Editor’s note: This is the tenth in a series of monthly articles following a farm family through the course of a year. This year, Rural Life Today is following the Sandy and Guy Ashmore family in Clinton County.
CLARKSVILLE — Birds flocking the bird feeder outside of their farmhouse, Guy and Sandy Ashmore watch the various types from their kitchen window, including the cardinal, blue jay, American goldfinch, sparrow, white-breasted nuthatch, woodpecker, the mourning dove and others. Four years ago, they spotted a bald eagle on their farm, and more since then. Every year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visit That Guy’s Family Farm for a winter bird count. The Ashmore’s farm is located near two creeks, Little Creek and Todd Fork. They are also between two state parks, Caesar Creek State Park and Cowan Lake State Park.
Although winter is here and the ground is snow-covered, the Ashmores have plenty to do in addition to bird-watching.
The couple have been keeping busy with general equipment maintenance, planning 2019 seed orders and working in their greenhouses.
“We’re kind of glad to see the snow because it’s really good for all our over-wintering crops and cover crops,” said Guy, explaining that the snow helps keep the greenhouses insulated from the cold temperatures. The Ashmores have crops such as head lettuce, spinach, kale, flowers and wheat (cover crop) in the greenhouses and the row covers.
The Ashmores will have placed all of their seed orders for 2019 planting by the end of February, ordering from a total of 6 or 7 companies. At the end of January, Guy attended a two-day food safety training through the Local Food Connection. The trainer was Savour Food Safety International out of Worthington, OH.
Guy and Sandy have also been interviewing apprentice candidates. They interviewed three candidates in January and will have decided on the apprentices by the end of February or the first of March. Every year they welcome two apprentices to stay at their farm for about five months, where they work on the farm and learn about the business.
“I’m kind of worried about young people trying to get into farming,” said Guy. “Land prices have always been kind of high, but [farming] is just getting more consolidated and competing with non-farm money for land, which is what’s kind of nice about smaller acreage.”
Sandy said that many of the apprentices the Ashmores have had in the past have not been entrenched in agriculture and have come without preconceived ideas. “Sometimes the hardest thing when you come with preconceptions is changing because when you change sometimes you can take it as ‘I was wrong all these years’ and people don’t want to change because they think they’re admitting they’re wrong,” said Guy. “I’ve been wrong a lot.”
“When I grew up they said there’s only three ways to get into farming: inherit it, marry into it, or screw somebody out of it,” said Guy, adding that a lot has changed since growing up on his family farm in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“I think people have to make that full circle, and then they just want to be connected back with the land,” said Sandy. “You can get so far out in that digital world.”
Family of farmers
Guy grew up farming with his parents, raising livestock and a lot of hay. At the age of fourteen, Guy’s father moved onto a farm owned by a couple who didn’t have any children. Guy’s father eventually inherited the farm. Guy’s father was in the Navy during the Korean war, stationed on the Mississippi, Great Lakes and Arkansas, where he met Guy’s mother, who was not a farmer.
“I always wanted to farm,” said Guy, adding that there were a lot more people farming when he was growing up compared to today. But on the brink of the 1980s Farm Crisis, his parents had other plans for him.
“My parents didn’t want me to farm. At that time there wasn’t any money in it and [his parents] were getting out of [farming] at the time,” said Guy. “They were were getting out of it about the same time I wasn’t getting in it.”
His parents sold the family farm in 1980, one year after Guy rented his first farm in 1979. With his brother, Guy rented 100 acres, eventually acquiring another 150 acres. Guy and his brother grew corn, beans, wheat, hay and tobacco. “I grew up with [farming] and liked all aspects of it. I liked being around animals and being outside and the hard work. And I like being around other farmers,” said Guy. “And still do.”
Although Sandy’s parents weren’t farmers, she spent a lot of time on a farm. Sandy’s father celebrated his 80th birthday Jan. 21.
“I wasn’t within the day-to-day operations [of a farm], but I was within the farm lifestyle,” said Sandy, referring to her grandfather’s farm. He grew corn, beans, wheat, and hay. Sandy’s great-grandfather was a rural mail carrier with a horse. However, her great-great-grandfather was a farmer.“Kind of skipped generations,” added Guy.
Sandy’s grandmother on her father’s side came from a long line of farmers. However, Sandy’s mother’s parents were factory workers.
“I enjoyed being out in the open, out in the field, running and being with the rest of the family,” said Sandy, referring to her many cousins.
When Sandy met Guy in 1980, adapting to a full-time farming life was an easy transition, she said.
“When Sandy first met me, we were raising tobacco. She was a good help. Everybody said, ‘You better marry that girl,’” Guy said and both he and Sandy laughed.
OEFFA and upcoming events
Guy and Sandy are certified organic through The Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA). Six months out of the year they meet with members of their OEFFA chapter once per month, where they network, share ideas, plan, place bulk seed orders and sometimes host speakers. Their chapter is made up of about 30 different farmers, with whom they met at the beginning of February.
Guy and Sandy’s daughter, Nellie, is a flower farmer and florist and operates That Girl’s Flowers on the family farm. She will be speaking at the OEFFA Conference 2019, Saturday, Feb. 16. Her topic is “Selling Cut Flowers to Grocery Stores and Starting a Flower CSA.”
The Ashmores attend the OEFFA Conference every year. This is the first time Nellie has spoken at the conference.
Guy and Sandy will be presenting at the Small Farm Conference in Piketon, March 30, tentatively about the organic certification process. In August, the Ashmores are planning a field day with the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Ohio. Nellie will also speak at this event.
February and March they will launch their summer Community Supported Agriculture. Sandy also plans to “freshen up” the website.
Next month: Seed orders and OEFFA Conference.