Local Dayton growers and producers are more vital than ever.
Doctors couldn’t get to the bottom of what was causing Heather Young’s severe allergic reactions. After almost every meal, she developed hives, stomach pain and headaches. Her daughter, Kennedy, began to experience similar symptoms.
Young, a registered nurse and educator in Piqua, knew she had to take control of her situation and make drastic changes in the way her family ate. Researching food and watching documentaries about the food industry, she knew she would never go back to eating carelessly again.
“I knew it was time for a change,” says Young. “I wanted to know where my food was coming from and what was in it.” After stripping their diet of processed foods and gluten, Jackson and her daughter were healthy again.
Like Young, many Dayton residents are hungry for change. Dayton’s food revolution is everywhere.
“There is more awareness in general of healthier eating, not just on the east and west coasts. It’s nationwide,” says Jimmy Harless, market manager at Dayton’s 2nd Street Market, which has 15 to 20 local producers each week.
Walk through the farmers markets. Find local meat, eggs, milk, produce and fresh-baked bread. Pick up a pastry: baked clean without preservatives, dyes or gluten. Peek into backyards, dotted with small urban gardens and chicken coops. Cruise past southwest Ohio’s acres of farmland, with crops, cows, goats and pigs.
Count the boxes of fresh food left on porches, seasonal bounty from local farms delivered straight to the doorsteps. Drop by Antioch College where students dine on food raised on the college’s farm. Pick up lunch at a growing number of local restaurants that buy and cook fresh, clean and local.
The old farmers chuckle; they’ve been at this for years. But for younger generations, taking control of their food supply has meant embracing a lifestyle that pushes back at convenience and chemicals by learning the art of gardening, raising chickens, seeking out local growers and producers.
More Dayton residents have demanded local, healthy food options, says Harless. As he points up and down the renovated freight station of KJB Farms, a local meat producer, Harless rattles off the various vendors who are meeting the growing appetite for healthy and local foods. Also, farmers markets and the larger grocers are providing organic and local options across Dayton.
Dayton’s chefs and bakers are trading traditional ingredients for healthier alternatives. Their customers want it: they’re concerned about genetically modified food and its impact on health, the connection to gluten intolerance, and more.
Dawn Valfor, a baker at the market, was propelled by her own history of illness to transform her diet over the years and now offer clean treats and healthier alternatives through her business, Purely Sweet Bakery.
“I meet people all the time who are newly diagnosed with wheat intolerance or celiac disease, or they simply wish to feel better with healthy eating with less processed foods,” says Valfor. “My customer base continues to grow as more people are educating themselves with the science that is finally backing up the claims that processed foods are hurting us.”
Kimberly Collett started mulling over buying farmland well before she opened her restaurant Olive, an Urban Dive, in downtown Dayton. Locally sourcing food for the restaurant—on the scale she was planning—was going to be difficult.
The restaurant has established a reputation as a place to go for fresh, local food. Collett has 50 farmers on speed dial, grows basic supplies in a 800-square-foot emergency garden, freezes for the winter, and paid out $78,000 cash to local farmers in 2012. Two years in, she thought: “What if they could grow one-fourth or even one-third of that food themselves?”
“We don’t ever want to stop supporting and using our local farmers, but we have to reduce our costs to sustain what we’re doing,” says Collett.
In the spring, a farmer who wanted to see if it would work donated two acres of land to Collett and is willing to sell Collett more acreage if it does. She has room to build high tunnels and big plastic greenhouses for growing produce for extended harvests, which few local farms invest in.
“So with our garden producing lettuce, radishes, kale, chards and herbs, [and] after weeks of tilling and prepping the land, we moved all the volunteer tomatoes and peppers from my garden out to the farm,” she says.
By harvest season, they yielded 100 pounds of tomatoes every few days, and the kitchen was in overtime trying to keep up with using them in the restaurant or turning the extras into marinara or tomato paste to freeze for the winter.
Young, the Piqua nurse who transformed her family’s diet, says she is able to find food options across Dayton, including receiving fresh food at her door through a community supportive agriculture (CSA) program.
Milan Pajev, director of Happy Box, the food delivery service of Fulton Farms in Troy, says many young families are among his customers. Feeding their children makes them start to reconsider how they eat.
“That’s the time they start looking around for better choices,” says Pajev. Happy Box has about 600 summer customers and 400 in the winter.
A similar service, Green Bean Delivery, which started in Indiana in 2007, branched out into Dayton and now has 500 households receiving its boxes of fresh foods and even groceries from local farms and producers. They grow some food on their farm in southwest Ohio.
“We want to make healthy food, and regionally grown food, more accessible,” says Aris Yowell, Green Bean’s marketing director.
Options for CSAs are growing in Dayton and so are farmer’s market outposts. A group in Oakwood launched its first weekly farmers market in the Dayton suburb last summer. Bellbrook, Centerville, Troy, Yellow Springs and other communities offer farmers markets throughout the growing season and some in the winter.
While she also shops at grocery stores, Young says she enjoys getting to know the farmers and shop owners where her family’s food comes from.
“I look forward to seeing these folks every week,” she says. “It truly brightens my day and makes me feel really good about what my family is eating and what we are doing to support our community.”