Sandy Beaver Farms: 200 years of progressive agriculture

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Bowman - Our Farm Roots

LISBON, Ohio — Dean Bowman’s favorite spot on his farm is actually the dining room table.

From there, as he’s eating his cereal every morning, he can look out a huge picture window and see the seasons change in a slight valley that’s now filled with the curves of contour strips and corn.

Bowman’s farm is one of the most picturesque in this stretch along the old Sandy Beaver Canal and Little Beaver Creek east of Lisbon, Ohio. It’s no wonder countless unknown photographers stop to capture the scene.

And it’s no wonder Bowman’s ancestor, Christian Bowman, traveled no further west on his trek from York County, Pennsylvania, in 1809 in search of land. He received a land grant deed in 1811 from President James Madison, and a second farm deed in 1819 from President James Monroe.

The farm, home to Bowmans ever since, was recognized as an Ohio Bicentennial Farm by the Ohio Department of Agriculture in 2013.

Stowaway

Henry Bowman, Christian’s father, arrived in America as a stowaway on a ship from Germany. Discovered upon the boat’s arrival in this country, Bowman was sold to a Pennsylvania farmer in exchange for his passage.

Dean and Mary Ann Bowman
Dean and Mary Ann Bowman

Dean Bowman doesn’t know if the family farmed in Germany, but it soon became the family’s legacy in the New World — and he is the fifth generation to own and operate the Columbiana County farm. He and his wife, Mary Ann, raised the sixth generation of four daughters on the farm — Gretchen Harshman, Becky Lease, Kathy Stauffer and Jenny McIntyre — and they’re hopeful one of the four grandchildren from the seventh generation or

Dean with grandson Cole
Dean with grandson Cole.

two great-grandsons from the eighth will continue the tradition.

Agricultural pioneers

The early farms were all-purpose, then sheep and orchards. Christian Bowman Jr. was one of the county’s first farmers to become interested in fruit culture and established apple orchards in 1862, and is seen as a pioneer in the fruit industry that soon flourished in Columbiana and Mahoning counties. He was also instrumental in getting the first-ever sheep register published, according to the History of the Upper Ohio Valley.

The Bowmans helped build the Elkton Fruit House, just up the road along the railroad. The building housed a barrelmaker, and apple storage, and from this location, the Bowmans and other local farmers shipped apples to Pittsburgh as well as straw and timothy hay for the city’s stables.

Rich dairy tradition

Dean Bowman’s grandfather, Frank Bowman, built a registered Jersey dairy herd, in addition to the sheep, traveling to the Isle of Jersey to purchase registered Jersey heifers and calves for his foundation stock. He was one of the first Columbiana County dairymen to import registered Jerseys from the island.

Frank was known for buying good cattle and breeding them, and during his life, he held three dispersal sales of females he developed. Two of the sales were with Jersey cattle (one sale drew Harvey Firestone and his friend, Henry Ford), and the third was a Guernsey sale.

 

Family legend has it that Frank said he developed his Guernsey herd because  “I think I could breed the duds out.”

Sandy Beaver Farms

Dean Bowman, now 71, and his brother, Keith, who now lives in Tennessee, got their start early on the farm. When the two brothers first took cows to the county fair and wanted to stencil a farm name on the tack box, they gave the farm its name — Sandy Beaver Farms, because of its location on the Sandy Beaver Canal.

“We were probably 8 and 10 then,” Dean recalls.

When Dean graduated from high school in 1960, he joined his father, Harry, on the farm. He married Mary Ann three weeks after her 1961 graduation.

Dean and his father formed a 50-50 partnership, then Dean bought the farm in 1972.

“I knew when I was growing up, I wanted to farm,” Bowman said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do.”

He soaked up information in 4-H and then the vo-ag class in high school — “That was the only class I really cared about!” — and was part of the soils judging team that competed on the state level.

“When they dug a pit, I thought that was just like heaven.”

Conservation

Perhaps he comes by that soil management passion genetically. His grandfather, Frank, installed miles of drain tile to improve the soil’s productivity, and father Harry laid out the farm’s first contour strips. Today, Bowman’s farm shows the result of generations of attention to soil fertility, conservation and management.

Dean Bowman has added four more parcels to the farm and has this conviction when you buy a farm: “First you lime it, then you tile it, and then you can farm it.”

Over the years, he’s added more tile to different fields — he added eight miles of tile the year he bought the farm — and has been raising crops with no-till or minimum tillage for years. He’s also been experimenting for about four years with cover crops or radishes, annual ryegrass and clover, and likes the results so far.

“That soil is so much of a different texture; I really like it.”

Today, the farm encompasses 530 acres, where he raises corn, soybeans, wheat and hay — a lot of hay. He’ll put up some 10,000 small square bales this year alone, which he sells primarily to the horse market and the racing stables at nearby Mountaineer Park.

Black and Whites

The Bowmans were milking about 30 head of Jerseys, when Dean’s father, Harry, took a three-day vacation to Wisconsin where he saw plenty of Holsteins. If Wisconsin’s a big dairy state, he thought, and they’re milking Holsteins, maybe they’re on to something.

Dean’s first Holstein calves came from well-known breeders Carl and Charity Miller, from Columbiana, Ohio. Then, he won showman of showman honors at the fair and won another calf, and slowly the Holsteins outnumbered the Jerseys in the Bowman herd.

 

And, after a lifetime of milking Holsteins and developing one of the top-producing herds in the county, Dean made one of the most difficult decisions of his farming career and sold the milking herd three years ago. He kept the heifers, bred them, then sold them as they were about to freshen.Dean Bowman standing by barnyard

He switched gears and now has a herd of 50 Angus cows and 46 calves on the ground. He feeds out the calves, and markets some as freezer beef. He manages the crop and cattle operation with the help of longtime part-time employee Perry Arter.

Cows and crops

With every step, Bowman has been as committed to top practices as his pioneering ancestors.

“When I was growing up, I said if I was going to be a farmer, I was going to be a good one,” he said.

“I don’t farm big, and I don’t get in a hurry,” he added.

“I like to see things grow and when I get it planted, I turn it over to the Lord and let him handle it.”

And, good Lord willing, generations of Bowmans will be farming that land for another 200 years.

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