As I sat down to write the story of my 40th destination visited, I began by reflecting on prior posts. I realized over the past three-plus years each food grower or producer I have had the pleasure of meeting has their own unique tale to tell, but more often than not their stories have similar beginnings and details tend to overlap. Most were born and raised in the great state of Ohio and had a strong connection to the land. For this particular destination, I discovered a farmer who, like many I have spoken to in the past, was a third generation grower who had agriculture running through his veins. I thought about how his story paralleled others, and after spending an evening with him and uncovering his personal perspective on the ups and downs of the profession, I began to question why anyone would willingly choose this career; one that demands time spent on nights, weekends, and every hour in between. One that is based on a fluctuating pay scale with minimal financial upside, one that is full of competitors big and small, subject to trends and demanding consumers, one where every day presents a new challenge and in which a rolodex of experience in agricultural and/or biological science, mechanics, sales, and meteorology is a must. The one seemingly unspoken explanation is the passion that internally drives these dedicated individuals. Young or old, male or female, farmer or brewer, their food and products weave a story that together makes up the local food movement of Central Ohio, and Brian Helser of Paige’s Produce is no exception to the rule.
The village of Stoutsville, with a population of less than 600 residents, is where Brian grew up and where his 15 acre farm resides today. His grandparents were farmers and he can credit them for teaching him the business at an early age. After graduating from The Ohio State University and spending time in the corporate world, Brian knew a life behind a desk wasn’t for him and decided to get back to the land, get his hands in the dirt, and devote his life to growing food. He and his wife Kelly started their family farm in 1999 and named it Paige’s Produce. Not only was it easier to pronounce than their last name and contained a nice alliteration, but it was their eldest daughter’s middle name. It was important for Brian and Kelly to have their two daughters maintain an active role in the family business and teach them where food comes from. Whether it be working at farmer's markets or picking apples in between soccer practice, the girls understand the hard work and sacrifices that are made in planting, harvesting, washing, and packing the quality food they grow.
As I sunk my teeth into the raw, pale yellow and white checkerboard ear of fresh sweet corn, Brian laughed and said that this was my rite of passage. We toured the farm and sampled as we went along. As he walked me through the varieties of colorful apples they grow, he reached out and plucked one off a tree for me to try. Juicy and delicious, these apples were some of the first of the season. Next Brian brought me to the field where he plants nearly 15 acres of green beans and yes, we tasted these too; bright, crisp, and grown with love. We continued on, walking the grounds and discussing how Mother Nature can be a farmer’s best friend or worst enemy. Although this year the peach trees didn’t bear any fruit due to our harsh winter, he pointed out the growth of the limbs and how he hoped for a good yield next year. This is the life of an Ohio farmer. You roll with the punches and you keep moving forward…even when nothing is growing. During his “off time” Brian’s late fall/early winter projects include erecting a deer fence to protect his crops from this farmer’s bane and begin his planning for next season.
Today Paige’s Produce grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, utilizing the land on their farm as well as 55 acres they rent from neighboring farmers. They are always up for rotating in something new and this year’s experimental crop was edamame. Brian explained how some markets weren’t interested in his new offering and some were, but that this doesn’t stop him from trying something different that he is eager to share with his customers. If you elect to sign up for their weekly CSA program it is available in full or half shares, with the option of vegetable, fruit, and/or flower types. You can also find Paige’s Produce at the Clintonville, Upper Arlington, downtown Pearl, Hilliard, and Pickerington farmer’s markets. Perhaps Brian answered my question of “why” in the only manner which could be expected from a true devotee of his craft when he wrote in his own blog - “I realize I love doing all this and I try to keep my mind on one day at a time”.
The Paige’s Produce green beans (pictured left) traveled 33 miles to Columbus, while the green beans (pictured right) traveled over 1,100 miles to Columbus.
ReferencesWhat's New and Beneficial about Green Beans
Bloody Mary Pickled Green Beans
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