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Over the Fence Urban Farm gives city dwellers the chance to dig in the dirt

Linda Lee Baird

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It’s the first hot—really hot—weekend of the summer, and I’m digging 18-inch deep trenches to plant potatoes. I’m layered in sunscreen, soil, and sweat, concentrating on the task at hand. Were this my yard, I’d be concerned this experiment would go nowhere. (Brown thumb that I have, I’ve never been able to accomplish the supposedly simple task of getting an avocado pit to take root in water.) Luckily, this isn’t my property. It belongs to Jodi Kushins. She’s converted the whole yard into a vegetable garden and community-supported agriculture (CSA) project called Over the Fence Urban Farm where a $500 membership and a couple hours of work per week nets subscribers a summer’s worth of fresh produce. Looking at the edible greens popping up all around me, I feel con dent that these potatoes will be just fine. And if I’m right, I’ll have them on my dinner plate before the summer ends.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

In 2013, Kushins and her husband were living in a house in Clintonville that his grandparents had once owned, growing summer vegetables in beds in the backyard the way they had once done. While the results were satisfying, it wasn’t enough. Kushins began looking over the fence at the neighbor’s backyard, imagining what they could grow if they had access to that land too. As fate had it, the house went up for sale, and they jumped. Their plan was to start their own CSA on the new land, and bring in the community to share both the work and the rewards.

Kushins said that putting members to work was the traditional CSA model, but that many CSAs no longer do so. After all, it takes time to teach inexperienced gardeners how to do things properly. However, an educator by training, Kushins was up for the challenge. “The sharing and inspiring is just part of who I am and how I’m wired,” she said. Six years into the project, Over the Fence Urban Farm now works with 20 subscribers.

Kushins plans a 22-week season this year. Members can expect everything from spring greens and herbs to summer tomatoes and okra to those potatoes I planted (fingers crossed). Fresh eggs from the farm’s chickens sometimes round out the weekly haul. Most amazing: all of this food is grown on just 2,000 square feet—about 1/20 of an acre.

“I definitely see myself as a successful female farmer in the city,” Kushins said. “There are a lot of women farming right now in Columbus on various scales, and I think it’s really important that we continue to be part of the face of urban farming in Columbus.” Kushins has become an ambassador of sorts for the local food movement in Columbus, hosting visitors of all ages, organizing the Kids Garden Club at the Clintonville Farmers Market, and championing local agriculture to city policymakers.

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With seemingly endless dining options that feature “local” foods on their menu, the time is ripe for her work.

Yet, ever the educator, she advises that consumers ask questions, as she has concerns about “greenwashing” in the industry. The term “local” doesn’t always look like Over the Fence—produce essentially grown in a backyard— and while there’s nothing wrong with following a different model, consumers concerned about eating local should understand where their food is coming from so they can make informed choices.

Of course, for the members, it’s about more than food. Member Ryan Hlavin said, “To me, finding local, high-quality food is just as important as contributing to and helping out in my community. Over the Fence gives me the ability to do both.” Member Haley Knotts added that getting an assortment of different vegetables each week has expanded her diet. “One thing I’ve learned is to try many different types of greens, and that radish greens make a delicious pesto.”

Just as Kushins’ small garden eventually grew over the fence, what members can learn from this project extends far beyond the borders of the farm. “We suburban and city dwellers seldom get a material sense of the cycle of seasons, the real material consequence of the change in weather, and increasingly, climate, but people who grow things in a systematic way do get that sense,” member Julian Halliday said.

And of course, there’s something special about preparing food you’ve helped to grow. “I think the stories of where our food comes from is like a spice that adds flavor to what we’re eating,” Kushins said.

If that’s the case, the potatoes that I’ll be cooking later this summer will be anything but bland.

Visit overthefenceurbanfarm.com for more information.

