Living the rural life and loving it

barn fire, Holmes Co. OH
Barn fire.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When fire destroyed my neighbor’s old bank barn a couple of years ago, all the firefighters could do was protect the outbuildings. The fully-involved structure burned to the ground.

A month later, blessed insurance arrived in the form of neighbors, family, friends and church members who raised a new building in a day. They started at first light and had the barn roofed and sided by evening. It’s the way of rural life here.

Amish barn raising
Barn raising.
I’ve happily lived my adult life in one of the richest agricultural areas in Ohio. That’s a bit ironic for someone born in a city and raised in a suburb.

My parents influenced my appreciation for the agricultural lifestyle. Dad introduced his five children to farm life early on. Being an avid sportsman, Dad loved to hunt and fish.

Dad knew the importance of building trust with the farmers to be allowed to tromp around their property. Dad listened to their stories, and they returned the favor.

sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Rural sunset.
Mom influenced me positively on farming, too. An accomplished artist, she painted lovely landscapes of farmsteads and their surroundings. The scenes Mom created closely resemble the ones I see every day.

My wife and I built our first house on a bluff overlooking two tributaries of the mighty Killbuck. Manicured farm fields fanned out to the west from our front yard. Thick stands of mixed hardwoods that glowed in the fall filled the surrounding, steep hillsides.

When Farmer Bob came around on a hot summer’s day fixing barbed wire fence rows, I ran out with a cold, clear glass of water just for a chance to talk to him. When it was time to till the garden, Farmer Jim came up from his field to do the job. I offered to pay, but he just winked and smiled and advised using Triple 12 fertilizer.

When we moved northeast 16 miles 36 years ago, we hoped to experience the same interactions. We did that and more.

Amish manure spreader
Spreading sunshine.
When I asked Farmer Levi for some manure for the garden, he delivered it on a bitterly cold February morning. By the time I had dressed to go out to help him, a steaming pile of natural fertilizer already sat atop the snow.

I thanked Levi and asked him how much I owed him for his trouble.

“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t have anything in it.”

That earthy attitude is only one of the reasons I’m wedded to this charming, inviting agricultural community. There are many others.

produce auction, Holmes Co. OH
Produce auction.
No one would ever mistake me for a farmer. Yet, I feel right at home whether in milking parlors, bank barns, farmhouses or pastures.

For more than four decades I have admired families and circles of friends gathering crops, and sharing equipment and smiles. They work long and hard in all kinds of weather for narrow profit margins.

Farming is no longer the dominant occupation it once was here. Less than 10 percent of the Amish farm today. The recent uptick of local produce truck patches has helped continue the family agricultural tradition. I’m glad they have produce stands and auctions to turn all their efforts into cash.

As I photograph sunrises on early chilly mornings or sunsets on sweltering evenings, my mind wanders to my mother and father. I’m forever thankful they taught me to appreciate the land and the good folks who cultivate it.

Rural living has more than made its mark on me. It has wholly and wonderfully enriched my life.

sunset, Ohio's Amish country
September sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Abby Hart has a heart for the environment

Abby Hart by Bruce Stambaug
Abby Hart displayed some of her favorite mementos from Nicaragua.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Abby Hart, of Millersburg, loved science.

“But I didn’t want to be a doctor (like her father, Andy),” she said.

Instead, Hart put her scientific efforts into something she really cared about, the environment. She graduated from Wheaton College in 2009 with a degree in environmental studies.

After spending a year in Nicaragua through Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, Hart has just begun a new job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is a program assistant for the Eco-Agriculture Working Group under the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

She will be working to interconnect conservation and agricultural practices at Cornell. After her experience in Nicaragua, Hart said she considers this job an answer to prayer.

“I thought I would be preparing to go to grad school,” she said. “But now I’ll get to work and attend grad school as well.” Cornell has a graduate school program for employees, which Hart said she plans to take full advantage off.

A friend in California informed her about the job, knowing Hart’s dual interests in conservation and agriculture. Hart thinks her new position will be a good fit.

“They do research on agricultural procedures and conservation practices,” Hart said. “They focus on rural livelihood.”

After her SALT experiences in Nicaragua, Hart should be well suited for the job.

Hart lived for a year in a rural village in the central highlands of the Central American country. She had previously spent three months in neighboring Honduras, also through MCC, in an internship where Hart honed her Spanish skills.

In Nicaragua, Hart was involved in a food security project where she assisted locals in rearing small animals. She helped them learn how to raise rabbits and goats, two animals that Nicaraguans are normally not familiar with. She said they also raised chickens and sheep.

“We also worked in a water security program,” Hart said. “Ensuring clean drinking water there is crucial to prevent disease.”

