First Fruits Homestead promotes sustainability, offers ‘unique’ selections


Olivia Swenson-Hultz

Jennifer Grindstaff, a teacher at John Wood community colleges looks over her produce with her son Hershal.

Olivia Swenson-Hultz, Staff Reporter

Along a rocky, country road on the outskirts of Charleston, people flock to First Fruits Homestead every Tuesday for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Two families, the Sweitzers and the Calanderillas, have opened up their coordinated family farms as Community Supported Agriculture.

This means community members can buy into the farm in advance and pick up produce on a weekly basis.

A share can be purchased online at, with 14 weeks of produce at $400.

 The two families met at The First Christian Church in Charleston and banded together with the common goal of “providing healthy, nutritious food for the community, and promoting sustainability,” said First Fruits co-owner Lauren Calanderilla.

She and her husband Jerry Calanderilla, principal of the Bridges Alternative Program in Lerna were living in Sullivan when they partnered with Jess and Owen Sweitzer on their farm in Charleston. The Calanderillas would initially travel to Charleston to assist the Sweitzers, but eventually made the permanent move to the farm.

Jess Sweitzer she wanted to grow her own produce and raise her own animals for slaughter because she “wanted our children to know the cost for what we put on our dinner plates.”

First Fruits Homestead made eggs, fruits and vegetables officially available to the public for pick up in 2015.  

“40 different crops are grown at a time, and there are multiple varieties of each crop,” Jess Sweitzer said, though crop variations differ week by week.

During June and July, cucumbers, zucchini and watermelons are most plentiful.

Customer Jennifer Grindstaff said she likes getting unique vegetables at First Fruits that she can not find at the grocery store.

“You know the stuff is fresh,” Grindstaff said as she examined her Hakuri Turnips.

Fresh Fruits Homestead recently received a grant from the Department of Agriculture and a $10,000 grant from Faith in Place, a non profit green lending center, which they plan to use for irrigation systems.

The farm will still active until the Farmers Market closes and will  finish off the season with The Fall Festival in October.

Olivia Swenson-Hultz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]