The Kishmans have long owned family farms in the Vermilion area. Kish’s Dad described himself as a “general farmer.” He grew corn and soybeans, once kept a chicken coop, and tended to beef cattle because he loved being around animals. The Kishmans were like many Ohio families who worked the land on property that had been in the family for generations.
Agriculture has always been a big part of the Ohio economy. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Ohio has more than 75,000 farms. The vast majority of these are family-owned operations, although some of the larger farms are owned by families through corporations. The statistics also indicate that 2.7 percent of the farms in Ohio produce more than $500,000 in agricultural products. Most farms, therefore, are smaller business operations. It is unclear how many of those farm involve “general farming,” as opposed to production of only a single crop. And there are ongoing concerns about how those family farms are faring in an increasingly competitive where, in recent years at least, the credit that farmers need has become scarce and banks have been skittish about lending.
Recently I went to the North Market to buy some cheese and decided to buy an Ohio product. The proprietor of the cheese stand at the Market recommended Blomma goat’s milk cheese produced by Lake Erie Creamery. The cheese was extraordinarily good — and made me realize, yet again, that Ohio has a lot to offer, including great, locally sourced meats, cheeses, and produce for foodies and regular folks alike.
It turns out that Lake Erie Creamery is a husband and wife operation that produces artisanal goat’s milk cheese in Cleveland. They purchase milk from a family farm in Portage County, make it into cheese in Cleveland, return the whey that is a byproduct of the cheese-making process to local farms for hog and chicken feed, and sell their cheeses locally. Blomma is one of several excellent cheeses made by Lake Erie Creamery.
It’s a great story, and one that I imagine is duplicated elsewhere in Ohio. It makes me wonder if the future of Ohio agriculture, in part, lies not in the general farming of the past, but in an artisanal approach where Ohio farmers — whose operations could easily be in urban areas, as is the case with Lake Erie Creamery — focus on growing or making one kind of food, be it cheeses, radishes, milk, beef, or blackberries, and make them the best products imaginable. Americans have an appetite for high-quality food items and, as the booming “local-sourcing” movement indicates, they will pay a bit more for something that is fresh, high quality, and different.
I’d like to see the artisanal agriculture movement take off because it offers a model that will allow family farming, which has been such an important part of Ohio’s history and heritage, to continue. And those family farm jobs can’t be moved overseas, either.