Hart served as a liaison between department officials and the project beneficiaries, meaning the people who were involved in the programs. In fact, Hart lived with one of the beneficiaries in the small town of San Pablo.

“My host was one of the community leaders,” Hart said. “Thanks to cell phones, I’m still able to stay in touch with her.”

Hart, 23, returned from that assignment in July not knowing exactly what the future held for her. She was able to obtain a short-term job in agricultural research at the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. She had worked there previously in other summer jobs.

During those summer stints at the OARDC, Hart worked with a number of international students. It was then that she was able to improve on one of her hobbies, cooking. She also enjoys walking and biking.

“I still wanted to do agricultural and environmental related work or studies,” she said, citing the importance of conservation and agriculture working together.

Hart said she thinks her experiences at the OARC and in Nicaragua helped her in obtaining this new post.

“I am really excited to get this position,” she said. “It will involve working with both developing and underdeveloped countries. She said Cornell focuses its research on strategies in agriculture and the environment.

“They work in Central America and I will help in building social networks,” she said. “They apply the active learning approach to research and it is interdisciplinary.”

“It will be my job to obtain the most optimal solution for both agricultural and environmental processes,” Hart said.

Given her life experiences, her interests and her enthusiasm, the future looks bright for both Hart and those with whom she will be working.

A private woman has a very public life

Lucille Hastings by Bruce Stambaugh
Books have always played an integral part of Lucille Hastings' life.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For someone who relishes her privacy, Lucille Hastings of Big Prairie, Ohio has led a very public life.

Perhaps that seemingly contradictory situation is because of her love for life long learning. Hastings has had this instinctive drive to share what she learns. In short, contributing personally and professionally to the community at large has been a way of life.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise for someone who has her major life concepts down pat. Her life has revolved around her personal faith and church fellowship, service to others, which includes family, friends and the larger community.

Having lived on a farm for most of her life, she heartily reveres the land as a true gift from God. To accomplish and enjoy all that, she also believes in healthy personal lifestyles.

“I do water aerobics three times a week,” she said. “I need to watch my weight.”

Once she began her own well-researched and devised low carbohydrate diet a dozen years ago, Hastings lost 100 pounds. She has continued to be very careful about what she eats.

“Physical and emotional health are very important,” she related. Hastings said that as much for herself as for the benefit of others.

Hastings is fastidious about everything she does. But some things in life have been out of her control.

Hastings retired in 1992 from West Holmes Local Schools after serving 34 years as the library/media director in charge of the district’s libraries. Since then, she has continued as a part-time educational library/media consultant to the district.

“I retired because Jim retired,” she said, referring to her late husband. He died in 2000. “I miss Jim,” she said wistfully, “but I worked through it.” They had been married for 43 years.

She still lives on the Hastings family farm, which is rented out to an area farmer. The farm’s old barn was burned several years ago when a string of arson fires hit Holmes and surrounding counties.

Lover of the land that she is, Hastings said she marvels at how the agriculture around her has changed over the years. She has a great appreciation for her neighbors.

“The Amish have gradually moved into our area because the land was cheaper,” she said. “They are simply wonderful neighbors.”

With her background in library, it should come as no surprise that she considers herself a very organized person. She attributes that trait to enabling her to be of service to the larger community.

“Services like libraries, schools and churches happen because people make them happen,” Hastings said. “They just don’t happen by themselves.” Given her life long service to the surrounding community, Hastings clearly has done her best to improve those services for the community at large.

Here is a sampling of the many positions in which Hastings has served. She was president of the State Library Board of Ohio. She served on the Holmes County Library board for 16 years, 10 of which she was president. She was chairperson of the Ohio Reading Circle board for 16 years. That volunteer position allowed her to donate $350,000 worth of Reading Circle books to the county and local school libraries.

Hastings is a member of the Ohio Director of Agriculture’s 12-person advisory committee for administration of Ohio’s $25 million Clean Air/Clean Water Fund for Farmland Preservation.

She was the first woman president of the Holmes County Farm Bureau, and she is the only woman Sunday school teacher at her church. She has taught Sunday school for 60 years, and she is chairperson of the Mission Ministry at Ripley Church of Christ. She was a member of the Holmes County board of elections for eight years.

Hastings good works haven’t gone unnoticed. She has been dooly recognized for her many efforts. She received the Martha Holden Jennings Outstanding Teacher Award in 1974. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. That same year Hastings received the Outstanding Alumni Award from Kent State University, where she received her Master of Arts Degree.

Hastings has two sons. Joel lives in Dallas, Texas, and Sidney resides in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I feel like I have been blessed,” she said. “I have had some unique opportunities.” And because she made the most of those chances, the community has reaped the benefits.

That’s what happens when life long learning is generously and graciously shared.

This article appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, August 30, 2010.