Justin and Kristen Dickey

Growing our Generation: To buy the farm or not

Justin and Kristen Dickey from Henry County are the editors of the Aug. 26, 2019 Growing our Generation enewsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

We’re Justin and Kristen Dickey from Henry County. As members of the State YAP committee it’s finally our turn to author a blog. Justin is originally from Wood County and grew up on his family’s farm raising cows and hogs. Kristen is from Henry County and grew up on the farm they currently reside on, raising corn and soybeans. We both attended Ohio State, then moved to Louisville for five years before returning home to buy a portion of Kristen’s grandparent’s farm in 2017.  We’re now raising our 2.5 year old daughter to be the 5th generation on this farm.

To buy the farm or not

Dickey Farm, Henry CountyThe decision to move back home to my family farm wasn’t nearly as easy as you might think. We had talked for years about the idea of raising kids near our family, and the idea of having a few cows seemed great. But we loved our life in Louisville. We had lived there for five years, bought a house in the right school district and were ready to start our family. However, three weeks after we returned from our honeymoon we found out Justin’s job was being relocated to Iowa. I was certain he would find something comparable in Louisville, but that wasn’t the case.  Finally another role with his company opened in Ohio… and I had just found out I was pregnant.

So maybe this was God’s plan all along. We just kind of went with the flow, when something was an easy option we took it as another sign we were doing the right thing. Our house in Louisville was on the market for eight hours before it was under contract. My grandparents house had sat vacant for two years and my uncles were about to list it “for rent.” My role at work had changed so I was frequently in Ohio for work. Everything quickly aligned and so home to Ohio we moved. But I still missed the life we had begun to build in Louisville. The friends, our church, my career and the convenience of the city were all things I still miss nearly three years later.

We’re just now to the point where we feel somewhat settled so of course we’re wondering what’s next. We want to own more ground, but need to develop a business plan first. We can’t afford to grow just 80 acres of corn and soybeans so we’re exploring options. This is one of the reasons I’m most looking forward to attending the YAP conference next February. We’ll be hosting over 30 sessions to help others just like us explore options with a wide range in topics covering everything from diversification between livestock and row crops, to sessions focused on honey bees and hemp. These sessions will be incredibly helpful in developing our plans for the future of our farm. While we know we won’t have all the answers, we’ll have great ideas to explore and know what resources exist.

Canning and a recipe

One oCanningf my favorite features of my grandparents’ house was the custom built pantry my grandpa made in the 1950s. The pantry has a shelf that is perfect for pint canning jars. While I never learned from my grandma the art of canning, I’m lucky that Justin’s mom taught him and he has shared that passion with me. I can’t wait to re-stock this cupboard with tomatoes in another month. I usually make chili once or twice a month, and my home canned tomatoes make it even more comforting.   

Justin starts Roma tomato and pepper plants under lights in the basement in February. By May the plants are ready to go in the garden. By August they’re ready to harvest and we start canning. (Unfortunately we’re a few weeks behind this year with the wet and cold spring we had).

Diced Mexican Tomatoes (makes 6 pint jars)

6 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons oregano

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1.5 teaspoons salt (optional)

3 jalapenos halved (for extra spice)

12 cups of halved, cored, peeled tomatoes

6 teaspoons lemon juice

Mix all of the spices together; this makes the Mexican spice blend. Once you have the tomatoes halved, cored and peeled, heat them to a boil on the stove as you’ll want to hotpack your tomatoes. To each pint jar add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 2.5 teaspoons of your Mexican spice blend and then fill with hot tomatoes leaving ½ inch of headspace. For a little extra heat, I add half a jalapeno to the center of the jar. Then make sure the rim is clean, screw down the lid, and boil to process for 40 minutes.

Work, farm and family balance

renovationFinding time to work on the farm, remodel a more than 100-year-old farm house, raise a toddler and work 40+ hours off the farm has its challenges. 

Both of us have off-farm jobs that require a lot of travel. Justin is a swine production specialist at PIC North America where he works with producers to raise gilts for sale across the U.S. and internationally. Kristen is a research and insights marketing specialist at Farm Credit Mid-America.  

Typically we divide and conquer.  We work hard to keep our calendars coordinated so we aren’t both traveling overnight at the same time. However, with both of us traveling so much it’s bound to happen every few months. That’s when living so close to home comes in handy – with both sets of grandparents more than willing to spend quality time with our daughter. 

We spent surprisingly little time deciding to renovate Kristen’s grandparents home instead of building new even though many people encouraged us to “knock it down and start fresh.” There was a lot of sentimental value for Kristen who spent a good portion of her childhood there with her cousins. The house used to be a frequent gathering place for family holidays and cookouts, and we hosted a family reunion this summer to begin that tradition once again. In addition to the sentimental value, I appreciate the history of the building and admire the craftsmanship that it took to build the original house, and my frugal side couldn’t stand knocking down a home with good bones.   

What we have learned over the years, no matter what it is we happen to be juggling, we have to set priorities as a couple. They will change with the season or as something more important comes up, but by deciding on them together we are able to keep each other motivated and get more done. Farm Bureau’s YAP programs have fit into our priorities because of the networking and educational opportunities available. We have gotten so much from the program to help with our careers and around the farm. We are thankful to have the ability to give back by serving on the state committee.  

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