From where seed meets soil on Ohio farms to the processing facilities that dot the state, getting food from farm to plate is a group effort.
In all, about one in seven Ohioans are working in some facet of this industry, which is the state’s largest economic engine.
Ohio has long offered fertile ground for on-farm entrepreneurs—75,000 Ohioans are farming today—but many others are carving out a different place for themselves in a thriving food and agricultural sector.
Whether it’s the local mechanic keeping equipment running, an innovative businessman expanding international trade or a century-old family enterprise behind some of today’s best known brands, the following pages offer stories of Ohioans who are serving up new ideas as they build their business in the Buckeye State.
At two weeks old, Justina Reusch was already going with her father to tractor pulls. By age 8, she was working on tractors with him on their farm. And before she got behind the steering wheel of a truck, her dad made sure she knew how to give it a good tune-up.
So, she acknowledges, you might have to excuse him for bragging a little now that she is running her own shop, repairing, modifying and maintaining diesel trucks.
“I think he likes it,” said Reusch, a Medina County Farm Bureau member. “He’s proud.”
The interest in all things automotive took hold when Reusch attended the Medina County Career Center. She initially went to study precision machining before the smell of diesel and roar of the engines coming from the truck repair classes pulled her in. She went on to study diesel technology at Owens Community College in Toledo.
While her husband worked on his family’s farm, Reusch slowly grew the diesel business by word-of-mouth.
“A year ago, we were able to finally put a sign out front and really expand,” she said.
She now has three employees and works full-time managing the shop. She estimates about half of her customers are farmers. And she says she still enjoys helping out on her husband’s family farm when she has a chance.
Today, she has her sights set on continued growth, saving money to invest in the business.
“You’re constantly proving yourself,” she said. It’s a challenge made no less difficult by the fact that potential customers who call in with questions are often surprised by the feminine voice on the other end of the line.
Reusch said she understands the reaction, because in her experience, female diesel mechanics are few and far between. She has met a few via social media, but “there’s nobody that I can really look up to,” in terms of others who have come before her.
It’s a situation shared by many skilled trades. Earlier this year, Bloomberg News reported that just 6 percent of apprentices in skilled labor positions were women. And groups such as the American Welding Society are making special efforts to attract female workers. In agriculture, women account for 30 percent of total U.S. farmers.
Reusch seems to look past any skepticism as customers tend to come around once they see her work.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she laughed. “I will win them over somehow.”