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Food & Drink

Restaurant Review: El Lugar and Alpine bring Spanish, German tapas to German Village

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Displayed proudly along the wall behind El Lugar’s bar are rows and rows of canned seafood—not the ingredient of choice one might expect from an upscale tapas and pinchos restaurant, located in a city with a culinary scene that typically fawns over either traditional American, or fresh and local food. Nevertheless, the Espinaler cans of tuna, razor shells, and cockles reside there like a dare for those with adventurous enough appetites to try some of the finest seafood in the world. 

Photos by Julian Foglietti

El Lugar is a shared effort by co-owners Enis and A.J. Ndreu and Elidon Hizmo to bring new and authentic European flavors to Columbus. Their two new restaurants, El Lugar and Alpine, sit next door to one another and provide different, yet complementary experiences of Spanish and German cuisines. One side boasts a more family-friendly selection of meats, cheeses and hearty vegetables, while the other is fresh Mediterranean flavors of citrus and seafood. Both share an intriguing selection of signature cocktails. 

In contrast to El Lugar, Alpine features cuisine that showcases flavors from across Germany. Nicholas Paxton, the executive chef at both restaurants who was tasked with transforming the owners’ vision into menus, is neither German nor originally familiar with German food, so he brought in consultants more familiar with the region to help develop the recipes. “I love the authenticity that we provide here on the Alpine side,” Paxton said. “There’s a broad spectrum of what German food can be.”

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Alpine is continuing the tradition of authentic regional food that has helped characterize German Village, where it and El Lugar are located. The two restaurants replaced Juergen’s Bakery, a community staple that provided Columbus with Bavarian-style fare for 50 years. Co-owner A.J. Ndreu said they’d been looking for a spot in the area to open up another German restaurant (they also own Wurst und Bier in Worthington), so when the opportunity presented itself, they jumped.

“I used to buy all my pastries from Rosemarie [Keidel, Juergen’s Bakery’s owner],” A.J. Ndreu said. 

“We just connected and she’s like, ‘I’d love for you to take over and make a German restaurant out of it.’ ”

With that, he and his cousin launched into bringing to life their concepts for German and tapas restaurants, which they’d been developing for a decade.

One of the most instrumental sources of inspiration for A.J. has been traveling around Europe. He lived in France, where he fell in love with French food. But once he experienced all the different ways Spanish cuisine used seafood, beef and pork, he was convinced otherwise. “I thought French food was the best cuisine in the world until I started going to Spain.”

The simplicity of Spanish food is a challenge for Paxton, who says his tendency when developing a recipe is to mess with its components. Spanish cuisine, in contrast, consists of ingredients that can speak for themselves; all Paxton has to do, he says, is figure out how they work together and wait for inspiration to hit.

Back in 2008, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Catalonia for his show “No Reservations” to explore the same flavors that intrigued Ndreu and Paxton. At a little bar about half an hour outside of Barcelona, Bourdain tried Espinaler’s canned seafood, and asked, “How can any chef do better for you than that?” Ndreu was captivated.

“I was like, ‘What the hell is he talking about? It’s canned,’ ” Ndreu puzzled. “So […] I went, and I was amazed. It’s unbelievable. It’s some of the best seafood I ever ate.”

After that, A.J. spent years trying to find a way to bring Espinaler’s products to Ohio, and he finally uncovered an opportunity in El Lugar. But besides the seafood, El Lugar also features Vermut Lacuesta—not the vermouth used for lining a martini glass, but a wine-like drink to be enjoyed on its own or in a cocktail. It also offers the Spanish serrano and ibérico hams, which can be cured for years. The more expensive of the two, ibérico ham comes from black pigs fed an acorn diet and can take up to five years to reach peak flavor.

Next door, Alpine’s menu describes dishes like leberkäse (a meatloaf) and wurstteller (a selection of sausages). Diners can also order raclette, available by the scrape, over any meal. But not forgetting that it’s still in the United States, Alpine offers a handful of American classics during happy hour. These include mini cheeseburger sliders, tater tots with beer cheese dip, and fried chicken wings, among others. 

Alpine and El Lugar present their guests with foreign foods that encourage diners to explore the culinary diversity of Europe. Portion sizes, particularly at El Lugar, may be a bit smaller, but Paxton hopes Columbus diners will recognize the value in great, unique-tasting food and finding excellence in unexpected places.

