Stew & Deb Ritchie
At Native Offerings Farm, we farm with our three children and are deeply committed to ecological farming. We are USDA Certified Organic and have always grown our vegetables according to organic standards. We work very hard to produce vital food for you and your family. When you buy a share you are buying more than vegetables; you are supporting our family and strengthening our local community. By supporting us you not only get incredibly fresh and great tasting vegetables full of nutrients and vitality, but a food source you can trust.
Some of you have been with us since we started in 1997 — we were the first CSA in Erie County — others have been with us a year or more. You may be learning about us for the first time. We are Stewart (although most people call me Stew) and Deb Ritchie. We are a cooperative operating under the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, reconnecting the community with its food source, the local farmer. Providing an alternative to agribusiness, consumers (shareholders, etc.) know exactly where and how their food is grown.
We do not exist solely to sell vegetables. One of the greatest rewards of operating your own business is creativity. You can apply your ideas and your values to your business. Beyond the community that arises out of a CSA, we try to encourage and support other ecologically friendly businesses. From other ecological and low-spray farms we purchase fruit, seeds, hay, honey, grain, potting mix, and feeder calves. The advantage of this is that shareholders have access to other high quality local products and other local farms are supported. We can not produce everything we sell. We do not have the time, the knowledge, or the financial resources to do so. By cooperating with others we can specialize and focus on what we love to do, which is what we have a passion for and we do best. The end result of cooperation is a stronger farming community. We need each other. It is difficult to farm without the farm support system. This includes having parts, feed, equipment, and other agriculture suppliers close by. It includes being able to share, custom hire, and borrow equipment. There is also the priceless value of good advice and friendship.
Native Offerings Farm & Community Supported Agriculture
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a movement that reconnects the community with its food source, the local farmer — a grassroots alternative to agribusiness.
We are USDA Certified Organic through NOFA-NY LLC. We follow organic standards, which prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. Following standards assures you that genetically modified crops and organisms will not end up in your food. To learn more about NOFA-NY visit www.nofany.org.
We believe healthy soils produce healthy plants and employ ecological practices such as composting, cover cropping, mulching and crop rotation. We look at the farm as an ecosystem that we directly impact and want to encourage and enhance diversity instead of limiting it.
Farming for the community and providing the best food we can offer to you is our only business. We grow varieties noted for their culinary and nutritional value. Because every meal begins with your eyes, we enjoy growing beautiful vegetables. We believe a healthy diet is essential to superior health and longevity.
Why we charge what we do: in a sentence, our pricing lies between wholesale and retail. Surveys returned consistently report that people are getting great value. When you buy a share or a bunch of arugula you are buying more than vegetables, you are supporting our family. We work very hard to earn a modest living. The price we receive for our shares makes it sustainable for us to continue doing what we love. The members are shareholders of the produce we grow. Without their support we would be unable to farm. By supporting us you not only get incredibly fresh and great tasting vegetables full of nutrients and vitality, but a food source you can trust.
Native Offerings Farm isn’t only a business; it is a place. When we moved here in 2002, this farm was a dairy farm that had been in the Clark family for five generations. The farm is situated in a long valley in Cattaraugus County that was once full of dairy farms, now there are only a few and we are the only large scale producer of vegetables here. We are 9 miles to the northwest of the town of Ellicottville and the majority of our farm lies in the town of Otto. We have 180 acres of slightly rolling land. Some of it is good pasture and hay land but the reason we bought it was because it has about 15 acres of soil that is sandy loam; great for vegetable production. It’s these fields that we certified for organic production. The farm has a year round flowing, class 1 trout fishing stream running through it from which we are allowed to irrigate. The barns and house were in relatively good shape and we could moved right away. Our CSA started in 1997 and was up and running by the time we moved in.
We started Buffalo Organics CSA in East Aurora on the Roelofs’ Arden Farm after vegetable farming with a friend in Trumansburg. That was in 1997, the year we were married. The house on this farm was built in the 1800’s and we used the cool, stone basement for storing vegetables our first year here. The farm wasn’t on the market in 2002 and actually could have been used as a site for a school but was voted down by the area residents. It wasn’t long after we bought the place that neighbors came up to us and explained that they were so happy that the land remained in farming. That was a good sign! We knew we had made the right choice in moving here! We originally thought we’d settle in Erie county but when we were searching all of Erie county for tillable, fertile farm land we came up against hurdles that most aspiring farmers will run into. The most pressing was that good farmland is also good for development. Which meant that we were priced out of buying that land.
Moving to this land presented some concerns, one of which is that we are in zone 5, even some areas here are zone 4. We have a two-week variance in temperature as compared to Buffalo and Eden, which is zone 6. Meaning, we can get a frost two weeks earlier than Buffalo in the fall and two weeks later in the spring.
So why farm here? Our first visit to the farm was telling. Stewart took his shovel to the cornfield behind the house and dug. It was then that a light went on for him; he had carefully and diligently found a place that could make the business of farming work. It had good tillable ground, fresh water and barns. I fell in love with the house, barns and surrounding hills. We thought it might be hard to truck our products into the city, which was our main market outlet. But the CSA keeps us intimately connected with our customers and many of them adjusted to the move to this beautiful place with us. Now, we focus on improving the land that we farm on and keeping or customers happy. We’ve certified our vegetable fields organic (through NOFA-NY), planted over 4000 trees, fixed water drainage, and limed the soils and continually work with a soil lab to remineralize the ground that we work. We restored the gamble roofed dairy barn that if neglected anymore would become like so many other barns, a casualty of modern life. We have become part of the rural fabric of this little piece of countryside and are happy to live and farm here.
Paintings by Paula Sweet