Following in the footsteps of farmers

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TORONTO, Ohio – Sitting at the kitchen table after school, Michael Swickard spreads out nine notebook pages of drawings. Each page is full of squiggly pencil lines that represent his ideas for his family’s farm.
He peers through his glasses, pointing out the future forklift roads and chicken walkways before mentioning that he wants to put a cabin on the back of the property and rebuild a horse barn that had to be torn down last spring.
Once he starts talking about his plans, it’s hard for the third grader to think about anything else. Michael will be the seventh generation of the Swickard family to farm the land and when it’s his turn, he wants to make his ancestors proud.
Two centuries. The Swickard farm is the oldest farm in Jefferson County registered in Ohio’s Century Farm program. Not all of the state’s farms are registered, but more than 600 Ohio farms are listed. Of those 600 farms, only about 30 have celebrated a bicentennial birthday.
The first family member to own the farm, Martin Swickard (then spelled Swickart), bought it in January 1807. Records don’t indicate the size of the farm until the fourth generation took over in 1922, when the deed listed the size at “60 acres more or less.”
Today, the farm officially covers 62 acres. Current owners Mike and Pam Swickard, Michael’s parents, grow alfalfa on most of the land and sell hay. They turned an old corn crib into a chicken pen a few years ago and now there are also about 30 Rhode Island Reds, Silkies, Bardrocks and Cuckoo Marans on the farm.
Although Mike was raised in town – his cousins lived on the farm during their youth – he visited almost every day and helped with any job he could. When the property became available, Mike knew he wanted to keep the family’s traditions going.
Past and present. The farm had been in hay production for several decades when Mike bought it in 1992 and he decided to follow suit.
Pam, a teacher’s aide in the Edison school district, said the farm fit right in with her plans, too. She grew up on a farm and enjoyed the rural lifestyle.
The generations immediately before Mike and Pam raised horses on the farm, so several barns have been built on the property. Right now, the couple maintains four barns for hay and equipment storage.
Pam and Mike have the deeds that were filed each time the Knox Township farm was sold or willed. There’s no record of the amount of the first transaction, but when the land passed from generation No. 1 to generation No. 2 in 1829, the entire cost of the farm was $816. Generation No. 3 bought the land in 1882 for $1,100.
Pam became interested in the family’s history after having Michael and she’s working on a book for him that details his heritage. She registered the farm in the Century Farms program in 2004, three years before its 200th anniversary.
The state’s program recognizes those who have kept a farm and homestead in their family for at least 100 years, but it doesn’t differentiate between centennial and bicentennial operations.
Taking over. The farm’s legacy is important to the Swickards. They’re proud that Michael wants to continue the family tradition and even prouder of his enthusiasm.
Michael helps his dad, an operator at FirstEnergy’s Sammis plant, make hay during the summer, but the boy’s real love is machinery.
“I’m into cars, anything that moves, anything with wheels,” he said.
And his plans for the farm have a lot to do with that passion.
“He wants to turn it into a Caterpillar tractor farm,” Pam said.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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