(This is the first of 12 monthly stories Farm and Dairy is writing to profile a wide range of voices and roles within agriculture.)
FREDERICKSBURG, Ohio — From the inside of a small, 1800s-era log cabin, Amish farmer and author David Kline writes about farming, nature and the simple way of life that he enjoys.
Outside of the cabin — on the family’s 120-acre organic dairy farm in northeastern Ohio — he lives that life each day, surrounded by the farm animals and wildlife, family and friends that he calls home.
The farm has been his home since his birth, in 1945, and has been in the family nearly 100 years. Over the past few decades, the farm has become somewhat of a landmark, because of the books Kline has written about the place, and the magazine he edits from his home — Farming Magazine.
The cabin is where he does most of his writing, and where his grandchildren play. His actual home — where he lives — is an updated century home located in front of the cabin. And in back of everything are a couple large barns, corn cribs and outbuildings, followed by the pastures where his dairy cows graze, and the fields where he grows the crops that become feed for his cows and horses.
Together, everything is part of home — and for Kline — home is really his favorite place.
“We live in hill country, but once you reach the hill where you can see home and see the silo — that’s where you look,” he said.
Like most Amish, Kline has an eighth-grade education — but has spent a lifetime learning. He can quote poets and authors as accurately as a college English student.
Echoing the words of poet Robert Frost, he says home is “a place where you live and not merely reside. It’s where your income comes from and your family lives — your animals, the dogs, the birds — everything is part of that home.”
(Organic Valley video)
Like most Amish, his family still relies on horses for field work and most of their transportation.
“Not that automobile is wrong … it’s what it will do to our communities,” he said.
His ancestors decided against cars and tractors because they were concerned they would hurt the local communities to which Amish belong. The horse has pretty much determined the size and scope of the Amish farm, Kline said, and helped keep communities together.
When he and his wife, Elsie, do their shopping, it’s usually within a few miles of home — in the rural community of Mount Hope.
But Kline has not always lived at home. In 1965, during the Vietnam War, he was drafted and served as a conscientious objector at a Catholic hospital in Cleveland.
He took it as a learning experience, and kept a journal of his time there. Many of his farm neighbors back home were Catholic, so working alongside Catholics was comforting.
“I felt very at home within the Catholic community, because we had neighbors that were Catholic. The sisters, the nuns, reminded me of our own friends,” he said.
Cleveland also gave him a new cultural experience — the Cuyahoga River Fire, the Hough race riots, professional sports teams, rock ’n’ roll music and an overall culture that was new and different to his own.
But his real love was still the rural life, and in the spring of 1968, he and his wife moved to the farm for good.
Like their ancestors, the Klines have always been dairy farmers, and they became certified organic in 2000. They have five adult children — all involved with agriculture — and 22 grandchildren.
The oldest son, Tim, farms about five miles west of David and Elsie’s farm; daughter, Kristine, farms near Syracuse, New York; daughter, Ann, and her husband, Kevin Miller, help run the home farm; a son, Mike, works for Organic Valley cooperative; and daughter, Emily, and her husband, David Hershberger, operate a dairy farm adjacent to the Kline farm.
In the past, the Klines have planned outings to places like the Cleveland Zoo and the Mohican State Forest.
“But it’s usually the events on the farm that the children want to talk about,” he said. “The satisfaction of nice animals, getting a crop in and working with good soil and good food.”
He remembers the times when his family would sit down to a home-cooked meal, and call out the names of each of the foods they had grown.
“The quality of life begins at the table,” he said.
Sharing his story
Check out other stories in this Rural Roles series:
February: Mary doesn’t have a little lamb, but she is a friend of the sheep industry.
March: Connie Finton volunteers off the farm to build quality of life for her family.
April: Conservation and cattle: Pete Conkle knows them both.
May: Gerards helped give equine trail riders miles of opportunity.
July: Passion for the fair runs deep: Tanya Marty.
August: Tuscarawas County farmer answers the call of his industry
September: It’s all because of the Jersey cow
October: Risky business: Tire repair has its share of dangers
November: Family tradition, trees and rescue
Today, Kline’s farm, named “Larksong,” and his stewardship of the land is known across the country, and even some foreign countries. This is mostly because of his willingness to share his experiences through writing.
Kline has always had a love of words, but when he was in grade school, he stuttered and had a hard time pronouncing them. What he could do, however, was arrange the letters on the blackboard in ways that he always wanted to pronounce.
Later in life, when he was married and actively farming, he told his wife he was going to write about their experiences.
She dared him that he never would, “and that’s all it took,” Kline said, with laughter, “a dare from the wife.”
And it also took a willingness to share, something he got in part from author and mentor Wendell Berry. Like Berry, Kline said he feels obligated to support agriculture, and the lifestyle that he enjoys.
It comes with a risk, especially in a community of people who avoid public attention and the spotlight. And Kline remains true to those ideals, being careful not to be photographed, and keeping the attention of his writings on the community around him — not just himself.
But he’s dedicated to writing — especially about the values and traditions he treasures. Things like hard work, family and community time, taking care of the environment and preserving the farm for the next generation.
He does so through essays and stories about his own farm — the times he and his family have spent working, laughing and enjoying the beauty of nature.
His publisher, David Wiesenberg, of The Wooster Book Co., met Kline in the early 1990s. He got to know him over a period of years, and in 2001, Wiesenberg republished Kline’s first book — Great Possessions, an Amish Farmer’s Journal.
Wiesenberg said Kline was a “born writer,” but he had to let himself do it — to tell the stories that he was so capable of telling.
There are four main themes that Wiesenberg sees in Kline’s writing: producing wholesome food is very worthy work; the family farm must be profitable; work cannot be too exhausting; and the labor and interaction with nature must be enjoyable.
One of Wiesenberg’s favorite essays is one about Kline and his daughter simply going for a walk, and noticing all the birds and wildlife along the way.
Kline’s books have proven successful among a broad range of readers, Wiesenberg said, from garden clubs and nursing homes, to college literature students, who are reading the book as part of their curriculum.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about his writing is that it’s a real place — a living, working farm that continues to be the livelihood of the Kline family, and his inspiration.
“David paints in words that are celebratory of a specific place, and, of course, this place is his homeplace — a farm,” Wiesenberg said.
And while his writing is full of wisdom and experience — it’s not meant to be instructional.
“I never looked at writing as to give something to people,” Kline said. “It’s just a sharing of a way of life that is enjoyable and a way of farming that can be profitable.”
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