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Spring was a long time coming for Jody Brown Boyd at Brown’s Family Farm Market, which straddles the border between Hamilton and Butler counties in Ross, Ohio.
Boyd was looking for every nook and cranny she could find to store flats and hanging baskets that were destined for the market once the temperature finally got out of the freezing range overnight. Plants were huddled together in nine greenhouses, the retail building and trailers to keep from succumbing to the nighttime cold that didn’t seem to lift for good until well into May.
“We were stashing things everywhere,” she said, surveying her inventory 10 days before Mother’s Day. Most of those flats and hanging baskets would be gone by mid-May. Mother’s Day is the biggest day of the year in the nursery business in southern Ohio.
After that holiday, the majority of the market’s focus switches to produce. Boyd is a fourth-generation farmer and a Farm Bureau member in Butler County. Her family has been farming and selling produce in one way or another for over a century.
“My great-grandparents, my grandparents and even my father set up at the Historic Hamilton Courthouse Farmers Market for over 100 years,” she said. “We got this retail location in 1990, when I was just a kid, and I’ve pretty much grown up here.”
The most hectic time of year at Brown’s is in the fall when fun harvest activities bring 4,000-5,000 people a day to the farm to participate in agritourism activities like hayrides, pumpkin patch picking and corn mazes. It was during that time of year that the value of Farm Bureau membership stood out the most to Boyd.
“We’ve created a very high maintenance business here,” Boyd said of Brown’s Family Farm Market. “When you are dealing with fresh produce, fresh plants and fresh products that need constant care, labor is always an issue.”
She is seeing that the number of applicants for open positions has dropped, and fewer and fewer people are interested in working in these jobs. Brown’s Family Farm Market employs about 30 people full time and part time, plus seasonal workers.
“We really appreciate what Farm Bureau has done to get people interested in this line of work and workforce development and getting people interested in this industry. It takes a lot to run this type of business,” she said. “Getting the youth involved through granting scholarships is so important to get and keep them interested in these fields of work.”
Jody’s daughter, Jenna, a 2023 graduate of Ross High School, was a Butler County Farm Bureau scholarship recipient this year. Jody’s husband, Steve, helps around on the farm in his spare time. The Boyds also have two younger boys who both enjoy helping out on the farm.
The skyrocketing interest in home gardening since the pandemic has kept Boyd and her family on their toes. She expected that growth to decline by this point, but she hasn’t seen it. Maintaining a knowledgeable and robust workforce is key to sustainability and any potential growth in the future.
“People are interested in growing their own food and knowing where their food comes from,” she said, noting that educating the public is something she has enjoyed doing over the last few years. “I’ve done classes on growing herbs, decorating with novelty pumpkins, vegetable gardening in containers, making evergreen door swags and making a succulent planter.”
Boyd likes to share Brown’s Family Farm Market with the public, but also wants to protect the operation.
“We really want people to enjoy the farm experience,” she said. “There is still so much value in it. But, at the same time, when you have that many people coming to your farm, you’re very vulnerable and exposed to the public. We’re really happy that Farm Bureau pushed for the agritourism protection that has been put in place. It helps take the burden off with all the liability because it’s hard to have that many people in your space. We’re still a production farm.”
Those protections went into effect in 2016 after Ohio Farm Bureau pushed for agritourism coverage for members and all farmers who welcome the public onto their farm. The legislation, among other things, established immunity in a civil action for agritourism providers. There are requirements the operation must fulfill to qualify for the liability protection, including prominently posting an agritourism sign.
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