CANFIELD, Ohio – Dave Moff knows he’s got two options.
He swings open a pasture gate and stares one in the face: his herd of Holsteins. And as he turns 180 degrees to follow those cows toward the freestall barn, he can’t avoid seeing the other: homes popping up all around him.
For this lifelong dairyman, the decision to keep milking or sell his 147-acre farmstead grows more and more difficult each day. Moff and his wife, Kathy, know the day will come when they stop milking, stop picking corn, and stop fighting off those developers who knock at their door and pull million-dollar offers from thin air.
The day will come. They’re sure of it.
But it’s not today.
Growth. Dave Moff has lived his entire life in the same house in Beaver Township and has always known this place as a Holstein dairy. The Mahoning County farm has been handed down through five generations of Moffs.
By the time he was a senior in high school, he had taken over the twice-daily milkings so his father, Bob, could pick up a school bus route.
Around the cafeteria table one day, Moff recalls, a group of seniors talked about what they’d do after graduation. When it was his turn to answer, Moff surprised no one. He said he planned to go home and farm.
Reflections. Today, at 51, he looks back over the many years since his graduation. In all those years, he’s held an off-the-farm job for only two weeks, as a short-order backhoe operator for a swimming pool company. The rest of the time, it’s been him and his family – Kathy and their son, Brian, 23 – and his cows.
In those 30-plus years, Moff’s been successful enough to put up a new silo, a milkhouse with 600-gallon tank, and added on to both the barn and house. He did it all without getting big and without debt. He’s milking only 26 cows – barely enough, the experts might say, to even sustain his family.
The threat of double-knee replacement has already been made, thanks to the years of getting up and down to milk the cows. Four years ago, Dave suffered a stroke.
Still, he’s not ready to slow down.
“You can’t sit back today or the world will pass you by.”
Holding on. The Moff dairy farm, situated at the corner of Western Reserve Road and Detwiler Road, is just a hop, skip and a jump from bustling and booming Boardman.
Property just around the corner is selling for $15,000 an acre. The Moffs do the math.
They also do the math to figure what holding on is worth, not only for their own peace of mind, but for the dairy industry, for agriculture, and for their neighbors.
They’re one of the few remaining dairies in the township. In the last five years, the number of houses in their neighborhood nearly doubled, they say.
The traffic. The complaints. The headaches.
But then they think about the total strangers who say to them, ‘So you’re the ones with the cows that lay along Western Reserve. We look for them every time we go by.’
“You always think about that bit of enjoyment you bring to someone,” Kathy said.
“It would sometimes be nice to walk away from it all and close that chapter, but we can’t. It’s in the blood,” Dave said.
Make it better. A creek that snakes across the Moff property drains into Mill Creek, a major player in the Mahoning River watershed. Protecting that water quality, and their own liability, is a major concern for the Moffs.
“You can’t just do like you used to do. People notice now, notice when you spread manure, or when there’s cows in the creek, or a thin cow out there [in the pasture]. You have to watch or people will throw up red flags,” Moff said.
And so, a couple of years ago, Moff called the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District to be sure he was doing all he could to protect his farm and the environment.
Turns out there was more he could do.
Technicians came and did a complete study of the farm, Moff recalls. They measured manure production and looked at how the farm managed the waste. They determined water flow across the property, took soil samples, gave suggestions.
Their biggest concern was the milkhouse waste water, and water and leachate that came off the silo.
Through a cost-share program with the SWCD, Moff installed two grass filter strips that clean the water before it gets to the creek.
His proactive stance and willingness to take care of the property earned him the SWCD’s Cooperator of the Year award this year.
“When there’s the possibility of an attorney going by and getting manure on their tires, tracking it home and it stinks up their garage 2 miles away, you think about these kind of safeguards before there’s a problem,” Moff said.
“You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Tough decisions. But the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest, the Moffs admit.
“How much time and money do you put in when you know [developers are] knocking?” Dave asked.
He’s already been told Western Reserve Road will be widened, and that will bite a chunk of property from his pasture. He’ll go on without it, he said.
And then there’s the issue of his son, of wanting to pass the farm on to the sixth generation of Moffs, yet knowing deep inside he doesn’t want his boy and his expecting wife to be tied to the farm, to struggle to make ends meet.
“I’d really hate to see us be the last Moff here,” Kathy admits. “It’s a big decision.”
Dave Moff really hasn’t thought about where he’ll be in five years, he said.
“I put it out of my mind. I don’t want to think about that day. In my heart I would love to be here, but I really don’t have any control of it.”
At least for today it’s an easy decision.
He’s choosing the cows.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)