Jamie Charvat picks up her weekly vegetable box through Riehm’s Produce Farm’s community-supported agriculture program. Charvat credits her participation in the program with broadening her culinary horizons and contributing to a “significantly” healthier diet. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN

LIFE EDITOR

TIFFIN — A century-old farm is using new technology to deliver customized produce boxes to consumers throughout northwest Ohio — including a large base in Findlay.

The community-supported agriculture (CSA) program operated by Riehm’s Produce Farm of Tiffin virtually eliminates its members’ trips to the produce aisle while allowing them to know exactly who grew their food. Members simply choose their share — summer or winter, mini, full or double — and their pickup location, with fresh, in-season fruits and veggies dropped off weekly.

Participants rank an extensive list of over 50 vegetables grown on the 286-acre farm and, depending on what’s in season and the member’s ranking, farm workers pack an appropriate assortment into the customer’s bag. Forty-eight hours before their scheduled pickup, customers can preview their bag to see what’s coming. If they were recently gifted with a handful of tomatoes from a neighbor, for instance, the customer can opt to swap the tomatoes in their bag for beans, beets or broccoli instead.

The program has operated in Findlay for nearly 20 years, says John Riehm, a fourth-generation farmer. He estimates that up to 85 people in Findlay participate in the summer share, with about 40 involved in the winter share, which is wrapping up its third season this month.

By placing blankets over the plants in the greenhouse, workers were able to insulate them from January’s subzero temperatures. Riehm says freezing temperatures bring nutrition into the plants’ roots, making things like lettuce and root crops taste sweeter.

Jamie Charvat, who was picking up her winter share delivery last week at Findlay’s dropoff site at First Lutheran Church on Lincoln Street, credits the CSA program with nudging her and her husband toward “significantly” healthier eating — and cooking more meals at home.

But perhaps its greatest influence on her life has been the broadening of her culinary horizons.

In her first year with the program, Charvat now finds herself snacking on things like vanilla ice cream topped with pineapple tomatillos. From her last bag she turned green cabbage into the “noodles” for a lasagna, and she’s made “french fries” out of turnips and kohlrabi. As a diabetic, Charvat says these substitutions are particularly exciting, as traditional noodle or potato-based dishes had been lacking from her diet.

Riehm says the variety of the farm’s offerings — “A to Z and a whole bunch of things in between” — is one of the program’s greatest selling points.

And while produce like kalettes (a hybrid of kale and Brussels sprouts) can be befuddling, CSA participants are granted membership to the farm’s closed Facebook recipe sharing group. Charvat enjoys posting recipe wins — and shortcomings — on the page, and says finding and sharing new recipes is something to look forward to with each bag pickup.

Ami Orr, another winter share participant, got involved about a year ago after visiting the Riehm farm.

“I think it’s great. It’s the best thing ever,” she says of the program, adding that it’s important to support local farms that use responsible practices.

Orr tends a huge summer garden, but says the produce offered by Riehm’s is second-to-none: “You don’t get better lettuce than this.”

The Rev. Bob Cochran, senior pastor at First Lutheran, is proud to host the farm as Findlay’s CSA dropoff site.

“For us, stewardship of the earth and stewardship of our bodies are both theological,” he says.

Combine that with the church’s duty to care for the needy, and Cochran says the farm is helping the church to fulfill its most basic functions.

“Frankly … it’s a gift that they’re giving us,” he says.

Carolyn Bryant is a member of the church and organizes its community dinner, served the first Sunday of each month. She picks up extra produce or unclaimed CSA boxes and uses them in the dinners, or donates them to City Mission or CHOPIN Hall. Sometimes, “if we know that there’s a need,” she arranges for the fruits and vegetables to go to a specific family.

Sign-ups are already underway for the summer shares, which run from the first of June to mid-October. Add-on items, such as fruit, beef, coffee, eggs and artisan breads, can be applied anytime.

Sign up at http://funacres.net/csa/ .

Griteman: 419-427-8477

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Twitter: @BrennaGriteman

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