Do you ever wish we could go back to a time when farmers really cared about their animals and land…and neighbors? Amish farmers Leon and Junior remind us that the time is now, as they describe their vision for farming that goes beyond “organic.” Leon Wengerd is the CEO of Green Field Farms and Raymond Yoder (who goes by Junior) is the production manager. Green Field Farms is a certified organic farm coop in Ohio.
Together, they explain how ethical agriculture has historically been a part of the Amish culture and how they are continuing those traditions today. They get specific, from the ground up, discussing soil health and what they do to ensure that it is abundant in minerals to provide the most nutrient-rich produce possible. They emphasize old-fashioned growing methods, knowing the cows by name, and most importantly, how they care for their neighbors (as demonstrated in a recent barn-raising). It’s a conversation that highlights the healthy, “beyond organic” options that are available in every facet of our lives.
Visit Greenfield Coop’s website: gffarms.com
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda Labrada Gore and the regular text is Leon Wengerd and Raymond Yoder, Jr
Organic small farms are important, but what does it look like when these farms go beyond organic, and when they join together to feed communities as a community? This is episode 371. Our guests are Amish farmers, Leon Wengerd and Raymond Yoder Jr. Leon is the CEO of Green Field Farms. Raymond is the Production Manager. Green Field Farms is a certified organic farm co-op in Ohio. In this episode, Leon and Junior, share their vision for farming that goes beyond organic. They explain how ethical agriculture has historically been a part of the Amish culture and how they’re continuing these traditions nowadays.
They get specific from the ground up discussing soil health and what they do to ensure that it is abundant and minerals to provide the most nutrient-rich produce possible. Junior explains how his family had a conventional farm when he was growing up, and what convinced him to make the switch to regenerative Ag as an adult. Together, they discuss the Green Field Farms Co-op that they established and the special care and high standards that the Amish bring to their work on the farm. They emphasize old-fashioned growing methods, knowing the cows by name even, and most importantly, how they care for one another as a community.
I personally found this conversation nourishing and indeed beyond organic. Before we dive into it, I want to invite you to check out our trifold brochures. The Weston A. Price Foundation has many resources on its website. It’s incredible. The trifold brochures cover one million topics. One million might be a few too many but they have a brochure on cholesterol myths. Another one on soy alert, sugar alert, why butter is better, nutrition and mental health, and more.
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Visit Greenfield Coop’s website: GFFarms.com
Order WAPF’s materials (like trifold brochures)
Welcome to the show, Leon and Junior.
We’re excited to be part of the show for Green Field Farms.
I’m glad you guys are on here. We are going to explore what this Co-op looks like, but also learn more about Amish farming. I want to start with a typical barn-raising experience. Leon, you said you had a story that you would be happy to share with me and with the readers.
A number of years ago, one evening as we were finishing our dinner, I stepped down to the window and notice the plume of smoke coming from behind the hill at our neighbor’s farm. As we came to the scene, we were greeted by numerous fire departments arriving, but to everyone’s dismay, the barn was gone. A solitary lightning strike that evening was a total disruption for the barn. In all of the sadness of the evening, there was a sacred beauty in seeing the community come together to share their condolences in a time of sorrow.
The next morning, the neighbors came again and the plan was developed to build a new barn. By the second morning, trees were being filled in his woodlot, and some mills setting up to cut these trees into timbers for the new barn. Five short weeks later, after many hours of hard labor from friends, family, and community, a new barn was erected in one day with hundreds of people showing up with no compensation.
Just because they wanted to help a friend in time of need, not only the men but the women as well and a meal was prepared for everyone. That is how we do things. It solidifies what’s very important to us as a people, faith, family, and community. That’s why it’s very important to us, and that’s what leads to what we would talk about more and why Green Field Farms started.
Tears are springing to my eyes because many people long for those things, the faith, family, and community. It’s beautiful that you have it in your community. How many generations have been where you live there in Ohio?
The Amish community in Ohio, Holmes County Amish Community, where we live covers a tri-state area, Stark, Wayne Homes, and Tuscarawas County. It is the largest geographical Amish community in the United States. It is an important part of our local commerce and our people, the Amish community, have been here for hundreds of years.
