Ross Kaitlyn Meeker, Ross County

Growing our Generation: The challenges of diversifying our business

Ross and Kaitlyn Meeker from Ross County are the editors of the Aug. 27, 2018 Growing our Generation, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

Hello! We are Ross and Kaitlyn Meeker. We operate a 1,200 acre row crop farm (corn, wheat, and soybeans) in Ross County. We have a three-year-old son Joel and are expecting a new addition to the farm in March of 2019! Ross started farming full time with his grandpa in 2012 after graduating from Morehead State University with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. In 2013, Ross started the process of buying out his grandpa’s operation and in 2015 became the fiscal owner and manager. In 2016 we also started a Beck’s Hybrids dealership.

Kaitlyn graduated from The Ohio State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness and applied economics and completed her master’s degree in social and applied economics from Wright State University in 2013. She worked as an analyst at a local credit union in southern Ohio from 2013-2017 when she decided to step away from her corporate job to join the farm and take care of Joel. In 2017 we also welcomed Ross’ brother Lucas to the operation. This spring/summer we attempted to run a farmer’s market stand, but decided to stick to row crops ;).

We both grew up as Farm Bureau members, but didn’t start our personal journeys until 2016. We were invited to our first county YAP meeting and everything took off from there! We have attended the YAP conference for two years and were selected as YAP Special 10 members to attend the 2018 YF&R Conference in Reno. Kaitlyn also serves as a trustee, treasurer and membership co-chair for Ross County. We  are excited to start our term on the YAP State Committee starting in December!

Farm Bureau has provided us many opportunities and we are so thankful for the friendships we have made not only within our county but across the state!

What we do

With the ever challenging field of agriculture we have been exploring ways to diversify our operation. Over the last couple of years we have ventured into farmers markets, custom application and custom farming, with varying success.

Meeker AgricultureWorking with what you have made custom application and farming a natural move. Our immediate area is fairly underserved, so business is good. An opportunity to bring more advanced techniques and efficiencies to smaller operations has been a joy, not to mention a great way to spread fixed cost for our farm. When our operation shifted generations, our labor pool dwindled to just the three of us, advancing and updating were musts; a nice variable rate spreader, planter and sprayer have opened doors for us and corrected budgets, for us and customers. Doing so has doubled the acres we get to spread equipment cost over.

This year we also decided to attempt running a farmers market stand. Kaitlyn worked at a resale farm market in college and thought she could take what she learned from her experience there and apply it to her own venture. The first thing we learned was how difficult it can be to enter a particular market co-op. For example, our local farmers market only had two spots open for the season and you had to commit in early February for the entire season and pay your fee up front at that time.

Another challenge was figuring out how much of each item we would need to plant and take into account the seeds that don’t germinate. We didn’t want to be the stand that showed up with limited supply but we also didn’t want to have so much leftover we wouldn’t be able to use it personally. Just like row crop farming, the weather plays a very large part of the farmers market business. When we entered this venture we didn’t have a greenhouse and started all of our plants in our house. With the weird spring weather we struggled to get our plants transplanted and new ones growing outside. Our maturity dates were off by a couple weeks and the first few weeks of the season we showed up at the market with only a handful of produce and a Buckeye tree or two we dug up from Joel’s fall planting we didn’t know about.

One of our biggest goals with our farm market stand was to provide families with fresh produce that they could afford, however we were in regulated markets that required you to price competitively and not undercut the competition. This was hard for me as a mom and consumer because I felt the purpose of the farmers market with conventionally raised produce was to be more affordable than the grocery store. We survived the first few months of the market season with minimal profits until the weather took control and the remainder of our crops died. The bouncing back and forth from extremely hot to pouring rain was NOT helpful to the cucumbers, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. All in all it was a good learning experience and we determined it is not something we will probably attempt anytime in the near future.

Grandma Meeker’s Zucchini Bars

ZucchiniMany times we find ourselves with so much zucchini there is no way we can eat it all! When we are tired of it fried, grilled, in bread, or as zoodles, we turn to Ross’ grandma’s Zucchini Bar recipe! We love these bars and they taste just like apples, so you can sneak veggies into your kids (or picky spouse) without them noticing. Trust us, you will want to reach for this recipe the next time you have an abundance of zucchini or you may even want to make a special trip to the farmers’ market for it!

Grandma’s Zucchini Bars

Filling

8 cups chopped zucchini (peeled and seeded)

⅔ cup lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

Crust

4 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 ½ cups cold butter (cubed)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a saucepan cook zucchini and lemon juice over medium heat stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes or until zucchini is tender.
  2. Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to the zucchini, simmer one minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Cut in butter until it makes coarse crumbles.
  4. Stir ½ cup of crumbles into zucchini mixture.
  5. Press crust crumbles into a greased 9”x13” pan (you will want to keep some to use as a topping).
  6. Spread zucchini mixture over top of the crust.
  7. Crumble remaining crust mixture over top of the zucchini. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

*The filling can be frozen. Just make fresh crust and add the crumbles to the zucchini after defrosting.

*You can halve the recipe for a 8”x8” or 9”x9” pan.

SUBSCRIBE to receive Growing our Generation, a biweekly eletter with a different featured editor to meet each issue. Browse the archive of past issues.

This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a discounted category for those 18-24 years old.

Young Active Member

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.