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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mixed beauty

I often pass one of the “lease back” farms, the Trapp Family Farm in my travels. For a hasty bit of background, my township, Boston, once was a thriving farming community and later a quiet collection of hamlets and villages in the Cuyahoga Valley, halfway between Akron and Cleveland. In my investigation last summer of the origin of Boston Park I had a chat with an old resident who said “Oak Hill Road. That was going to be our money maker you know.”

All the zoning was in place to keep the valley residential, with a small commercial corridor. All the old farms would lose none of their real estate value either as farms or by conversion to residential properties on minimum two acre parcels. It would remain bucolic.

John Sieberling, a congressman with a summer home in the valley, thought all the land would make a wonderful national park. The National Park testified before Congress such a park would be a terrible waste of taxpayer money, they did not want to manage it and did not support the acquisition. True story.

Also true that John Sieberling and a handful of President Gerald Ford’s greatest campaign contributors tracked down the president on his skiing vacation at Vale and put the bill they had pushed through congress before him. Looking around at the source of all the dollars he needed to fund his next campaign, President Ford signed the bill. 

The park became law and its first director came through like a steam roller, creating his legacy. Property after property fell to the park by purchase, friendly or otherwise.  As a recent director of the park said to me, “The experience of the public will not be enhanced by knowing four hundred people lost their farms.” And, the township lost ninety two percent of its taxable land.

The park has been here fifty years now, and park visions are coming to pass. There are ten “lease back” farms in the valley. For a sixth generation resident who saw the family farm fall to eminent domain, the program is bitter to watch. I’m the township fiscal officer who must finagle financing of road maintenance, policing and rescue services for six hundred remaining residents and two million annual park visitors.

Our revenue from all sources is less than half a million dollars. The park pays nothing, and I tread a fine line between the few remaining folks who are being taxed out of their homes to finance services to the park, myself included, and being found a traitor when I send my grandchildren off to ranger camp or acting camp in the park.

I am a friend of the first lease back “farmer,” a financial disaster for her. I don’t know enough about the ten current “farmers” to make any judgment, but this introduction is so long I will just recount a recent disaster. The lessees of the park owned buildings must carry insurance on the leased buildings. Of course. Our fire district leases a park building for the fire house and the taxpayers foot the bill for insurance adequate to replace it. One would think the park monitors this, but never checked in the case of the fire district, or my friend, and certainly not in the case of an historic barn burning to the ground at one of the lease back farms this summer. The tax payers of this country are paying 1.5 million dollars to replace that barn.

How these entrepreneur farmers make a living also escapes me, excepting perhaps the vineyard. The investment is theirs to make, and one displaced old farmer told me when this program to return the valley to its farming roots began perhaps fifteen years ago, he didn't know anyone in the valley buying in. “They (the park) tore down six generations of my fences and turned my fields to meadows. Now they want me to pay to restore it!” In the beginning the rent of the farms was twenty percent of gross revenue! Absolutely insane. Perhaps it has been modified.

Now you know everything, we visited the Trapp Family Farm market this morning. The farm seems to be about ten acres, cultivated behind a matched pair of black horses by a young man. The beautiful fields seem to be rotated between crops and livestock, pigs, turkeys, chickens. Many mornings and evenings I've watched the young farmer lead his team to and from the field; a charming sight beside a state highway, and one can only wish success to such spirit.

Here is the picture of the young farmer and his team used on the Conservancy’s web site, and then pictures from our trip to market this morning.

The farm announcement, along State Route 303

The horses, stabled. One park ranger moaned to me "We can't get him stable those horses properly." An old farmer told me "Those are big work horses. All they're wanting is out of the wind, the rain and the snow; they'd be hanging over the barn door all day in the winter, keeping cool."

The hitching apparatus.

The route to and from work.

The ubiquitous scrap slate from the old quarries is everywhere in the township.
Leading to the farmhouse door and the Saturday Market.

Front porch carton return.

The young farmer adding tomatoes to the produce.

The Market opened at ten; we were the second arrivals at 9:55, and all these folks just behind us.

A butterscotch farm cat.

A black farm cat, guarding the kale.

