Woodruff family runs an ever-evolving ag operation

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Todd Woodruff
Todd Woodruff is working to supply the demand for local foods by bottling milk from his herd of Jerseys and providing sales outlets for meat and other food produced on other nearby farms.

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Inside one of Woodruff Enterprises’ cold storage warehouses, boxes of food are stacked on shrink-wrapped pallets and the pallets are stacked three stories high. Outside, semi-trailers are lined up, waiting to deliver the food to restaurants and grocery stores. 

The company provides storage and shipping for several big-name food companies, including Dole, Bob Evans and Gordon Food Service, but company head, Todd Woodruff, also sees an opportunity for farmers like himself. 

“I’d love to see this full of our food and us shipping it,” he said. 

Woodruff is most often seen wearing a cowboy hat, but, figuratively speaking, he wears a variety of hats. He’s been working as an auctioneer for 34 years. He also helped his family build a livestock shipping business, sold that business, and started the refrigerated freight business, which now operates 47 trucks and 100-some trailers. 

Meanwhile, he has continued to work on his family farm, near Urbana, Ohio, raising Angus breeding stock and milking Jersey cows. 

At heart, he’s a farmer, he said, “Farming’s my first love.” 

Family business

Woodruff dairy herd
The small Woodruff dairy herd doesn’t need many replacement heifers, so the Woodruffs hold an auction at the farm each year to sell all the heifers born the previous year.

Todd, his wife, Teri, and their adult sons, Levi and Trevor, all work in the family businesses. In all, their various enterprises employ about 100 people. Nevertheless, Todd said, the family remains rooted in the small family farm.

Inside a barn built by Todd’s great-grandfather, the family keeps a milking herd of 30 to 35 Jersey cows. Up until four years ago, the family sold milk through a co-op, but decided to process and market the milk to capture more income. 

“I’ve wanted to do that since high school,” Todd Woodruff said. “I don’t like middlemen.” 

The Woodruffs set up a processing facility to bottle the milk and began selling it under the Woodruff Jersey Farm brand. 

“I have to admit, it has been a really slow process,” Woodruff said. 

Currently, they are selling about 1,000 gallons of milk a week. Nearly all goes to daycare centers and coffee shops within a radius of about 100 miles. To meet the preferences of their customers, the Woodruffs are processing the milk using low-temp, long-time pasteurization. Some is homogenized and the rest is bottled as creamline milk. 

Local venture

Woodruff Jersey Farm
Woodruff Jersey Farm milk is processed using low-temp, long-time pasteurization. Some is homogenized and the rest is bottled as creamline milk.

The milk processing venture was the start of a bigger effort to provide better marketing opportunities for locally produced food, Woodruff said. Originally, he had a long-term plan to expand into processing and sales of other local foods, but he moved up his timetable when a nearby food processing facility and restaurant came up for sale three years ago. 

The facilities were previously the headquarters of the Rothschild Berry Farm, but, after a series of corporate transitions, that business was liquidated. The facilities were in the right place even though it was the wrong time. 

“It doesn’t make sense to expand before you’ve ever sold anything, but we did,” Woodruff said. 

The former Rothschild facilities are along busy State Route 36, just east of Urbana, so they’re visible and accessible to customers. The buildings also include space for processing, as well as room for a retail store and restaurant. 

“It offered the full vision,” Woodruff said. 

Expanding sales

Woodruff Jersey Farm
The Farm Connection Market offers a variety of locally produced meats and other foods.

In 2020, the Woodruffs opened a retail store, the Farm Connection Market, at the former Rothschild farm. Besides their own milk products, they’re selling beef and pork produced on nearby farms, under the Woodruff Farms label. 

They’re also selling other locally produced products, ranging from beef jerky and pasta to lavender-infused honey and candied jalapeno relish. 

“The goal in here is to sell what we raise and also buy from other small farms that are producing something,” Woodruff said. 

They’re in the process of expanding their selection of local foods. 

“I wanted to get it big enough that we could help the other little guys,” he said.

Milk uses

Woodruff Jersey Farm
Milk from Woodruff Jersey Farm is available at the family’s retail store, the Farm Connection Market. However, most is sold directly to day care centers and coffee shops. (Gail Keck photos)

The Woodruff milk processing venture is expanding as well. They’ve just perfected a recipe for ice cream and they’re gearing up to make Grana cheese. 

That’s a hard cheese similar to Parmesan, Woodruff explained. 

It’s a good processing partner with ice cream because it can be made with the low-fat milk left after cream is skimmed off to make ice cream. Woodruff is applying the same waste-not philosophy to meat sales. 

In addition to selling meat through the retail store, he sells meat to area restaurants. Demand is higher for tenderloins, ribeyes and strip steaks than for ground meat, he explained. 

So, he recently bought a commercial oven and food packaging equipment to process the ground meat into foods such as meatballs and chili for pre-cooked packaged meals. 

“They’ll be like high-end TV dinners,” he explained. 

Scaling up

When COVID-19 disrupted meat supply chains, small restaurants were especially hard hit, Woodruff said. Many distributors dropped their smallest customers first. As a result, he saw a quick increase in demand for his locally sourced meat. Woodruff has not experienced the problems some producers have seen in scheduling processing for livestock. He has a contract for processing with the Meat Processing Career Center at the Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient. 

To fill the growing demand for local beef, Woodruff is hoping to work with more nearby beef producers. On his own farm, he raises Angus cattle, but they are breeding stock rather than market animals. He’s working on a plan to sell bulls to area farms and, then, buy their cattle for processing. 

Sustaining the demand for local meat will require a consistent, high-quality, local supply, he said.

Woodruff is also renovating the former Rothschild restaurant facility to open his own restaurant with a menu-driven by Woodruff Farms products. That will provide another market outlet for their local foods and increase visibility for their brand. 

“We hope the restaurant ties it all together,” he said.

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Gail Keck writes from her family farm, near Raymond, Ohio, where she manages the hog and cattle enterprises. She has extensive experience writing about Ohio agriculture and is a graduate of Ohio State University. She can be reached at editorial+gkeck@farmanddairy.com or at 937-578-8534.

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