SALEM, Ohio – Sam Augusta plucks a green leaf from a plant at his feet.
“Here, try this.”
It tastes fresh and crunchy, even a bit spicy, like it belongs in a big bowl of leafy salad greens.
Next, the young, thin man wearing a straw hat and Birkenstock-type shoes, offers a snow pea.
It snaps in two and Augusta puts both pieces in his mouth.
Boredom. Sam Augusta ran around this farm when he was a kid, in the days when it was his grandpa’s dairy in Salem, Ohio. Drinking the raw, warm milk in the barn and spending sweaty summers baling are just glimpses of Augusta’s memories.
But then he grew up, moved away, went to college and became a TV producer in Washington D.C. Boredom quickly set in.
As he shelled out money to exercise in a gym, he longed for physical labor, to have his hands in the dirt.
Finally, in the summer of 2000, Augusta temporarily left his D.C. job, drove across country and spent the summer in southern Oregon, apprenticing at an organic vegetable farm.
That winter it was back to the bustle of D.C. and his monotonous office job.
But then life took a turn. He met Whitney Waara, a computer programmer originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
She shared Augusta’s passion for food and health, and he didn’t hesitate to share his experiences in Oregon or dreams of having his own organic farm.
The following summer, Augusta returned to Oregon, this time taking Waara with him.
This was also the summer Augusta’s grandfather, John Vogelhuber, died.
When he flew home for the funeral, his family asked if he was interested in the farm his grandfather left behind.
He jumped at the opportunity.
Augusta and Waara, now his fiancée, arrived in Salem, Ohio, Oct. 6, 2001, and hit the ground running. 1920 Organics is now in the thick of a surging, second summer season.
Lifestyles. Augusta wasn’t always so attuned to his health. Looking at the slender 30-year-old, it’s hard to imagine that he was chubby in his younger years.
The change came when he moved away from home and started “eating more from the edge of the grocery store, not down the aisles” – in other words, avoiding processed food.
Meeting Waara, who attended New York City’s Natural Gourmet Cookery Institute, a health-focused, vegetarian program, sealed the health deal.
Organic tastes better and has more nutrients, the couple said. It’s the “tried and true” way to eat, it’s “eating what people have been eating forever.”
Sharing. The couple markets through farmers’ markets, local stores and Community Supported Agriculture, better known as a CSA.
The CSA is in its first year and had to be capped at 22 members.
Three drop points deliver weekly bags of produce to all walks of life – professors, corporate headhunters, Ohio State University Extension personnel.
Augusta and Waara provide staples like tomatoes, corn and strawberries, but also enjoy introducing people to “fun” specialties, like yellow, red and white carrots.
Opening people’s eyes to beyond the grocery store’s produce selection is particularly important to Augusta. It’s simply a love of teaching that carries over from his winter job as a substitute teacher.
Try it all. With 40 types of vegetables and 150 varieties, the couple grows everything from green beans, squash, spinach, peppers and eggplant to six types of mustard greens, five kinds of radishes, herbs and green dandelion.
They’ll try anything, Augusta said as he points to two rows of crops. One has white, gauzy fabric over it and one does not.
He lifts the fabric and points to healthy, full plants. Parallel are the uncovered plants, ravaged with holes and stunted growth.
In other rows, the couple tests mulched vs. unmulched peppers.
It’s all a series of experiments, he said. They see what works and then stick with it.
In the kitchen. On any given night, vegetables and roots are sautéing, roasting, boiling or grilling in the kitchen, thanks to Waara’s culinary background. Salads are always on the table.
They eat according to the season, and Waara pulls out all the stops with her gourmet cooking creativity. Greens sauté into a great stir-fry, soup filled with vegetables, Chinese cabbage and kale simmers on the stove and tempeh is a homemade treat.
Growth. Although 1920 Organics is still in its infancy, the couple is hopeful about the farm’s future. In just its second season, the farm has quadrupled in size – albeit from one acre to four.
The other 50 acres of farmland are rented to a neighbor, an organic crop farmer.
The operation’s retail anchor is its hometown market, Salem Farmers’ Market, on Saturday mornings. But 1920 Organics is also at Lock 3 Live! Homegrown Saturday Mornin’ market in downtown Akron, two cooperatives and several area stores.
Augusta and Waara don’t entertain thoughts of increasing production beyond their community’s needs and shipping vegetables across country. That would defy everything they’re trying to emphasize: a local food economy.
The back door. Whitney Waara, her hair in two ponytails and her feet bare, especially likes the idea of a local, homegrown food source. She doesn’t stop at the grocery store or McDonald’s to pick up dinner. Instead she walks out her back door, across a patch of grass and into a field.
She settles on what she wants to eat, pulls it from the brown soil, brushes it off and takes it to the house for dinner.
She puts the vegetables in a pan, cooks them and takes a bite. Soil to supper in less than an hour. Now that’s fresh.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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* 1920 Organics
3263 McCann Road
Salem, OH 44460
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