Every morning, millions of people begin their day with a delicious bowl of cereal. Most of that cereal comes in a fancy box with a lot of fancy sounding ingredients such as sugar, wheat, corn syrup, honey, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, caramel color, soy lecithin, sodium ascorbate, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, thiamin hydrochloride, Vitamin A Palmitate, folic acid, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.
While this is a fine option for many breakfast eaters, there are a growing number of people seeking out something simpler that they know the origin of and the farmers who produced it. This crowd does not need a fancy box, a colorful character or a catchy slogan. They just want healthy, straightforward food that they can enjoy without a dictionary for the ingredient list.
This is the market that seeks out cereal from Starline Organics in Athens County.
"Our cereal only has three ingredients, and you can pronounce all of them — organic spelt, honey and coconut oil,” said Matt Starline, who owns and operates the 50-acre certified organic farm in Athens County with his wife, Angie.
Their multiple flavors of "Puffed” and "Crunch” spelt cereals come in a clear plastic package and sell as fast as the Starlines can get it made. The young couple has a passion for organic production and they are focused on bringing innovative products to the Athens-area market’s seemingly insatiable appetite for all foods local and organic.
"We wanted something that was shelf stable that everyone could eat, even people with allergies,” Angie said. "We wanted something that added value to our products and we started talking about making cereal. Spelt is becoming popular again and it is low in gluten and has high water solubility for easier digestion. And, spelt has higher protein, fiber and iron than wheat.”
With a product catering to the organic market, the rapidly expanding low gluten market and those seeking foods with local flavor, the Starlines quickly discovered that they had a popular product at the bustling Athens Farmers Market.
"People just keep coming back,” Angie said. "They love it and we’re the only ones that have it.”
The product has become a favorite and, compared to the other organic crops they produce, spelt is fairly easy to grow. The couple grows 6 acres of spelt, a fall planted crop that is ready for harvest in July or August.
The spelt is harvested and stored in bins before it is hauled north to Millersburg where Stutzman Farms (an Amish processor) converts the spelt into the cereals. The honey and maple syrup used to flavor the cereals are also produced in the Athens area.
"We haul up a couple hundred pounds for a month’s supply or so and we have to keep hauling more up every trip,” Matt said. "They de-hull and then puff it and add the local honey or maple syrup.”
The cereal is bagged and ready to sell to clamoring customers at the farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Along with the cereal, the Starlines sell a wide variety of organic produce, herbs, Shiitake mushrooms, lamb, pork and beef at the year-round Athens Farmers Market. Local restaurants are also eager buyers of Starline Organics products.
"We’re fortunate in this area to have a lot of restaurants looking for local food and we have the Athens Farmers Market that will have 3,000 people on a good Saturday,” Matt said. "With the restaurants, we know what they are looking for and what they can take, but at the farmers market we try to find out what the customers want and they usually buy what we have.”
Behind spelt, the next largest acreage on the farm dedicated to a single crop is for producing 2-row malting barley for a local brewery. The barley is produced in much the same way as the spelt, and after the brewing process, the certified organic barley is fed to the livestock on the farm. They also raised organic produce and livestock.
The couple sees a bright future ahead farming with their hard work, dedication to quality and ingenuity — simple, straight-forward ingredients that any market can appreciate.
For more information about a tour of Starline Organics this summer as a part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, visit www.oeffa.org.