At A Glance
and Ted Bartlett
Silver Creek Farm
Summary of Operation
• 15 to 20 acres
of fresh market vegetables
• Transplants grown in greenhouse,
including herbs and heirloom vegetables
• 100-member community supported
agriculture (CSA) operation
• 600-700 blueberry bushes
Flock of 100 sheep
• 1,000 chickens and 50-75 turkeys
connecting to consumers. Molly Bartlett
sold her produce successfully to large wholesale markets
and upscale Cleveland restaurants for years before she
decided there had to be a better way. The backbreaking
work seemed to bring few rewards of the sort she had
sought when she began farming. Her goal was to produce
good food for people who appreciated the “craft”
“We weren’t doing what we always thought
we’d do: make a direct connection to a local body
of consumers in our community,” Bartlett says.
Undertaking community supported
agriculture. Bartlett and her
husband, Ted, mulled over how to best market their small
farm and decided to focus their efforts locally. Starting
a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation seemed
a great way to connect with their customers while bringing
in a steady income. CSA involves consumers as shareholders
in the farm in exchange for fresh produce every week
during the season.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission. Pp.
8 to 10
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
brought to the farm 15 years of experience in marketing, having
worked for both a major Cleveland department store and a family
-owned design business. The jobs served her well; at the time, she
and Ted did not know they would run the most retail-oriented farm
in northeast Ohio.
The Bartletts tested their green thumbs for 12 years before buying
Silver Creek Farm. They bought a small farm when both worked full
time — Molly in retail, Ted as a philosophy professor —
and raised a bounty of vegetables for themselves and their five
children. They also grew sweet corn, which the kids sold at a roadside
stand, and invited their friends to garden on the plot.
Bartlett wanted an enterprise she could share with Ted, and she
wanted to translate her growing affinity with the nation’s
environmental movement into action. In 1987, they were ready to
become full-fledged farmers and purchased a 75-acre tract near Hiram.
Located about 40 miles from both Cleveland and Akron, the farm was
ideally situated for direct-marketing opportunities.
“Farming seemed to be a very natural aspect of our interest
in the environment,” she says. From the first, they grew their
crops and animals organically.
Focal Point of Operation —Education
“We grow the whole gamut,” Bartlett says, including
20 varieties of greens, squash, heirloom tomatoes, oriental vegetables,
blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb, carrots and potatoes. Much of
that goes to their 100 CSA shareholders, with the remainder sold
at their on-site farmstand. They still maintain a handful of wholesale
and restaurant accounts plus the on-farm market and some buying
Entering its 10th year, Silver Creek Farm, Ohio’s oldest CSA
enterprise, offers its members a plethora of options. They can buy
shares including eggs, chicken, lamb, flowers and/or hand-knit sweaters.
Such choices add more income while helping other organic farmers
with whom Bartlett partners to broaden the possibilities.
The Bartletts grow herb and heirloom vegetable transplants in their
greenhouse and raise 100 lambs a year under their own meat label
for direct sales. They raise between 800 and 900 meat chickens,
which are processed by a neighboring Amish family and sold at the
farm. They also offer brown and green eggs from heirloom hens.
They practice a four-year rotation that makes good use of their
20 acres of fertile ground. Annually, 10 or 12 acres are devoted
to vegetables, with the remaining ground in cover crops. They compost
their sheep and poultry manure before spreading it on the fields.
Some compost is saved for the greenhouse as a soil medium. “It’s
our most important secret,” Bartlett says.
If compost is their production secret, then bringing the customer
to the farm is their best marketing strategy. In the beginning,
the Bartletts planned to grow vegetables and sell their produce
wholesale and directly to restaurants in Cleveland. Bartlett joined
an Ohio Cooperative Extension Service project, “It’s
Fresher From Ohio,” that sought to examine the possibilities
for direct farm marketing. The project gave Bartlett the opportunity
to meet a group of Cleveland chefs, and both soon came to the natural
conclusion that she could sell them fresh, locally produced food
for their upscale menus.
In 1992, they took a new tack. Rather than delivering to retailers,
the Bartletts would draw customers to farmers markets and the farm
itself through a community supported agriculture (CSA) enterprise.
CSA fit perfectly with Bartlett’s desire to teach others about
good food. Gradually, they stopped doing the farmers markets to
concentrate all the elements — production, harvest and distribution
— at the farm.
“One of the most important issues to me is helping to educate
people about food sources,” Bartlett says. “We wanted
to make our farm a place where people could come and learn about
food production. We don’t give food enough respect.”
