On December 11, 2016, Countryside Conservancy’s Executive Director Emeritus, Darwin Kelsey passed away after complications from an illness. Darwin leaves behind his wonderful wife Chris van Huysse, five children and seven grandchildren.
Darwin’s death is a loss for Ohio’s local farm and food community. He has been a leader and innovator in the community since moving to Ohio in 1989 to become Director of Lake Farmpark. In 1999, he became Founding Director of the Countryside Conservancy. In this role, he worked with Cuyahoga Valley National Park to start the Countryside Initiative to preserve the rural landscape of the valley through working farms. This program is the first of its kind in a national park. Darwin also started the first farmers’ market in a national park, now one of the top 50 farmers’ markets in the United States.
“Darwin made an enormous contribution to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, helping bring farms to life to preserve the rural landscape. His work has been very important locally, but also has been a model for the National Park Service across the country,” said Craig Kenkel, Cuyahoga Valley National Park Superintendent.
Darwin continued as Executive Director of the Countryside Conservancy until September 2016, when he then became Director Emeritus. Some of his accomplishments include three thriving farmers’ markets; education programs for farmers, home cooks, and the general public; and a community technical assistance program that helps build strong communities around access to healthy food. His efforts have generated millions of dollars in economic impact and helped hundreds of beginning farmers and food entrepreneurs. He inspired parks, communities, and landowners by helping them replicate the farm-lease model used in the Countryside Initiative. He was a thinker and a doer with a long list of lifetime achievements.