Jeff & Deb Eschmeyer come from a conventional agriculture background in a part of Ohio known for its expansive farms on good flat ground worked by generations of families of German descent.
Both Jeff and Deb grew up in farm families and for a time these high school sweethearts who now operate their own small farm acted on another convention of rural life – they left the farms and their small town of New Knoxville and sought their fortunes in various places — Chicago and Washington, D.C. among others. They pursued careers that intersected with agriculture, but “the farm” was far away as they held jobs like Legislative aide to former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (Jeff) and program director for the D.C.-based non-profit the National Family Farm Coaliiton (Deb).
Today however, the Eschmeyers have come full-circle in a sense and their place in the world and Ohio’s economy is anything but conventional.
Since 2008, Harvest Sun Farm, a 13-acre plot and farmhouse bought from Jeff’s grandmother, is the place the Eschmeyers call home and work. Full circle means the “kids” are back, now in their thirties, living in the farmhouse that five other generations of Jeff’s family have farmed since 1893. Just down the road, Deb’s family still run a 300 head dairy and grain farm.
“We realized that over time we were devoting more and more of our professional and personal lives to a better food system,” said Jeff.
Deb adds that, “The average age of the American farmer is 57. Who’s going to fill the gap?”
The answer is that they are and many of the other beginning farmers across Ohio and rural America. The National Farmers Union has begun a new program called the Beginning Farmer Institute and the Eschmeyers have been selected as part of the inaugural class.
According to Ohio Farmers Union President Roger Wise the institute aims to bolster the business and marketing skills of Farmers Union members who are early in their farming careers.
“When you have a young family like the Eschmeyers, who are willing to carry on the farming tradition and find their place in the economy via agriculture – in a world where it’s more difficult to build a family farm business – I’m glad the Farmers Union is here to help educate and share information about how to make that business a success,” Wise said.
Wise added that OFU supported the Eschmeyer’s application to the NFU institute and is proud that Ohio will be represented among the ten farmers selected to receive the education and training. The Eschmeyers expect that the institute will occur over the next two years.
They will be provided information and opportunities for self-guided learning andand two intensive multi-day sessions with ag and business educators and.
“It’s an honor to be chosen. We really think it’s important that the Farmers Union is providing this opportunity for the next generation of farmers,” said Jeff.
Both Jeff and Deb are excited about the nuts and bolts business tools and practices they’ll learn about during their time with the institute.
Additionally, Jeff said, “We’re also going to be exposed to farmers who’ve done what we’re trying to do and made it work.”
As with most family farm operations today, Harvest Sun Farm, is economically viable because at least one member of the family works full-time off the farm. Deb works full-time as program director for Food Corps, an Americorps school garden and farm to school service program, that she co-founded. She has a long career in farm policy and advocacy and is able to work remotely with a team of Food Corps colleagues scattered around the country.
“We definitely straddle two worlds,” said Deb, describing the differences between Harvest Sun Farm and larger agricultural operations.
Harvest Sun Farm is also a USDA Certified Organic farm which sets them apart from most of their neighbors in Auglaize County.
The Eschmeyers current farming business model involves growing for farmers markets in Sidney and Bexley, Ohio as well as supplying some restaurants and several small wholesale accounts.
At a recent Bexley Farmers Market, Harvest Sun was selling several types of lettuce including the most perfect looking heads of red romaine, garlic scapes, rainbow chard and bunching onions – both red and yellow.
Sit down and talk to Jeff and Deb for awhile about the state of agriculture and the place of the family farm in the economy and you’ll find that these two beginning farmers returned to their roots to live their passion for fostering a “better system of food” in the country.
Wise said Ohio Farmers Union members of all stripes should be glad that these two all grown-up farm kids returned to the country. As they figure out their way to thrive in a local food economy, everyone benefits. The consumers who buy their produce enjoy the great taste and healthy food and the agricultural community benefits from Jeff and Deb’s experience in the business of farming – they promise to share that along with the Cherokee Purple tomatoes.