New Farmer Academy Mentor Farms
Mentor farmers provide real life work experiences for our NFA interns, along with the kind of wisdom and advice that can only come from the school of hard knocks.
Countryside is here to support our mentor farmers with intern labor assistance, as well as continuing education and networking opportunities to help grow their farms – and our local food system.
Our mentor farm network reaches far and wide! It includes rural, urban, and suburban farms, market gardens, pastured livestock operations, greenhouses, and farms featuring agritourism and permaculture design.
Countryside is dedicated to connecting people, food, and land – which means supporting local farmers. Show them some love by liking and sharing their pages, and then by supporting them with your food dollars!
Bay Branch Farm
Annabel Khouri and Eric Stoffer are the proud farmers of this beautiful urban farm located in Cleveland, Ohio. They started their farm in 2010 and have been at their current location since 2013. They grow vegetable to be taken to market – leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, herbs and some flowers.
They believe in putting the needs of the community, the environment and our customers ahead of profit, believing that being a good steward to our community will lead to profits. We follow organic growing practices, but are not certified organic.
When we asked what their favorite thing to grow is, they said: “It’s so hard to choose a favorite thing to grow. I love root crops like carrots because you’re always surprised by the outcome when you dig them up, but nothing beats a sun-ripened tomato in the summer. I wait all year for those babies!”
Rachel Bellis operates Southgate Farm with the help of her husband Justin Turner. The farm is located within the city of Green’s Southgate Park in North Canton. Their very first growing season was in 2020.
They grow over 50 different types of annual vegetables and herbs in a half acre market garden. They are doubling their cultivated area for the 2021 season so that they can put in a large pumpkin patch next to the garden. They also periodically raise feeder pigs for pasture-raised pork, they have a couple dozen chickens mainly for personal use or CSA, and they hope to get some sheep by the end of 2021.
Rachel believes that healthy, living soils promote healthy plants, animals and people. In order to protect and build their soils over time, she is committed to organic practices, though she is not seeking organic certification at this time. Beyond that, she believes in looking at the farm as an ecosystem. She avoids even the pesticides approved for organic production if they are broad-range or not entirely necessary. Diversity in crops and other life forms is essential. She gets really excited about the relationships between plants and microbial life in the soil. She tries to minimize tillage in the garden. She thinks that balance and diversity in your enterprises is essential in order to succeed as a small-scale sustainable farmer. She believes that animals in agriculture should be treated with respect, and that includes providing them with an environment that allows them to practice their natural behaviors.
Rachel’s favorite things to grow are root crops, peppers, and scallions!
Old Husher's Indigenous Orchards
Justin “Old” Husher is the proud perennial fruit farmer of Old Husher’s Indigenous Orchards, located in Amherst, Ohio. In Justin’s family, they refer to this site as the “farm” and it’s in its first growing season this year (2021). There are also two smaller, 6-year old sites in Lakewood. These are referred to as the “orchards” and were the prototypes for the big farm.
Justin has been farming for 12 years, but has only been serious about farming pawpaws for the past 7 years. At Old Husher’s Indigenous Orchards, they focus on Native North American perennial fruit crops. Primarily, these are pawpaws, elderberries, persimmons, and aronia. That being said, Justin is an imperfectionist. So, there’s Chinese chestnuts and asparagus as well; and figs are on the way!
Justin doesn’t have a philosophy so much as tenets. He is a huge fan of soil health. He practices reduced tilling, cover cropping, wood chip mulching, and organic fertilizers. He is also a huge fan of growing trees, rather than just planting them. He uses drip irrigation to water his trees. He believes that insects make up the bottom of the food chain. So in the sub-farmland areas, he will be installing 3.5 acres of pollinators in 2021 as well as many native shrubs. He also likes densely planted rows within rows (which is highly evident at the Lakewood sites). He’s not a fan of pesticides/sprays at all, but he has used glyphosate twice in 12 years and expects to use a dormant oil spray on the elderberries eventually. Life is a balancing act.
When we asked Justin what his favorite crop to grow is, he not so surprising responded with “Pawpaws!”