Maplestar Farm makes the most of urbanization

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Jake and John Trethewey, father and son
Jake Trethewey (left), and his father, John, operate Maplestar Farm in Geauga County. The Trethewey family specializes in vegetable production, and has made the most of urbanization and the changing northeast Ohio landscape. (Chris Kick photo)

CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — The bulk of the labor at Maplestar Farms in Geauga County is done in the fields and greenhouses where the Trethewey family grows their crops, including about six acres of specialty crops.

But important work is also done sitting around the dining room table, and at dinner tables and restaurants across northeast Ohio. That’s where ideas are shared, conversations are had and lessons are learned.

“Probably the majority of what we’ve learned to be successful is sitting down and having a cup of coffee and a box of ice cream with other growers,” said Jake Trethewey, 65, who farms with his father, John, who is 89.

The Tretheweys have lived and farmed in the same area since 1940, when John’s parents, George and Ada, moved to the area and operated a dairy and crop farm. They milked a herd of Guernseys and Holsteins until 1973, while also operating a grain farm and renting additional farms.

In 2004, Jake and his wife, Dawn, came back to the farm and began an organic produce operation known as Maplestar Farm — a name they formed from their time living and farming in Canada (maple leaf on the flag) and the U.S. (stars).

Meeting consumers

Jake Trethewey
Jake Trethewey and his family spend a lot of time working on their hands and knees in the soil, but in the end, they say the work pays off. They enjoy interacting with consumers and talking about local food production. (Submitted photo)

All along, the Tretheweys have embraced the opportunity to engage with the public and share ideas — and have hired a number of farm workers over the years, who were simply passing by or stopped to visit.

Located about 40 minutes from Cleveland, the Trethewey farm has seen an increase in the number of neighbors in recent years, and an increase in road traffic and new roadways.

Urban sprawl has been a blessing, and also a challenge. The family still has about 120 acres, but has lost multiple properties over the years to development.

On the plus side, the farm gets a lot more public exposure, and greater opportunity to interact with urban customers and residents.

“The bad news is the city moved in and took up a lot of good farm ground,” Jake Trethewey said. “The good news is, the city moved in and so for an operation to grow vegetables and direct market, we have a lot more customers.”

Maplestar Farm roadside stand
Maplestar Farm sells produce in season at its market stand along Washington Street, in Auburn Township, in Geauga County.

The Tretheweys sell produce in season from their roadside stand, along East Washington Street, in Auburn Township. They also operate their own Community Supported Agriculture program, where they provide weekly fresh produce allowances for registered customers, and they sell to a chain of restaurants in Cleveland, owned by The Driftwood Group.

Public outreach

A number of tours for consumers and other vegetable growers have been held at the farm over the years, and the farm also holds its own farm-to-table dinner event, which serves as a dining opportunity and also a fundraiser. 

Proceeds from this year’s dinner will go to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary and is also the organic certifier that certified the farm.

Maplestar Farm greenhouse

Greenhouses allow Maplestar Farm to make the most of the growing season, often allowing for three crops per year. (Submitted photo)

Maplestar Farm makes the most of the growing season, relying on six movable greenhouses, in addition to a greenhouse where seedlings are started, and some additional space where micro-greens are grown under fluorescent lighting. In a good year, the Tretheweys can grow and harvest three crops.

While the focus today is on specialty crop production, the Tretheweys are no strangers to conventional crops and larger acreages. In 1997, after completing more than 20 years in the Navy, Jake and his wife bought a 150-acre farm in Ontario, Canada, which they farmed for a couple years, before returning to his father’s farm.

In addition to the dairy, they’ve raised beef, hogs and chickens over the years, but they like specialty crops because they can sell what they grow directly to consumers, and there are more opportunities for farmer-consumer engagement.

“One of the main things that we all like about it is kind of building the community,” Jake said. “Getting friends and the community involved — making the connection between the farm and what goes on people’s plates.”

Most of the farm work is still done by hand and using low-power, specialty crop tractors, including a Farmall 140 and Farmall Super A. During the summer, the Tretheweys also employ a half-dozen local workers, with most coming from area universities.

Jake and his father are not exactly sure what the future of the farm will become, but they hope it can continue. Jake has one son, whose name is also John, but he said his son is less than interested in working in the dirt, on his hands and knees.

Nevertheless, the Tretheweys believe the fertile, sandy loam soils make for an ideal specialty crop operation, and they’re hopeful that a younger generation will eventually take it over. The family uses a 10-acre spring fed lake for irrigation, and the potential for growth is real, Jake said.

As an organic grower, Jake has heard a lot of talk about the sustainable agriculture movement, but what he’s striving for is something even better than sustainable. By using conservation practices like grassed waterways and crop rotation, he’s hoping to make the farm even better for the next operator.

“We’re not doing sustainable agriculture here,” he said. “We’re improving — we’re not treading water. When I check out, sometime in the future, I want this place to be better than it was when we took it over.”

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