Land & Environmental

Organic farm principles, preservation draw TLT gathering

 

If the bold colors and perfumes of spring provoke gratitude for the natural world, they should also spark deep appreciation for the work it takes to keep it that way. It’s work that land owner Jon Paul Rion and farm manager Megan Walsworth at the Rion Farm find both invigorating and absolutely essential to maintain the balance between cultivation and preservation. It’s work that means their 168-acre farm not only yields an annual crop of tomatoes, potatoes and strawberries, but also supports an ecosystem of streams, oaks, quail and owls that keeps that land sustainable.

The dynamic operations on the Rion farm, from tree nursery to livestock to community supported agriculture, have prompted the Tecumseh Land Trust to hold its 18th annual meeting there on Sunday, June 1, from 2 to 4 p.m. The public is invited to the farm, located at 400 North Enon Road, for refreshments and a business meeting, as well as a prairie tour, a garden tour and hands-on stream testing designed especially for children ages 5 to 12 (play clothes that can get dirty and wet are highly recommended.) The meeting is dedicated to Richard Locke, a TLT board member who died this year.

The Rion farm was purchased with a donated conservation easement by Barbara, John, and Jon Paul Rion in 2003. The farm had previously been used to grow soybeans and corn as well as 140 head of free-ranging cattle, which together tended to kill the stream ecology and erode and deplete the soils of most of their nutrients, according to Jon Paul Rion. But since much of the land has lain fallow for the past five years, with just 17 acres devoted to the current organic vegetable garden and several dozen more for the orchard, the land has had a chance to return to its natural state, according to TLT land monitor George Bieri. About 57 species of birds have returned to nest in the fields and now-thickened forest areas, turtles and fish have returned to the streams, and the organic farming methods have reinfused the soils with the deep brown richness they had before mechanized farming.

“The overriding principle here is to make this a habitat and a place for plants, trees, animals and people together,” Rion said.

For Magaw, the Rion farm is a dynamic model of the opportunities that exist for a property that is protected from development. It also provides a chance to educate people about where their food comes from and how supporting a holistic, sustainable land use system can contribute to the overall health of a community and its residents, she said.

The Rion farm, whose garden is known as Orion Organics, produces enough to supply 21 boxes of organic fruits and vegetables each week, which include raspberries, strawberries, radishes, greens, peas, tea herbs such as lemongrass, chamomile and mint, and later tomatoes, squash and all manner of potatoes, according to Walsworth. The farm sells an even larger volume to restaurants such as the Winds Cafe, Sunrise Cafe, C’est Tout, Meadowlark and to Dorothy Lane Market and maintains a weekly stand at the Yellow Springs farmer’s market.

“Food is not a commodity, it shouldn’t be an investment or an economic endeavor — it’s something to eat!” Rion said. “And this farm is something you do because it’s right — you can take something good and make it right.” He plans to move from his home in Dayton this summer and establish permanent residency on the farm.

Dominique Fortin, the chef and proprietor of C’est Tout, comes to the farm himself to get endive, frisée, sorrel, take a walk through the fields and say hello to the new calves, which he has unsuccessfully tried to get Rion to relinquish for his next menu.

“I say to him, ‘Give us everything you’ve got!’” Fortin said on a visit to the farm last week. “We can always count on this — it’s the freshest ever. It make me almost in France, you know?”

Sunday’s prairie walk will be led by Bieri, who will talk about the old growth forests on the property, the creek beds and native prairie plants. Rion will lead the garden tour and speak about organic gardening methods and community supported agriculture. And Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf and water scientist Lisa Dawn will lead groups to test the property’s streams for macroinvertebrates, nitrates, phosphates and dissolved oxygen.

TLT has preserved over 14,500 acres of prime farm land, natural areas, and historic sites in this area, by working with private land owners like the Rions.

The Rion farm can be accessed by heading north on East Enon Road, which turns into North Enon Road, and turning right into the first drive after Fowler Road. Look for TLT signs along the road. The public is also invited to join a cycling group that will leave from the Bryan Center at 1:30 p.m. for the annual meeting. Call 767-9490 for more information or e-mail krista {at} tecumsehlandtrust(.)org.

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