Smith Farms Ashland County

Ron and Suzanne Smith’s farm house sits neat as a pin at the peak of a gravel and dirt driveway stretching up a hill embankment in Ashland County.

A century farm marker is at one end with the house and a red-sided barn that hides its historic build (a barn raising in 1886) at the other.

Ron Smith has owned this property since 1961, but Smith Family Farms have been in the family almost 200 years, minus a small amount of time at the end of the 19th century when marital strife caused a brief three-year disruption of ownership. The Smiths, Ron and his brother Denny, have separate farming operations over about 1,300 acres in this picturesque part of northeast Ohio.

And it was the fervent wish of Ron and Denny’s father, Forest, that the original Smith Family Farms, around 326 acres total, stay in the family. Sometimes, that kind of open communication is how family farm transitions work out.

“That’s the way my dad wanted it,” Ron said. “He was seeing all these farms around here, split up and houses built, and he said, ‘I’m going to do this while I’m living.’”

While his mental capacity was still sharp, Forest wanted to make sure the family farms were set to remain in the family, said Steve, Denny’s son. While the oldest Ron, now 86, already owned his portion, Forest split the farm for his other three children. Denny owns and farms his portion. His sister, Connie, was not interested in farming and was bought out by her brothers at an agreed upon price. John, who lives out of state, still owns his portion, but Denny farms John’s tillable acreage. Forest passed away at age 102 in 2006.

Keeping Forest’s wish intact was no easy feat in the late 1990s and it isn’t one in 2024, but the Smiths have been able to keep the farms in the family because Steve, 46, always wanted to be a farmer. He had a successful off-farm career as an ag mechanic for several years, helping on his father’s farm when he could. When his Uncle Ron mentioned he wanted to slow down and semi-retire a couple years ago, Steve started farming his ground as an extra job. But when Denny needed back surgery last spring, the decision to farm full-time came to a head.

Smith family Ashland County
The Smiths have a legacy to keep and plenty of know-how to sustain it. That’s all Ron, right, can ask for, and Steve can strive to do.

“The problem was it happened right at the beginning of planting season,” Ron said of the surgery. “He didn’t want to put it off because it was bothering him so badly and he couldn’t walk. He wasn’t going to be able to basically do anything.”

The time was right for Steve to take over a lot of the work from his dad’s farm, as well as farming his uncle’s, where his farming practices have met to Ron’s satisfaction. Crop rotation, no-till farming and fitting the tractor with a GPS system are just a few of the advancements both Denny and Steve helped bring to Smith farms, even before Steve was farming full-time. No-till and GPS systems were new to Ron when Steve introduced the practices to him, and his uncle has embraced them.

“That’s what I like about Steve. He rotates his crops, your crops and that slows down on erosion,” Ron said. “He raised the crops basically like I want. I feel comfortable in him farming.”

In addition to row crops — corn, soybeans, wheat and hay — Steve bought his uncle’s cattle two years ago when caring for them was becoming a physical strain on the elder Smith. He also takes care of the sheep that have been part of Smith Family Farms for decades. A portion of the Smiths’ farmland also has been in farmland preservation trusts for several years, which has protected it from developers and other encroachments, such as the Rover Pipeline, Steve said.

Smith family century farm
Smith Family Farms have been in the family almost 200 years.

“If Dad wouldn’t have had his farm…in the farmland preservation program, had it not been protected, that pipeline would have come right through,” Steve said. “They were going to take out part of the woods. Those woods are almost sacred. That’s one of the things…Grandpa did not want anything changed with the woods, because some of the trees are probably over 200 years old.”

Steve, who lives just off the farm with his family, was blessed to have all the equipment he needed to start farming full-time, as well as the years-long experience of having helped for decades on the farm, but challenges are everywhere. The pressure to keep the farm in the family is ever-present. His kids are young, and what the future holds for them isn’t inside a crystal ball.

Challenges from urban development always simmer at the surface, and money is always a consideration whether going into the farm or into the household. Denny is again helping on the farm after his back surgery, and Ron continues to keep the cows fed and watered for Steve, but the Smiths have a legacy to keep and plenty of know-how to sustain it. That’s all Ron can ask for, and Steve can strive to do.

“Denny’s got the same belief, Steve’s getting it. I’ve got it,” Ron said. “I’d hate to see some outsider come in. I’ve preached that for years.”

Labor has always been an issue, mainly because we are a seasonal operation. So that's a challenge finding somebody who only wants to work three months out of a year, sometimes up to six months.
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Mandy Way

Way Farms

Farm Labor Resources
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Ernie Welch

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Matt Aultman

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The plan we are on is great. It’s comparable to my previous job's plan, and we are a sole proprietor.
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Kevin Holy

Geauga County Farm Bureau

Ohio Farm Bureau Health Benefits Plan
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David Thomas

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Jared Hughes

Groovy Plants Ranch

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Austin Heil

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Mary Smallsreed

Trumbull County Farm Bureau

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