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
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
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
Success Right off the Sheep: Molly and
Ted Bartlett offer unusual options, such as hand-knit
sweaters, as part of their CSA farm.
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
“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 clubs.
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
“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
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
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 career.
“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
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 labor.
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
“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 crop rotation.
“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 their food.”
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
Finally, her type of farming has created opportunities to
meet “ingenious other farmers and grand people of all
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
“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 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