If Ohio Farm Bureau member Jess Campbell had brushed off high school summer reading, she would have missed a few key sentences in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman,” ones that inspired her to follow her heart.
In the opening act, Biff Loman, a character seeking happiness, ponders his path:
“Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors…”
Highlighted in yellow, Jess used that quote to help plan her future, which today finds her in the best of both worlds in agriculture: farming Carroll Creek Farms on more than 100 acres of mixed woodlands and pasture in Warren County with her husband, Adam, and toddler, Lane, and working off-farm as an agri-consumer loan officer at Farm Credit Mid-America. She says the farm connects her to the land where she is surrounded by a herd of beef cattle, hogs, flocks of lambs and chickens, and her day job connects her to her farming community. “I get to help people who have dreams like me to get their farms started,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know them and become part of their operation.”
Jess’s ambition to pursue a career in agriculture was inspired by her aunt, Kathleen Walters, who is not only her mentor, but her partner in raising quality proteins.
“Growing up, I would spend a lot of time with Kathleen, who was also a first generation farmer,” Jess said. “I loved the animals and watching her raise her family and live off the land. The kids didn’t go to daycare but worked alongside the family.” When it came time for Jess to jump into farming, she called on her experience from raising 4-H lambs; Kathleen’s expertise raising hogs; Adam’s preference for cattle and “we just filled in the rest,” including meat chickens and a laying flock of 100.
“All of the stock is pasture-raised except the hogs,” she said. “They can tear up a pasture quickly so they are raised in open-air housing.” Annually, Carroll Creek Farms finishes up to 25 beef cattle, 60 hogs, which Kathleen starts on her Indiana farm, 60 lambs and 300 meat chickens for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers and farmers market customers.
“We intentionally keep a low stocking density,” said Jess, which is grazing the optimal number of animals on a parcel of pasture for a specific period of time, a method that allows the pasture to recover and use the natural fertilizer. This could mean demand for the product might be triple what Carroll Creek Farms can provide. “Making sure we have enough to meet demand is a constant balancing act,” Jess said.
Back when Jess and her family started farming, they were faced with a choice: go big or stay small. “We found a nice niche with the natural and grass-fed market,” Jess said.
“Our customers are concerned about the source of their food, nutritionally minded and like to know about the lives our animals lead. They have lots of really good days, and just one that’s not so good.”
Jess’s interaction with her customers makes her a keen observer of how family dynamics impact purchasing decisions. “When you raise livestock and put them on a truck, you never know where they end up,” she said. “But when you are able to interact with the end user, you can be in tune with the family dynamics involved in purchasing.
“We also get to see what our chef buyers do with our product and how they feature it on the menu. These days chefs are under a lot of pressure to use locally grown and raised ingredients,” said Jess, who was getting ready to drop a whole hog off at Golden Lamb, the historic and iconic restaurant in Lebanon just outside Cincinnati, where the chef will break down the sides himself.
For Jess, knowing how people use her products and when they enjoy it can be “pretty rewarding.”
Meat & Greet
“I’m a wife and mother just like my CSA and farmers market customers,” said Jess Campbell of Carroll Creek Farms. “I’m trying to provide nutritious meals for my family, too.” But what sets her apart might be her passion for caring for her animals and telling the story of her farm, which she often does.
“As a farmer, people say we are feeding the world – but really we just want to feed your family and hear about your experience,” she said. “At the end of the day, I want to teach you about agriculture.”
For more information about Carroll Creek Farms and its CSA program, go to CarrollCreekFarms.com. To learn more about the Farmers Market at Austin Landing, the site of Dayton’s newest farmers market, go to austinlanding.com.
Carroll Creek Farms
10045 Brooks Carroll Road
Waynesville, OH 45068
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of “Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate” and “The Locavore’s Kitchen.”
Published in the November/December 2015 Our Ohio magazine. Stay connected with and support great food and farm stories like this by becoming an Our Ohio Supporter. For just $25 a year, you can stay connected with Ohio food and farm stories while supporting local foods and community outreach.