The Bartletts have hosted groups from every corner — schoolchildren
by the busload, foreign visitors, numerous farmer tours and friends
and neighbors attending chef-prepared dinners. They received a SARE
grant to teach the old art of canning to CSA members. Bartlett has
taught classes on making dilly beans, herbal vinegar, canned tomatoes
and beer, and publishes a weekly newsletter to generate interest
in the harvest, complete with recipes. In 1999, they received another
SARE grant to hold a farm festival, giving farmers a venue to sell
their produce as well as to conduct “how-to” workshops
of their choice.
A spring visit might include kids gathering eggs, picking rhubarb
and then creating lunch, such as scrambled eggs and rhubarb sauce
for ice cream topping. “Such information better connects and
educates CSA’ers about farm activities and the seasonality
of food,” Bartlett says.
Economics and Profitability
Silver Creek Farm’s CSA enterprise has proven more profitable
than other direct-marketing channels such as selling to restaurants
and farmers markets. Centering sales on the farm makes most financial
sense, Bartlett says.
“In the big picture, CSA’ers are more loyal than any
other market,” she says. “But I don’t want to
have all my eggs in one basket, so we continue with other options.”
The Bartletts have never advertised their CSA. They have no trouble
selling shares to 100 subscribers, with a return rate near 85 percent
eager to pay $375 for a working share or $475 for a full share.
“We’re profitable,” Bartlett asserts, although
it wasn’t always that way. They never expected to turn a profit
in the early years, especially with building and equipment expenses
and new enterprises such as raising Lincoln sheep. For years, the
Bartletts sustained the farm with revenue from other sources —
Molly’s work as a potter and Ted’s university teaching
“We wouldn’t have been able to take the risk we took
in farming without those jobs,” she says. “The sheep
didn’t pay for themselves for four years. You can’t
start any business without knowing that it’s risky, and having
capital from other things helped us limp along.”
The CSA operation went far toward making them profitable. Knowing
they’d get an influx of $45,000 cash each May became a great
security blanket, allowing them to buy seed, new equipment and extra
Like any organic farmer, Bartlett has devised a multi-tiered plan
to manage pests without pesticides. With lots of observation, she
learned to plant certain crops — such as arugula and bok choy,
which attract flea beetles in the spring — at different times
to avoid seasonal pests. Rotation remains key, as does using “organic”
products such as fabrics that blanket crops in a protective cover.
They regularly plant a mix of vetch and rye covers, along with other
green manure crops.
“Our customers aren’t interested in looking at flea
beetle-damaged produce so we don’t grow arugula in the spring,”
she says. “Produce should look really good; I have art in
my background and I want things to look pretty.”
Before the Bartletts bought the property, it was farmed by tenant
farmers with a common Ohio rotation of continuous corn. The first
time Bartlett walked across the field, she literally lost a boot
in the mud. Today, it’s a vastly different place, something
she attributes to cover crops, spreading compost and aggressive
“Yields have increased, soil tilth has improved and the populations
of beneficial insects are ever present, as are numerous species
of birds,” she says.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
Beyond Bartlett’s 100 shareholders, Cleveland and northeast
Ohio residents have diverse opportunities to visit Silver Creek
Farm. The farm stand is open Wednesday through Saturday, and Bartlett
advertises the availability of tours, picnics and slide shows “by
pre-arrangement” in her newsletter.
“I want people to come to a farm and see where their food
is grown and how it’s grown,” Bartlett says. “I
want them to bring a picnic lunch and sit under a tree and eat —
or wander the farm — and have respect for the people who grow
As for her family, Bartlett feels a life of hard work in the open
air making and preparing food has offered “the best”
to her children, now grown and off the farm. Always interested in
food, Bartlett finds cooking with farm-fresh or farm-preserved produce
a wonderful beginning to any menu.
“Good food tends to make healthy, happy people,” she
says. “This type of work is so very satisfying, and our kids
have a deep appreciation for good food and a good lifestyle.”
Finally, her type of farming has created opportunities to meet “ingenious
other farmers and grand people of all stripes.”
From experience, Bartlett advises a diversified income stream. “Have
some off-farm skills or job skills you can do right from the farm
to generate income,” she says.
CSA farmers need to develop “people skills” to relate
to the community. Bartlett also advises looking for opportunities
to team with other farmers, with whom she co-sells products.
“You can work together to buy hay or sell another farmer’s
eggs at your market,” she says.
Despite how far they’ve come, Bartlett poses more marketing
challenges to herself, such as how to attract an even more local
customer base to the market. “It is still easier to attract
people from the city and suburbs than our neighbors,” she
She and Ted hope to be able to restructure the CSA enterprise so
they can slowly hand over the reins to a core group of members.
Looking down the road toward retirement, they want to have more
time for family, their new nonprofit educational center and, perhaps
most important, quiet walks in the fields and woods.