(This week, we continue our Rural Roles series, which features different voices within the agriculture industry who make a difference. We run one profile story a month.)
NEWCOMERSTOWN, Ohio — If he wanted to, Tuscarawas County farmer Jerry Lahmers could make his schedule a lot more simple. He could easily free up some time by stepping away from a few things, and giving up some of volunteer commitments.
He half-jokingly admits that there are times when he’d like to, especially when he’s busy at his own farm, a beef and crop operation.
A fairly quiet person, Lahmers is not one to seek the spotlight. But when it comes to things he believes in — like agriculture and veterinary medicine — he steps up.
“If you believe in something, you have to participate in it and support it,” he said. “I’ve believed in veterinary medicine and I’ve believed in agriculture.”
Lahmers has been a veterinarian since the early 1970s, and a Tuscarawas County farmer for all his life.
When he first went to college, in the 1960s, he was intent on the Air Force, and studying chemical engineering at Ohio University. But when he started to look at job prospects, he was worried he’d end up in a big city — far removed from farm life.
So, after marrying his wife, Rita, in 1967, he pursued another degree — this time in veterinary medicine at Ohio State University. Lahmers earned his degree in 1971 and was able to return to the family farm north of Newcomerstown, and eventually take most of it over.
For Lahmers, it meant going back to his roots, and continuing the family heritage.
“That’s the point about agriculture,” he said. “They (farmers) have more ties to the land than any other profession, with the heritage of the land and everything. And it’s nice to have it so that a son can be involved and take it over in the future.”
Check out other stories in this Rural Roles series:
January: Amish farmer and author shares story of the simple life.
February: Mary doesn’t have a little lamb, but she is a friend of the sheep industry.
March: Connie Finton volunteers off the farm to build quality of life for her family.
April: Conservation and cattle: Pete Conkle knows them both.
May: Gerards helped give equine trail riders miles of opportunity.
July: Passion for the fair runs deep: Tanya Marty.
September: It’s all because of the Jersey cow
October: Risky business: Tire repair has its share of dangers
November: Family tradition, trees and rescue
Lahmers is retired from dairy herd checks, but still provides his own veterinary work and vet services for area beef farmers. He and Melvin farm about 600 acres of forages, corn and soybeans, and keep 120 brood cows, and about 250 head on the feedlot.Jerry and Rita have two sons: Melvin, who lives and works on the farm, and is anagronomist for TMK Farm Service; and Kevin, a veterinary pathologist in Blacksburg, Va.
His farm keeps him busy, but he finds time to be involved where he needs to be.
Years of service
Over the years, he’s served on the OSU Extension Advisory Committee, Ohio Farm Bureau board of trustees, the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association board, and the Ohio Veterinary Medical Licensing Board, and he was a Newcomerstown School board member for 20 years, with 13 years on the Buckeye Career Center Board.
In recent years, he’s taken an active role in community development and land use issues.
In the early 2000s, when a group wanted to develop an old railroad track into a walking trail, he worked to make sure farmers’ interests were represented. At first, Lahmers said the project was not popular among farmers, because of fears over liability and potential damage to private property.
But thanks to some forward thinking, he and several other community members formed a local parks advisory group — a 15-member panel that serves to advise the Tuscarawas County Park Department on park and recreational projects.
Lahmers said, at first he opposed the trails and was less than fond of the groups leading the project. But thanks to collaboration, he feels like the landowner’s voice is being heard, and now counts the project leaders as friends.
“Let’s face it — it’s one of the things that adds to the quality of life in the area, and if it’s done right, I think we can get by with it,” he said.
Chris Zoller, an OSU Extension educator in Tuscarawas County who serves on the same committee, said the committee helped farmers and trail developers find shared values, and work together.
“When this (trail) first started, it was not a good situation,” Zoller said. “With Jerry’s leadership and personality, he was able to blend those two groups together.”
Zoller said Lahmers is a well-respected leader in the ag community, not only locally but across the state.
That became especially true in spring of 2010, when former Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Lahmers to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. It was the first board of its kind in the nation, and was tasked with forming livestock care standards for each of Ohio’s main livestock species.
And not only did the board have to form standards of care, but it had to do so amid full public scrutiny, including the interests of farmers, consumers and animal welfare groups.
Lahmers, who still serves on the board, said he tried to base his decisions on science, but at the same time, he had to weigh public opinion. He said that sometimes public opinion doesn’t line up with what’s best for animals — but that opinions are a powerful force that ultimately influence regulations.
Overall, he said he’s pleased with the work of the board. And perhaps most importantly, it kept animal rights activists from setting the standards.
But at the same time, the board includes humane society groups and their interests, as active members of the board.
“We’re getting all segments,” Lahmers said. “It’s a broad spectrum.”
When the standards were first being formed, Lahmers and other board members found themselves traveling to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, or to Ohio State University in Columbus, on an almost weekly basis. And they made scores of trips to public hearings and farm tours to study different farming practices.
It was a total commitment that added to his days and nights — and made for longer hours at his own farm. One summer, he drove about 8,000 miles.
Jerry isn’t the only one in his family reaching out. Rita, a retired school teacher, is helping coordinate a new program called Farmtastic Agventures — a web-based Google Hangout that connects classrooms with live videos from different types of farms across the state.
The videos are interactive and allow students to ask questions of the farmer during the recording.
As a teacher, Rita Lahmers said she always had a passion for “touching the future,” and by sharing these videos, she is able to help teach children about modern agriculture.
Jerry Lahmers said he feels public opinion and government regulations are two of the biggest issues facing farmers today, and that it’s important for farmers to step up and share accurately about what they do.
“The public eye is so much more important than it was when I started 30-40 years ago,” he said. “That license to farm is so important anymore, and it’s only bought with information.”
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