–by Jennifer Ruple
PUBLICATION DATE: Sept 08, 2018
Cody Murnen is passionate about food. He’s passionate about where it comes from, how it’s grown and teaching others about it. The University of Toledo professor and substitute teacher at Washington Local Schools is the creator of Ottawa Lake Heritage Farm, a one-acre farm dedicated to sustainable techniques and philosophies. Located at 4337 Smith Rd., just across the Ohio-Michigan border, the farm is the result of two years of hard work by Murnen and his small crew. “I wanted to start a farm that was not only a resource for food but also a resource for learning what to do with it. There are a lot of health issues related to poor eating, and I wanted to teach people how to make themselves healthy with food,” he explained.
Murnen became interested in food while he was studying environmental science at UT. “I got involved with the UT Outdoor Classroom Garden and started learning about farming from the science aspect,” he said. After earning his master’s degree, Murnen spent six years in California where he participated in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program. “As a WWOOFer, you basically volunteer and find farmers who need help. You can really pinpoint the style of farming you want to learn.”
When he returned to the Toledo area, Murnen had an opportunity to rent a home and a small section of land from friends of his family. At that point, he began to build Ottawa Lake Heritage Farm. Murnen maintains the farm mostly by himself, although he does get help from family and friends. “I recruited two students this year. I’m really trying to get the younger generation involved because there is a huge gap. I’m known as Farmer Cody at Whitmer High School,” he smiled.
At Ottawa Lake Heritage Farm, crops are grown in three separate environments. In the field, Murnen grows plants such as carrots, green beans, kale, swiss chard, garlic, squash, cantaloupe and ground cherries. Heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and peppers thrive in the hoop house which also allows the farm to produce throughout the colder months. An indoor environment is perfect for growing microgreens. “Each environment is managed differently, but they come together to help us offer a well-rounded variety of food,” said Murnen.
Ottawa Lake Heritage Farm is a regular vendor at the Sylvania Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoons and is a nomadic vendor at other area markets such as the downtown Toledo Farmers Market and its Westgate location. “We show up when we have enough product,” said Murnen.
Community Supported Agriculture
The farm’s main source of revenue comes from its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, a program in which customers buy shares in the farm, and in return receive food each week. Because of its small-scale operation, Ottawa Lake Heritage Farm offers 16 shares on a first come, first serve basis. Each week, CSA members receive multiple bags containing vegetables, herbs and fruit. “Food never sits in our hands longer than 12 hours. We have to keep it moving so it’s really fresh,” Murnen said.
In addition, the farm works with local producers, so it can offer chicken, rabbit, eggs and even kombucha to its members. “We like to spoil our members. We want to be a complete, healthy food source,” he said.
Murnen believes in taking care of the earth. “We don’t use any tractors. We use a broad fork for small scale tilling, so we’re not disrupting the soil,” he explained. “We don’t spray intensive chemicals. We use natural predators like praying mantises and ladybugs to control aphids and other bugs to fight insects. We try to go as natural as we can.”
Murnen also encourages recycling and offers his CSA shares in reusable bags and baskets which members return each week. To cut down on fossil fuels, Murnen transports his vegetables to farmers markets in his Veggie Velo, a bicycle and trailer system. “With our sustainable practices we’re
really trying to build a culture of people who trust us and know us in terms of agriculture.”