Giving Young Ohio Farmers a BoostA new piece of equipment was just what Tom Witten needed to make his business more efficient. More specifically, he wanted to add a specialized cooler for storing produce such as corn and cantaloupe he grows at Witten Farm in Washington County with his brother, Scott, and sister, Julie.

Over in Highland County at Holbrook Farms, grain farmer Jon Holbrook was similarly seeking equipment that would boost production of his grain farm and seed and chemical business. He had had his eye on a seed tender for some time.

Both Witten and Holbrook turned to the Southern Ohio Agricultural & Community Development Foundation (SOACDF) and Executive Director Don Branson for assistance. Through a user-friendly process, they were each able to secure a grant that helped them make their purchases and put their farms on firmer ground.

“It’s something that has benefited us immensely,” Witten says. “We never really had the correct kind of cooler. Since we started using the new one, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the loss of product.”

Holbrook echoes a similar sentiment about his seed tender.

“We used it in the spring of 2016, and it got along great,” he says. “We wondered how we ever got along without the thing.”

Helping Young Farmers

The purpose of the SOACDF is to help rural Ohio communities in three ways: agriculture, economic development for companies to create jobs and educational assistance. Branson says the foundation has invested around $92 million in grants since it began and leveraged an additional $200 million.

“That’s a huge economic impact in our part of the state,” he says. “On the agriculture side of things, we provide a competitive grants program for young farmers and agriculture development. What we’re trying to do is revitalize some agricultural operations.”

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Branson says Witten and Holbrook are perfect examples of the types and age range of young farmers the SOACDF is meant to help.

Farming at an Early Age

Witten, a third-generation farmer on the land that was once his late grandfather’s dairy farm, says he knew from an early age his career would be in farming.

“As soon as I was old enough to carry a bushel basket, my father would put me to work,” he recalls.

Witten and his siblings grow and sell nine different kinds of vegetables, as well as strawberries and cantaloupe, through 20-plus Witten Farm Market locations. He says farming has changed over the years, but its basic framework is the same as generations ago.

“In some ways, farming has changed dramatically,” Witten says, “and in other ways, we’re still making our living the same way my grandpa did during the Great Depression.”

He adds, “That’s what we love about it. We never come to work and twiddle our thumbs and wonder what we’re going to do that day.”

A Labor of Love

Like Witten, Holbrook also had the value of farming instilled in him as a child.

“I remember when I was 10 through 12 years old, my dad would teach me how to run the combine,” Holbrook says. “When I got out of high school in 2001, I came straight here and have worked here ever since.”

Holbrook took over the farm after his father died from an accident in 2006. In the time since he was old enough to help on the farm, Holbrook has experienced quite the evolution in agriculture.

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“Efficiency has changed so much,” Holbrook says. “It used to be you would spend a lot of time working hard and doing a lot of back-breaking labor. Now there’s a lot of management involved. I love what I’m doing, and when you love doing something, you really don’t have to work a day in your life.”