Boulder Belt Eco-Farm: don’t call them organic, even though they are
By Ryan Peverly
Don’t call the folks at Boulder Belt Eco-Farm organic. They use the word “sustainable”. Mostly because they have to. But at least that was their choice.
The quaint, homely eco-farm — that’s a fancy way for calling themselves organic without using the word — sits on U.S. 127 North outside of Eaton, where Lucy and Eugene Goodman have grown organic fruits and vegetables since 2005.
But the Goodmans have been eco-farming for 18 years, starting with a small patch of land in College Corner, where they first lived together as a couple. They know a thing or two about organic farming — they may have even introduced the process to Preble Countians — even if they can’t legally use the word to describe the 50-plus crops they grow.
It’s a long story with humble beginnings.
“We had no intention of farming like this, at this level,” Lucy said. “We had a small garden that turned into a huge garden. A year after we moved in together, we found the Richmond farmers’ market. And we had this huge garden, this market garden, so we decided to go. We didn’t think we’d make any money, but we got hooked, so we kept doing it.”
”It amazed us how cheap you get things there,” Eugene said. “People would charge 25 cents a pound for tomatoes, incredibly low, and there weren’t any new people coming in to shake things up. I think it got up to 50 cents a pound at one point, but we insisted on higher prices. It allowed other farmers to get fairer prices for their stuff. We knew you could get more than 50 cents a pound for your tomatoes.
“And they didn’t like us at first because of that. But we were wondering how anyone could do this because they weren’t making any money, selling things for 25 cents, 50 cents a pound. We wanted to make it into a more viable thing, we wanted to make it our living.”
Since then they have made it their living, going from inorganic to organic to sustainable.
”We showed up at the (Richmond) farmers’ market calling ourselves organic, and that’s when we found out we weren’t. We’d get asked about our organic practices, and we were only a year-and-a-half into professional market farming. We didn’t know what we were doing at all. We told people we used manure and compost and didn’t really spray. Then we knew we needed to get certified organic,” Lucy said.
The couple found out about the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association through the Preble County Extension Office, and were inspected in 1996. Their certification took effect in 1999.
That certification expired in 2002, and the couple decided against re-certifying.
“When we were certified there was no USDA certification or national program. It was state by state certification. When the USDA came in we figured out it would be 1,800 pages of paperwork, 10 copies of each page, all that paperwork to do to keep us certified,” Lucy said.
”It was too daunting for smaller farms to worry about,” Eugene said. “We can still grow the way we know how to grow. It was the principle of it. The USDA says they know better than we do, but we’re the ones doing the job and doing the farming this way yet they’re going to tell us how to do our job? That’s the principle I didn’t like.”
“It’s not that we were penny-savers — we just didn’t want the federal government intruding on our farm,” Lucy adds. “They want to certify the big corporate farms — that’s what the USDA’s National Organic Program was put in for — but we sell direct to our customers. Organic certification is really for people who are wholesaling and cannot tell their customers how the stuff’s grown.”
Since 2002, and especially since their move to their current location in Eaton in 2005, Boulder Belt has established a loyal customer base, which centers around its Farm Share Initiative, a program that allows customers to buy shares of their crops and make weekly produce pick-ups.
The Goodmans also farm year-round, something nearly unheard of in this part of the country.
“We are pioneers in season extension in this country,” Lucy said.
But it’s a constant struggle growing organically in Preble County. Nearby farms use pesticides that make their way to Boulder Belt through the air — something the couple knows they can’t completely combat.
“One thing we realize is we’re not keeping all the poisons and chemicals off our land,” Lucy said. “We’ve had stuff destroyed by chemicals that we know came from 10 miles away. But we can’t do anything about it.”
Then there’s the fracking issue, an issue that would involve drilling deep into the ground for natural gas, extracting metals such as lead and mercury, which could contaminate local water supplies.
Fracking is not an issue in this area now — but it very well could be in the near future.
”We really have to consider that as a real possibility,” Eugene said. “I’m concerned it’d contaminate our water source, which is a deep well. When we come to that part of time, in the future, I guess we’ll deal with it when we have to. I’d like to say we’re smarter than that and will be able to keep our resources clean.”
”It’d take away our livelihood,” Lucy added.
Until then, the Goodmans will stay sustainable — just the way they like it.