The rolling hill country in southern Ohio along the Ohio River in Brown, Adams and Scioto Counties is an area of small, family-operated farms. Not adapted to large-scale operations, it's not densely populated. The hills are forest-covered and the roads, like in New England, seem to follow old Indian trails.
Tobacco was once a big crop in the area, but that is controlled by politics and the small growers are being phased out. Corn and beans are the main crops, but everybody grows both, so there is little money in either. Dairy, beef, lumber and other forest production add to the local economy.
With a higher-than-average unemployment rate, some tell us it’s an economically-depressed area – Perhaps for some depending on industry for a paycheck, but I saw a lot of people who keep a garden and a few hens, cut their own firewood and live within their means who are doing well. The important thing with these people is they are not living on over-processed junk food. They are eating fresh fruits and vegetables in season, and meat, poultry and dairy grown on fertile soil. In winter, they are eating out of their freezers and off their canning shelves. They are visibly healthier and more functional than the city dwellers depending on expensive, stale and over-processed food from the supermarket. Unfortunately, in every village the convenience stores are doing a great business in soda pop.
These small, hilly farms don't lend themselves to consolidation. The moneylenders and agricultural supply companies with a lot of expensive, high-tech chemicals, machinery and systems to sell have a hard time convincing them to compete! compete! compete! Borrow a lot of money–more than you can pay back, buy out your neighbor, gear up and end up working for the moneylenders when they foreclose on you.
Cooperation is still a watchword in these communities. Help your neighbor to make a living and pay his share of the taxes instead of buying him out and shouldering the whole tax load yourself seems to make more sense on these small farms.
Some of these blue-collar farmers who work in the woods during the winter manage to find a reason to keep a team or two of draft horses. When they take a look at the bigger draft horse shows and realize they are not in that class, they simply get together for a plow day at some farm that needs land plowed.
Over a decade ago Dale Grooms was looking around (without a lot of luck) for a chunk of land to be plowed. Since he owned a good-sized farm, he decided to set aside a few acres of cropland for a community plow meet.
He, his wife, Glenna, and their family put up a flagpole and a sign, and called the field "Grooms' Glen-Dale Park." Local teamsters and their families came for what is now an annual plow day event. At first it was just local farmers with teams and families with a few saddle horses, pony carts and ponies for the children to ride. Soon others from some distance were showing up as word got around. There were no dues, no memberships and not a lot of regulations to be enforced, not a commercial operation, just neighbors and friends sharing work and chipping in a few dollars to share expenses. It became part of the village that it takes to raise a child, and the children made new, lifelong friends, learned social skills; a place where they learn draft horse skills and traditions that they, in turn, will pass on to their children.
But that wasn't enough for these hard-working farm people who asked for little more than the opportunity to feed their families on their farms in a comfortable home and enjoy the security and comfort of living among good neighbors. They felt blessed even though there were auto and other industrial workers to the north making the equivalent of $70-an-hour in a hand-to-mouth existence that looked down their noses at these farmers. The farmers knew that there were many helpless people in this world going to bed hungry every night that wanted no more than the same opportunity, a small piece of land, to feed and care for their own poverty-stricken families. A group called the Christian Mission Fellowship was hard at work helping the poor in Haiti and other islands in the Caribbean, but was sadly in need of funds. What better way to help the Christian Mission Fellowship, and sleep better at night, than to use the annual draft horse plow meet as a fund-raiser for the Mission?
A pavilion was built with a small kitchen to prepare and serve food. I have never been to a draft horse event where I didn't eat well, and this was no exception. Except for the soda pop, the food was home-cooking, with generous servings and reasonable prices.
Ed Lykins and his volunteers contribute their time and labor to make the Draft Horse Field Day the first week in October, at Grooms' Glen-Dale Park a very successful fund-raiser to help destitute people in Third World countries. This is their way of giving thanks for the sustainable way of life they enjoy in the beautiful country down along the Ohio River.