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When Marcia Ruff talks about the people who work at Ruff Farms in Pickaway County, it’s obvious that she considers each as a member of the extended Ruff family.
Ruff Farms is a 4,000-acre corn, soybeans and wheat row crop operation. It’s also a drainage and tile ag services enterprise, a container loading facility marketing grain globally, a freezer beef direct-to-consumer farm, a commercial seeding business and an important link in the food supply chain of squirrels and wildlife throughout the country.
“We’ve been very blessed to have a good crew of people who work for us,” Ruff said. “It has changed over the years. We’ve had an increase in labor as the farm has increased.”
They now have six full-time employees and folks they pull in to help as needed, including her in-laws, Luther and Pat Ruff, who in their retirement have been able to make parts runs for the Ruffs to help save time and money, she said. Luther founded the L. Ruff & Associates insurance agency in Circleville in 1989, which is now helmed by their son, Todd. The agency is an Ohio Farm Bureau Select Partner.
Marcia and her husband, Mark, grew up with agriculture backgrounds, but they are first- generation farmers who established Ruff Farms 25 years ago, when they were married. Mark is also a former organization director of Ohio Farm Bureau.
During that time they’ve had employees who have come, gone, and come back again, such as Chris Sawyer, who was the farm manager and now currently manages the container loading and shipping business.
“I thought the grass was greener someplace else,” said Sawyer, who has been with Ruff Farms for almost all of the last 17 years. “When I told Mark I was taking another job, he told me I’d always have a place to come back home to if I wanted it.”
It didn’t take long for Sawyer to realize he needed to go “back home,” where he was welcomed with open arms. Now his 7-year-old daughter, Alexis, visits the beef cattle every chance she gets.
“It’s a big farm with a small family farm culture,” he said. “We all help each other and we know Mark will take care of us.”
That’s exactly the kind of place Marcia said they have worked hard to cultivate to attract and retain employees.
“We have never considered our employees hired hands,” Ruff said. “Someone asked me that years ago. ‘How many hired hands do you have?’ and I said, ‘zero.’ We have a crew. They are tile crew, they are our farm crew. They are part of who we are, and they are more to us than a hired hand. They are really part of our culture here and they’re very important to what we do.”
Mark is a former ag educator, but has been a full-time farmer for more than 20 years. Marcia works as a reading intervention specialist at Westfall Elementary School. She has been a teacher and 4-H advisor for more than 25 years.
Diversifying and taking advantage of opportunities as they have come along are hallmarks of the family, and it trickles down to their three children – Matthew, Mitchell and Mae. Entrepreneurship is a family affair.
Matthew started a field corn marketing business for squirrels and backyard animals as an FFA project during the pandemic. It is now a thriving business that ships all over the country. When Matthew went off to Ohio State University last year, his brother, Mitchell, took over the business, while also finding time to be a busy high school junior and raise direct-to-consumer freezer beef. Mae, 11, has started a garden and eventually wants to grow enough to establish a produce business. All of the kids have been active in 4-H and FFA throughout their lives.
Creating opportunities for anyone who is curious about farming to learn from Ruff Farms and agriculture in general is something Marcia incorporates into her elementary school curriculum, into the farm’s online social media presence and to those who visit Ruff Farms in Circleville.
“It is a huge mission of ours to educate everyone about agriculture,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges is not only finding employees, but retaining them on the farm.
Ruff Farms has had some success advertising for positions and believes in strong word-of-mouth. The Ruffs also have connections they can call on personally to help when seasons get busy.
How employees are treated, and also the opportunity to have year-round employment through the farm, tile and container shipping business, are also key to the Ruffs’ success in attracting and retaining skilled farm talent, said owner Marcia Ruff, who also was named Farm Journal’s Executive Women in Agriculture Trailblazer Award winner this year.
“Some of the success we’ve had is advertising on farm forum pages and getting some people that way,” she said. “We know they are at least interested because they were already on these forums and they’re interested in farming. So there was this specific way for them to find us.”
Marcia noted that Ruff Farms offers some tangible things to employees beyond salary and benefits, such as having a fully stocked breakroom or offering the use of a truck to haul gravel or the service garage for an oil change for personal use. “They can come here on the weekend and pull their vehicle in and know that we have what they need to do those kinds of things,” she said.
The Ruffs will participate in a number of webinars beginning Aug. 31 regarding workforce development strategies. Learn more.
Feature photo: From left are Marcia, Mitchell, Matthew, Mae and Mark Ruff on a camping trip, their favorite getaway when they get a chance toleave their Pickaway County operation. Photo submitted by the Ruff family
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