As I drove down the winding gravel road that leads to Henson Farm, I will admit that I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the man I was about to meet had a captivating tale to tell, and like many of my prior destinations I was anxious to hear his story. Introducing myself to Harold (also known as “Champ”) Henson, I couldn’t help but notice his stately build. Despite his towering presence, Henson was modest, spoke softly, and only after answering a few of my farm specific inquiries did he delve into his time at Ohio State. Not only did he attend the University, but he played full back for Woody Hayes from 1972-74 and, as I discovered later, lead the nation in scoring his sophomore year. Not to disappoint you, but the remainder of this story is not about how he played alongside Archie Griffin, went on to play in the NFL for both the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, or really has anything to do with football. Instead, it focuses on Henson’s true passion; growing healthy and delicious food for all to enjoy.
Although you might assume Henson’s nickname was spawned during his collegiate years, he started our conversation by sharing with me its true origin. When he was born in 1953 his father, who was in the Army and stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia, asked his Commanding Officer for a four day pass in order to meet his son. Instead, he was granted only three and spent nearly the entire time hitchhiking his way to Columbus and back. After only a few hours of holding his newborn and the return journey to Virginia looming, the new father exclaimed, “For all of this, he has to be a champ!”. The nickname stuck. As toured his hoop house chocked full of tomatoes, Henson shared memories of his youth, telling me of how his mother grew up on a traditional high production German farm and how, as he pointed in the direction of the road, she chose to raise her family on a farm only a few miles from where we stood. Henson credits his mother’s influence as what ultimately guided him from the football field to a farmer’s field, and for 25 years he has been proudly growing local food on his 130 acres in Asheville, including my featured ingredient of rhubarb.
As Henson harvested the brightly hued rhubarb, he smiled as he recalled one of his mother’s recipes. Simply dice the rhubarb into a saucepan and add orange juice. Slice an orange (peel and all), add it to the pan, and cook the mixture until the rhubarb is soft and the liquid is thickened. Strain out the solid bits and pour the finished sauce over pork or drizzle over ice cream. He continued to reminisce about her cooking while sharing information about the hearty plant from his encyclopedia of knowledge. As he sniped off the poisonous leafy greens from the ends of the plant, he admitted that occasionally his body reminds him of his football playing days, but he likes to think that farming has kept him youthful. Henson hopes to someday meet an energetic individual with the passion to continue what he started at Henson Farm, someone he could share his decades of knowledge with in hopes they would expand his offerings and possibly start a CSA program.
In the meantime, Henson said he is doing what he wants on the farm and having fun in the process. He chuckled at the irony of how when he left for college he couldn’t wait to get off the farm, and now it is the only place he wants to be. Today he keeps busy growing and selling a variety of crops including rhubarb, asparagus, melons, sweet corn, okra, peppers, cucumbers and pickling cucumbers, sweet potatoes and whatever excesses remain from his family’s personal garden. He admits that these days he doesn’t watch much professional football, choosing to instead focus his time and energy on participating in the Upper Arlington farmer’s market on Wednesday, the Pearl Alley Market downtown twice a week, and the Clintonville Farmers Market every Saturday. Even with all of the memories and experiences he has accumulated and all the hard work he has endured, Henson was adamant in pointing out that he “never gets tired of people telling us how good something [that they grow] is.” Spoken like a true champ.
The Henson Farm rhubarb (pictured left) traveled 23 miles to Columbus, while the rhubarb from Montecucco LLC (pictured right) traveled over 2,400 miles.
Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and magnesium and the brighter the stalk, the sweeter the flavor. Avoid eating the leaves as they contain unusually high amounts of oxalic acid which can cause toxic symptoms in the human body.
References5 Ways Rhubarb Can Boost Your Health
Rhubarb & Coconut Coffee Cake
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