I think I just completed a personal first. The first two weeks of my career where I went fishing on Lake Erie, watched and tasted candy being made, rode in a combine and sampled wine — all in about two week’s time and while on the clock.

My assignments the past couple weeks have taken me to diverse places that each represent a different and important part of Ohio agriculture. First, it was a trip to the Maumee River Watershed where I learned about how farmers are handling the nutrient runoff issue and taking steps to improve the quality of water that enters Lake Erie.

As part of that trip, I spent three hours fishing on Lake Erie while a charter captain talked about the types of fish in the lake and how activities in the watershed affect the quality of fishing. I blogged in greater depth about that experience here.

Candy making

Then, on Thursday, June 21, I drove to the northwestern Ohio city of Bryan, where I toured Spangler Candy Co. and learned about the company’s history of buying U.S. corn and sugar. Currently, they buy about 24 million pounds of corn syrup annually or about 600,000 bushels of corn.

I enjoy an occasional candy snack — including the famous Dum Dum pops for which the company is famous. But I had never really thought about candy’s connection to agriculture. It was fascinating to see the whole process — from the time the corn syrup arrives in tank trucks until it’s mixed and heated, and kneaded and formed into the different candies.

The machines inside the factory were impressive — large mechanical kneaders that take out of a lot of the physical strain of manual kneading. But there’s still a ton of work to do, and workers each had their own job, working in crews and teams until the candy was cooked, packaged and sealed into boxes.

I quickly noticed the sweet, candy-like smell inside the production floor. Company officials said it’s a lot better smell than many other industries emit, and I have to agree!

Winery and vineyards

That same week, on Friday, I made the trip to French Ridge Vineyards near Killbuck, Ohio. Scott Buente and his wife, Kathy, have opened the first winery in Holmes County and they also grow their own grapes.

I sampled some of the wine as Scott showed me around. It’s a neat place and they make the most of the rolling hills of Holmes County. We’ll have that story in this week’s print edition and online later this week.

Then, this past Wednesday, I traveled to Clyde for the annual Ohio produce association’s annual summer field day. We visited Eshleman Fruit Farm in the morning, where we got a wagon-ride tour of Rich Eshleman’s orchards.

And in the afternoon, we were off to Willard, for Buurma Farms produce.

As I drove down state Route 103 and approached the farm, I knew from several hundred yards away that it was no ordinary farm. The ground was flat as a pancake and black as coal. It was almost all muck ground and far more than I had ever seen on one farm.

The Buurmas grow about 30 different crops — mostly vegetable produce. And they process their own food and sell to popular grocery chains like Kroger Co. and Meijer.

Looking ahead

All of these places are a part of Ohio agriculture, and sometimes in ways we don’t often think.

If dairy farming or conventional livestock and crops is your thing, you won’t be disappointed. We have many news articles coming up that will feature those places.

But sometimes it’s nice to look at the other types of farming, too, because they’re more similar than not, and in many ways they’re all connected.

For me, it’s a real learning experience walking through a vineyard or a muck farm because I did not grow up around that type of farming. These other industries are really doing the same thing in the end — producing a quality, safe and nutritious product the consumer can enjoy.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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