The Kale Yard is 3 acres located northeast of Lancaster, Ohio, in an area of rolling hills where suburban meets rural Pleasant Township. It includes an 1870 farmhouse and a historic barn that were once the heart of a much larger farm.
The Kale Yard is smaller than most farms and larger than most gardens. You might call it a market garden, a micro farm or a homestead. Whatever you call it, I hope it inspires you to work on your own "kale yard" and to bring more real foods into your kitchen.
With a farm name that means "kitchen garden," I hope to remind us that the way we grow our food is very much connected to the way we prepare and eat our food. Part of the journey to relocalizing our diet is learning how to enjoy what is available to us locally and seasonally. Growing healthy food is important, as well as keeping alive traditional ways of cooking, preserving and eating. These are all stages in the same process. As Wendell Berry says, eating is an agricultural act. Our well being is inextricably linked to the health of our soil, water and seeds.
How & Why
The Kale Yard was bootstrapped into existence with a vision, some stubbornness and $3000 to start out. I had 10 seasons of farming, gardening and food system work behind me and was ready to work on my own project. For the first few years I farmed on borrowed land and drove to market in my Subaru.
In 2014, after three seasons of operation, I purchased a small farm in Lancaster to give myself and The Kale Yard a perennial home. I eased into it because farming is no joke and the odds are uninspiring. According to USDA statistics, 85 - 95% of farm household income comes from off-farm sources. In Ohio, the average age of farm principal operators is 56.8 and men outnumber women by more than 7 to 1.
As a solo entrepreneur, I've also imposed many parameters on my farming project. The scale is fixed at "very small." Time and labor are limited. I have always also worked off farm, and I don’t aspire to hire employees. This means that I have chosen not to rely on growth for success. My goal is to thrive rather than to profit. I farm because it's an authentic lifestyle and I can't imagine not farming.
I believe that small farms and gardens that grow real food in the most environmentally sustainable way play a crucial role in healing our food system. More people can play a role in agriculture. You don't have to have a lot of land, money or equipment, or quit your day job to be more of a producer and less of a consumer.
I'm Erin Harvey. I grew up here in Lancaster and then left for college, where I became an activist passionate about social & environmental issues. I discovered that food is an entry point to these issues that touches everyone, and that actually growing food was a satisfying way to begin to address them. I began by interning with non profit community gardening organizations and apprenticing at Garden Patch Produce, a small CSA in Alexandria, Ohio.
After college, I moved to Philadelphia, working with a grassroots food access organization for one year and then Greensgrow, one of the leaders in the urban farming movement. At Greensgrow I learned through inspiring example how you can create something out of nothing through sheer determination. Next I headed west for the CASFS Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at UC Santa Cruz. The Apprenticeship - really the mothership of the organic farming movement in this country - has trained farmers and gardeners for 50 years now in the most beautiful setting, perched above the Monterey Bay.
Wanting to learn more about fruit trees, my next move was to Chester County, PA, to one of the most diverse and delicious orchards you'll ever find - North Star Orchard. There I received invaluable training in farm management. I also completed a Permaculture Design Course, which explores how we might use the principles of ecology as the basis for all design decisions. I try to keep these principles close in life decisions as well as farming decisions.
I am grateful to have learned from some of the best, and also for the growers who paved the way in the last several decades before local became cool, doing the hard work of farming differently simply because they believed in it. I'm also lucky to have found a wonderful local food community here in central Ohio and to have a family who supports me and has always been proud to claim a farmer.
These days, much of my time is taken up with my work managing the Keller Market House and Lancaster Farmers Market, but I continue to operate my seasonal plant nursery and to plant and collect way too many plants!