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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

Wooster farmer searches for ways to fight climate change one crop at a time

Bill Boyer stands for photo while planting seeds at his property in Wooster on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Bill Boyer stands for photo while planting seeds at his property in Wooster on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

The local farming community is full of hardworking Ohioans who are finding new and creative ways to keep agriculture thriving. This story is part of a “Sound of Us” series featuring farmers in and around Wooster, Ohio.

There are many sides to Bill Boyer. To some, he’s a father and grandfather, an amateur inventor or a former teacher.

But anyone who truly knows Boyer knows he’s always loved to garden.

“I got my start in first grade when a girl — and I'm not even sure of her name — I think it was Barb, for some strange reason, gave me a handful of Indian corn seeds, ornamental corn, and wow. So, I planted them," Boyer recalled.

From there, it just seemed to stick.

“That was my start in gardening and I've never stopped since,” he said. “Everywhere I've gone, I have to have a garden. It just feels right to me.”

These days, Boyer spends his time tending to crops at Boii Gardens at his home in Wooster.

He's now retired from a 22-year career as a public school teacher in Barberton, but his farming is still informed by lessons about crude oil that he taught his students.

“I taught an applied technology class, which I loved,” he said. “I can't emphasize how much teaching that course made me realize the energy needs of the world, especially being needed to sustain this lifestyle we have, which, by the way, is, in my opinion, a disaster. We're going to hit the wall here one of these days.”

I asked Boyer to tell me more about crude oil and its detrimental effect on the environment. He sat up in his seat.

“Oh, sure,” he said. “Oh, that's a no brainer. I taught that.”

The harm, Boyer said, lies within the links between crude oil and carbon emissions, and the larger effect on the planet. It was something he first became aware of way back in the 1990s, when scientists and politicians alike, including former Vice President Al Gore, started talking about rising emissions and the contribution to global warming.

Gore highlighted record high temperatures, at the time, during a press conference in 1998.

“In the 118 years since we began keeping modern, reliable records, last January was the warmest January, last February was the warmest February, last March was the warmest March in history,” Gore said. “That came on the heels of 1997, which was the warmest year on record.”

Boyer had a simple explanation for the connection between carbon, heat and climate change.

“Carbon in the air acts like a glass, and the thicker the glass, the more that the heat doesn't escape the earth, so the more carbon in the atmosphere, the hotter it's going to get," he explained.

An ambitious goal

Boyer’s been bothered by climate change ever since. Since retiring in 2021, he has set an ambitious goal for himself.

“To try to grow vegetables without any inputs from off the property, that's my goal,” he said. “I'm being an extremist, but that's part of the fun, just to see how… good you can get at it.”

He’s found a few ways to do so, like using free, nitrogen-rich horse manure from a nearby fairground for his crop rather than relying on commercial fertilizers.

“I can grow some good sweet corn. Using this as mulch keeps weeds out and fertilizes the corn,” Boyer said. “But it's a lot of labor because you gotta fork it on and set it up, but you don't have to weed and use petroleum to rototill it.”

His craftiness and knack for inventing helps him come up with other handy solutions.

In his workshop near the greenhouse, Boyer raved about beans he’s saving to re-plant, instead of buying new seeds that use crude oil throughout the packaging process. He tossed them around the box they’re stored in.

“I'm going to seed save and start growing them again next year,” Boyer said. "These look ugly, but as long as the beans aren't bad, that'll grow, no question.”

But just as important as what he does himself, Boyer wants Boii Gardens to be an inspiration for others. That's why he makes a point not just to farm in isolation, but to talk to people about his work, including during his visits to Local Roots, Wooster’s popular farmer’s market.

His message is, “Hey, anybody want to do what I'm doing? You're more than welcome to see what I'm doing.”

Boyer hopes that person by person, conversation by conversation, he can show that growing food doesn’t have to be so disruptive to the environment.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.