Junior, are you a part of that same community?
People are willing to pay a premium for a product that is safe and healthy. They like to buy from people that they trust.
I am. Faith, family, and community are things that we value. I had a conversation with a man in the community. He said one thing that he appreciates even more than the word community is the word neighborhood. I could resonate that people in the neighborhood are coming together when there’s a neighbor that needs help.
I love that concept of neighborhood. I also have a profound respect for Amish farmers, many of whom feed folks I know, including our own family. Here in the DC area, we have a drop-off point where we pick up food from our Amish farmers. There are so many Amish farmers. Why is that? Is this a cherished area of labor for the Amish?
Our agricultural history dates back to our ancestors that were farming and Dale pine meadows of the Swiss Alps. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.
You mentioned skills being passed down. What skills are you referring to? Remember, you’re talking to a city girl here.
Many of those skills include animal husbandry utilizing animal waste for fertilizer in growing healthy crops, being good stewards of our land and resources, and providing work for the family. Going back to God’s instruction to Adam, “Earning your bread by the sweat of your brow.” That is an important part of who we are.
The practices you’re describing of animal husbandry, I feel like there was a shift when fertilization, artificial chemical fertilizers were introduced after World War II. Did the Amish begin to incorporate those into their farming practices? Did things shift at that time?
In 1900, right after the turn of the Century, the Amish community was farming very similar to their non-Amish neighbors. The onset of the tractor and the automobile changed a lot of things in the world nowadays. Our people then started making separation and chose to continue farming with horses and still use horse and buggy for transportation, even nowadays.
As the decades of World War I and II went past, the gap became greater. The onset of the chemical revolution in the 1950s still impacted many of the Amish community farmers. Suddenly, there were solutions to weed and pest control they never had access to before. Many of our people started using these and the very earliest stages before quickly realizing the harmful long-term effects of using these chemicals.
They did notice harmful effects as a result of using these chemicals.
A combination of education and a better understanding of the soil led to many of the practices that Junior will be telling us about of how we farm now to practice the faithful land conservation, land stewardship, and raising good, healthy food and animals for people like you, the end consumer.
Junior, talk to us about how the land can be formed in such a way that we do steward it properly, preserve it, and regenerate it in effect.
My thought goes to the way that we do our rotation on our farms. Number one, we have a four-year rotation. A lot of our farms do grow hay and legumes along with small grains and corn crops. The important thing here is to apply the nutrients back to the soil that we harvest and sold off. If we look at those nutrient applications in sustainable regenerative farming, calcium is the king of nutrients along with a host of others that need to be balanced in the soil in order to have optimal soil health. When we think about soil health, there are three things that we need to look at. That is the chemical, physical and biological portion. If we correct that chemical portion, the other elements will come into balance and it will increase our soil and crop health.
People didn’t use to analyze the soil. Leon was talking about your ancestors in the Swiss Alps. They weren’t like, “Let me measure the level of calcium in the soil.” They were just doing it. Is this a modern innovation that is helpful as we look to balance the soil?
You could consider it or call it a modern innovation. It started in the soil balancing philosophy that we follow started in the ‘30s. You mentioned right after World War II, there was a professor at the University of Missouri. His name was Dr. William Albrecht. He did a lot of studies on what it takes to have balanced soil. He did a lot of those studies by grazing sheep on different soils that he had analyzed and balanced differently. He used that to help him determine what a good balance soil looks like. That philosophy has been handed down and we have adopted that method of soil balancing. We see it being very practical and economical for the farmer to do.
What we do at Green Field Farms is we help our producers with that education, taking the soil samples, and sending them off to Brookside laboratories who do our analysis. We then custom blend soil nutrients, including the trace minerals, boron, copper, zinc, manganese, and so on and so forth, to each specific field so that we’re not applying for tilty using a shotgun approach. We’re applying the nutrients that are needed to balance the soil to grow each specific crop a little differently.
What Junior is referring to is our in-house Soil Amendment Program at Green Field Farms. It is a critical link to supplying the end consumer with a healthy, safe product that is shelf-stable and has shelf-life. It is not only organic, but it is also healthy.
