Locally grown, produced and marketed food was on the menu – and on the program agenda – of the third annual State of the Plate Local Food Dinner, served Sunday in a restored, historic barn south of Urbana.
About 80 people enjoyed a dinner featuring locally sourced food while they listened to presentations by four entrepreneurs who have had an impact in the growing market for local food.
All four have one thing in common: They include the Champaign Locally Grown Virtual Farmers’ Market (champaignoh.locallygrown.net) as one of the ways they sell their products. The first online farmers’ market in the state, Champaign Locally Grown runs year-round, enabling customers to place orders on their computers and pick up and pay for their purchases at the Champaign Family YMCA between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. every Thursday.
The presenters were among the 21 local food growers and businesses that contributed to the dinner, which was coordinated by the Champaign County Local Food Council. The Food Council is a partnership of the Champaign Economic Partnership and the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce to help expand market opportunities for local food producers.
For the second year in a row Todd and Jill Michael hosted the dinner at their Pretty Prairie Farm, in a barn that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Caterer Amy Forrest of In Good Taste prepared the meal for the second year.
The four presenters included:
Five years ago she launched Cosmic Charlie Baking & Bread. She started marketing her artisan vegan breads at local farmers’ markets and has since branched out to supply several local restaurants and stores and establish a retail store. This year she moved her retail shop, Cosmic Charlie Breads and Threads, from Springfield to 116 Scioto St. in Urbana.
In addition, she serves as manager of the Mechanicsburg Farmers and Artisans Market and the Champaign Locally Grown Virtual Market. The virtual market’s 30 vendors offer a wide range of products such as fresh produce, meats, fish, bread and baked goods, herbs and spices, grains, eggs, cheese, cheese curds, yogurt, milk, honey, mustard and other sauces, maple syrup, soaps, candles and dog treats. The virtual market has about 525 active customers and a total of 650 registered customers.
She began Swisher Hill Herbs in 1981 in partnership with her mother, a retired registered nurse. Together they educated customers, “without hitting them over the head with it,” that herbs add healthful, salt-free flavoring to food.
For a time the business went into dormancy, as Stapleton worked for Robert Rothschild Farm and Mad River Farm Market. But Swisher Hill Herbs sprung back to life in 2010. Stapleton’s husband, Joe, now retired, has joined the business and blends Swisher Hill’s salt-free seasonings and spices, including salt-free dips, butters, spreads and sauces. They also sell aroma therapy products, dried flowers, vegetables, fresh-cut herbs and herb plants.
Charlene also serves as assistant manager of the virtual market, has coordinated Champaign County’s Master Gardener program and has helped several first-time gardeners take root in the Market Street Community Garden, established in 2010 in Urbana.
Lee and Jennifer Ruff
The Ruffs turned common interests in history and sustainable, self-sufficient agriculture into marriage and an anachronistic farm, where they take horsepower literally. Their End of the Road Farm, across the county line in Miami County, supports them and their three young children financially and puts 90 percent of their food on the table.
On their 21-acre certified organic farm they specialize in sweet sorghum syrup, an alternative to refined sugar. They raise and produce whole spelt flour, more than 50 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs, and eggs, meat and lard from pasture-raised chickens and pigs. They raise feed for their animals and use draft horses to power most of their equipment.
Lee was a historical re-enactor and Jennifer a history teacher when they met at Carriage Hill MetroPark Historical Farm in Dayton during an 1880s living history program. Ever since, they’ve made a successful, fulfilling life and agricultural career together, living partly in the past.
However, they also appreciate modern technology such as the Champaign Locally Grown online market and are now helping organize a similar Internet-driven market in Miami County. They also operate a community supported agriculture (CSA) program at their farm, where subscribing customers make weekly food pickups.
Powell has always had an entrepreneurial drive. With the help of his maternal grandmother, he started a window washing business as a child in St. Paris. But his creation of the Bad Seed Mustard Company – a sideline to his career as a cost research analyst at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base – happened somewhat by chance.
Submitted on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.