And being "scritched" by Laura.

A section of field; ever present hawks on patrol.

Something to attach to the team and get to work.

Sunflowers, facing east.

All the pretty faces in a row.


  1. How do these guys make a REAL living?
    Jane x

    1. There's that, too, I have a strong suspicion there are backers with big tax write-offs.

  2. Goodness. The backstory is like a horror story. You'd never suspect all that financial anguish by looking at your beautiful photos.

  3. I wish very much there was a way in our world that small farmers and ranchers could make a decent living.
    Since the 1930's when the dams were built and irrigation became available on a large scale it's all changed.
    Here in Montana a small rancher can still make a living of sorts from raising certain cattle, carefully, for select markets that specialize in restaurant-quality beef. A small wheat farmer can make a living if he grows the correct grain correctly, and has connections to large 'botique' bakeries.
    Your post also touches on the issue of should local areas where national-interest things are located bear the burden of supporting it. I dunno. Perhaps it should be up to the locals to decide if they can or want, and if not up to a national decision on whether or not they wish to.
    I'm glad the national parks were not decided upon this way, because most of them would not be here now if it were so.
    But the average corn, alfalfa, potatoe or grain farmer has no chance against the agri-business farms, they can sell for half his price.
    I wish it could change, but it could only come at a price we don't want to pay. Higher prices at the store. We don't want that, so we go to WalMart, the sales at Safeway.

  4. Nice series of photos, Joanne. I love the black cat! :)

  5. I took a very similar sunflower photo this week. They were also facing east.

  6. That must, indeed, have been a bitter pill for the original landowners to swallow. An incredible story.

  7. I love the horse shelter. It does what it needs to do.

  8. How very frustrating for the original land owners.

  9. How frustrating and how sad. So much beauty, so much waste.

  10. Seems like another poor not thought out decision by a politician.


  11. What an interesting insight into farming in your area Joanne. Thanks for that.

  12. Hari OM
    Cripes... this sort of thing happens all over the 'civilized' world it seems. It is not just the fences which were knocked over, it was the culture which went with them and that cannot be rebuilt... YAM xx

  13. sad what has happened to all our farmers all over the country, the central valley of california all filled up with housing tracts on some of the richest farm land in the usa, now no water for all those people when it was farm lane the valley routinely flooded and recharged the aquifer. I suspect the same to be true in many locations. we can't cover the earth with urban sprawl and not change the earth

  14. Dear Joanne,
    it is very difficult to understand those politicians (and I think that is not the fault of being written in another language than mine...) So sick, isn't it - first to take away the land, then tear fences etc. down, than offer that what remained again?
    Making a living from land never has been easy, I think - but courageous of the hopeful young farmer. I wish him luck!

  15. Loved the sunflowers.

  16. I'm volunteering at a National Wildlife Refuge that was Caribou Air Station from the late 1940's until it closed in 1996. The gov't bought the acreage at $60 an acre from the local potato farmers. When the base closed the gov't divided up the land 4 ways... Maine Nat'l Guard, Loring Development Authority, MicMac Indians and Aroostook NWR (newly established then). I take elderly ladies on tours who tell show me where they lived... where the nearby well was etc. I'm always surprised that from their tone and demeanor that they bear no ill-will against the gov't. Your blog makes me think about what all the gov't can do supposedly for the "good" of the public. As much as I love this place, I continue to wonder about the "need" to make more trails... more things available to the public... when I know the more we take for ourselves the fewer animals it will attract. What's the ultimate cost?

  17. I wish that your post had said that the gov't paid the lost revenues to the county each year -- that would only be right -- but the gov't doesn't play that game. All the farm photos were so nice -- nice to see a farm that is not being mono-cropped. -- barbara

  18. Although it sounds as if it has been catastrophically mismanaged, there seem to be many good things for visitors. And I guess we should be grateful that some people really are still ready to take a punt to make their little farms pay. Although it beats me how they ever CAN pay.

  19. "They tore down six generations of my fences and turned my fields to meadows. Now they want me to pay to restore it"
    That is the saddest sentence in your whole post.
    I wish that young farmer all the luck he can handle, he seems to be doing well.