2009 Harvest Award Winners
Life-long farmer Howard Straub, Jr. and his wife Mary Jo started Triple H Farms in 1972. Twenty years later, after attending the Michigan Grazing Conference, they transitioned from a confinement feeding dairy operation to rotational, seasonal grazing. Now they milk around 100 Holstein, Jersey and New Zealand Friesian cross cows on 250 acres of land and Howard has become a national leader in the promotion of grass-based seasonal dairies. All this done in Clinton County, not only the state’s largest dairy producing area, but one that is antagonistic to pasture-based dairying.
Triple H Farm exemplifies an approach to dairying that is not only environmentally sound but also highly lucrative. Their pasture-based enterprise allows more time for research and innovation, further improving profit potential. Howard says that grazing “puts the fun back in farming” and notes the sharp contrast between his father’s long days spent mixing feed with the more diverse dairy chores of the current farm, which includes “walking the hay” to monitor grass growth. As early pioneers in modern pasture-based dairying, the Straubs are trail blazers in their field, and the couple actively shares their experience and success with other farmers, especially young ones.
In addition to serving as leaders in numerous state and national agricultural and grazing boards, Howard and Mary Jo partnered with the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Michigan State University to advance the research and outreach of grazing in Michigan and across the nation. For example, Howard worked with the Michigan NRCS to produce a case study on the “capital management issues” involved in the transition to grazing, and he never hesitates to share his experience –including his balance sheet – with others who wish to learn about grass-based grazing operations.
In October 2006, a small group of local physicians, chefs and farmers, concerned with the ill health and social effects of the existing food system, formed the core of Plow to Plate’s community coalition around a kitchen table.
New Milford Hospital gladly agreed to serve as the initiative’s lead sponsor as part of its strong commitment to community wellness and preventive health. The hospital, an affiliate of NY-Presbyterian Health Care System, is a nonprofit, acute care medical facility serving Litchfield County, CT and three Dutchess County, NY communities. Today, led by founder/coordinator Marydale DeBor, Plow to Plate represents a coalition of over 150 diverse community members, including farmers, chefs, public officials, physicians, nutritionists, community organizations, farmland preservationists and environment organizations.
Plow to Plate’s multi-pronged strategy has successfully knit eight local communities, constituting New Milford Hospital’s primary service area, together in a cooperative effort to instill model preventive health practices through improved nutrition, education and promotion of local food. Some of their many accomplishments include:
- All food at the hospital for patients, employees and visitors is prepared from scratch. The kitchen has been revamped to support a room service model for patients. Each patient meal is served fresh, appropriately hot or cold meals with a table card that explains which ingredients were sourced from local farms and a message explaining the importance of food as a part of healing. Within one year, the hospital’s scores on a national patient satisfaction survey went from the high 30 percentile to the high 80 percentile.
- This spring a Healing Garden was created for the culinary and therapeutic benefits of patients and staff.
- Plow to Plate is now advising local senior centers on how they can develop healthful food service programs. The local school district has requested assistance as well.
- Plow to Plate created a CSA at the hospital to provide employees easy access to local food.
- Plow to Plate’s “Farm Bucks” program seeks to reestablish dialogue between pediatricians and parents regarding the profound importance of healthy diets for children. Colorful “currency” is provided to local pediatricians who give them in $10 increments to the parents of their young patients, along with nutritional information. These “Farm Bucks” can be used to purchase fruit and vegetables from local farmers markets and food stands.
Fifty years ago, Eat’n Park was the first drive-in restaurant with carhops in the Pittsburgh area. It has grown to become the leading full-service family restaurant chain in the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio region, operating more than 75 restaurants with over 8,000 employees. In 2002 Eat’n Park made the forward-thinking commitment to purchase at least 30 percent of their food from local farmers, grower’s cooperatives and producers in season.
In order to accomplish this incredible goal, it created the FarmSource initiative to find and partner with the finest local growers and producers surrounding each restaurant location. It selects and monitors local farms with the best practices and safest food handling programs so that their facilities serve only the finest ingredients. Jamie Moore, Director of Sourcing and Sustainability, the primary motivational force behind the program, has developed a standard of connecting farmers directly to Eat’n Park’s distribution chain, which reduces the time and effort required of each facility. This is the key to their success as larger hospitality operations often find the challenge of connecting directly with farmers an overwhelming commitment due to the ordering system, inventory management and lack of delivery systems.
Eat’n Park is still working towards its goal, currently purchasing 20 percent of their food from local producers, including two specialty produce distributors and some 20 farms. Through its Green Initiatives and Green Standards initiatives, Eat’n Park encourages greater sustainability throughout its operations, including using their purchasing power to source produce from within 125 miles of the facility; purchasing dairy that is produced without the use of rBST, and purchasing meat from regional farms when available. It also partners with Seafood Watch to increase its use of sustainable seafood.
Eat’n Park educates their guests about their local food program through in-restaurant signage identifying their partner farms and their website lists “This week’s local produce: Here’s what fresh, local and delicious at Eats’ Park this week.”
It is ironic that in the center of a small rural state, fresh, local and organic food is hard to find. A state with few large population centers and lots of countryside, Arkansas presents a big challenge to small farmers in marketing their products – where do you go to sell and how do you get there economically? It was in this context that in 2007 first generation farmers Cody Hopkins and Andrea Todt created Falling Sky Farm, located 100 miles north of Little Rock, in the heart of the Ozarks. Combining a desire to farm and live sustainably with their internet savvy, Cody and Andrea visualized a new way to farm and market.
Falling Sky Farm uses livestock management techniques including “holistic pulse grazing” to maximize productivity, meat quality, and the land’s ability to sequester carbon, while decreasing non-renewable resource consumption. All of the farm’s products are marketed within 150 miles, with the additional goal of marketing at least 25 per cent of its products within 50 miles.
Cody and Andrea have been instrumental in developing a successful model of marketing and distribution that helps other farmers within Arkansas. In May 2008 Cody created Conway Locally Grown, an online marketing system for farm fresh products that in just a year’s time grew to include over 200 members and 25 farmers. Cody has since consulted with three other communities to successfully implement the Locally Grown program. He continues to consult and spread the word about the effectiveness of online marketing tools at conferences and other speaking engagements.
Cody and Andrea also coordinate pick up and delivery of products from neighbor farmers and a baker to sell at markets up to 100 miles away, making every trip as efficient and effective as possible while partnering with other producers to co-ship their products. These partner links also allow for sharing of valuable ideas, information, techniques and equipment.
Cody is also one of three founding farmers for the year-round Village Community Market in Hot Springs Village. A unique and innovative Farmers Market, it utilizing a three pronged approach for merchandising: a weekly Friday afternoon traditional outdoor market; an indoor market open four days a week; and the Village Locally Grown Online market system. To increase the larger community’s access to local food, Conway Locally Grown now donates 20 percent of its $25 membership fees and a percentage of each week’s total sales to the food pantry operated by St. Peters Episcopal Church in Conway. The church then uses this money to purchase fresh, locally-produced food from Conway Locally Grown for distribution through the food pantry.