Conserving a legacy

BARNESVILLE, Ohio – Don Guindon stomps his boots, hangs his Select Sires hat on a peg, rolls up the sleeves on his flannel shirt and comes in for lunch.
He settles around the oak dinner table, bows his head for a moment, then passes the rice and chicken.
It seems like a typical lunch in a farmhouse kitchen, but it isn’t. One thing makes that startlingly clear.
Across the hall from where Don sits eating his chicken thigh, 70 chairs scrape across the floor, plates clatter and a cacophony of teenage voices rings through the room.
Instead of a farmhouse, Don came to a school for his noon meal.
This school, and its history, is what has shaped his Belmont County dairy farm into one of the leading conservation operations in the state.
A mission. Quakers founded Olney Friends School, a boarding high school, in the early 1800s, and the farm soon followed.
For years, the farm’s mission was to raise food for the students. The cupboards were filled with canned vegetables from the garden and fruit from the orchard. Beef, butchered on-site, was stored in the freezers and fresh milk lined the refrigerators.
But in the 1960s, things changed. Regulations cracked down on canning, butchering and raw milk.
About the same time, however, the Taber family donated its farm to the school.
With more acreage and a registered Jersey herd, then-farm manager Cliff Guindon, Don’s father, turned the farm’s emphasis to dairy production. That focus remains today with the 55-head milking herd Don manages.
The school and farm were founded on Quaker principles of simplicity and conservation, and they are still the undercurrent of both operations.
The Guindon name. Just like the farm and school are steeped in history, so is the Guindon legacy at Olney.
Cliff Guindon attended the boarding school in the ’40s and took over as the farm’s manager in 1956. He remained here for more than 30 years, while his children pitched stalls, baled hay and eventually attended the school themselves.
One of them, Don, returned shortly after getting his production agriculture degree from Wilmington College. After working on the farm for more than a decade, he was named manager in 1994.
Guided by the two Guindons and another manager in the early 1990s, Garth Parsons, the farm has turned into a conservation centerpiece in Belmont County.
Ever since the county Soil and Water Conservation District opened its doors in 1945, the school and farm have been seeking, and offering, help.
In fact, 55 out of the 61 years the district has been operating, someone from the school’s farm committee has been on the board.
Having these ties put the farm on the forefront of conservation in the county.
The Guindons were one of the first farmers calibrating their manure spreaders and introducing rotational grazing. In 1993, they also put in the county’s first covered animal waste facilities. Then they hosted tours at the farm to share what they’d learned.
Don also was quick to develop a resource management plan and a certified nutrient management plan. He farms the hills in contour strips and is adamant about sticking to his crop rotations.
Just because the farm has led the way in conservation, doesn’t mean everything is cutting edge.
With a peeling barn and 36 dated stanchions, Don said he can’t modernize Taber Farm as quickly as he might his own.
The school’s focus is on education and students, not fancy new parlors, he said.
But simplicity, conservation and preservation have kept the school and farm thriving for almost two centuries.
It’s obviously working, he said.
‘Coming alive.’ Parents see these efforts and love it, Don said. They see their children eating fresh fruit from the orchard and vegetables from the garden and home-grown meat, now butchered in town. They see the Jerseys’ big dark eyes and milk flowing through the milkers. They see the calves and the puppies, and they like the idea of their children living here.
The reality is many students shy away from the farm unless they are on “barn duty,” Don said.
Even he admits when he was a boy tagging along behind his father, he didn’t quite picture himself ever choosing to do this. But as you get older, you appreciate things more, he said, and he counts on this being true for the students as well.
Mostly, though, it’s Don’s brother Leonard who cultivates the students’ agricultural and conservation interests.
Leonard Guindon teaches math and science at the school and uses any chance he can to pull students out to the farm.
Whether he’s dropping pumpkins off the silo for a lesson on conceptual physics or using artificial insemination to show biology, Leonard works agriculture into his lesson plans.
“All that stuff is in their textbook but to be able to show them … it makes the subject come alive,” he said.
These students aren’t necessarily going to decide to become farmers, Leonard said, but at least they’ll have some knowledge of where their food comes from.
A continuation. One of these students Leonard is trying to reach is his niece Allison, Don’s daughter.
Although she spends more time in that noisy lunchroom than on the farm with her dad, Don still has her – and all the school’s future generations – in mind when he farms.
“[Conservation] isn’t just a trend that was recently started on our farm, but a continuation of some practices that have been ongoing for over 100 years,” Don wrote in his application for this year’s Ohio Environmental Stewardship award.
“We want to see that it continues for the next 100.”
Perhaps as a good omen to that wish, the farm won the award.

What is Olney Friends School?

Olney Friends School is a college prep boarding high school in Belmont County, Ohio. About 60 students are currently attending and come from many different countries.
It was founded in 1837 by the Religious Society of Friends, and still draws on traditional Quaker values. These include truthfulness, simplicity, nonviolence and respect for the good in every person.
For more information about Olney Friends School, call 800-303-4291 or visit www.olneyfriends.org.

(Source: Olney Friends School)

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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