riggin often sells out in the first hour. “The early bird,” he says, “really does catch the worm. For the best selection, you’ve got to be here when the market opens." Riggin harvests 20 varieties of apples, using a cherry picker to reach them because the trees have grown so tall over the years. Good thing, too, since it protects the ripening fruit from the gangs of hungry deer that often wander through his 10-acre orchard.
 
Except for a few years in the Navy, four more at college and a two-year stint as a restaurant manager, Riggin has been working this scenic spread overlooking the Chagrin River his entire adult life. “This is a pretty place,” says the lean, lanky guy. “The name, Pleasant Valley Farm, says it all. I love it here, and I plan to stay and farm it as long as I’m able.”

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