The plan was to return to the farm after retirement.
Jane Sweet, (left), had left the family farm in Greene County 50 years ago when she married Bill Sweet and moved to Berea three hours away. During the summers, the couple and their children, Rebecca, Sarah and Bob, would visit the farm. While the kids explored, Jane would absorb the lessons of crops, soil, water management and conservation from her father, Charles Spencer. He was preparing her to care for the farm in the future.
For a moment, Sweet travels back in time to her childhood, sharing stories about how she and her brother, Al, would play with the dumbwaiter that brought milk and butter up from the basement, climb up to the top of the grain bin to survey the landscape and swing on ropes in the barn.
“How in the world we didn’t get hurt…,” the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau member laments as she laughs.
When her parents started leasing the land to farmer Richard Spracklen so the family farm would continue, Sweet learned the challenges of making decisions from afar. Those ended up being valuable lessons learned. As often happens, life took a turn and instead of retiring to the farm, the Sweets stayed up north, as Bill needed medical care.
Now Sweet and her brother, who lives in Maine, rely on and trust Spracklen to make all the crop decisions, implement conservation practices and let them know when something’s awry like when dozens of diseased trees needed to be taken down.
Keeping the farm in the family motivated the couple’s daughter Sarah Knudsen and her husband, Eric, to grow hops on an acre near the old farmhouse. They’d like to capitalize on the growing hops industry but it’s challenging since they live in Texas. They rely on a friend and the Spracklens to help with the hops.
When a company approached Sweet a few months ago about selling or leasing her land for a solar energy farm, at first she wouldn’t even consider it. Passionate about taking care of the environment and clean water, the retired teacher didn’t want the land torn up. But then she started thinking about the need for renewable energy and was impressed with the solar farm at nearby Antioch College. She and her brother are reconsidering, saying a solar farm could be an eco-friendly crop of the future.
“My dad was always asking ‘What will you do with the farm when I am gone?’ He always challenged Al and me to think ahead, to think of the future,” Sweet said.
Sweet’s children were surprised to learn she was considering turning almost half of the 425 acres into a solar farm.
“First thing right off the bat they said was ‘They’re going to make millions and you’ll get nothing,’” the 71-year-old recalled her children saying.
But Sweet had grown up watching her father successfully negotiate with the power company over transmission lines going across their property and recalled her family refusing to sell its mineral rights.
“I was used to the arguments of companies coming in and trying to lowball you,” she said. “I knew an attorney had to look at this.”
That’s when she turned to Ohio Farm Bureau for help. Sweet knew staff experts held informational meetings across the state on energy development, taxes, line fence law and other issues that are helpful to landowners (see sidebar below).
“I knew Farm Bureau could find me professional resources for making farm friendly decisions,” she said. “Farm Bureau really has the interest of its members at heart. That’s why they’re here – so we know we are not alone in doing this.”
Tom Mohoric also turned to Ohio Farm Bureau recently for answers when he received a letter from a company wanting to lease his Knox County land for oil and gas development. Because he’d been living in Arizona for the past three years, he didn’t know if this was a legitimate offer or even what type of energy development was going on in the area. Dale Arnold, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of energy development, provided him with a “wealth of information” about energy development in central Ohio as well as what to look for in a lease.
“It turned out there was really not drilling going on like the company said,” said Mohoric, a Knox County Farm Bureau member who leases his 130 acres to a dairy farm. “Companies are trying to get leases on land in the hopes of getting it relatively cheap so they can have them be accessible to run pipelines through. The lease we were presented with was so open ended that if they ran a pipeline through (our property), we would get virtually nothing.”
Mohoric, who is a software developer for a Cleveland trucking company, explained to his sons about why he turned down the offer and had a bit of advice for them.
“I told them ‘Farm Bureau has been our friend in all of this and whenever the property passes on to you, you need to be members,’” he said.
Helpful Farm Bureau resources for Ohio landowners
Ohio Landowner Toolkit Booklet – This 50-page booklet contains essential information prepared by Farm Bureau’s legal team that will help answer questions unique to you as a property owner. Topics include drainage and water, oil and gas leasing, line fence, trespassing and landowner liability, dog laws, all-purpose vehicles and open burning. To access the booklet, you must log in to verify paid membership.
Legal with Leah Podcasts – Ohio Farm Bureau’s Policy Counsel Leah Curtis and Town Hall Ohio host Joe Cornely discuss the topics on the minds of Ohio landowners. Recent podcasts include eminent domain, pesticide drift, dormant mineral rights and farm youth labor laws.
Local Landowner Education Events – County Farm Bureaus hold educational events throughout Ohio, covering landowner topics such as oil and gas leasing, pipeline easements, taxes, Nationwide Land as Your Legacy (estate planning), wind energy and community energy briefings.
Feature image: Jane Sweet’s family homestead in Greene County. Photos by Dave Gore