Preparing a path for the next generation (Part 1)

Part 1

DALTON, Ohio — For Henry “Junior” Wengerd, the farm is everything. It’s a school for his children, a nursing home for his parents and the place he wants to retire.

It’s much more than a way to make a living. For Wengerd and his family, the farm is a way to make a life.

Passing it on

The Wengerds — Junior, his wife and four children — are an Amish farm family. As members of a Plain Community church, they plow, plant and harvest using only horse power.

The family runs a 155-acre organic grain and dairy farm on the east side of Wayne County and they’re connected to the land in a way most people only imagine.

The farm has been in Wengerd’s family since 1964. He grew up there as one of 12 children.

The farm always sustained the family’s day-to-day lives, but Wengerd’s parents were looking beyond just the present. They wanted something to pass on, something that would benefit their children.

At 21, Wengerd left the farm and took a job in his brother’s shop making farm equipment. He worked there for 10 years, but his heart never truly left the fields.

As it turned out, Wengerd was the only one of his siblings who wanted to farm. His brothers and sisters supported the decision for Wengerd to buy the family land. It was important to them that the farm stayed in the family, Wengerd said. No one wanted to sell the land and split the profits.

Wengerd bought the farm from his father at a reduced rate and agreed to provide his parents with a home, food and care.

Today, he’s operating the farm with the same goals his parents had in mind. Everything he does revolves around one concept — passing the farm to one of his children.

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Dairy

Wengerd milks 38 Holsteins and grows almost all of the corn, oats and alfalfa necessary to feed them. The herd produces about 2,000 pounds of milk per day, which is sold as fluid milk and cheese.

Wengerd’s milk is picked up every other day by Organic Valley, while the cheese is marketed through Green Field Farms, a nonprofit cooperative of about 110 Amish and conservative Mennonite farmers.

The cooperative works with Steiner Cheese and Middlefield Cheese for processing and sells the product under the Green Field Farms label.

Wengerd has reduced his operating costs by making his farm mostly self-sustaining. There are very few inputs that have to be bought from outside sources. Besides growing his own grain, the farmer uses his own replacement heifers and fertilizes his fields with manure from his cows.

Benefits

It takes more time and effort to run an organic farm and produce organic milk, but Wengerd said there are some important benefits.

First, the concept of organic farming works well with the kind of lifestyle Wengerd wants — natural and uncomplicated.

“It fits very well with the way we do farming on a small scale,” he said.

Focusing on the organic market has relieved Wengerd from the pressure of trying to compete with conventional agriculture. And he admits that he prefers an organic operation anyway.

“That is the way we like to farm,” he said.

The second benefit of farming organically, according to Wengerd, is working with Green Field Farms for marketing. Through the co-op, his work is a profitable endeavor.

“Now we have a market that it pays for us to farm this way,” he said.

Going organic

Although Wengerd had to go through a three-year transition period before his farm could be certified organic, his original production techniques were not that different from organic standards.

By treating the land naturally, Wengerd hopes it will provide for future generations of his family. Because just like the farm depends on him for nurture and care, he depends on it for food, shelter and comfort.

“It is everything to us,” he said. “It takes care of all our needs.”

Related coverage
Preparing a path for the next generation (Part 2)
Co-op supports Amish farmers in Ohio and Pa.

About the Author

Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009. More Stories by Janelle Skrinjar

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