I know what you mean because I’ve interviewed a lot of farmers who say, “A carrot today is not the same as a carrot 50 years ago.” What they’re referring to is the soil in which it is grown. It does make a difference, but most consumers to the naked eye would look at a carrot from nowadays and from 50 years ago and think, “It’s the same nutritional components,” but not necessarily. It depends on the soil health.
Coming up, with some background on why Green Field Co-op began, Leon and Junior talk about what makes produced in a regenerative way superior to similar food in the grocery store.
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Junior, you mentioned the Green Field Farms Co-op. Explain to me why it was established and when?
Green Field Farms Co-op was established in the early 2000s. 2002 was the first meeting we held. The reason for the Co-op to become established as the diminishing amount of small family farms in our community. There was a group of farmers and businessmen from the community that observe that happening here. They saw that there were less farmers. They had the question, “What can we do about it? What’s the reason?” They discovered that it was due to not having a way to get their product to the end consumer in an effective way. They did some research in the marketplace. They hired a company to do some research.
They found that there was a small percentage of people that were willing to pay a premium for a product that they could trust, safe and healthy, and they like to buy from people that they trust. They went back to our community and found that we have what it takes to produce that product. We have the land, people, labor, and skills to produce that high-quality product that we now offer.
When you say high quality, I can hear it from the commitment that you all have to produce that nutrient-rich soil, particular to each vegetable and so forth. I can’t help but think, does this make it out of reach financially for the customer? People always complain about how expensive organic meat and produce are.
We produce products on small family farms and we put a lot of hard work and effort into growing the best quality product at a price that’s affordable. We are very competitive in the marketplace compared to other organic products available.
What we often tell people is, “The investment is worth it,” because you will maybe pay a little bit more at the farmer’s market or grocery store for the quality products, but in the end, you save on medical bills.
One other aspect of the Co-op being launched in 2003, there was no plan to be in a co-operative that only raises organic products. In the early days, the founders were discussing production standards for our member producers and in so doing, they quickly discovered that the standards were right up next to organic standards. Instead of recreating the wheel, they adopted the organic certification standards, which gives the end consumer the assurance that this crop and food was raised in an ethical manner, safe for his consumption and healthy for his family.
Our philosophy now is beyond organic. For example, our dairy farmers are not only organic. Their dairy herds are 50 cows or less. The cows have names. The farmer is able to spend time with each one of his animals making sure they have the best care and the best condition to make sure they can produce that healthy food for the end consumer and also for the welfare of the animal. We see a going trend, especially in the last decade, organic is rapidly becoming a commodity. Local is very important, and that is our reason for the term and trend toward the beyond organic movement we are now.
I want to let this sink in for the reader and me that these cows have names because I don’t believe that that’s the case. A lot of these large corporate dairies are trying to pump out the milk and put it in the supermarket jugs. They might carry the label organic, but it isn’t done with the same level of commitment to animal husbandry or the consumer.
One example of that would be in the springtime, on our own farm, we do maple sugaring. What that means is making maple syrup, gathering the sap that runs from the tree for a period of about six weeks in the springtime that we boiled down to the golden goodness of maple syrup. We have a team of draft horses that are named Jack and Jill. We hitched them to a small cart with a trailer and as a family, my wife and I have eight children.
We go out to the woods and take photos, and we gathered them to this app. We bring it into the sugar shack. It’s a family event of boiling down this sweet water to the golden Amber syrup that is then used for our own consumption, as well as for the neighbors, family, and friends. The larger producers sell it to the stores like Whole Foods, Kroger, and so on.
A lot of folks now talk about the energy of things, how you can feel the spirit with which something was prepared, and what a contrast between that beautiful golden maple syrup you all make available to the consumer. Aunt Jemima might buy it at the supermarket. It’s night and day in terms of care, attention, and love. Jack and Jill are a part of it all of your children. I’m very warmed by the image that’s coming to my mind. Junior, can you tell us a little bit of a story from your farm and what that is like as well?
We believe in further education, like many other people in the world. We only believe in doing it a little differently.
