The neatly aligned rows of organic jams at the Fish Lake Organic booth do not readily reveal the hours and hours of work that goes into each jar. To ensure his jams are organically certified, Fritz Miller spends countless hours planting, harvesting, dealing with weeds and pests using organic methods, and keeping track of all the numbers to meet federal organic reporting standards. When red raspberries begin to ripen, Fritz may be out harvesting these best sellers more than three days a week! Fresh berries and jams remain the hallmark, but Fritz’s large booth also sells cheeses, eggs, nuts, various snacks, and other produce.
Fish Lake Organics stands as one of the only certified organic sellers in the Farmer’s Market. When Fritz obtained the organic status in 2003, he became the second Amish farmer in the county to be officially certified. His bold, pioneering decision meant he had to overcome a number of obstacles including tracking down the one certifying agency in the region at the time, sourcing organic seeds that couldn’t be found in the usual seed catalogues, and dealing with paperwork and inventory tracking methods tailored for much larger operations. At one point, Fritz created his own inventory tracking data sheets to better fit the scale of his operation.
Fritz decided to tackle the difficulties of organic certification after his first few years of experience at the Goshen Farmer’s Market when trust between farmer and consumer had not been established in the same way as today. When shoppers would ask if he grew his produce organically, Fritz would reply that he had been growing organic all his life; however, people did not always take him at his word. Certification became a method of drawing on the trust people placed in the certified organic label.
Label or not, Fritz developed tight relationships with customers in his two decades of selling at the Goshen Farmer’s Market. Casual customers may enjoy a fresh fruit smoothie or stock up on summer berries. A few particularly loyal customers will drive hours to pick-up specialty wild berry jams such as currant or gooseberry that remind them of childhoods growing up in the region.
Fritz at first chose berries because he didn’t have a large family to keep up the labor of growing vegetables for market nor the land for meat and dairy. Talking with him, it’s clear that in the last two decades, Fritz has developed a real passion for berries and jams. Preparing the ground in spring and watching the plants develop over the course of a season acts as a “healing” process for Fritz and we at the market find the fruits of his labor particularly sweet!
Check out Fritz’s Fish Lake Organics stall and take a note from his other loyal customers by trying one of his wild berry jams!