Women across Ohio are cultivating thriving careers and growing their influence in an industry once largely dominated by men – agriculture. As a result, they’re breaking the “grass ceiling” while paving the way for future generations.
An Award-Winning Career
Although she runs a commercial beef cattle operation, Karen Oberst of Obersts’ Wise Acres Farm in Findlay primarily considers herself a grass farmer. The reason: those cows are harvesting her crops, and the more nutritious their food is, the healthier they’ll be.
“In order to produce quality cows and weaned calves, our goal is to put the best-quality grass and forbs we can produce in front of them at all times,” she says.
Karen and her husband, Tim, purchased their 74-acre farm in 2005, and it was initially a grass-based dairy farm. The couple sold their heifers and transitioned the operation to a grass-fed beef cattle farm in 2015. They also raise dams, or mother cows, that typically calve during the springtime (when the highest-quality grass is available). Most of the calves are sold after they’re weaned in the fall, but the Obersts retain some of the herd so they can sell items like canned beef at local farmers markets.
According to Karen, she and Tim strive to “live lightly on the earth,” and one way they accomplish that goal is by minimizing their fossil fuel use. The Obersts also avoid using synthetic chemicals on their farm, and grass is fertilized naturally by cow manure.
In addition to managing the farm, Karen’s career in agriculture has included roles as a field environmental scientist for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Findlay, and an educator for the Hancock Park and the Historic McKinnis House at Litzenberg Memorial Woods. She was also the first woman to serve on the board of the Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Due to her many accomplishments and contributions, Karen was named one of the 2012 Ohio Agriculture Women of the Year.
“It was wonderful to be recognized, but the best part is spreading the message that women can go into this field and thrive,” Karen says.
Creating Cheese From Scratch
Abbe Turner and her husband, Anderson, started Lucky Penny Farm in 2002. The couple purchased their century-old, 14-acre farm in Garrettsville with the goal of raising their three children in an environment that would foster a healthy relationship with science and nature while producing food for their family.
Although Abbe and Anderson had little farming experience, they quickly found success raising dairy goats and producing cheese. The couple decided to pursue opening a creamery, and after raising about $300,000, they opened Lucky Penny Creamery in 2010.
Today, the Kent-based creamery produces small batches of handcrafted cheeses made from goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s milk. Aside from milk, the cheeses contain only salt, culture and rennet, and they’re preservative-free.
“We use old-school, traditional methods to create our cheeses,” Abbe says. “That’s the way I was trained, and it relies on us being good cheese-makers as opposed to knowing how to program a computer.”
Lucky Penny Creamery cheeses are distributed to approximately 80 restaurants throughout Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, and they’re available at various farmers markets.
Abbe says she’s far more focused on quality than quantity because she feels it’s her responsibility to “create a delicious base ingredient that chefs can then turn into their masterpieces.”
In addition to cheese-making, Abbe has a passion for sharing her journey, and says she wants to encourage others – particularly women – to take the plunge into a career in agriculture.
“It’s not easy, but come on in; the water’s fine,” she says.