FREDERICKSBURG, Ohio — David Raber farms with one goal in mind.
He knows it’s important to grow quality products and turn a profit, but his intentions reach far beyond the annual growing season.
Raber wants to give his children a way of life, a place to raise their families someday.
He wants to give them the farm.
Raber, his wife and six children are Amish farmers who own and operate a 73-acre farm in southern Wayne County. Their main focus is 20 acres of produce that includes cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, peppers, potatoes, onions and pumpkins.
Raber said the key to growing high-quality produce is soil fertility and the live microbial activity in the ground. If the soil is healthy, plants can get the nutrients they need when they need them. Good soil also gives young plants the opportunity to build resistance to disease and insect problems, Raber said.
The farmer cares for his soil in a variety of ways. He uses rye and clover as cover crops and turns to compost, soft rock phosphate and seaweed for fertilizer.
The ground that’s not in vegetable production is used to grow oats and alfalfa for the horses.
By studying the soil and trying to provide all the necessary elements, Raber is aiming to leave his children a livelihood. He sees a future for them in farming and although his children are young, they’re interested in agriculture.
In fact, Raber was transplanting cabbage one day this spring when one of the children snatched up a plant before it was placed in the field. The next day, Raber found the young cabbage in the front yard, planted firmly in a blue, plastic bucket.
Raber hopes that interest — and the cabbage — grows.
Raber grew up on the farm he now works. He had a job in construction for seven years before he began farming in 2000.
The first year, he ran a dairy operation in addition to growing produce, but quickly decided he would need to specialize in one or the other.
The farmer has received most of his training from local seminars. He uses a variety of tools to help him keep tabs on his soil, including a refractometer to measure sugar levels and a soil probe to check electrical conductivity.
The farm is a mix of organic and conventionally grown produce. Raber plans to switch his operation to all organic once he feels the soil is healthy enough to sustain the change.
Raber’s conventional produce is sold at local grocery stores, while his organic items are marketed through Green Field Farms, a nonprofit cooperative of 110 Amish and conservative Mennonite farmers.
Planting on the farm is done with a water wheel transplanter pulled by horses. It lasts from mid-May until about June 10, but the growing season actually begins the first week of March when Raber’s father starts the young produce plants in his greenhouse.
Weeds are controlled with plastic strips and cultivators.
Although there are many things to consider on a daily basis, Raber tries not to lose sight of his long-term priorities for the farm. He knows that how he farms today will affect his children in years to come and he wants to give them more than just food for today.
He wants to give them the farm for tomorrow.