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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

Draft Picks: Local craft brews to please the mainstream beer drinker

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It’s football season again, and what better game-time beverage is there than cold, refreshing beer? Maybe you want to support local businesses instead of handing more money to Corporate America, but you know some of your squad will at out refuse to drink your favorite IPAs and ales, and will ask you for a Bud Light.

Or maybe you even want a break from those big flavors and want something drinkable, with a lower ABV, to go with your chips and burgers. What to do? We have some answers.

THE FOUR-LETTER WORD

Much of the mainstream beer drinker's hesitation with, and even aversion to, craft beers lies in one ingredient: hops. Americans have a love a air with hops. Many, if not most, craft breweries center their offerings around the almighty IPA. Hops are citrusy, pungent, flavorful...and bitter.

For those mainstream beer drinkers, “hops” truly is a four-letter word. Sure, hops balance sugars and add crispness and flavor, but flavor is a funny thing.

There’s a lot to be said for individual tastes. One person’s “I can’t drink mass-market beer; I need a beer with flavor” is another person’s “OMG, how can people drink IPAs? I need a beer with flavor.”

KNOW YOUR NUMBERS

Look for low IBUs—and by low, I mean in the teens or even single digits. While an “average” IPA has bitterness in the 40-60 range, and IPAs in the 20s and 30s are fairly mild, anything with an IBU over about 18 had Erin grimacing and sticking her tongue out with a vehement “No. No way.”

Another appeal of mass-market brews is their low ABV and the associated low carbs. Corporate beer is seen to be healthier, by those standards. But most of the craft beers we tested have similar ABV to the mass market beers.

The biggest drawback to these local beers is that you can’t grab and go at the corner gas station or even in most mainstream grocery coolers. Giant Eagle and Kroger carry a few; smaller groceries like Hill’s and Weiland’s carry some; specialty beer and wine shops carry some, but many are only available on draft, by the growler, either in the brewer’s tap room or at a specialty store.

The upside to this is that breweries are happy to tell you where to find their products, and buying by the growler ensures that you’re getting some of the freshest beer available. And, anyhow, you have two or three half-used packages of Solo cups already, right?

THE RUNDOWN

Lagers, pilsners, Oktoberfest, and Kolsch-style beers are going to be your best bets for low-ABV, low-IBU, mainstream- friendly options.

Dayton’s Warped Wing Brewing Company sells its Trotwood lager in cans as well as draft. Called “a beer’s beer” by the company, it’s malty and smooth, unassuming and balanced, a lot like Budweiwer and a little more flavorful.

Nocterra’s outstanding Trail Break helles lager, made with all German malt and hops, is easy drinking at its easiest. Another excellent choice is Old Dog Alehouse & Brewing’s Monk’s Tale—a smooth helles that started as a summer brew, but will be extended into the fall.

If crisp pilsners are more your thing, check out North High Brewing’s Life sparkling ale, full of complex flavor, or Commonhouse Ales’ Czech Please, a clean, no-frills brew with a nice finish.

Elevator’s Heiferweizen and Grove City Brewing Company’s Jolly Orange are similar to Blue Moon, delicious with a slice of orange, each having its own slightly distinct character—Heiferweizen a little lemony, Jolly Orange a little spicy.

Mexican-style lagers, similar to Corona, are generally easy-drinking and popular, with or without limes. Grove City’s A Poco was Erin’s closest estimation to a cold Corona. Land Grant’s Urban Sombrero has faint spicy and oral notes that add character.

Combustion’s Sir Veza was a universal hit with my friends. Curtis described it “light, like a light beer, but with the flavor of a lager.” At 4.5% ABV, that’s not far off.

“I'll tell you what, it smells good,” Zack said. Janie chimed in, “This would be a great beer pong beer!” Now, maybe you’re not having “that” kind of tailgate (or maybe you are), but any beer that stands up to beer pong is a testament to drinkability.

