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.
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.