Monday, February 18, 2013

A Jewel of a Farm

Flying J Wellness Farm

Most of you have heard versions of the famous Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin quote “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” In all of my travels up until this point, this idiom could not ring more true than at Flying J Wellness Farm: A self-sufficient, nearly off-the-grid 170+ year old 250 acre farm, where health, nutrition, well-being, and sustainability are the cornerstones of its foundation.

For those of you who have never ventured northeast of Columbus, Johnstown is a city that, while bearing some similarities to an urban dwelling, remains enough removed that you can get lost. As I drove up to the property, I was immediately greeted by a loveable golden retriever named Jewel who somehow managed to smile at me while dragging over a branch longer than her furry body. Before taking a tour of the farm, she introduced me to her owner Richard Jensen (a.k.a. Farmer Dick) and he was kind enough to share his story. Since losing his 37 year old sister to cancer, Richard has made his primary mission to live a healthy lifestyle. In 1998, he left the city behind along with a stressful position as an Aviation Psychology professor at The Ohio State University and headed out in search of a healthier way of life. He began by reading numerous wellness books and testing out an array of diets, including pure raw, vegan, and vegetarian. As a marathon runner, Richard knew that through his nutritional experimentation he had stumbled upon something when he began to notice dramatic results to his body including the disappearance of pain in his joints and neck. Today, Richard calls himself a flexitarian: A primarily plant based diet that includes the occasional animal product such as eggs or beef, of course, from his land. After the mental and physical research was complete, Richard began plotting out his new farm and decided to give a nod to his love for aviation and the first letter of his surname by naming it Flying J.

The paradigm followed at Flying J Wellness Farm focuses on human health. It is a peaceful environment that not only drew Richard in, but will surely garner the same reaction from anyone who has the chance to visit. Richard admitted when he first purchased the property he knew little about being a farmer and credits OEFFA, his neighbors, and auctions selling farm equipment with teaching him the basics of sustainable farming. Over the years, one step at a time, Richard has added a multitude of enhancements which he happily pointed out as he and Jewel took me on a trip around the farm. We began in a multi-purpose space that contained trays of starter plants including micro greens, spinach, peppers, wheat grass, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cilantro. This was followed by a quick walk through of the hand painted map displaying the acres of deeply rich maples and oaks along with the trails, gardens and lake that encompass Flying J. The duo then escorted me to a small greenhouse which was filled with everything needed to formulate biodiesel fuel, and Richard explained the process starting with collecting the vegetable oil (that occasionally still contains a few stray french fries). Later, it was off to the high tunnel that was just completed last September. To my amazement Flying J is currently growing fresh spinach and a variety of lettuces in the dead of winter! The tunnel was followed by a short walk to the outdoor furnace, yes I said outdoor furnace. This ingenious structure, added several years ago, provides a heat source for multiple buildings by burning fallen trees from the farm. The furnace’s flame is used to heat water that flows through underground pipes to the house and greenhouses. Next, it was off to the space where Flying J is gearing up for this season’s maple syrup production. As if all of this wasn’t enough, about five years ago, Richard began milling cornmeal along with hard and soft wheat to make bread flour and wheat flour. Our tour was concluded with a drive back to the six acre lake where Richard and Jewel guided me to the start of their newest structure on the farm - The quaint cabin under construction is being built using red oak, maple, hickory and ash (you guessed it, from the farm) and will be a place to relax and unwind after a hard days work.

Flying J is anything but a conventional farm. Richard noted that making a profit confirms what he is doing is right, however his primary focus isn’t production. In fact, he doesn’t sell his products to grocery stores or restaurants, but instead directly from a small space on his farm along with participating at the Grandville and Westerville farmers markets. He aims to be a one-stop-shop for local grass-fed beef, maple syrup, farm fresh eggs, vegetables, hearty herbs, fresh fruit, hand milled flours, and cornmeal. This former pilot/OSU Professor turned farmer has a lot more than healthy veggies on his plate. Besides the regular maintenance and upkeep of the farm and its structures, Richard also hosts a variety of open house festivals that are listed on his website and before blogs were trendy, he began writing the “Flying J Wellness Farm Journal” as a way to keep in touch with his friends in the city. It is now entering its 15th year and reaches over 17 countries! Flying J Wellness Farm grows and raises healthy sustainable food while focusing on wellness and nutrition without depleting the earth’s resource. If you take the time to visit Flying J not only will you be impressed with this unique Local Choice, but you will surely note, as I did, that everywhere Farmer Dick went, Jewel was sure to go.


The Flying J Wellness Farm cornmeal (pictured left) traveled 33 miles to Columbus, while the cornmeal (pictured right) traveled roughly 358 miles to Columbus.


Cornmeal vs Grits vs Polenta vs Masa

Baked Sweet Potato Polenta Fries

These baked fries are crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle with a touch of sweetness that make them irresistible.

Click on the recipe cards to print your copy:


Yosef - This American Bite said...

Interesting... I have been making a lot of polenta recently and have mainly experimented with the liquid I use as the base (by the way, my lamb stock polenta is the best I have made) but I hadn't thought to do something like this. I love the idea of making sweet potato polenta fries. I also love that these are baked. This dish is going on the menu!

Anonymous said...

Farmer Dick and the Flying J Wellness Farm was my "Ah ha! Moment". One handshake and a cup of tea later, Dick Jensen became family and started me on my quest to make better food choices for my family and to bring better choices to my community - whether through the Farmers Market or through promotion of gardening through the community garden. He changed my life! Thank you for spotlighting him and his wonderful farm!

-Suzanne L (New Albany, OH)

Anonymous said...

Dick is a man of incredible knowledge with a thirst for learning more. Every town should have access to a Flying J, and the chance to discover how valuable their body is and how easily it can be looked after. I was lucky enough to stay there this time last year, and I've never felt more purified :) there's something in the air!

-Tish, UK

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