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Medina County organic farmer competing for $50,000 in national contest

Janelle Soja is one of three farmers left in the Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational. She gave 3News' Carl Bachtel a tour of her farm.

CHIPPEWA LAKE, Ohio — This picturesque Medina County organic farm is thriving. 

Sunflowers over ten-feet-tall reach for the sun in the middle of the 20 x 30 foot plot next to the Soja home. 

"It's just my garden," says Janelle Soja, the farmer behind the garden. Her green thumb is growing more than corn, heirloom tomatoes, and kale. Now she's looking to cultivate a different kind of green, as in $50,000.

Janelle is a finalist in the Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational. The other two contestants are from Arkansas and New Mexico. Janelle has been gardening since she was a little girl. "It's been an entire growing season and I've been babying some things," she tells us.

Categories in the organic-only contest include: Best grown-from scratch decorative arrangement, heaviest squash, heaviest sweet potato, hottest pepper and heaviest tomato.

Did you know that ducks like tomatoes? Soja lowered a small fence to do some weeding and her Muscovy ducks took full advantage. Then, chaos ensued. Janelle managed to shoo the ducks away, but not before they went to town on one of her tomatoes, tearing it apart and devouring its red-orange flesh. 

Thankfully, it wasn't the one-and-a-half pounder still on the stem she's hoping to weigh in for the contest. We're not sure the ducks would try that with the garden's ghost peppers. Even the leaves have a kick according to Soja. "I went inside and I rubbed my nose and it started burning," she says.

Next to the deep green bushes of ghost peppers lurks something even more sinister. "Death Spiral peppers. They name it that because that's what they do to your insides," Janelle says as she bursts into laughter, but we're not sure why. 

For Janelle, organic gardening means more than what she may win in the contest. The hard work of preparing the garden using no-till methods, nurturing the seeds as they sprout, and caring for the multiple varieties of vegetables and flowers throughout the growing season until harvest gives her a huge sense of accomplishment. 

"It's been a family thing, a lifelong thing for me. I'm kind of lucky, I think I got all my mistakes, I cut my teeth on gardening," she explains.

Winning the cash would be great, but Janelle gets the most reward providing home-grown vegetables for her family, and that just can't be beat. The contests ends at the end of September and you can follow her progress on her public Facebook page.

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