‘Farm to You’ Feeds Its Shareholders

BOARDMAN, Ohio — For first-time shareholders, Grow Youngstown’s Farm to You program can be a bit overwhelming. In the boxes lined up in the parking lot outside the Davis Family YMCA, they see everything from typical fare like lettuce to not so familiar vegetables like kale. Understandably they have questions.

A Grow Youngstown volunteer who mans the booth every week, Don Schuler, is always there to guide the newcomers.

“First off, do you have a family or single share?” he asks a shareholder. “You’ll start down there and look at the card up top. The number on there under ‘family’ or ‘single’ is how many you’ll get of each one.”

Every week, depending on what area farmers have just picked, the fruits and vegetables change. At the first summer pickup date in late June, the offerings included peas, raspberries, kale, green onions, cucumbers and zucchini.

“Look at how big this zucchini is,” Schuler says as he holds it up. “This is huge for this early in the season. You’ll never find one this big in a store until mid-July.”

The availability and freshness of the fruits and vegetables are major draws for shareholders.

“It hasn’t been in a truck for days, says Jeff Boggs of Boardman of the zucchini. “It was picked this morning or yesterday. You can’t beat that.”

Boggs has owned a share in the Farm to You program for five years. To get a share of the weekly haul, a subscription is required – $288 per summer for a single share, $513 for a family share.

“We buy from farmers at wholesale prices, usually about $5 per pound,” says the executive director of Grow Youngstown, Elsa Higby. “Then we add a couple dollars just to cover the transportation cost. We pick up all the products from the farms.”

About 30 farmers participate in Farm to You. All farms are within 30 miles of Youngstown and none use pesticides, Higby and Schuler say.

“People don’t always realize why it tastes better,” Schuler says. “It’s when they realize there are no pesticides and that it comes from near here – so it’s fresh – that’s when people start to get it. And then they come back every week.”

Higby also emphasizes the economic benefits. When someone spends a dollar on products area farmers grow, 48 cents stays in the community compared to 13 cents at a grocery chain, she says.

Beyond that, Grow Youngstown’s programs help small farms get off the ground. Farm to You obtains about half of its crop from a few large farms, freeing up smaller farms to grow without being overwhelmed.

“With them, we can provide technical advice and get them up and running,” Higby says. “We can get them a market in their first year.”

Teaching people about the foods they pick up also is important, Schuler says. Each week, Grow Youngstown hands out recipes that call for some of the fruits or vegetables offered that week and the volunteers are ready to answer most questions thrown at them.

“When this first started, I had never even heard of kale,” Schuler relates. “Now, I’ve got about 20 of my own plants in my garden. I’ve learned quite a bit about all the vergetables we have here.”

In tying everything together, Higby says Farm to You provides shareholders easy access to fresh produce throughout the Mahoning Valley. Through its eight distribution venues, including the Warren Farmers Market, Grow Youngstown ensures economic benefits to participating farms, regardless of size.

“Part of the mission of this is to look at local agriculture and build a community that’s willing to support those skills and resources,” she says. “People want to know where their food comes from. They want to have relationships with farmers and know how they grow things.”

Pictured: Don Schuler, a Grow Youngstown volunteer, and Elsa Higby, Grow Youngstown’s executive director, help hand out crop shares at the Davis Family YMCA in Boardman, one of eight weekly pickup locations for shareholders.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.