OPN Connect Newsletter 151 · January 30, 2020

Green Field Farms Hosts Inaugural "Beyond Organic Forum"

Green Field Farms delivers the trifecta of leading consumer trends - organic, local, sustainable - with unparalleled authenticity grounded in the heritage and values of their faith. They shared their vision, mission, and the practices that set them apart at the first “Beyond Organic Forum”, held January 22 in Wilmot, OH. Seventy attendees, including customers, suppliers, growers, and other industry professionals, learned more about Green Field Farms, discussed marketplace trends, and networked with industry peers.

Green Field Farms (GFF) is a farmer owned co-op representing 90 Amish and Conservative Mennonite family farms spanning approximately 700 acres in Ohio and Michigan. Co-op members produce and market USDA certified organic vegetables, eggs, milk, and sauerkraut, combining old-world farming practices and the tenets of their faith, values, and way of life to sustainably deliver high-quality, high-value, fresh products.

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Green Field Farms is a farm owned co-op representing 90 Amish and Conservative Mennonite family farms 

Established in 2003, the vision of GFF is to preserve the agrarian lifestyle of the plain communities by sustainably supporting the members’ small family farms and inspiring people and communities to practice faithful land stewardship.

“Just one generation ago, 90 percent of Amish families made their living from farming,” said Wayne Wengerd, a GFF founder. “Today, it’s closer to 10%. For the plain communities, farming is more than a source of food and income; it’s the essence and reflection of our beliefs and way of life.”

Concerned about future generations, 20 Amish farmers formed Green Field Farms cooperative to revitalize their culture’s rich farming history and protect their way of life.  

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Central to the GFF mission is developing profitable niche markets for the agricultural products the plain communities produce, and creating a local economy that enables them to thrive. The founders recognized that for their small farms to compete against larger, mechanized agricultural operations, they had to deliver greater value per acre through differentiation.

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USDA organic certification is foundational to their value proposition; all farms are converted to organic production and handling and are re-certified annually. In addition, GFF goes “beyond organic” by growing and harvesting crops the way they have done for centuries…using horse-drawn equipment, planting, harvesting, and packing by hand, and employing earth-friendly agricultural practices to sustainably grow high-quality, safe, fresh produce for the market.

Green Field Farms transplanting

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“Horse-drawn equipment prevents the soil compaction inherent with heavier, mechanized planting and harvesting equipment,” explained Aaron Weaver, GFF procurement and warehouse manager. “Keeping the top six inches of soil loose supports a vibrant, healthy biome, retains nutrients, and encourages water absorption. We mulch with hay between rows, rotate crops, and use natural fertilizers to protect soil health. We reduce weed and insect pressure with cover crops and tillage, protect beneficial insects and pollinators, and repel destructive pests through the introduction of natural predators and “trap crops” more attractive to unwanted pests.

“For us, sustainability is multi-dimensional. Yes, it’s about deploying environmentally sustainable and food-safe agricultural practices. But it’s also about providing a sustainable livelihood, and sustaining faith, family, community, and our way of life,” said Weaver.

The co-op also serves as a standard-setting, best-practice sharing, and educational resource for its farmer-members. During the winter, GFF conducts training on organic certification updates, FSMA and other food safety practices, quality initiatives, innovative techniques consistent with their value system to increase productivity and yield, marketplace trends, and other industry topics. Learn more by watching this Green Field Farms video.

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Green Field Farms products carry both the USDA Organic logo and the GFF Seal of Authenticity 

Green Field Farms products carry both the USDA Organic logo and the GFF Seal of Authenticity, which guarantees specification compliance by Amish and Conservative Mennonite farmers that use horse and buggy for transportation. Their top produce items are zucchini, green bell peppers, yellow squash, green kale, tomatoes, cabbage and hard squash, with peak availability May-October.

Green Field Farms Tomatoes

“The co-op serves as a bridge between small family farms and the retailers who serve discerning shoppers that seek out good, wholesome, nutrient-dense food that is safe and produced by people they trust,” said David Yoder, Green Field Farms CEO. “We collaborate with our customers on season-long plans, adjusting planting schedules as weather and demand permit and scheduling peak-season promotions. We currently have an additional 300-500 acres that can become certified organic and operational over the next three to five years, if we have customer partners in place to support profitable growth.”

Bob Kirch at the "Beyond Organic Forum"

Following the GFF presentation, Bob Kirch, former President & CEO of Caito Foods shared insights on the rapidly evolving organic food landscape, the impact of Millennials, the importance of strategic partnerships, and the value of ‘locally grown’. “The next generation of consumers want transparency,” said Kirch. “They want to know where and how their food is grown and how producers care for the planet, their people and their products. They also define “healthy” as food that’s natural, organic, locally sourced and/or sustainable.”

Craig Carlson at the "Beyond Organic Forum"

The Forum closed with an audience Q&A with a panel featuring Bob Kirch, Craig Carlson (Carlson Produce Consulting), Aaron Weaver (GFF) and John Miller, Jr. (GFF) and moderated by Nick Pacitti (Sterling Solutions). The wide-ranging discussion covered customer-grower partnerships, transparency, commodity-specific growth trends, food as medicine, and more.

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