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

3 generations of family keep this Wooster farm running, but they worry they're becoming an outlier

The Ladrach family, Beth and her husband Marcus, along with sons Will and Ben, (left to right) stand for a photo at Autumn Harvest Farm on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
The Ladrach family, Beth and her husband Marcus, along with sons Will and Ben, (left to right) stand for a photo at Autumn Harvest Farm on Thursday, Feb. 1, 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.

The sun is out and the animals at Autumn Harvest Farm are thrilled on an early February morning.

Marcus Ladrach throws a bale of hay toward a herd of sheep, but they remain where they are and bask in the sunlight.

Marcus and his adult son, Will Ladrach, are also happy it’s sunny and almost 50 degrees. It means a little more rest. A few weeks earlier, they were forced to check on their newborn lambs every few hours, day and night, because of a cold spell.

They’re still wet, then they'll get cold and then they won't want to stand and start nursing," Will said. "So if you catch them, then you gotta put them on their heat lamp and then get them warm enough and then try to get them back on to mom, nursing-wise."

Autumn Harvest Farm is a 400-acre organic farm in Wayne County. Marcus, the senior farmer, took over from his father, who bought the land and started a dairy farm in the 1940s.

Marcus made the move to crops and cattle at the request of his wife, Beth, because the hours and hours of milking cows was too much for her. She grew up in Millersburg, a small town just south of Wayne County, and the rigor of farming life took some adjusting.

“I should just tell her what you said. She didn't want to live on a dairy farm," Marcus said, turning to Beth with a smile.

The Ladrach family has held on to the family farm for three generations. They’re proud to have tended to the same piece of land for decades, but they also worry they may be becoming an outlier in Wayne County. The county is still an agriculture center, but less so than in the past, as more farmers sell their land, and the city of Wooster grows.

The Ladrachs' main crop is alfalfa grass, cut and shaped into bundles of hay. The farm sells hay mainly to the many nearby Amish farmers, who use it to feed their animals.

Right now, Marcus and Beth are preparing to hand day-to-day operations over to Will and their other son, Ben, who are both farmers. Like all families, they argue, but disagreements never seem to last long.

You got to get it done," Ben said. "I mean, if you're arguing, you still got to get it done because you're still on a time limit for baling hay. We get in an argument, we still gotta get that hay going because we see the storm coming the other direction.

By 1:30 p.m., it's time to check on the young lambs, who are just two weeks old. One of the new mothers has blocked udders, so Will needs to bottle feed them.

Over the last decade, the Ladrachs have nearly doubled the size of their farm, thanks to adjacent properties coming up for sale. Ben said their growth has been bittersweet, because it means other small farms like them are disappearing.

We had people come to us after the auction say, ‘Can you sell us two acres of land right there? We're going to build a house.’ And we're like, ‘That's kind of the reason we bought it,'" Ben said.

The reason is preservation. The Ladrachs said more and more farmland is being developed into residential subdivisions to make way for Wooster’s growing population of 28,000, with several industries calling the small city their home.

Part of the problem is that farmers of Marcus and Beth’s generation can’t find people to take over their farms. Ben sees that among his peers, but it's not because of lack of interest.

I have a lot of friends that their grandparents were farmers, but they didn't get a chance to get on the farm because their parents didn't have any interest, and it was sold off before they could even get a chance to get their hands into the ground or anything," he said.

The financial burdens facing young people comes up often at meetings of a local agriculture group, called Ag Success Team, that Beth attends. The trustees try to spread the word about tax incentives available to young farmers, and she talks up the profession when she can.

“You've got to find the right people that want to farm because it becomes kind of a way of life," she said. "It’s your farm. You're kind of in it, it is 24 hours a day."

She said she made the jump from a small town girl to farm life, and stumbled on a calling — something she hopes her grandchildren find as well.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.