Growing up, Jeremy Lisy's family always tended a robust but small family garden, and he has fond memories of the intense flavor of freshly picked veggies with "good, old-fashioned sweetness and a lot of love" making their way from the backyard garden to the dinner plate. After working as a chef for a number of years, he really missed the quality and flavor of fresh, carefully grown produce.
During what was supposed to be a brief stay in Cleveland between jobs in Vermont and Las Vegas, Jeremy befriended an Amish farmer, who essentially handed over to him a greenhouse in Ashtabula County. KJ Greens was born. Within a short time, his operation soon outgrew the greenhouse and he and partner Matt Voss purchased their own 30-acre farm.
The specialty operation supplies dozens of varieties of microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, baby vegetables and standard-sized vegetables to a number of area restaurants.
Lisy has worked hard over the past 10 years to establish his product as unique and premium among local chefs and restaurants, often providing free samples to a prospective client to build interest. When doing so, his tactic is simple: "If you're happy with the product, order from me next time."
While KJ Greens is not certified organic, which requires a complicated and expensive certification process, Lisy does adhere to similar farming practices. "We don't use pesticides, we use compost, everything is done as natural as possible." Those practices aren't always beneficial to the business, however, as was the case this year when heavy rains caused Lisy to lose his entire crop of tomato plants. "If we used pesticides, we could have probably saved some [plants]," but the farm's dedication to a natural product sometimes results in a loss like this.
KJ Greens has expanded each year and now employees anywhere from three to 10 seasonal employees. To offset losses and keep the operation afloat financially when facing a difficult growing season, Lisy continues to work as a chef at Crosswinds Grille in Geneva six days a week. That's on top of being on the farm seven days a week, 10 months out of the year. The operation shuts down in January and February, with planting starting up again in March. "Our goal eventually is to have it be a consistent, year-round job," Lisy says. "I hope people understand why supporting locals is so important. You really are creating jobs when you support places that support local farmers."
KJ Greens is a direct supplier to many local chefs, restaurants, charity fundraising events and special dining events, like the monthly Dinner in the Dark series. There is no storage facility at the farm; orders are picked, packed and shipped to restaurants within 24 hours of harvest, often utilizing FedEx at no additional charge. While Lisy has contemplated starting a CSA as a way of directly serving the public, he's not sure the vagaries of weather and the unpredictability of product availability would be tolerated by customers expecting a tidy weekly package.
If you dine at any of the following restaurants, you are supporting Lisy and KJ Greens: Fire Food and Drink, Amp 150, Blue Point Grille, Cork & Cleaver, Lolita, Black Pig, Crop, Bar Cento and Rockefeller's.