Our community has suffered a great setback. Stew and Deb Ritchie, known to most as the tireless and dedicated family that make up Native Offerings Farm, have experienced a tragic fire that decimated most of their farm, crops, and machinery, one week ago today. “Their beautiful 1900’s barn, 1980’s wash house, storage cooler and storage room, germination room, 6 out of 7 tractors, most of the tools and equipment, and 80% of their winter storage crop were destroyed. Twenty-five years of farming, equipment, and tools, and fifteen years of improvements were lost in under two hours. They are tasked with starting over again.” – Michael Sutton organizer of the gofundme.com crowdfunding page.
Native Offerings Farm is extremely important to so many. Many of you have interacted with this radiant family week after week, either at one of their CSA drop offs, or at the Elmwood Bidwell Farmers Market. Also, many chefs, restaurants, and food purveyors have established substantial bonds – Native Offerings has some of the best and most sought after organic products. Even further, they have generously provided restorative fruits and vegetables as a means of healing ailing people in the WNY community.
Not only is Native Offerings USDA Organic Certified, they were the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture model) in Erie County, starting back in 1997, the year Stew and Deb were married. The Ritchies moved to the Native Offerings Farm in 2002, taking over a dairy farm that had been in existence for five generations, effectively saving it from becoming a school, with the help of area residents. Through the years they have made drastic improvements to the property – planting over 4000 trees, becoming organic certified (which is no small feat), constantly remineralizing their soil, restoring the original dairy barn, and finally erecting a new building only last spring, which is actually the only remaining structure on the property.
The fundraising goal is to reach $150,000 – to help them get back on their feet as soon as possible, so they can get back to doing what they do best. They hope to be back in business by late Winter 2019, so as not to face too much of a lull in production. Some of these funds will even be allocated to purchasing lost crops, to continue on with their popular CSA program, relatively undisturbed. Lastly, the Ritchies are looking for non-financial assistance – anyone with the skills, or other resources, who is able to lend a hand to help rebuild the operation.
For additional information, you can check their Facebook page for frequent updates, as there will definitely be more news to come, and hopefully a very bright future for one of the area’s most beloved and reliable organic farming operations – Native Offerings.