Tag Archives: Small Farm Institute

The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh

The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh

Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh

Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.

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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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