John Fitzpatrick retired after 18 years as organization director in Ashland, Holmes, Medina and Wayne counties. This article appeared in the Jan. 28, 2017 edition of the Ashland Times-Gazette and is republished with permission.
Story by Emily Rumes | Photo by Danielle DuFour, Ohio Farm Bureau
As his schedule allows, Fitzpatrick hopes to continue to be a part of Farm Bureau events as a volunteer and a friend of the Farm Bureau, but he is also looking forward to taking some much needed time to be with his family.
Family is what started Fitzpatrick on his journey into the field. He grew up in lower Akron (which he jokingly calls “L.A.”). His mother was a farm girl who had moved to the big city, and her oldest brother ran the family farm in Carey.
Their farm, established in 1824, was called “Dairy Air,” named by one of the brothers who came home from the war speaking French. He was working out in the barn and as a cow passed gas he quipped, “Now that’s real ‘derriere’!” (you can see where Fitzpatrick gets his sense of humor).
The farming family lovingly referred to Fitzpatrick as “the city cousin” and he enjoyed going to Carey during the summer months not just to visit, but to work. Fitzpatrick recognized a unique sense of accomplishment that he still sees today in the youth of the farming communities.
“The kids in the farming areas didn’t need ‘participation trophies’ because they had self esteem from doing the job they did raising their animals,” said Fitzpatrick. “If they won at the fair or in their school sports, then they delighted in a trophy, feeling great pride for their work.”
This sense of farming pride is well deserved. Recently, there were 25 counties across the United States that were recognized by the American Farm Bureau Federation for unique and meaningful programs in agriculture, eight of those counties are in Ohio and four of those counties are under the direction of Fitzpatrick.
“These are great counties,” said Fitzpatrick. “The farmers are concerned about agriculture and about their local farm bureaus. Some of my fondest memories have been going and seeing the volunteers recognized and receiving honors for their work.”
Fitzpatrick first heard about the position with the Farm Bureau 18 years ago when he was working for the United States Chamber of Commerce selling memberships. Prior to that he had obtained a degree in speech and hearing pathology and started out working in the public school system.
Fitzpatrick went in for the Farm Bureau director interview, and afterward he and his wife, Sandy, waited outside in the car for hours (it turned out there was other lengthy business being discussed that night, but the decision to make Fitzpatrick the director was made fairly quickly). Finally, people started coming out to their cars from the meeting, and John and Sandy were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they were told he got the job.
He found out first-hand that word travels fast in the farming community. The next morning after the decision was made, he walked into the milking parlor at Irv Gresser’s dairy farm and Gresser greeted him with, “Welcome aboard.”
Looking ahead, Fitzpatrick sees the fresh ideas and enthusiasm that a new director will bring as a very good thing for the Farm Bureau.
“Longevity is rare in this particular position,” he added. “There will be someone coming in to encourage new experiences. This will be a unique time for the bureau and it should get people fired up.”
As he reflects on his time as director, Fitzpatrick recognizes the changes that have come over the years, particularly in ag science and production, and hopes that farmers will continue to embrace new ideas.
Government regulations are changing the way farmers address medical issues with their livestock, and understanding these will be vital to a farmer’s success. Something that has always impressed Fitzpatrick with every livestock farmer he knows, is that the animals always come first.
Fitzpatrick is passionate about making sure consumers do their research and understand the world food supply as it relates to tillable ground. “People want their food the way they want it, but with this mindset, a farmer is going to be less productive so that those who can afford it are able to get their food in a certain way.”
“Decisions need to be made with research,” Fitzpatrick added. “The advances that we have made in farming and agriculture are not bad. Currently there are 7 billion people on the planet and 3.6 billion acres of tillable land. According to projections there will be 9 billion people in 2050, but we cannot create more land, so where will the food come from?”
Farmers today must be well versed in accounting, marketing and the numerous different sciences they use on a daily basis, Fitzpatrick said.
“Education is extremely important and all of the farmers in our counties are educated,” Fitzpatrick said. “They are small business owners, no matter how big the farm is, and all the farms in our area, besides the ones at ATI, are family owned.”
While he focuses on his family this year, Fitzpatrick looks forward to heading to Camp Manatoc, a place where he went as a boy and where he took his son and grandsons for Boy Scouting. You also may see his name as a writer and contributor for articles and features from time to time. His next big adventure in the works will be a family trip to New England this fall.
Fitzpatrick has invested in his counties, building a strong community of trust and support that will allow for continued growth for years to come. The livelihood and success of our farmers is good for us all, and helping others understand that has been one of his primary objectives for the past 18 years.
Wayne County Farm Bureau State Trustee Roger Baker sums up this investment, being one of the many farmers who worked with Fitzpatrick over the years, “When it comes to the Farm Bureau, John is about the farmer and the farmers’ issues at the farm gate,” Baker said. “John was truly a grassroots organizational director, giving us opportunities and plugging people in to serve. The powerful thing about the Ohio Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau is that the farmer members become the voice and John was the one who orchestrated that for us.”