Martha Gaffney had high hopes five years ago when she arrived in Ohio and began farming. She had grown up in the Ecuadorean Andes, where the only way to farm, she says, is what we Americans call “organic.” With local foods booming, Gaffney thought it would be easy to grow and market vegetables and pastured meat from her six acres in the small city of Ashland.
Except it wasn’t easy. Gaffney was able to sell some of the crops at farmers markets. But that required long hours away from Martha’s Farm during the height of the growing season. The rest she hawked at the local produce auction, where the going rate often was barely high enough for her to break even.
Then in 2010, Gaffney found Local Roots, a market in nearby Wooster that saved the farm. The local-foods co-op allows as many as 150 producers to stock its shelves six days a week, year-round. Customers can buy milk, cheese, meat and produce from any combination of producers and pay at a central checkout. And the farmers receive 90 percent of the purchase price, nearly three times what they would get if they sold it to a wholesaler. “We were so happy,” says Gaffney, who now sells almost all of her meat and produce through Local Roots. “We won’t be slaves. We will be able to make a business.”