“We don’t want you to fill up on it. We want you to taste some amazing flavors that nobody else is doing,” Paxton said.

Alpine and El Lugar are located at 525 S 4th St. in German Village. Find out about Alpine at alpine614.com and El Lugar at ellugar614.com.

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They’ll be nothing to wine about at these 9 local wineries

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Everyone knows that Columbus is a craft beer city, but fortunately for those who never got acclimated to the yeasty drink, there’s wine. We may not have the best climate for grape growing, but these nine wineries around Columbus are breaking down barriers and serving up delicious bottles to vino lovers.

Camelot Cellars Winery | 901 Oak St, Columbus

Camelot Cellars, an award-winning Urban Boutique Winery, handcrafts all their own wines sourcing premier juices from vineyards all over the world. Offerings include retail wines by the bottle, wine tastings, flights, and event spaces.

Via Vecchia Winery | 2050 S High St, Columbus

This family-owned, urban winery is tucked away off a private lane and hosts 7700 square feet of exclusive venue space. With original exposed brick archways, wood ceiling beams and limestone walls, every experience is sure to be unforgettable.

Wyandotte Winery | 4640 Wyandotte Dr, Columbus

Wyandotte Winery is the first and oldest winery in Central Ohio, conveniently located just miles from Easton Town Center. With wines made from Ohio grapes and a beautiful patio to enjoy them on, you’re sure to enjoy your experience at Wyandotte Winery.

Signature Wines | 3816 April Ln, Columbus

Unlike many urban wineries, Signature Wines makes wines predominantly from whole grapes  and juices brought into Columbus from predominately California and Ohio using traditional, small scale winemaking techniques.  Stop into the Winery to enjoy a glass of wine in a comfortable atmosphere.

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Hidden Lakes Winery | 650 Winchester Pike, Canal Winchester

Hidden Lakes offers a delightful selection of house-made, award-winning wines and unique craft beers. Along with beverages, enjoy food from the newly-updated kitchen while taking in the scenic lakeside view.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant | 4230 The Strand, Columbus

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants celebrates moments that matter with chef-crafted food, award-winning wines, and life-long friendships. Outstanding wine, modern fare, Napa-inspiring tasting room: Cooper’s Hawk.

Good Vibes Winery | 2 S State St, Westerville

Good Vibes Winery is an urban winery located in Uptown Westerville, offering guests a wine experience, bistro samplings, and a beautiful environment to be enjoyed by friends and family.

Plum Run Winery | 3946 Broadway, Grove City

Plum Run Winery is a family-owned winery focusing on small batches of quality wines made from locally sourced fruit. A 3-acre vineyard located five miles south of the winery provides many of the grapes for the estate wines. Stop by and enjoy the wine and hospitality!

Powell Village Winery | 50 Liberty St, Powell

As one of the first wine négociants in Ohio, Powell Village Winery sources, blends, and produces small lots of high quality vinifera wines from America’s notable grape-growing regions. From bold & dry to sweet & fruity, they strive to create a diverse range of distinct wines for every taste.

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Tuttle Mall getting a lot sweeter thanks to 2 newcomers

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Malls have changed a lot over the years. Remember Waldenbooks? Was KB Toys your go-to as a kid? Heck, even Sears will soon be nothing more than a memory.

While mall establishments are frequently lost to the sands of time, it’s rare that you see a former retailer return to a mall it’s already vacated once. Well brace yourselves, sweets fans, because a gooey, sugar-frosted favorite is making a comeback at Tuttle Mall.

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Of course we’re talking Cinnabon, which was last in operation at Tuttle some years ago, and is now listed as “coming soon” on the mall’s directory. But wait! As tempting as it will be to fill up on cinnamon rolls after this long absence, you’ll want to save room for this other coming attraction: it seems Duck Donuts is also setting up shop in Tuttle.

Hop on the treadmill and give your dentist a heads-up, mall lovers—sweets are back at Tuttle in a big way!

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