Oktoberfest-style beers generally also fit the bill. Elevator’s Oktoberfest is heavy on the malt, similar to Rolling Rock, but other brands are sweeter and heavier, reminiscent of Sam Adams beers.

Looking further into fall, Grove City’s Alumni lager is scheduled to return in November. Around the same time, Chicago’s Forbidden Root Brewing Company is scheduled to open its Easton brewery and taproom, including their super- drinkable Hoodie Weather Vienna lager.

For something slightly different (and a little further out of Central Ohio) but still excellent with salty snacks and grilled burgers, seek out Catawba Island Brewing Company’s Hot Blonde Mango Habanero Ale. It’s not like anything you’ll buy in the beer cooler of your corner store, but it’s slightly fruity, a bit spicy, and will add a little kick to your game-time cookout.

Not so much of a beer drinker, or having an upscale morning tailgate? How about mead-mosas? Yes, you read that right. Mead-mosas. Skip the wine-aisle bubbly, head to one of many specialty groceries or the taproom on the East side, and grab one of Uprising Meadworks’ bottles, like the ginger-lime Copper Knob, to mix with your orange juice.

So pass up the drive-through this football season, and try something local. You’ll find easy-going selections with flavor, reasonable ABV, and great drinkability, that your mainstream- beer-fan friends, and even you, will love.

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Food & Drink

You’ll hardly recognize newly-renovated GasWerks, fun features added

Regina Fox

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After a months-long renovation, Park Street enthusiasts can finally return to one of its most popular establishments: GasWerks.

The bar reopened over the weekend, debuting several new features including two live music stages, a large dance floor, and a food menu prepared right out of a vintage COTA bus permanently located inside the bar.

Guests can also test their skills at new games like skee-ball, and a 15-foot Space Invaders game, as well as other classics on vintage systems.

Outside, the patio features corn hole, new chairs and tables, and an open-sided Airstream camper with comfortable seating for social gathering.

What hasn't changed is GasWerks great drink specials, playful atmosphere, and welcoming spirit. The bar is located at 487 Park St. and is open Wednesday and Thursday from 5pm- 2am, Friday from 4pm-2am, Saturday from 3pm- 2am, and closed Sunday through Tuesday. To learn more, visit gaswerksbar.com.

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Food & Drink

Beloved local burger joint opening Downtown location, more neighborhoods soon

Regina Fox

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In a very small amount of time, Preston’s: A Burger Joint by chef Matthew Heaggans and chef Catie Randazzo's went from a cultish pop-up to the home of many peoples' favorite burger.

With the help of a newly-created hospitality group, Heaggans and Randazzo will be expanding Preston's into more neighborhoods.

"We know Columbus wants to eat more Preston’s burgers and we want to make that dream a reality," said Reed Woogerd, CEO of Muse Hospitality.

The flagship location for the Preston’s expansion will be at 15 W. Cherry St. in Downtown. More locations throughout Columbus are planned with hopes of tapping into the Cleveland and Cincinnati markets, as well.

"We want Preston’s to be Ohio’s burger," said Woogerd.

Click here to read more about the smash burger

Matt Heaggans and Catie Randazzo are two of the most respected chefs in the restaurant scene. Together and individually, they have created some of Columbus’ most beloved concepts, including the most recent: Ambrose & Eve (which will operate under the Muse Hospitality umbrella).

Randazzo is the creator of Challah food truck, featuring the chicken sandwich with the biggest cult following in the city. Challah is no longer operating as a food truck, but recently was featured as a pop-up menu at Ambrose & Eve and could see a full brick and mortar comeback as the group expands.

Heaggans and Randazzo created Preston’s: A Burger Joint that has been racking up the accolades, including best burger in Columbus. Currently you can find Preston’s operating as a food truck, at Woodland’s Tavern and Woodland’s Backyard.

With around 70 years collective experience in the industry, Muse Hospitality's mission is to continue to guide and push the elevation of the Columbus food scene and culture.

Letha Pugh's Bake Me Happy will continue to operate independently, but will be bringing a gluten-free edge to the Muse concept.

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