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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Oasis at Bird-in-Hand Helps Farms Bring Fresh Food to Everyone

Jun 26, 2015 02:22PM ● By Sheila Julson

During the good food revolution of recent years, farmers have sought creative ways to make their goods accessible to more people, and creative marketers have helped them make it happen. Oasis at Bird-in-Hand, the marketing arm for a collective of farmers dedicated to growing produce and raising livestock with organic methods, has been filling rising consumer demand for pure, nutritious food.

Dale Stoltzfus, general manager of Oasis, says it formed in December 2011, after John Smucker of Bird-in-Hand Restaurant noticed the local food movement. “He started thinking about all of the good, hardworking people in this community and the farmland and fertile soil this part of the world is blessed with,” says Stoltzfus. “Smucker thought it made sense to have a main location to bring the farmers together and help with marketing.”

Others in the area shared the same vision. In February 2012, Oasis opened a retail store, offering produce, meat and dairy, as well as pickled vegetables and jams. The store also sells bread made with Red Fife heirloom wheat and einkorn flour. Oasis also later opened a creamery in July 2012 to bottle milk from its farmers.

Five targeted vegetable farmers sell all of their produce to Oasis, Stoltzfus says, and they are either organically certified or in the process of becoming certified. There are also several other farmers from which Oasis buys produce that is grown free of chemicals. Produce offerings include favorites such as strawberries and green beans, as well as heirloom tomatoes, purple asparagus and hakurei turnips.

Dairy farmers that supply to Oasis are certified organic. Their cattle eat a 100 percent grass-based diet and no grains, which eliminate the possibility of consuming genetically modified corn. Oasis’ dairy facility is certified organic and rated Grade A through the state of Pennsylvania, allowing them to sell fluid milk along with cheese. Oasis is also licensed to bottle and sell raw milk.

Stoltzfus credits soil quality in the Lancaster County area for the bounty of quality food Oasis is able to offer. “There’s a lot of limestone here, and limestone helps break down other elements in the soil,” he explains. “This area has a long history of good farmers who take care of the land. We have adequate rainfall, so irrigation is often not necessary.” Healthy soil leads to healthy plants, he points out, and strong, robust plants yield the most nutrient-dense foods.

All of the farmers in the Oasis collective are Amish and use horse- and mule-powered equipment, thus eliminating petroleum.

Stoltzfus has researched how America’s most populous areas could feed themselves within 200 miles, meeting most food needs. “A tremendous amount of vegetables can be grown on a small plot. Today, so much acreage is committed to corn and soybeans, and much of that isn’t even used for food but instead to make other things. We could easily feed the world,” he hypothesizes. “Detroit, for example, has more land cultivation now than when they started building the city.”

He notes Lancaster Country’s close proximity to large metropolitan areas—New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington and Washington, D.C. “Those are vast populations, and there’s lots of opportunity to meet food needs,” he says.

Oasis also donates produce to food pantries. They supply to restaurants and operate a community supported agriculture program. In June, Oasis invited customers to see its farms, the store and to sample food.

“What governs everything that we do comes back to the farmer and the farm family,” Stoltzfus says. He is positive about today’s shift to sustainable and local food systems and believes future generations will look back and notice.

Oasis at Bird-in-Hand is located at 60 N. Ronks Rd., Ste. J, in Ronks. For more information, call 717-288-2154 or visit RealLiveFood.org.

Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.

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