New farmer grant boosts veteran-run sweet corn operation

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LEFT: Nate and Kaylee Zimmet operate Eagle Ridge Farm, in Trumbull County, Ohio. Nate recently received a $1,000 grant from the Trumbull County Farm Bureau to help the beginning farmer with operating expenses. (Susan Shea photo). CENTER: Maizey the black Lab, sits by the famous sweet corn at Eagle Ridge Farm in this 2023 photo. (Submitted photo) RIGHT: The flower garden at Eagle Ridge Farm in full bloom in 2023. (Submitted photo)

CORTLAND, Ohio — Nate Zimmet has quite a few reasons to be proud of himself, but that’s not exactly how this humble 38-year-old Marine veteran operates.

Instead, Nate and his wife, Kaylee, are grateful. They recognize that they couldn’t have sustained and grown their farming ventures without the help of family members before them.

“We couldn’t have started from scratch,” he said, saying that there are either huge farms or smaller farms, but the costs associated with getting started are prohibitive for most who would like to farm.

So, when Zimmet was recently named the recipient of the first-ever Trumbull County Farm Bureau New Farmer Expansion Grant, he was thrilled. An anonymous donor funded the new program.

The $1,000 grant was offered to offset farm operation costs. Zimmet used the money to purchase diesel fuel, and he doesn’t take the gift lightly.

“I wish I could meet the person,” he said. “Everything that helps out is huge, and I appreciate it very much,” he said. This father of three active boys, now ages 14, 12 and 9, is keenly aware of the high prices associated with just about everything.

Farm Bureau members reviewed the grant applications, said Mandy Orahood, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director for Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties. Their recommendation was then presented to the donor, who ultimately agreed with the decision.

“This is something that the donor wants to do again next year,” Orahood said. “The donor remembers what it was like just starting out, and wants to give back to young farmers because input costs can be prohibitive. Nathan’s application showed that he was definitely working to grow his business, and for that reason, he was chosen.”

Coming back

Zimmet acknowledges that the road to he and Kaylee’s founding of Eagle Ridge Farm has been incredible. Having met in high school, the couple had settled in North Carolina after his stint in the U.S. Marines. But when Kaylee’s father needed help running of the family farm in 2012, they came back and settled in Ohio.

They had been row crop farmers, with little direct-to-consumer retail marketing experience. When a friend of the family, fellow farmer Harvey Lutz, decided to quit growing his locally famous sweet corn, customers were indignant and disappointed. Zimmet and Harvey were familiar with one another, since Nate purchased bulk fertilizer from him. So Zimmet decided to buy the necessary equipment off of Lutz, and agreed to try his hand at producing sweet corn. Their first year was in 2022. They devoted 20 acres to sweet corn. This year, Nate has expanded the sweet corn to 30 acres.

“That first year was very stressful,” Zimmet said. He recalls not sleeping the night before they opened the market so that customers could buy the corn.

“I kept thinking we were maybe going to be stuck with all this corn,” he continued. “I mean, it was piled high on a flat hay wagon. In the morning, when we first opened, I couldn’t believe it. The traffic was backed up on the road – cars were all turning in for our corn. It made us feel wonderful.”

Community-minded

And it’s been like that since. Customers keep coming. The family’s 1-year-old black Labrador, Maizey supervises and conducts meet-and-greets whenever she can.

Kaylee Zimmet said that she feels they are very “community-minded.” Nate Zimmet said that it’s like he is continuing his service to his country — by feeding people.

The corn is picked fresh daily and sold that day. If there’s anything left after two days, it immediately is donated to the Warren Mission or to another food pantry in the area. Nate Zimmet knows it’s still good, but it’s not at the peak of flavor as it would be on the day it’s picked.

“We strive to get our corn to the people at its peak flavor,” he said. “We have a corn hotline to call, and our customers can verify that we have corn that day. Our hours are different every day, so it’s a must to check the hotline before anyone makes the drive.” The hotline number is 330-259-0757.

Nate Zimmet is in the fields for many long hours, many long days. He is at the mercy of the weather as he also plants another 500 acres of field corn and soybeans.

This is, of course, in addition to his full-time position at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. He said he is gratified to see that the customers of Harvey Lutz decided to follow him, and he is pleasantly surprised when people see him and say “Oh hey, you’re the corn guy,” or, to Kaylee, “You’re the flower girl!”

Kaylee, who keeps the household schedule running with her three boys, who are involved in baseball, track and cross-country, and her own part-time dental assistant work, is present most often at the sweet corn sale days.

She also sells flowers from the Joy Garden. Customers can spend time in the garden and cut their own, or choose from the many floral arrangements that Kaylee Zimmet lovingly puts together. She wants people to feel the peace and quiet of the flower garden, giving people a connection to the land and perhaps a few peaceful moments.

The couple employs about 30 mostly high-school-age young adults for the sweet corn market. Those who are chosen display a “can-do” service-oriented approach to the work.

Eagle Ridge Farm is named because of the eagles that have nested on the property, and because they plant in 38-inch ridges. The Bald Eagle is our nation’s National Bird. The logo has farm fields represented on it, and to Nate, it looks similar to the American flag.

This young farmer loves his country and wants everyone to know that he doesn’t take his freedom or his rights lightly. He considers it a privilege to serve others, feed his community, and raise his family.

While he and Kaylee adopt the values of the digital and social media age, they are also quick to point out that they stand on the shoulders of giants. The values that built the nation are incorporated into their family and farm life every day. Nate Zimmet has a far-reaching and total appreciation for that.

“I enjoy giving back,” he said, with a wide smile.

More information can be found by accessing the website at EagleRidgeFarmLLC.com.

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