We started growing organic vegetables on our farm there at home with our family in 2015. We grow sixteen acres of organic vegetables that are marketed through the Co-op here. My wife, Ruth, and our four children, even David, Isaac, and Sarah, help on the farm there. We do hire some help that helps us with the picking and the packing of our vegetables. The fieldwork done by our horses, Ben, Bob, and Sonny, is the third one that we use when we’re plowing or working the soil. As a general rule, we have Ben and Bob involved in the wagon to bring our harvest into the packing house.
Was there ever a time when you were like, “We are doing it the hardest way. If we could only spray a few pesticides, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time waiting by hand?” A time when you think, “This is more work than we bargained for.”
There are certainly times in the heat of the day that happens, but in the end, the rewards are always bigger than what that little temptation is to sacrifice our belief in not using chemicals and having top-quality products. I’ll give you a little story. I grew up on a conventional produce farm. My dad grew about the same amount, 16 to 20 acres of conventional vegetables.
I grew up picking green beans and strawberries on my hands and knees. We always applied chemicals when I was growing up. The first time that I was to a Green Field Farms crop walk where we get our growers together and talk about management practices that can be done on an organic holistic farm to help with pests and diseases.
At that crop walk, we were walking through the field of zucchini. They had a lot of cucumber beetles. Those are real vectors in vine crops. There were a lot of cucumber beetles in that zucchini planting, but I hardly noticed any damage. We’ve seen again that if we focus on soil health and plant health, we have better immunity to pests and diseases. Those are what we look for.
Is that what inspired you to switch from conventional to more regenerative agriculture?
It reminds me of unconventional medicine. We might take a drug to tamp down some symptoms, but if you take the time to look for the root cause of an issue you might be having, it’s more work, but if you address that, it’s better for you in the long run. Are there Co-ops like this worldwide or is Green Field Farm the only one of its kind?
There are Co-ops worldwide. There are Co-ops similar to Green Field Farms in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and I’m sure there were many more. Many of those are connected to dairy in some shape or form. Out in California, there were nut Co-operatives, and it works more than in a selling way. In Green Field Farms, the produce and dairy side are all a Co-operative of farmers coming together to market their product, but it is also part of a buying Co-op on the soil amendment side. By pooling our resources, we can collectively get better pricing by purchasing volume or bulk fertilizer and trace minerals for this organic small amendment program that we have. Co-operatives are definitely a very common thing but are also a vital part of maintaining our family and community.
Junior, is this a part of the solution for saving small farms?
It might not be the solution, but I think it’s a solution. I truly believe that we are achieving our goal and that model by continuing to market products for our plain farmers.
Many other things now are also making a positive impact on saving farms, farm markets, direct marketing of a product, and many others that farmers are doing a CSA program. Some people do direct marketing on meat and other products as well, all with the end goal of keeping the family on the farm.
I love it because, without these small farms, we’re not going to get the quality of the food that we need. Without food, we won’t continue living.
One more aspect of that is we have, as a people, historically only taught to need three to education. We grade school and we graduated at fourteen years old. Many times people from the outside asked the question, “Does that where education stops?” We believe in further education, like many other people in the world, in doing it a little differently. That’s one of the benefits that our agricultural heritage has helped us in many ways. As the children graduate, they were automatically working on the farm.
They learn the skills of animal husbandry and land stewardship. Even in our cottage industries, like my family, after I worked on my uncle’s farm for a couple of years, after I graduated from school, I entered my family’s metalworking company and remanufactured horse-drawn farm machinery. We learned the skills of business from sales and marketing to manufacturing, production, engineering, and design. All of that was part of that continuing education that it’s such a vital part of Amish family lives.
A lot of our readers are aware that education is not confined to a classroom with books. There is so much that we can learn from life and hands-on training as you all are preparing the next generation to have their own businesses and livelihood.
One of those benefits of doing that and exposing our children to other opportunities have education, be it woodlot management, which is something that we do at our home because we have our maple syrup and timber management program. Through this, two of my sons, Louis and John, became very interested in raising Shiitake mushrooms and harvesting their own logs, inoculating them, and learning the art of growing healthy mushrooms for not only our family but our friends, our neighbors, and beyond. It’s part of that education program that can continue after they graduate eighth grade.
