Program connects farmers, consumers consumers consumers



YOUNGSTOWN — City resident Elsa Higby has a new concept for Youngstown: Buy local.

The 41-year-old recent transplant from Brooklyn, N.Y., is the founder of Grow Youngstown, a new organization aimed at promoting the consumption of agriculture from within 60 miles of the city.

Her mission is two-fold: to stimulate the local economy by connecting residents with local farmers and to use urban gardening to restore time-weathered connections between individuals and their source of food.

“The vision is to create a local food economy,” she said. “We’re importing food from Florida, but this is some of the most fertile land in the country.”

Higby has been working to establish public, urban gardens. Already, Unity Church Centre in Girard and local nonprofit Treez Please have agreed to donate space to the initiative.

Meanwhile, she and a Pulaski Township farmer, Steven Beck, 55, have arranged a “produce sharing” agreement designed to bring farm-fresh vegetables from Mahoning Valley fields to Mahoning Valley dinner plates.

The concept is known as Community Sponsored Agriculture, and it has been revolutionizing the way niche groups of urban dwellers buy their produce in cities from New York to Pittsburgh. Higby took part in a similar cooperative in Brooklyn, before moving to Youngstown this spring to marry. She is a graduate of the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University.

“Every week I would walk seven blocks from my house, and there would be a table loaded with food,” she said.

Members of Grow Youngstown will be offered the opportunity to, in a sense, purchase a share of Beck’s farm. For $20 a week, during a 17-week growing season, members will share in the bounty of Beck’s fields. Foods will be transported to a convenient pickup point. Grow Youngstown will even provide healthy recipes to match the seasonal fare, said Higby,

The arrangement is a dream-come-true for Beck, a third-generation, self-described “old-fashioned” farmer, whose 60-acre homestead is known as Hobe’s Farm.

For years, Beck has eschewed modern farming practices in favor of sustainable, small-scale family farming. Largely forgotten farming practices still produce a top-quality product, said Beck. But for farmers who don’t fit the modern mold, finding consumers is a struggle, he said.

“Last year was a very good year,” he said. “I had a bountiful crop, but the marketing was a problem. There was very few grocery stores buying.”

This growing season, Grow Youngstown members will share in the fruits of Beck’s labor, or the lack thereof, depending on the fickle ways of nature.

“If I have a bumper crop of peas, they’re going to get a whole lot of peas,” said Beck. “It’s like they’re sharing my land, sharing my expense, sharing my risk but also sharing my bounty.”

Beck is confident that his naturally grown produce tastes better, and is less expensive, that what’s found in the grocer’s aisle.

And Higby is convinced that the arrangement leads to a healthier lifestyle.

“Not only are you eating vegetables that have maintained their mineral content,” she said. “I had a lot of vegetables, and it forced me to cook them and eat them.”

Getting back to nature, in terms of food, is good for both the body and soul, say Higby and Beck.

“Part of the philosophy is to get people involved in their food, to treasure it, to know their farmer,” Higby said.

“To me, it is a very beautiful way of producing food for people,” said Beck.

For more information about Grow Youngstown, visit

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