The early years
Getting pawpaws to the people. That’s what Integration Acres Ltd. has been doing since 1996, when we first commercially offered freshly picked pawpaws. We then followed with our seedless frozen pawpaw pulp in 1998, and a line of jarred products in 2000.
And yes, we milk goats and make cheese too.
Upon graduation from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, company founder Chris Chmiel was searching for a way to make a living while staying true to his values and interest in sustainable, organic food production.
Chris and his wife, Michelle Gorman, bought 18 acres in rural Athens County, not far from where they met at college. Here is where Chris started noticing the native tree, Asimina triloba. After watching pounds and pounds of the tree’s fruit rotting on the ground, Chris decided to investigate further potential uses for this native treasure, discovering that native cultures and frontiersmen alike relied heavily on pawpaws for sustenance. He also was pleasantly surprised to meet a whole movement of chefs, farmers, scientists and other pawpaw enthusiasts interested in returning the pawpaw into the diets of modern people.
So Chris began championing pawpaws, getting the word out to his local community on pawpaws and all he had learned. He started gathering all the pawpaws he could and eventually buying them from others in the area. He soon realized he was in the Pawpaw Capital of the World, and Integration Acres Ltd. was born. (Southern Ohio had been recognized for its superior “wild” pawpaws before. Back in 1918, the American Genetic Association had a contest for the best pawpaws. Samples were sent from all over the eastern United States, with Southern Ohio boasting the top three pawpaws and five total in the top ten.)
Integration Acres now helps local growers and gatherers in the region make money from a natural resource while also preserving pawpaws from destruction. He farms them with semi-wild cultivation methods developed and researched with the help from a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, “Increasing Production in Native Stands of Pawpaws.”
We harvest pawpaws and other products like spicebush berries, mushrooms, ramps and other forest-farmed crops, using agricultural techniques in harmony with nature. Integration Acres strives to use less fossil fuel energy to produce higher quality fruit without the use of chemical herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers.
Integration Acres also developed a system to incorporate animals into pawpaw farming, thanks to another USDA SARE grant (“Using Animals to Manage Pawpaw Patches”). Chris observed that pawpaws have several competitive advantages when growing with grazing animals. Though primarily fly-pollinated, the main reason grazing animals and pawpaws intermingle so well are the powerful chemicals known as Annonaceous acetogenins that exist in the pawpaw tree leaves and bark. These intense, extractable chemicals have been used in lice remover shampoos, cell regulators and internal parasite cleansers. Plus, these same chemicals keep animals from grazing on the leaves or twigs of the pawpaws.
And anyone who’s ever handled a pawpaw will tell you that its fragile shelf life is a major obstacle to the fruit’s widespread production and distribution. So Chris began pioneering work in the processing, freezing and jarring of pawpaws. Now Integration Acres is the world’s largest pawpaw processor and supplier of pawpaw products.
Integration Acres ships fresh fruit (seasonally) across the United States, and boasts an established line of jarred and frozen pawpaw products, plus other items made from indigenous plants like spicebush, ramps and wild mushrooms. Large quantities of pawpaw biomass, seeds, fruit, frozen seedless pulp and shelf-stable products are available as well. Our pawpaw orchards and a nursery are in their early stages.
Don’t forget the cheese!
Over a decade ago we bought our first Nubian goats, a mother-daughter pair named Tiptoe and Tulip, to manage our mostly wooded acreage, devouring overgrown multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle. Now, our ever-expanding goatherd has moved a mile down the road to the family farm. Our goats spend their days grazing, browsing and roaming the farm's brushy slopes, underneath sunshine and in fresh air.
In the summer of 2007, we became an Ohio licensed farmstead cheese operation and made our first batch of chèvre; two years later we added a modest aging room.
Chris, with the help of two trusty employees, oversees the herd and milking operation; Michelle is the primary cheese maker. In the past several years, we've grown our herd to close to 50 milking does and expanded our repertoire of cheeses to include:
Pasteurized & raw milk feta
Smoky Goat - smoked chèvre rolled in salt, pepper and ground spicebush berries
Gouda & Smoked Gouda - pasteurized and raw milk, depending on the season
Chase Cheddar – pasteurized and aged for 60 days
Griffin's Dream – a French style aged chèvre, pasteurized and soft-ripened for two weeks
The Phoenix - a French style aged chèvre, pasteurized, coated in edible vegetable ash and soft-ripened for two-four weeks
Blue – a lightly salted and pasteurized aged for six weeks (limited production)
We are a seasonal dairy, so we do occasionally make cow's milk cheeses like fresh mozzarella with milk from Snowville Creamery
We are also members of the American Cheese Society. We primarily direct sell our cheeses to loyal customers at the Athens Farmers' Market year-round every Wednesday and Saturday. Our cheese can also be found at various local and regional retail outlets.
Integration Acres can accommodate groups who want to learn more about the farm and our eco-minded business practices. On-site field trips can be arranged, or presentations can be made to your group or organization. Internships are also available.
Integration Acres is dedicated to providing delicious, nutritious and out-of-the-ordinary products that come directly from the farms and hills of Southeastern Ohio. Your purchase is a vote for sustainable agriculture and the family farm – thank you!