Geauga farm growth highest in Ohio
By JOAN DEMIRJIAN April 2004
Instead of losing farms like other counties, Geauga
County is growing them, according to Randy James, Ohio
State University Extension Geauga County extension agent.
"The county is booming in farm numbers," while many
neighboring counties are losing them, Mr. James said.
Farms have been growing in the county for the last 30
years, contrary to what has been thought, he said. "We
just didn't know it. We do lose farms, but the net growth
In Ohio, Geauga County is clearly No. 1 one in farm
growth, he said.
A 1997 OSU Extension study that documented the number
of horse farms found that the more suburban townships
on the west side of Geauga County are rising faster
in total farm numbers than the eastern, more rural side
of the county.
Greenhouse operations are farms, and traveling on Chillicothe
Road (Route 306) one can see them on the western tier
of the county, Mr. James said.
Auburn is the fastest growing township in terms of farms,
he said. Most of them are horse related, and they have
a good supply of customers right in the area, he said.
Horse farms are starting everywhere, Mr. James said.
Horses are a traditional part of agriculture, he said.
As in the old western movies, the livery stables were
at the end of town, he said. "We're just outside Cuyahoga
"The trick is to recognize them as farming units." Mr.
James said, if there are no dairy cows, people don't
think of them as farms."
Geauga County has increased by more than 15 percent
in farms, going from 578 in 1970 to 661 in 1997 and
an estimated 670 in 2002, according to a USDA Agricultural
Census and the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The steady increase has been in horticulture and equine
farms. Sheep farms are up some as well, Mr. James said.
"One of our most frequent calls is, 'I want to start
The U.S. Department of Agricultural census defines a
farm as any unit selling at least $1,000 of agricultural
products per year and businesses producing food and
fiber. Animals do not need to be eaten to define it
as a farm.
The OSU Extension study found that the county had approximately
170 horse farms that met the $1,000 of sales requirement
and was growing at a rate of two to three stables per
While it is tempting to dismiss the new farms as "hobby
farms," that is not what the statistics say, Mr. James
The OSU Extension estimates that a horse-boarding farm
of 20 horses should have gross sales in excess of $100,000
a year. In general, the county is losing financially
smaller farms and gaining financially larger farms,
Mr. James said.
The most rapid growth is in farm products or services
that are sold directly to consumers, he said.
"Agriculture is more than cows, but we're still a large
And most residents in the county would rather have a
farm as a neighbor, he said. "It's more in keeping with
Geauga's rural character. It's a no-brainer. Most want
a nursery, greenhouse or horses over development."
The county is in a location near many people. A wholesale
vegetable and fruit auction in Middlefield allows farmers
to sell there, getting the same price as selling it
to California, he said. And the farms on the western
tier of the county have a "wonderful location," because
they are close to greater populations.
Geauga County farmers have the advantage of a short
marketing exchange. The produce they grow is likely
to be eaten within 30 miles, Mr. James said.
Local officials have supported local farmers. An example
is the start up of a farmers market in South Russell.
Large-lot zoning helps agriculture, because housing
is not so dense, he said. "A township in Medina County
chose to zone for 10-acre lots, and it just spurred
"Our figures are conservative," Mr. James said. The
study did not use businesses such as cheese factories
in the county, he said. "We included just farms."
Farmers have learned to be flexible as well. Haskins
Farm in Bainbridge started an apple orchard, adapting
to the market around it. The same is true with Patterson
Fruit Farm in Chester. It used to be a dairy farm, Mr.
Farms in the county may appear small, but they may be
giant in terms of finances, he said, and they are an
economic engine that drives the county.