Bill Patterson vividly remembers taking a class at Ohio State University that fit in perfectly with where his life in agriculture has led him.
“What I most remember from school was a specific business and policy course,” said Patterson, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics. “It wasn’t what was taught in the course but how it was packaged.”
How policymakers could influence business and vice versa was fascinating to him and would pave the way for the rest of his career in agriculture. Fast forward a couple of decades and Patterson is now the 25th president of Ohio Farm Bureau, as well as co-owner of Patterson Fruit Farm in the northwest corner of Geauga County, along with his brother, Dave. On roughly 150 acres, the farm raises apples, strawberries, peaches and produces maple syrup. Their agritourism operation includes a farm market, bakery, fall fun fest, pick-your-own apples, strawberries and a wedding venue. They also wholesale apple cider throughout northeast Ohio.
Patterson’s father, Jim, helped spearhead the pick-your-own movement in the 1970s, noting that anyone can bring food to the people, but he wanted to bring people to the food. Today it is not only a hallmark of Patterson Fruit Farm, but also a large part of the business and a family tradition for many throughout the area. The farm, part of which has been in the family for more than a century, is just one of the cornerstone traditions the Pattersons have embraced over the years. Service is another, specifically service to the community and to Farm Bureau in particular.
Farm Bureau family
Farm Bureau is woven into the fabric of the Patterson family.
“It was ingrained in us — be a part of the community and the community will be a part of you,” Patterson said, noting that in his family Farm Bureau is revered as vital to the continuation of their livelihood. “It is singlehandedly responsible for letting us do what we want to do, so we have to give back to the organization.”
And that, too, is a tradition. Patterson’s grandmother, Iona, served as a women’s trustee on the state Farm Bureau board from 1967-1979. His father, Jim, also served as president of the organization from 1985-1989.
Patterson has been a member of Ohio Farm Bureau’s state board since 2011, serving as the organization’s first vice president for the past five years and previously serving as treasurer. He also served on the Farm Credit Mid-America Board of Directors for 12 years. He is a 26-year member of Geauga County Farm Bureau.
“It has been very inspiring to see livestock come back to the farm,” Patterson said. “My great grandparents had an egg route back in the 1950s and now the next generation is bringing that similar tradition back to the farm. Our eggs, lamb, chicken and turkey are sold in our market.” He recently married Kristin and, together, they have four children, Sam, Jack, Campbell and Parker. All four children are active in 4-H, a tradition that runs deep for their families.
“People love it,” he said as he looked over at the customers watching their children play on custom playground equipment outside the farm market on Caves Road. “It gives them a farm experience they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
That is key to everything the family does at Pattersons.
“We want to make sure that anything that our customer wants to experience on the farm can be provided to them in some form,” he said.
What the people want
Give the people what they want, not what you think they want.
While this isn’t exactly a mantra, this is what constantly goes through Patterson’s mind as he takes visitors through a tour of the farm, which is on two separate properties in the county. The farm market and wedding venue are on Caves Road but the strawberries, apples and fall fun fest are about a mile away on Mulberry Road.
During the tour, Patterson readily points out various places where changes have been made because the farm team put themselves in the mind of their customers —from having employees knowledgeable about produce at the customers’ beck and call, to building one more slide to accommodate visiting kiddos to the fall fest each autumn.
In some respects, it’s not that different from what Farm Bureau does for its members, with members leading the way.
“Farm Bureau is about relationships,” Patterson said, noting that relationships with industry peers, commodity groups and policymakers is vital, but there is one group that forges the path. “We are a function of the counties and their members. With the counties we are one Farm Bureau, not the state. We exist to serve them.”
While the organization has gone through a transformation in its membership base, Patterson said the members that are today’s foundation are “strong supporters of what we do.”
Building a strong Ohio Farm Bureau organization
Building a strong Ohio Farm Bureau organization for the broad spectrum that make up the members of today, and will make up the members of tomorrow, is key to the future success of Ohio agriculture, he said. Being able to tackle the issues facing farmers — taxes, regulations, broadband, water quality and much more — is going to take that customers-first/members-first approach.
“We want to make sure (we’re) working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities. So we need to work together with everybody, whether they’re members or not,” he said. “Those issues that we have, we need to have everybody at the table. When we look at the issues of water, the issues of broadband, we need to be bringing everybody together. We also need to also be identifying what’s the next issue that we’re going to face. Working together is what formed us in the very beginning, 102 years ago. And that’s been our strongest strength.”
A strength for both Farm Bureau, and the Patterson family, on and off the farm.