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Couple bringing Hartong Farmstead back to use



Green City Council in March approved a lease with Rachel Bellis and her husband, Justin Turner, to operate the Hartong Farmstead in Southgate Park. Photo: Eric Poston

Saturday mornings Rachel Bellis offers a farm stand at the Mount Pleasant Road trailhead entrance to Southgate Park. Photo courtesy of Rachel Bellis

GREEN — The historic Levi J. Hartong Homestead located in Southgate Park in Green is in the early stages of becoming a working farm again.
Rachel Bellis and her husband, Justin Turner, moved into the 1883 farmhouse in early April and have been working on their plans for the property, naming their business Southgate Farm.
According to City of Green officials, the city put out a request for proposals last year, which resulted in four. A committee reviewed the proposals and narrowed them to two, then conducted interviews before deciding on the proposal from Bellis and Turner.
“I said there is no way we are going to get this,” Bellis said. “This is so far-fetched.”
Sarah Haring, Green community development administrator, said the proposal from Bellis and Turner “checked a lot of the boxes” the city wanted when it came to finding a farmer for the property.
“We knew [Bellis] was a good farmer,” Haring said.
She said city officials wanted someone who would engage with the community and felt Bellis and Turner — who earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Cincinnati and works as a vehicle controls engineer at Bendix commercial vehicle Systems LLC — would be a good fit.
Bellis, who graduated from Baldwin Wallace with a degree in biology in 2013, and Turner signed a 10-year lease for the property, which was approved by Green City Council March 10.
Prior to moving in, Bellis said she wasn’t familiar with Green, but said the community has been welcoming. She and Turner are Brecksville natives and most recently lived in Cincinnati.
She added the farmstead in Southgate Park was appealing to her.
“I walked out here and thought, this is beautiful,” Bellis said. “To be in a park and being able to go for a walk was kind of a dream.”
She said farming is something she has always been interested in and has worked on a farm since she graduated from college. Some of her experience, she said, includes working for Turner Farm, a certified organic farm and nonprofit education organization in Cincinnati, where she held several positions.
Not long after moving into the farmhouse, an EF1 tornado went through Green April 7, leaving behind a path of damage in the park.
“Around midnight it sounded like a freight train coming through,” Bellis said, adding it didn’t last long.
While many trees fell in Southgate Park from the storm, resulting in the city closing the park for several weeks, no trees hit the farmhouse or surrounding structures.
“It was an experience for sure,” Bellis said.
One of the first projects she took on with the property was clearing a half-acre of land, which consisted of tall grass and shrubs, so seeds could be planted. She said at the end of April she began planting a few items, including onions, celery, peas and swish chard. She noted only organic methods will be used to grow crops, with no chemicals used.
Bellis said she has plenty to learn when determining where to plant. The soil has a lot more sand in it than she expected, and she is figuring out where the wet spots are.
“Soil tests only tell you so much,” Bellis said. “Everything is a learning process.”
Bellis is offering a farm stand Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the Mount Pleasant Road trailhead entrance to Southgate Park. Yoga classes also are offered in the barn Saturdays at 10:15 a.m. To sign up for a yoga class, visit southgatefarm.com.
Bellis has a few chickens in the chicken coop at the farmstead and hopes to eventually have more animals, including cattle, goats and sheep, on the property.
Some of the plans Bellis has for the farm include community-supported agriculture, farm tours and a pumpkin patch.
“There is a lot of educational opportunity,” Bellis said. “I like that people are always walking by and asking me questions.”
Eventually Bellis plans to construct a small greenhouse on the property to grow additional plants.
“I have an unending list of projects,” Bellis said. “There is so much potential.”
She said her husband, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Cincinnati, is the “project guy,” while she focuses on the daily operations of the farmstead.
“It is so much fun to get up and get going,” Bellis said. “You get more efficient all the time.”
Farming is a learning curve and presents daily challenges, she added.
“You are dealing with life and death all the time,” Bellis said.
She said some plants will work out and others won’t, but she remains flexible and keeps moving forward.
Bellis has launched a Facebook page called Southgate Farm on which she posts updates.
“I take joy in that,” Bellis said. “It is more of a fun way to share whatever surprises I have that day.”

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