FarMore Farms: Farming is far more than milking cows

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BURTON, Ohio – FarMore Farms’ 317-head milking string will cross the auction block June 26, but owners Kristi Schmitt Burr and Bill Ginn believe there’s still more life in their Geauga County farm. Far more.

The skeptics will say “I told you so,” shaking their head at the partnership between the two ag neophytes, at the showplace barn with its huge glassed view of the parlor, at the farm’s educational emphasis.

After all, the cows have been in the new, state-of-the-art facility less than five years.

No sacred cows. The owners, however, see it as a pragmatic business decision – stopping the bleeding before the entire farm died.

“Selling the cows is a business decision,” Schmitt Burr said, “but it’s an emotional decision no one likes to make.”

“Farmers are being driven to the wall,” she added. “We had to ask ourselves ‘how can we diversify and stay alive?'”

Resilient. Switching to a heifer raising enterprise will use the existing facility until, the owners say, the cows return.

“We will milk again,” vowed Schmitt Burr.

The farm is also working to develop a commercial composting operation and the partners have researched composting operations across the country to guide them.

From a marketing standpoint, Schmitt Burr said, the composting enterprise seems a given.

One county to the north – Lake County – is one of the nation’s capitals of the nursery industry, and is importing composted soil material from states like Tennessee and Virginia.

Business backbone. Ginn, 79, is a Yale-educated attorney who practiced in the Cleveland area, developing a specialty in contract negotiations. The farm used his experience to put together a team of suppliers – they call them ‘vendors’ – including other local farmers.

“Some farmers think they can only do what they’ve always done,” Schmitt Burr said. “We approach it a little differently.”

“We don’t have any preconceived notions,” Ginn added.

“And we don’t let our pride get in the way of our business decisions,” his partner finished.

The best farmers, the two say, remain flexible and resilient.

Educational focus. When you enter the barn at FarMore Farms’ Clearview Dairy just outside of Burton, you’re reminded more of a home than a barn.

A high cathedral ceiling stretches upward. A oriental-style rug covers a portion of the inlaid wood floor.

Straight ahead, a huge picture window gives visitors a view of the double 10 Germania milking parlor.

There’s a meeting room, spacious office and handicapped accessible restrooms.

This is not your typical dairy barn.

“People scoff at the educational part of it and say, ‘It’s a waste of money,'” said Schmitt Burr. “Not in our opinion.

“Education of the public is one of our highest priorities,” she added. “We all should be ambassadors for agriculture.”

The farm’s success isn’t measured in how many pounds of milk head out the driveway, Schmitt Burr said, but in education and in the support of the local economy.

Ginn said the farm has pumped millions of dollars into the county in a variety of ways.

“That’s the great thing about farming.”

Pricing connection. Efforts to share a little bit of real farm life with a lot of people could pay big dividends, Schmitt Burr said, in repairing a fractured food chain.

“The public has to put a higher value on what they eat,” she said, “and that’s why we do public education.”

For tomorrow. Schmitt Burr and Ginn linked in the first place simply to try and prevent the Geauga County farm from falling into a developer’s hands. They had one month to come up with a plan – and capital – to buy the farm.

They didn’t have any plans, other than to continue to lease the older facility to an Amish farmer who maintained a 35-head dairy there.

When the farmer moved to Kentucky, they switched to Plan B: “Let’s give a modern dairy operation a go.”

Both hold on to a higher goal of preserving the farmland and its ecological and economic impact on the region’s natural resources. They are working to create an agreement with a local land conservancy for a conservation easement, under which the farmland would remain in agriculture permanently.

“It will still be here,” Ginn said of the farm. “The land will still be here.”

“It’s not just about raising milk,” Schmitt Burr added. “We are supposed to be caretakers of the earth.”

(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

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