CANTON, Ohio — Growing up on the family farm, Charlie Swartz and his adult children knew they had something special. They heard stories about their relatives and about how one of their own, Jacob Schwartz, helped start the Stark County Fair in 1850.
But it wasn’t until the past few years that they began to fully appreciate what they have, and what it means to the county.
“You never really thought much of it when you were little,” said Dave Swartz, a son. “(The farm) was just your job — work on the farm and go out and do what you have to do. But then as years went by, then you started realizing that yeah, it really is something special to have a farm in your name for over 200 years.”
The state of Ohio thought the same thing, when it awarded the family an heirloom certificate signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Agriculture Director Dave Daniels, during this year’s opening ceremonies at the Stark County Fair.
Another Stark County farm, owned by the Richard Bowman family, also received the bicentennial farm recognition.
Then and now
Much has changed in the 200 years that the Swartz family has farmed in Stark County.
The original land has changed hands multiple times, the crops and equipment have changed, and so has the family name, which went from Schwartz to Swartz, during the third generation.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the family’s commitment to agriculture.
The original Swartz Farm was started in 1816 by Henry and Catherine Schwartz. Their son, Jacob, helped found the Stark County Agricultural Society in 1850, which led to the first county fair.
In Jacob’s day, the farm raised sheep and Red Dane cattle, a dairy breed popular in northern Europe. And Jacob didn’t just raise them, he also showed them — winning a silver cup at the Stark County Fair.
The farm, which is the same age as the township where it is located, Lake Township, became a dairy operation in 1918 and continued until the family retired the herd in 2003.
Today, the farm is operated by Charlie Swartz, 85, and his adult children and grandchildren. That includes Dave Swartz’ sister, Debbie, and brothers Kevin and Ed.
They farm about 450 acres, with a few fields that date back to the original farm. Charlie still has some of the Farmall tractors his family farmed with, including a Farmall C that his father, Russell, bought to replace the horses.
Charlie, who is also a Korean War veteran, joined the fair board in 1958. He is still a board member, and in 2008, he was inducted into the Ohio Fair Managers Hall of Fame.
In 1993, Dave also joined the fair board, and Charlie’s grandson, Aaron Tournoux, is also a member. It’s believed to be the first time that three generations of a family have served on the board at one time.
Dave said he enjoys helping young people come up through the program, and being involved with the whole agricultural experience.
“It’s just in your blood,” he said.
Over the years, Charlie has helped coordinate about every department, including the beef and dairy projects. He also helped start the tractor pull in 1963, which continues today as one of the main grandstand attractions.
Charlie was also a 4-H adviser for 30 years, and when his children were young, they were all involved with showing animals at the fair.
Each member of the family has his or her own memories about the farm, and because it’s still a family-run grain operation, new memories are being made.
Debbie (Swartz) Tournoux remembers when her grandfather showed her an 1875 atlas, that had a picture of the family farm.
“He used to show this to me when I was 10 years old,” she said. “History means a lot to me.”
She said seven generations of family have attended the same local church, St. Jacob’s Lutheran, and six generations are buried there.
Charlie said during one generation, three children were buried on the family farm behind his home, where some oak trees now grow. He believes they may have died from a disease, such as smallpox.
The farm has overcome other challenges, as well.
When Dave was 9, he suffered a severe power take-off accident that left him with a broken leg at Thanksgiving. And in 2006, someone apparently set the family’s barn on fire, the same night that other local fires were set.
Dave overcame his injuries, and the barn was rebuilt.
Kevin said the family has faced its share of challenges, like any farm family does, but has always stuck together.
“This time and age, when things don’t even last 10, 15, 20 years anymore, to say we’ve been here for 200, it gives (me) a lot of pride,” he said.
When the family retired from dairy in 2003, they began finishing some beef cattle, but now mostly produce crops. Charlie also still has 25 Cheviot sheep, and four Haflinger mares.
The farm’s seventh generation, which includes Aaron and Zachary Tournoux, is active on the farm and they bought some land of their own just last year. Both have degrees from Ohio State University and own their own business, Tournoux Landcare.
Others from the seventh generation include Marissa Tournoux, and Dave’s son, David.
Charlie said he and the family have made arrangements to keep the land in the family. And even though there are now multiple owners, the family still works together.
“We have arguments, but we still get along,” Charlie said.