Our dairy program was launched in 2018 with a strong emphasis on what do we have to offer in supplying or connecting to the customers that are looking to buy raw milk in the State of Ohio? As many of you know, there are some states that permit the sale of raw milk, but Ohio is not one of them. Our way of processing milk is a low temperature that pasteurization, non-homogenized milk, which results in a cream top, which is the closest to the raw state of milk as possible, and still being legal in the state of Ohio.
This is bringing a smile to my face. We are big fans of raw milk here. As a matter of fact, there is a website and a campaign that we have for real milk. The website is called RealMilk.com. We’re trying to make it so that raw milk would be legal in every state. In the meantime, it sounds like you’re offering a wonderful product that is as close to raw as possible.
This milk is being marketed on the Eastern Seaboard and the Whole Food stores. It is an exciting part of seeing the smile on the customer’s face as they look at our glass bottle and think back to their grandfather’s era, “Now I can buy real milk in a glass bottle. It feels like the real thing.” That added more smiles after our launch of organic eggnog the week before Thanksgiving as an entrance into the stores and was part of the Thanksgiving dinner for many of our customers.
As we wrap up, I wanted to ask you all the questions I often post at the end. I know that you’re farmers and not doctors, but that’s even better. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do? Junior, let’s start with you.
Eat more raw organic vegetables.
What about you, Leon?
Use natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. It’s the best straight from nature itself. Buy local. Buy from your neighbor when possible. Even if it costs more, think about what impact you are making for their family, their farm, and your community.
That’s wonderful advice. I’m grateful for our time together. Thank you, both of you, for taking the time to be with us. I appreciate it.
Our guests are Leon Wengerd and Raymond Yoder Jr. Find out more about their work and their Co-op at GFFarms.com. Now, for a Letter To The Editor from our journal, “At the Western A. Price Conference, you and others promoted the idea that the COVID-19 virus isn’t really a virus and that the illness may be due to 5G impact. I have to say I was not convinced until I read The Invisible Rainbow by Arthur Firstenberg. I was shocked to read how the Spanish flu as well as regular influenza is co-related to electricity and radio waves. In the book, the author talks about islands in the South Pacific or ships at sea where everyone gets sick when radio waves were rolled out from 1917 to 1918. When I saw an article about an island in the Pacific where everyone got COVID-19, despite all the vaccinations and tests, I immediately thought about EMF.”
“In the South Sea island of Kiribati, everyone had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and passengers traveling to the island had to test negative for COVID-19 three times in nearby Fiji before arrival. Passengers had to be in pre-departure quarantine for two weeks before the flight. Despite these measures, 2/3 of the travelers, that’s 36 of 54, tested positive for COVID-19, even though it was then clear that quarantine and testing didn’t work. Kiribati declared a state of disaster and quickly instituted COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns, curfews, and quarantined sites. Maybe it was the EMF?”
Jackie from Texas, thank you for your letter. It does give us pause to consider what’s at play here. Thank you so much for writing us. You too are invited to write us a Letter To The Editor. Simply write us at Info@WestonAPrice.org, write, “Letter To The Editor,” in the subject line, and the topic of your choice. Thank you for reading. Stay well. Remember, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
About Leon Wengerd
Leon Wengerd, Green Field Farms CEO, is Amish and grew up working on a farm and with horses from a young age. He has a wealth of knowledge about the Amish farming traditions as he is also part owner of his family business that was founded to manufacture horse drawn farming equipment. Leon has 8 children and 11 siblings. He owns a 50-acre farm at home and produces organic maple syrup, beef, eggs, and hay. With his family, he also co-owns a feed mill which supplies feed to local farmers and homesteaders.
About Raymond Yoder, Jr
Raymond Yoder, Jr., Production Manager at Green Field Farms Co-op grew up working on his family’s vegetable farm where they grew conventional produce. This experience gave him valuable insight into the immune suppressing techniques used there. After marrying and coming to Green Field Farms he took interest in soil health. Today he shares his wealth of experience from growing 16 acres of organic vegetables. He has conducted numerous advanced soil workshops and does in-depth soil consulting to holistic farmers.
- Green Field Farms
- WAPF’s materials
- Optimal Carnivore
- The Invisible Rainbow