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In appreciation of Mother Earth

Oat shocks by Bruce Stambaugh

Oat shocks near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The deep orange crescent moon sat just above the tree line on the dusky horizon. Fanned out high over its tip, Saturn, Mars and Venus sparkled in the late evening sky.

Lightening flashed suddenly and silently interrupting the cloudless scene. Radar indicated the thunderstorm 120 miles southeast near Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The next morning, this natural display of awe and beauty was enthusiastically discussed among those who know the value of such a free show. They were gathered in the shade of a vendor’s tent at the annual Family Farm Field Day event.

Storm approaches by Bruce Stambaugh

A severe thunderstorm near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

It was more than appropriate and not the least bit ironic that such talk should take place at an educational affair celebrating the goodness of the land. These were people who knew the importance of Mother Earth, who knew how to care for her, appreciate her, and affirm her, even profit from her without rendering her useless or sterile.

The venue was as uplifting as the conversation about the storm. Hundreds of black buggies stood side by side against the woods, their unhitched horses now shaded.

Buggies at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio

Buggies lined up at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Cars, vans and pickup trucks entered at the east gate. Along the drive, dozens of bicycles leaned against chain link fencing that separated yards from right of way and kept children from wandering into the long, graveled lane.

In between these contrasting parking lots, thousands of people milled beneath several large tents searching for information on how to better care for the earth. The slight bluff on which the action took place created a symbolic subliminal significance of man and land over that of man and mobility.

Though most were dressed in homemade denim with suspenders or pastel dresses with coverings and spoke a language I should have learned long ago, I was both at home and in harmony with them. We were all there for the same reason, to learn more about caring for and nurturing the land that provides us sustenance and shelter.

Jr. Burkholder farm by Bruce Stambaugh

A farmstead in Holmes County, Ohio.

Besides the vendors’ displays, tents for keynote speakers, farmsteads and homemakers were erected in a huge horseshoe pattern around the pastured plateau. Of course, there were food tents, too. I couldn’t decide which I liked best, the sugar and cinnamon hot soft pretzel or the salty sweet kettle corn.

With the hot summer sun beating down, shade was at a premium for those seeking relief. That did not deter them from exploring the inescapable interconnection between humankind and our responsibility of caring for the environment.

To be sure, that is serious business. But it was nice to see it presented in such fun and informative ways for multiple generations. To the point, bird, butterfly and nature walks were filled to overflowing.

A billowing cloud by Bruce Stambaugh

A storm cloud builds.

But what was really special for me was the dialogue on the previous night’s celestial display. Some of us saw what is erroneously called “heat lightening.”

From the backside of the storm, which is always the safest and prettiest angle, others
saw huge, billowing columns sail through the darkening sky. The higher they rose, the more the lightening sizzled in and out of them, brightly illuminating the swelling clouds.

One in the group had actually been under the building storm and arrived home in time to also watch the stunning electrical display. To hear that enthusiasm, plus see the genuine, cross-generational interest in caring for the ecosystem by so many people stirred my soul.

I left thoroughly uplifted, and with one large bag of kettle corn to go.

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A love for agriculture come full circle

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s no accident that Leah Miller’s life has come full circle. Agriculture runs deep in her genes, personal life and in her professional career.

She grew up on a farm, and now her life is all about farming, both at home and on the job, whichever particular job it is she happens to be doing. In between, her career took a productive, if not circuitous route before Miller, 61, planted her agricultural roots.

Leah Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

In a rare moment, Leah Miller was in her Small Farm Institute Office in Coshocton County, Ohio.

Born in Conneaut, Ohio near her parent’s home farm at Pierpont, Miller followed some pretty big family footprints. Her father and her father’s father were both agricultural teachers, in addition to running separate farms in Ashtabula County.

Miller’s mother, Celia Wright, took charge of the family farm when her husband, Eber, moved into regional planning. Ironically, that is exactly the job Miller took in Lake County after graduating from The Ohio State University in 1971. She became Holmes County’s regional planning director two years later.

There is a bit of double-irony in this scenario. The Holmes County regional planning office was in the front of Hotel Millersburg.

“My parents spent the first night of their honeymoon at Hotel Millersburg,” Miller said. “They got a late start from their wedding reception in Columbus and following U.S. 62, Millersburg was as far as they got.”

Miller served in this capacity for six years. Once she and her husband, Mic, started their family, Miller turned her efforts to community service. She served two terms on the West Holmes Local School Board. Later, she served on the board at Central Christian School. She also served a term on the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale board of directors, and was a 4-H advisor for a dozen years.

Miller was the first director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce, once it expanded from beyond Millersburg proper. In the 1990s, Miller’s leadership abilities became political. She was twice elected as a Holmes County commissioner.

All the while she found solace from her demanding schedule on her 50-acre sheep farm, Blue Bird Hill, east of Millersburg. She also kept bees, as did her father.

Her love for land and the people that farmed stirred within her. In 2001, she worked with former state representative Joy Padgett to form the Small Farm Institute.

“There was a concern about erosion and farming,” Miller explained. “The emphasis was to help farmers do more grazing with their animals.” She said the sod would help reduce run-off, and at the same time provide a natural grass diet for cows, cattle and sheep.

Miller is the director of the Small Farm Institute, which is based at the United States Department of Agriculture’s hydrological station in Coshocton County. She assists small farm operations to improve income by providing helpful information on sustainable environmental practices that support strong family and rural communities. Her focus is on production, processing and distribution of product.

“We encourage people to look for value-added production to enhance profitability,” Miller said. “If they run a produce stand, they can increase their income by making jam or canning instead of selling all their fruit and vegetables fresh.”

Much of Miller’s responsibility revolves around facilitating grazing groups. She said this has been especially successful among the Amish, who tend to form their own peer groups in close proximity to help reduce the need for transportation.

“It’s been a joy to watch them expand,” she said. “They hold pasture walks where they share helpful grazing information with one another.”

As satisfying as that is for Miller, she also supports much larger events. Her skill sets also assist the annual North Central Ohio Grazing Conference for Dairy, which brings in hundreds of people, including many from other states.

Miller also advises the planning committee for the upcoming annual Family Farm Field Day. David and Emily Hershberger will host the event on their farm, located on Saltcreek Township Road 613 in Holmes County, on July 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As if she weren’t busy enough, Miller works part time as stakeholder coordinator in agricultural economic development for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. She splits her time between there and the Small Farm Institute. Miller is the executive secretary of the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council, too.

Miller has traveled extensively, including Australia, Mexico, France and Honduras, touring grazing and farm production operations and doing a little mission work, too. She uses these experiences to expand what she shares about improving local farming practices.

It seemed only logical then that Miller’s leadership abilities be put to use in yet another positive way for the community. Miller has successfully lead Leadership Holmes County for employees of area businesses for several years. In that fact, there is no irony.

This article was first published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, July 5, 2010.

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