For this month’s ‘What’s on Your Plate’ column I sat down with Mardy Townsend at the family home she shares with her mother Marge Townsend in Windsor, Ohio. Mardy is one of my local farm heroes. She single-handedly runs one of the county’s most successful grass-fed beef operations, selling almost exclusively to Heinen’s Grocery Stores.

Mardy and I initially met through what was then the Ashtabula Local Food Council, where she has been a driving force behind much of their existence and initiatives. Deeply influenced by her mother’s quest for food self-sufficiency during the 70’s and her back to the land childhood, Mardy has been studying agriculture her entire life.

For Mardy, her interest in agriculture is deeply intertwined with her politics. In fact, it was politics that led her family down the road of agriculture.

It started with her family’s purchase of the farm property in Windsor. Her mother Marge was active in the anti-Vietnam protests and became concerned with food security in the 1970’s. They bought the family farm in 1972 with the idea of becoming food self-sufficient. They soon realized what a challenge that would be.

Mardy went on to study agriculture at Wilmington College in Clinton County. She describes it as a “strange time” in agriculture. The textbooks she studied from were quickly becoming outdated, and the information was disconnected from the quickly shifting reality of Ohio agriculture. Up to that point, Ohio had the highest pig population. However, it had begun moving to Iowa in what Mardy explained, was “a time when big structural changes in agriculture were beginning to be noticeable.”

After graduating, Mardy lived in Columbus, and would visit the farm where her mom was raising feeder pigs and a few head of cattle to sell to friends and family. They also farmed the rest of the property in corn, oats, and hay but never soy as the drainage was too poor.

Mardy was keenly interested in the emerging field of organics. At the time, the Mother Earth News magazine was one of the only sources for information about organic growing practices. The other source was the Rodale Institute, “a 501©(3) nonprofit dedicated to growing the organic movement through rigorous research, farmer training, and consumer education,” according to the organization’s website.

She continued to explore her interests in farming and politics, spending time in Nicaragua in 1980’s as a relief worker before returning to the United States in 1990. “It was a drought year,” she noted, and the corn her mother planted had dried up and died. The picture looked bleak for the farm, but Mardy had read about the rotational grazing of livestock and had been curious to try it. So, in the fall of 1990, she planted her first improved pasture and began raising cattle in a rotational grazing system.

She went on to graduate from the Ohio State University, completing a master’s degree in agronomy and later serving as an Extension Agent in Geauga County for a few years before leaving to return to her other adventures. She finished her thesis and did another stint in central America before returning home to farm full time.

Mardy began raising Hereford X Angus cattle full time in 2001. Today, Mardy stewards 185 acres in a rotational grazing system. She moves cattle to different pastures depending on the size of the pasture, the weather conditions, and overall pasture health.

She notes that it is a system that is a little easier to do when it is too dry than when it is too wet and that the struggles with climate extremes demands constant adjustment. She does soil tests every two years, checking for phosphorus levels and watching the percentage of organic matter slowly increase — something not many farms can say. Over half her land is highly erodible, and her system of rotation grazing protects the long-term soil health. “It’s sad to think about how long it takes to bring back healthy soil,” Townsend said.

How to use local food

For Mardy, eating locally is an extension of her politics and life’s work. Her advice to those exploring local food echoes those of past interviewees, in that she advises, “get a freezer.” Being able to store items is crucial to preserving the harvest and extending the season. Mardy freezes meat, raspberries, blueberries, beans, and more. Her favorite cooking device is the crockpot — she often preps food the night before to have it ready to go for the next day.

Asked if she had any other advice for curious localvores, Mardy borrowed the words of noted food writer Michael Pollan, “eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”


For this month’s recipe, Mardy shared with me her Shepard’s Pie which she adapted from The American Country Inn Bed & Breakfast Cookbook.

This versatile dish is great for accommodating any fresh vegetables you have on hand that you might like to incorporate. and of course, it includes a hearty helping of beef!


1 lb. of local grass-fed beef

1 c sautéed vegetables (onions, garlic, peas, green peppers, garlic scapes, or any other seasonal vegetables you might enjoy. You can use canned or frozen if not in season)

2 lbs. russet potatoes- peeled and cubed

Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

1 T Worchester sauce

1 can tomato paste

2 T butter


• Brown meat, drain, and set aside

• Sautee vegetables in 1 T butter

• Combine beef and vegetables

• Add tomato sauce, Worchester sauce, and season to taste

• Simmer on low for a few minutes, remove from heat

• Boil potatoes, drain, and then mash or whip with 1 T butter

• Remove heat and line the bottom of a glass dish with beef and vegetables

• Top with mashed potatoes and add a layer of cheddar cheese if desired

• Bake at 400 for 25 to 30 minutes


Julie Wayman is the Local Food Coordinator at the Ashtabula County Office of OSU Extension. She enjoys learning and sharing information about local farms and local food.

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