Small farmers are a hard-working, dedicated bunch. Being a small farmer requires endless hours spent not just growing the fruits, veggies, flowers, and herbs sold by the farm, but also marketing those products, managing the books, collaborating with fellow growers, maintaining equipment, keeping a website updated, arranging and making deliveries, organizing planting and harvesting dates, and about a million other tasks.
Today, we’d like to tell you more about the woman who started Cherry Valley Organics almost 20 years ago, Jodi Danyo. Jodi’s passion for organic farming is unrivaled; she’s dedicated her life to making sure Pittsburgh-area families have access to fresh, locally grown, USDA Certified Organic produce. From the initial roots of CVO as a small suburban farm to its present-day status as one of Pittsburgh’s premier growers of certified organic produce, Jodi has been the one constant.
Grower Profile: Jodi Danyo of Cherry Valley Organics
While Jodi wasn’t born and raised on a farm, she does believe that plants are in her blood. Her dad has a degree in Agronomy from Penn State University, and two of her uncles spent their careers working in landscaping and golf course management.
“When you’re a plant person,” she jokes, “it’s inevitable that a plant-filled path will find you! Some people believe that current day ‘plant people’ like me are descendants of the village herbalists of our ancestor’s time. I can’t say whether or not this is true, but I certainly ‘get’ plants and have known for a very long time that I enjoy working with them.”
Soon after finishing grad school with an MS in Environmental Science, Jodi knew she wanted a career that involved being outdoors, conducting research, and teaching others. Her grad school experience, combined with her undergrad degree in Biology, led her to an eventual job in environmental consulting as an Ecological Risk Assessor. Soon after reading a book called “Sharing the Harvest” by Elizabeth Henderson, and learning as much as she could about the importance of the local organic food movement, Jodi knew that small-scale farming was the right path for her. It took some time, however, for her to see that dream come to fruition.
Having worked on a horse farm taking care of Arabian show horses during college, Jodi was, and is, no stranger to hard work. Mucking the stalls, and feeding, grooming, and moving horses led her to realize that a good day’s work should also involve plenty of physical activity, something you don’t get at a desk job. She also realized that sometimes the non-glamorous jobs are the ones you feel best about at the end of the day.
These experiences, combined with her passion for local, organic agriculture, led to the foundation of the first incarnation of Cherry Valley Organics.
The Beginnings of Cherry Valley Organics
After her job as an Ecological Risk Accessor, Jodi worked as a professional gardener, maintaining some of Pittsburgh’s most beautiful gardens in communities such as Squirrel Hill, Fox Chapel, and Shadyside. Then, starting in 2001, Jodi began to build a one-third-acre urban farm in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Crafton. This is where she really honed her growing skills, learning how to raise organic fruit and vegetable crops on a small, commercial basis.
A Growing Community Farm
In 2004, CVO moved to its present location in Burgettstown, PA and began growing on a larger scale. Though the farm property encompasses 36 acres, only about 6 acres are currently in cultivation. “Over the years, we’ve built a heated greenhouse, a high tunnel, and a packing shed equipped with refrigeration and work space,” notes Jodi, “but Cherry Valley Organics still has plenty of room for expansion.”
A lot of lessons have been learned since farming that third-acre lot in Crafton almost 20 years ago. “Despite the years spent building the farm’s infrastructure, I realized I didn’t have the leadership skills to grow CVO into the company that I had first envisioned,” Jodi admits. But, after a 7-year hiatus from full-time farming, during which the day-to-day growing operations were managed by a small crew of dedicated collaborative growers, including Allie Logue, our Herb & Flower Grower and Retail Sales Supervisor, Jodi is now back to farming full time.
“One of our biggest challenges has been finding and keeping team members,” Jodi admits. “It’s very difficult to find hires with experience in small-scale organic farming. Regular staff turnover made it almost impossible to gain any momentum. That’s why I went back to work in corporate America for a while.”
Though it was hard for Jodi to step away from the day-to-day operations of the farm, it turned out to be a blessing. “I worked with international teams to develop training programs for countless emerging leaders, middle managers, and even CEOs. I became an executive coach. I’m very fortunate and grateful for these experiences, and now have friends and colleagues all over the world. Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about leadership. Now, I believe we’re ready to move to the next step. We have a dream team of growers and organic enthusiasts at CVO that are going to propel us into the future.”
Jodi’s Thoughts on Being a Small Farmer
Jodi adores farming for the diversity of tasks and activities involved. No two days are the same. The beautiful environment, a chance to be outdoors, and the productive feeling you have when you’ve just planted 8000 seedlings or harvested a truck-load of flowers, offer a sense of accomplishment and peace that few other jobs share. “I also derive tremendous satisfaction from knowing that we’re doing work that our customers value and appreciate,” Jodi says, “and we’re offering healthy alternatives to our community. ”
Like most people, Jodi finds that some days are harder than others. Days spent at her desk working on accounting or humid afternoons spent in the boiling summer sun, are days that Jodi doesn’t necessarily relish. But, a morning in the high tunnel seeding a new crop of lettuce or a few hours spent harvesting beautiful bouquets of lisianthus or sunflowers are among her favorites.
“Small business is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just simply mistaken,” Jodi says. Completing all the tasks that need to be done within the number of hours in a given day is a balancing act like no other, and it’s one that small farmers around the globe face each and every day.
A Day on the Farm
“There’s no typical day when it comes to farming,” Jodi jokes. “On planting days, our team is focused on getting as many plants in the ground as possible. I may be running the field crew on those days, organizing which transplants go where, popping plants from plug trays, and doing a good bit of planting myself. Nahla, our farm pup, is always busy running around the whole time, making everyone laugh as we work.”
“Harvest days are a bit different. I’m in the herb and flower realm for harvest days since our produce grower focuses on harvesting the vegetables. So for flower harvest days, we load up the Cub Cadet with buckets, get out all of our gear, and head to the field to pick in mid-morning. We harvest until lunch, and then spend the rest of the day making bouquets or prepping the flowers for our florist customers.”
“Other days may be spent making our handcrafted soaps, bagging our herbal tea mixtures, or packaging our edible flowers. There’s no doubt that every day on the farm brings new experiences and different types of work, which keeps it interesting and fun.”
“Being as small as we are makes it very difficult to weather the ups and downs of business. We’re focused right now on growth, and we’ll be focusing our efforts specifically on growing our herbal tea, edible flower, and bath & body product lines over the next few years,” Jodi says when asked about the plans for CVO’s near-future. “We’re also really excited to have our first retail location at 1713 Main Street in Burgettstown. We opened in the winter of 2018 and look forward to growing the Cherry Valley Organics Farm Market and Cafe into something really special over the coming season.”
We hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into Farmer Jodi’s background and love of all things organic. If you’d like Jodi and the rest of our crew here at Cherry Valley Organics to grow fresh, locally grown, seasonal produce for your family, be sure to sign up for our CSA Farm Share Program. And, of course, you’ll want to sign up for our bouquet subscription service, too. Doing so means you’ll get to enjoy a gorgeous bouquet of cut flowers grown right here at the farm each and every week throughout the growing season. Learn more about our bouquet subscription service here.
The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family