For part three of our local food slingers series we spoke with Swainway Urban Farm. For those of you that may not already know about them Swainway is tucked away in Clintonville on a modest little plot of land tended to by owner Joseph Swain along with his cohorts Jen Kindrick and Rachel Tayse-Balliel. Swainway produces a variety of certified organic vegetables specializing in micro greens, shiitake and oyster mushrooms which they keep in production year round. Joseph and his team are regulars at both the Clintonville & Worthington farmers markets and also produce goodies for their winter CSA.
Joseph was born and raised in northern Indiana then relocated briefly to San Francisco, California before settling in Columbus where he could enjoy some of the perks of big city living with less chaos. Joseph worked building roads and other blue collar labor prior to building his urban farm from the soil up. This is one of the things that I have admired about the work that they do at Swainway.
Over the years I have read or at least started to read so many books about people that have left their career to try their hand at farming, however, most of them came from either careers where they made a considerable amount of money to support themselves and invest in their new farm or they came from a background in farming to begin with. Joseph on the other hand had neither. His grandfather at one time had a 65 acre farm that was auctioned off in the mid 80’s as with so many other small family farms and his parents gardened although Joseph said he never really paid much attention to it however, he said that “things must have registered and sank deeper than he ever realized”. He began his endeavor with just a 15 X 15 foot area in the back yard of his Clintonville home and what little money he had building the business slowly and allowing it to snowball into what he has now, approximately 1,000 square feet of growing space outside including a recently added mushroom house. While he has never taken a loan or utilized any grant or government money to grow his business he does see himself possibly taking advantage of grants to expand things in the future.
While the operation has continually grown, taking over more space indoors and out, “space” has always been a determining factor to the Swainway operation “we are always limited with what we can do and to what capacity” says Joseph, “Not having enough space sometimes makes things more complicated than they should be. The positive though is that when you are forced into small parameters it inspires you to use your imagination and think outside the box”. Not only has Swainway been thinking outside the box, they have been thinking outside the garden norm as well, being the first operation in central Ohio to grow and sell organic baby ginger at farmers markets, something I personally was very excited about especially after tasting how awesome it was.
When asked what has been the most surprising thing(s) he has experienced in his work as an urban farmer, Joseph replied, “how much you could actually love your job” and that he is inspired by how supportive and encouraging his friends and community have been, “I never imagined I would actually be a part of something so impactful and so important” says Swain.
It’s no wonder that friends & community members are so supportive of Swainway Urban Farm when considering their involvement with the local community. In addition to growing what Joseph calls “some of the best damn food on the planet”, Jen, Rachel & Joseph also host farm tours and work with community gardens to share their knowledge. The trio are also involved with the City Folks Ground Swell project based out of the City Folks Farm Shop on north High street. The project will include mentoring others around traditional skills in food ways. Swain serves on the board of the Clintonville Farmer’s Market helping to ensure that local food continues to flow into the heart of their community with a passion for the progression of the small family farmer. It is likely due to this local involvement that Swainway has not fallen victim to any resistance from their neighbors in regards to their unconventional use of their domestic land space.
So many of us local food advocates have our own ideas about what the general public should understand about food and Joseph is no exception stating that “good food has value and it is so important that we do not under value good health. Not all food should be treated equally, there is a big difference between filling our bellies and nourishing our bodies.” When asked to elaborate Swain went on to say that he was against the campaign that has been going on for decades to convince people that food should be dirt cheap and that “there is always a hidden cost being paid for instance subsidies and slave labor”.
Joseph recently decided against pursuing a larger scale farming endeavor, opting to continue slowly growing his current operation and focusing on growing food within the city stating that “food grown locally [within the city limits] can be very sustainable and of the utmost freshness and nutrition”. Joseph feels that he, Jen and Rachel still have a lot of work to be done right here in town while building on the relationships that they already have.
Swain hopes to see the business continue to grow slowly and produce more food next year than they did last year although he alluded to a “major leap” they will be making soon (he likes to be all mysterious on occasion). In the near future they hope to have multi-site production zones going and producing even more food than ever before and employing more people and “maybe in ten years I might have that farm my grandfather and family lost due to greed and the unsustainable industrialization of our food system”.
A final thought from Joseph is the importance of the law of attraction, that is that like minds are attracted to each other and that “anything we believe, we can achieve. Think it, believe it, speak it, do it! Anything is possible folks and there is no reason not to live happy”.
I think that as we continue to educate our communities about the importance of good REAL food and there becomes an ever increasing demand for it we can indeed make great changes towards a more sustainable future and one we can indeed live happily in.