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Local reaps organic fruit of labor

By Kyle Hayden
On November 5, 2013

  • Kristi Hutchinson, owner of 5 Oaks Organics, introduces manure to the soil in preparation for spring sowing. She works her small farm with very little help. Kyle Hayden | Production Photographer

The leaves are falling and harvest has arrived for the first time at the "5 Oaks" organic farm since Kristi Hutchinson obtained its official organic certification. Located five miles east of Oxford at 2771 Oxford-Trenton Rd., 5 Oaks Organics offers produce to the community.

Hutchinson, from Riley, Ohio, is a descendant of farmers on both sides of the family and has lived in Oxford for the past seven years. Having grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and a cattle ranch in Indiana, Hutchinson said she learned her work ethic at an early age.

"This is what I've always wanted to do," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson lives and works full time on her nine and a half acre farm with little help. The property, 177 years old and once 180 acres, is enjoying its first year as a certified organic farm. For the last five years, she worked at another organic farm, part of that time as a manager, while waiting for 5 Oaks to earn organic certification.

"There're no breaks; there's no days off," Hutchinson said. "No one is here to make me get up and go outside when it's pouring down rain."

Without pause and despite the elements, Hutchinson grows leeks, beets, potatoes, asparagus, buckwheat, watermelon, pumpkins, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, arugula, okra, spinach, beans, cabbage, garlic and carrots. All of the above are completely organic, Hutchinson said.

The difference between organic and traditional farming, according to Hutchinson, is that each year she must prove to a government inspector that she's improving the soil.

The prohibition of certain unapproved pesticides defines organic farming. Hutchinson said she does not use pesticides. Rather, she uses manure to invigorate the soil, in accordance with organic law. Manure is plentiful at 5 Oaks, where Hutchinson cares for horses, sheep and one potbelly pig.

Hutchinson said she spends roughly two full days on the land each week, as she spends considerable time going to different regional markets, such as the Oxford Farmer's Market and gatherings in Hyde Park and Wyoming, Ohio. And when she does work the land, she toils alone.

Hutchinson makes all of her income at those markets, which she said are changing, and not for the better.

"Everybody's got food in their hand and nobody is cooking," she said. "To me, it's supposed to be a farmer's market not a craft market."

Hutchinson begrudged what she called "ready-made" food vendors that, she said, sometimes endanger the viability of a farmer's market. Hungry people once went to market to buy food to take home to cook, but now, with the work cut out, they instead take ready-made items and leave farmers, and their raw ingredients for sale, in the lurch.

"I'm not trying to begrudge anybody looking to make a buck," Hutchinson said. "But this is my business, if I lose this business, I also lose my home."

Hutchinson said she didn't have a budget for any employees this year.

"It's a fine line between profit and loss at the moment," Hutchinson said.

She wouldn't pay someone less than minimum wage, which, according to Hutchinson, some farmers do. She added that farmers should deserve more for their arduous work, suggesting $10 an hour.

"It's a lot of tedious work," she said. "There're bugs, there's heat, wind, cold and rain."

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