GALION, Ohio — Russ and Mendy Sellman had a desire to farm since they were children, but it wasn’t until they were married that their dream became a reality.
Russ Sellman grew up working on the former Myers dairy farm of southeastern Ashland County, learning from an older generation of farmers.
For several years, he also worked at the Loudonville Farmers Equity, where he learned how to run a feed mill, and how different farmers made their decisions.
Mendy Sellman grew up as the sixth generation on her family’s Crawford County farm. She helped her grandfather, the late Gene Crim, with everything from repairing farm equipment to cutting down trees.
Russ and Mendy met at a two-step dance, and he knew from the things she talked about, they had something in common.
“When you talked to her and she was talking about farming, you knew she didn’t read it in a book,” Russ said.
He said Mendy had a strong mechanical knowledge, and a willingness to do the kind of hard work that farming required.
And, since her grandfather already farmed a couple hundred acres, his farm made a good place to start.
But starting on their own, in 1992, wasn’t easy. Her grandfather was in his 70s when they started farming with him, and they were only in their 20s. The age gap was significant, and they sometimes had different opinions about how to farm.
“We were a mess at times, and I’m sure we looked like a circus, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mendy said.
Russ said one year, Gene rented them 25 acres to farm how they chose. But they had to also farm Gene’s acres, according to how he wanted it done. In the end, it was a good experience for everyone.
Russ and Mendy maintained a solid relationship with her grandfather and considered him their mentor. But they had to make some important decisions about the farm’s future, including buying new equipment and finding new ground to rent.
Russ said one of the first things they bought was a gravity wagon, for $500, and they were nervous that they had spent too much money as soon as they hauled it home.
Today, the Sellmans and their three children farm about 1,000 acres and finish 50 head of direct-marketed Holstein, along with direct-marketed swine and pasture-raised poultry. They operate under the name Rus-Men Farms, and they’ve sold meat from the farm for about 18 years.
When they first started direct marketing, the customers came to the house — even inside the house — and everyone was expected to be on their best behavior.
Making an impression. According to Elaina Sellman, the couple’s 18-year-old daughter, that meant the television got shut off, snacks were put away, and she was expected to talk and interact with the customer.
“You want to put your best foot forward,” Mendy said.
To learn more about Rus-Men Farms, visit them on their website, or on Facebook.
She said the goal was to convey a sense of responsibility and healthy eating — two of the things the family believes distinguish what they raise. The meats at Rus-Men Farms don’t have any special certifications, but they are raised with attention to space, living conditions, breed and nutrition — things that the family and their customers believe contribute to a quality product.
For about six years, the family operated their own farm store in a separate building outside the home, but this year, they’ve turned to the retail markets and are relying on a couple local meat retailers to sell the brand: Cooper’s Mill & Market in Bucyrus, and Phil’s Deli in Galion.
They made the move to the retail market to free up their own time, and to reduce the overhead of operating their own store.
But the time they spent with customers at the farm was well spent — and is what helped get them to the point that customers recognize their farm name in the stores.
Everyone helps care for the animals, including the couple’s 23-year-old son, Jesse, and his wife, Kristy, also 23.
Kristy did not grow up on a farm, but Mendy said she doesn’t balk at anything, including moving the poultry pens and loading the birds onto the trailer — a task made worse “when it’s muddy and the birds’ wings are flapping.”
Jesse helps with spring tillage, driving the semi and whatever else needs done, and his oldest sister, Emely, is an accountant.
Although the Sellmans are committed to the way they farm, they acknowledge their meats are more costly to produce and sell than for larger operations. But they said they serve a market that’s willing to pay the difference, and they don’t bash other types of farming.
“There’s enough farmers to satisfy everybody’s taste buds,” Mendy said. “We don’t need to shut anybody out and different things work for different operation. What we should all be fighting for is the freedom to produce the way that works for us and for the consumer to maintain a choice.”
The Sellmans have improved their own knowledge by attending educational programs like Ohio State University’s Beef 509 class, and have held tours on their farm and spoken at professional events.
The farm has seen both prosperous and lean times since it started, and is always looking for ways to improve. Russ said they recently sold their newest tillage tractor because they were facing another year of low grain prices. But they were able to buy an older tractor that still does everything they need.
Mendy calls it “having the fortitude to hang on, but the openness and willingness to also let go when you need to.”
Russ and Mendy are optimistic about the farm’s future, because they’ve developed it to the point where the next generation should have a solid foundation.
Jesse said he wants to continue growing the operation, and hopefully get into more contract-based cattle, when that market improves.
The family is driven by their faith in God, and conservative Christian values.
“There’s a certain amount of (security) when you can raise your own food and it’s an honor to get to raise food for people,” Mendy said.
Russ said farming has always been in his blood, and probably always will be.
“This agriculture thing is a habit,” he said. “I can’t imagine life without a tractor.”
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