I’m standing in a century-old bank barn at Abbe Turner’s Lucky Penny Farm in Garrettsville, Ohio. A goat’s neighing punctuates the clucks of chickens while Abbe’s finger traces a beam from one end of the barn to the other.
“That’s one tree,” she notes about the roughhewn wood spanning the length of the barn. Built by hand in 1865 with its original slate roof, we marvel at the craft and skill that went into the barn’s construction at a time when there were no bulldozers to carve a foundation into a hillside or cranes to hoist large posts and beams into place. It took many hands to build these enduring structures.
Lucky Penny Farm is a self-reliant place in balance with nature and community—values that underlie much of the resurgent local foods movement today. Abbe takes me by an old dairy house from the 1920s where milk stayed cool in stone cisterns fed by a spring. Later, we kick around a soccer ball with a drift of Mulefoot hogs, a heritage breed that Abbe introduced to her farm.
The pigs are a part of the Slow Food Ark of Taste, an international effort to preserve rare breeds of livestock from extinction. She notes that her pigs are among only 200 breeding pairs remaining in the world. “Maintaining the genetic diversity is important in the fight against the homogenization of our food supply.”
The pigs also handle a lot of waste, including spent grains from a local microbrewery, food scraps from the farm and the whey produced by Abbe’s goat cheese creamery in Kent, Ohio.
As we walk to the crest of a hill, a line of Alpine goats stream behind us as Abbe begins talking about her establishment of the Lucky Penny Creamery three years ago to add a sustaining income stream to the farm. In addition to whey for her pigs, the creamery turns goat milk into goat cheese, fudge and other artisan products.
Abbe originally moved to the farm with her husband and three children with the vision of running the farm as a business and raising her children with a respect for nature and science. As time went on, Abbe realized the financial challenges of small scale farming. She wanted to invest in a milking parlor and cheese-making facility to bring in more revenue. But the capital and renovation costs for a licensed dairy processing facility on her farm were prohibitive.
She started to look outside of her farm, eventually finding an abandoned commercial building on the edge of downtown Kent. She began to weave together a network of about 16 other goat farmers in the area, envisioning the space supporting value-added production for area farmers.
Value-added production involves turning raw farm products into prepared or preserved products, such as cheese, yogurt, salsa or jelly. These products can improve the viability of local farms. They capture a higher per-unit price for the farmer and can be more appealing for chefs or families who lack the facilities to make these products themselves.
Abbe notes “there’s often a disconnect between the final product consumers buy from restaurants or grocery stores and what the farmer produces. Lucky Penny offers a value-added processing facility that is the bridge between the farmer and the consumer.”
Common to many local food projects, Lucky Penny Creamery grew out of the remnants of an earlier era of economic prosperity. Like many Northeastern Ohio cities, Kent has a large number of vacant or under-utilized buildings. As Abbe has done with her creamery, these buildings can become local food hubs, supporting storage, distribution or processing while tapping into labor, markets and distribution amenities that cities offer.
Licensed facilities such as the creamery carry high costs, requiring expensive equipment and significant renovation to meet strict food safety codes—what Abbe refers to as “the stainless steel wall” that stops a lot of potential businesses from starting.
Around when Abbe began toying with the idea of a creamery, she learned about Slow Money, a national movement for investing in local food and farms. Based on the Slow Money concept, she reached out to friends, farmers and businesses, eventually raising the $300,000 needed to invest in the facility. Many of her investors included potential customers or fellow farmers who had a personal stake in her success.
Not only did people provide investment dollars, they also provided time. Abbe recalls the old adage of many hands making for light work. “When we opened with no cash in the bank, we had a lot of volunteer labor, people that wanted to get us up and running—get cheese in those first accounts.”
Back at the farm, we walk away from the goat pasture and back toward the barn. I think back to a time almost a 150 years ago when a whole village came together to build that barn.
The local foods movement today echoes those times in history when great things were built through community cooperation and shared bonds. That mentality built Abbe’s barn, which has endured a century and a half of history. Efforts like Lucky Penny Farm and Creamery likewise leverage community capital to grow more sustainable and connected local food systems, set to last for generations.
You can find Lucky Penny products for sale at Nature’s Bin and West Point Market, and of course, Lucky Penny Creamery at 632 Temple Avenue in Kent (open Saturdays from 9am–1pm). Visit luckypennycreamery.com for more details.