Produce farmer shares words of wisdom with Ohio growers

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See our report on the food safety portion of the conference here.

SANDUSKY, Ohio — When life throws you a bad deal — and it’s sure to happen — you might as well be happy and thankful for what you have.

That was part of the message Indiana produce farmer Ed Bell gave at the annual Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association annual conference in Sandusky, Jan. 17-19.

Bell is no stranger to adversity. He’s been making the best of it since 1982, after a home intruder attacked him and his wife, shooting him twice during the scuffle and leaving him paralyzed. His wife was unharmed.

“Life has adversity,” he said. “It was not in my business plan to be in a wheelchair.”

Optimistic

But Bell and his family made it work. Along with his wife, Debbie, and adult daughter, Nellie, they operate Bell’s Strawberry Farm, a 72-acre produce operation in Hagerstown, specializing in strawberries.

Bell has been featured in many national publications as a success story for paraplegics. He has adapted his tractors so he can operate them by hand, and he has a standing wheel chair that allows him to sit or stand while he’s working.

Improvement

Slowly, some of the feeling in his hands and upper body returned and he told farmers of the “blessing” of just being able to pick up a dime.

He gave up raising livestock, because the mud and manure did not mix well with his wheelchair. But he wasn’t about to give up farming.

“We do it because it’s in our blood,” he said, adding “the rewards are great” and farmers have to learn to laugh and take life as it comes.

He’s spent the past 25 years becoming a better produce grower, and held a separate session during the conference to talk about some of the things that work well at his own farm.

Key points

Among them — environmental stewardship, faith in God and a family-friendly farm that allows whole families to come and pick their own produce.

In 1995, adversity struck again, as the family’s farmhouse was lost in a fire. But his optimism would not be crushed. The Bells built another house in 1996, and called it “Beracha,” the Hebrew word for “praise.”

His farm was named the 2006 Indiana Farm Family of the Year, and they’ve developed the slogan “we farm so you can eat.”

He put up several picture slides during his presentation, to show the many other ways adversity strikes — equipment stuck in mud, tractors breaking through bridges and sink holes.

He kept his audience laughing as he flipped through the images, not because of the mishaps, but because they could relate.

He told farmers they work in one of the most dangerous professions there is, and commended them for their relentless drive to provide food for others.

Although some in his situation would be mad at the world, he’s not.

“Laughter is good medicine,” he said, reminding them there are bigger things in life than adversity.

To learn more about the Bell farm, visit www.eatmorestrawberries.com.

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