Year-round harvest— A field of greens among the white
- Published: December 30, 2010
Berries in the spring. Beans and broccoli in the summer. Carrots and apples in the fall. Greens and maple syrup in the winter. At Flying Mouse Farms in Yellow Springs, there is no off-season. Instead, farmers John DeWine and Michele Burns grow food year-round. The couple, in their third year of production, are proud to be the only local source of fresh vegetables available for direct purchase in the winter.
“There’s nothing like a salad in January,” Burns said.
At their 26-acre homestead on Yellow Springs-Fairfield Road with 2,000 square feet of heated greenhouses and cold houses, Burns and DeWine are now growing spinach, lettuces, arugula, tat choy and kale, which they sell to local restaurants, at the Yellow Springs Methodist Church Winter Farmers Market and by delivery or pick-up at the farm.
A wood-burning outdoor boiler heats water, which is piped through the greenhouses and the couple’s residence, providing all of the heat they need to keep their home — and their vegetables — warm. They use this renewable source of energy because “natural gas is pretty unsustainable environmentally and financially,” Burns said. In addition to burning fallen branches from their property, they burn tree waste donated by area tree trimmers.
For Burns and DeWine, who have backgrounds in natural resources management and ecology and who met while re-vegetating the Grand Canyon, farming was a natural fit.
“That was a good job,” Burns said of the Grand Canyon stint. “This is a better job.”
The couple returned to the area, where DeWine, son of former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, grew up, and took over the property where his grandparents, Dick and Jean DeWine, had lived since 1959. John DeWine recalls gardening with his grandfather on the property during the summers of his youth, part-time until he was about nine years old and full-time thereafter.
It was Dick DeWine who planted many of the now-mature apple trees, sugar maples and raspberry bushes the couple continue to nurture and who erected one of the greenhouses, using bricks taken from St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Xenia after the 1974 tornado destroyed it.
Beets, turnips, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, squash, pumpkin, cucumber, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and many more vegetables sprout from the four gardens at their home, as well as from John’s parents’ property in Cedarville, where the couple also farms.
Last February they tapped 400 sugar maple trees in the Yellow Springs, Cedarville and Clifton areas, including 60 to 70 on their property, to make what may be their signature product — maple syrup. Last year, about 3,000 gallons of sap yielded 75 gallons of syrup, all produced in a sugar shack at their home. Their raspberry production is also prolific. Last spring Flying Mouse was selling 450 to 500 pints of fresh berries each week.
DeWine and Burns appreciate that there is always something to learn on the farm, that their two children can partake in the food production and that they provide food for their community.
“What I enjoy the most is feeding people,” said Burns, who is also the associate director of the Tecumseh Land Trust. “I’m surprised by how appreciative and supportive people are for their farmers here,” she added of Yellow Springs. “People appreciate the hard work we do and the good food we raise.”
In their greenhouses and cold house, the couple grows the hardy vegetables that can proliferate during short, cold winter days. The greenhouses allow them to grow one season ahead of what could grow outdoors. In addition, the farmers are beginning to adjust their produce to the needs of the community.
“Once you start getting that local base, you can start tailoring what you grow to what people like,” Burns said.“It’s amazing how much kale people eat in this town.”
In addition to their sales at the winter market and through direct purchase, Flying Mouse products are featured at local restaurants like the Winds Cafe and Sunrise Cafe and at Seasons Bistro and Grille in Springfield and the Meadowlark Restaurant in Centerville. Overnight tourists can taste their foods at breakfast at the Arthur Morgan House B&B and the Grinnell Mill B&B.
As for their distinctive moniker, DeWine said that when he was a child his grandfather would tell stories of the mystical flying mouse that could be seen on the property. Asked if he had recently seen the mouse flying around the farm, DeWine replied, “Sure.”
To receive regular e-mails on what’s fresh and ready at the farm, contact Burns at [email protected].