EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a year-long series following the lives of an Ohio farm family. This year Rural Life Today is following the Guy and Sandy Ashmore family of Clinton County.
CLARKSVILLE — Guy and Sandy Ashmore put 10,000 plants in the field April 22 after a cold and wet month. As the weather warms, they will be cutting lettuce almost every day on their certified organic farm located in between two state parks in southern Ohio.
The couple joined the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) in 1988 and began transitioning their conventional farm into an organic produce farm. In 1998, they became certified organic and gave up all of their rented ground, about 650 acres on which they were growing corn, beans and wheat, and concentrated on produce.
“It was all rented ground and we started losing ground to development,” Guy said. “We decided to go a different route. Now they have about 17 plots on their main field, each about an acre.
Until this year, they raised, processed and sold chickens and turkeys, and had an egg business for about 20 years. However, their produce business has grown and they have begun to sell wholesale.
“As the produce has grown, we’ve kind of transitioned out of livestock,” Guy said. He added that they have changed with the markets and have more “streamlined” their business instead of doing various things.
Wholesale is about half of their business, with the other half going to their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pick-up business and the farmer’s market. They also sell produce from a small building at the front of their property, utilizing an honor system. This building is stocked with produce and people wait on themselves and pay.
The couple has done this (honor system) since 1988 and Sandy said that’s how they sold most of their eggs. In addition to the locals, during the summer they get a lot of people traveling to the surrounding state parks.
Guy said that the honor system has worked well. “You expect good things out of people, you get good things. People are good.”
They are also developing an additional small building into what Sandy described as a “cold box.” This will work as a self-serve honor system stand with the ability to put fresh cut flowers and perishable produce in a refrigerated environment. “We hope to have it going by the end of May,” Guy said.
During the winter, they utilize their four high tunnels and a greenhouse, a total of 6,000 square feet. Soon they will start direct-seeding in the fields. They harvest hay twice per year and use that as manure for their crops.
They’ve been able to transplant a lot of cool season crops during the month of April, such as kale, cabbage spinach and beets. They have also been harvesting lettuce from their high tunnels.
They conduct a winter CSA pickup business, consisting of about 50 clients, as well as a summer CSA with around 30 clients.
Their property totals to about 48 acres and 30 of those acres are tillable. The couple raises about 30 different crops and around 130 different varieties on eight to 10 acres.
“We’ve got a perennial planting we’re going to do of asparagus,” Sandy said. They currently have some asparagus and plan to add about 1,000 crowns every year for the next five years.
Guy said that they would usually have more field work done in April, but “we didn’t get hardly anything done in March,” Guy said and explained that they’re kind of behind.
But Sandy said that they believe the whole season is behind. “If you look at when flowering trees have been blooming, it’ a week or two behind, I think. But we’ll probably catch up.”
“The children have always been involved,” Guy said. Guy and Sandy have three adult children, Nellie, Maggie and Conard.
Their daughter, Nellie, owns and operates That Girl’s Flowers from the family farm in Clarksville. Nellie works full-time as a flower farmer and has been doing so for about five years.
“[Nellie] has built it into something that we never could have envisioned,” Sandy said. Nellie is also a “farmer florist,” meaning that she is a floral designer in addition to a flower farmer.
Maggie raises produce and grass-fed meat full-time in eastern Kentucky.
Their son, Conard, lives on the farm and currently works with the produce about one day per week. However, this year he will be transitioning to work full-time on That Guy’s Family Farm, growing produce and raising around 10 hogs.
“It’s hard as a direct-market farmer to do it all,” said Sandy. Their son Conard interned for about four years on various farms in California, Florida and New Mexico.
“[Conard] brought back lots of ideas and experience from different areas on season extensions, different production models and with the wholesaling and planting larger volumes of crops,” Guy added. They’ve incorporated a lot of those ideas on their farm during the last few years.
“Including having interns,” said Sandy. The couple also welcomes two interns, or apprentices, every summer to live and work on their farm from May to October. This year will be their eighth year of hosting apprentices.
“There’s nothing better than practical experience,” said Guy. “And it’s nice for us to have new energy, new ideas, and new questions.”
“Farming in the 1980s was really a bleak time in agriculture. Everyone was going broke, interest rates were crazy,” Guy said. “We heard about some farmers who were growing organically and we were looking for any option at that time.”
“But we were always kind of different. When we were grain farming, we always had a rotation. We had hay and wheat. We’d use cover crops even back then. We were always kind of environmentally-minded.”
The couple went on a tour to see the Spray Brothers in Knox County after joining OEFFA and they were “floored by how great their crops looked. We were really intrigued by how open the organic community was, how positive everybody was,” Guy said.
He added that they didn’t have to worry about their kids getting into any chemicals or big machinery. “It just made sense to us,” Guy said. “Better for us, better for the environment, better for our neighbors.”
Sandy added that looking at it early on, it was more profitable. They said that they could make more money off of fewer acres and not have to invest in machinery and infrastructure.
Guy said that he has seen an increase in organic farms in their county and he views that as good. “We don’t ever think of anybody as competition,” Guy said. “We think we need more people farming and we need more people buying local.”
Technology has changed the way people communicate since they transitioned to organic farmers. “People are more health conscious and environmentally conscious than they used to be. It’s a good thing for our health, the environment, and small farmers trying to get more of the retail dollar,” Guy said.
“We’re real big into soil-building crops, or cover crops. We use lots of different cover crops to add organic matter to the soil,” Guy said. “The premise of organic is you feed the soil and the soil will feed the plant.”
They run a rotation and try to have about 1 to 2 years of soil building in that rotation.
Short turnaround crops
The couple works long hours on the farm working with produce. Produce is not a long season crop, as compared to corn and soybeans.
“[Produce] can be a turnaround of 30 days,” Sandy said. “So then you’re planting again, harvesting again.” The couple plant about every week from February through October. They also harvest crops in the winter in the greenhouse and high tunnels.
“We got more control of the markets, more control of the tunnels to spread out our risk,” Guy said. With short turnaround crops, they can plant more often, earlier and later. “We can have control of the price we get.”
Next month: more spring planting and apprentices.