Farm family diversifies to stay afloat

LANCASTER, Ohio – When Paul and Lois Saums’ two sons, David and Doug, decided to come back to the farm in 1984, the family knew it had to do something for all of them to make enough income.

And they haven’t stopped yet. Paul says they try to add a new project each year, even if it’s as small as serving hot chocolate during the Christmas tree season.

The Saum operation farms hogs, grain, Christmas trees, pumpkins, broilers, etc.

The grain industry has always been a part of the Saum’s way of life. They now raise 325 acres of corn, 175 of soybeans, 50 of wheat and 20 of hay.

“Our sons have really taken over the planting and harvesting,” said Lois. “Prices and weather are always the biggest challenge for us.”

Hog business. The Saums have been in the hog business for 40 years and now have an 100-head farrow-to-finish operation. They mostly work with artificially inseminated crossbred sows.

“The hog business hasn’t always been good to us, but we’ve stuck with it. It’s not too bad right now, but a couple of years ago it could have taken us under if we didn’t have other sources of income,” said Lois.

Christmas trees. The biggest source of new income for the Saums is their Christmas tree operation. They raise five types of trees – Scotch Pine, Canaan Fir, Douglas Fir, White Pine, and Colorado Spruce. The Saums plant and harvest trees every year.

They open the day after Thanksgiving through Dec. 20, and families can choose and cut their own trees. About 8 percent to 10 percent of their income comes from dug and balled live trees.

“We have really made it a family experience. On the weekends we offer hay rides, hot chocolate, cookies and greenery items,” said Paul. “Many of our customers come year after year. They make a tradition of it.”

Most of the Saums customers come from Franklin, Fairfield, Pickaway and Ross counties, although they have had customers from as far away as 100 miles.

When the Saums began in the Christmas tree business, they operated out of a small barn structure, but business grew so quickly they had to construct a building with a working kitchen and lots of storage space.

Retirement? “We thought when the boys came back to farm, we would be able to retire,” said Paul “But when we realized we need to diversify, retirement was forgotten.”

Paul and Lois, married 41 years, said the Christmas tree business has been a nice addition to the farm, not only because of the added income but because of the families they have met through the years. Lois said she watches many children grow up when they come with their family to get a tree.

“When hog prices were way down about three years ago, we were pretty happy to see Christmas come,” said Lois. “Many families come and make a whole day of it and it’s great to see the same faces year after year.”

New for the fall. The Saums have also added pumpkins and Indian corn to their list of projects. They have planted 2 acres of pumpkins and 1 acre of Indian corn. They sell the pumpkins wholesale and pick-your-own.

“We’re just in our third year of doing this, but we’ve seen our business grow each year. This gives us something the other season of the year,” said Lois. “It also allows us to utilize the new building more than just at Christmas. We will probably continue to add fall-type items as our business grows.”

Diversification has been the lifeblood of the Saum family. Paul and Lois’ grandchildren are the seventh generation to live on the Fairfield County farm, and although they haven’t taken any farmland preservation measures, they hope to always be able to provide a farming lifestyle for their family.

“We don’t like to have all of our eggs in one basket,” said Lois. “The first Saums came here in 1869, and we hope to always keep the Saums here.”

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