Meet the Farmer: Henson Farm
As I introduced myself to Harold (also known as "Champ") Henson, I couldn't help but notice his stately build. Despite his towering presence, Henson was modest, spoke softly and only after answering a few of my farm specific inquiries did he delve into his time at Ohio State. Not only did he attend the university, but he played full back for Woody Hayes from 1972-74 and, as I discovered later, lead the nation in scoring his sophomore year.
Not to disappoint you, but the remainder of this story is not about how he played alongside Archie Griffin, went on to play in the NFL for both the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, or really has anything to do with football. Instead, it focuses on Henson's true passion; growing healthy and delicious food for all to enjoy.
Although you might assume Henson's nickname was spawned during his collegiate years, he started our conversation by sharing with me its true origin: When he was born in 1953 his father, who was in the Army and stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia, asked his commanding officer for a four-day pass to meet his son. Instead, he was granted only three, and spent nearly the entire time hitchhiking his way to Columbus and back. After a few hours holding his newborn, the return journey to Virginia looming, the new father exclaimed, "For all of this, he has to be a champ!". The nickname stuck.
Henson credits his mother's influence as what ultimately guided him from the football field to a farmer's field, and for 25 years he has been proudly growing local food on 130 acres in Asheville, including rhubarb, my featured ingredient this month. (Including a recipe for rhubarb and coconut coffee cake.)
Henson is doing what he wants on the farm and having fun in the process. He chuckled at the irony of how when he left for college he couldn't wait to get off the farm, and now it is the only place he wants to be. Today he keeps busy growing and selling a variety of crops, including rhubarb, asparagus, melons, sweet corn, okra, peppers, cucumbers and pickling cucumbers, sweet potatoes and whatever excesses remain from his family's personal garden.
He admits that these days he doesn't watch much professional football, choosing to instead focus his time and energy on participating in the Upper Arlington farmer's market on Wednesday, the Pearl Alley Market downtown twice a week, and the Clintonville Farmers Market every Saturday. Even with all of the memories and experiences he has accumulated and all the hard work he has endured, Henson was adamant in pointing out that he "never gets tired of people telling us how good something [that they grow] is." Spoken like a true champ.
Nicole Pallante is a Columbus blogger who writes about local food and farmers at alocalchoice.blogspot.com. Once a month, she shares the story of an area farmer and an in-season ingredient with Crave.