CADIZ-Many people have a sense of history about their families-ancestry, old photos, memories of grandma's house. Holly Herbold is living her history. "It feels like I belong here, like home. It's come full circle."
She says this from the porch of a large, old farmhouse overlooking one of her newly-certified organic gardens. In 1805 her great-times-four grandparents acquired this family farm under the Land Act. The farmhouse was moved from a rise, bringing it about 50 yards closer to the spring house from which the women folk carried buckets of water for washing, cleaning and cooking.
Holly's earliest memories begin here. Her grandparents lived in the house, and her parents fashioned the former granary into living space. "I picked daisies. I remember riding in the horse and buggy. My mother drove the horse and buggy everywhere. She took me to school down the road."
Holly Herbold and dog Corso take a break on the farmhouse front porch. “My grandmother used to sit in that corner and rock, and my grandfather sat on the steps.”
Holly moved to California when she was eight and to Hawaii when she was 20, where she surfed, worked at a Four Seasons hotel and "began really learning about food." A move to upstate New York in 2002 furthered her food career. She opened a health food store and added a cafe, which then became a successful restaurant featuring local foods. Among all of this activity she managed to acquire three degrees in anthropology, deaf studies and teaching, but whenever she visited the family farm in Ohio she dreaded saying goodbye. Holly took an opportunity to return to her roots in 2009 and hasn't looked back.
Her interest in actually farming the land grew when she began working for neighbor Mick Luber, owner of Bluebird Farm. "He's amazing. I've learned so much from him. He's always encouraged me to succeed." The next year, she decided to grow some produce on her own and is now in her second year as Her Bold Farm. Starting small, she has developed two acres for planting, using one at a time. But there are thousands of plants-vegetables, herbs and flowers-that Holly and employee Ellie Myslinsky tend and prepare for sale.
Tomatoes, beets, peppers, potatoes, onions, garlic, basil, dill, radishes, carrots, okra, kale, Swiss chard, peas, "really good lettuce," gladiolas, cosmos, zinnias, pumpkins and squash-a partial list of more than 70 items that will make appearances at her market booth this year.
"It isn't just 'beets' for me. I have five kinds of beets. I like the variety. People ask me if I have Swiss chard, and I'll show them three different types of Swiss chard," says Holly. "Maybe one type will work better for what they're doing, or maybe they'll be open to trying something new."
Other parts of the 188-acre farm on Brushy Fork Road are home to the requisite two farm dogs and a cat, in addition to pasture for a horse, four beef cows and 11 Boer-mix goats. The plan is to breed the goats up into quality meat stock. Two flocks of five types of chickens free-range it. The older group is kept closer to the hen house and pasture land while the younger pullets' portable coop and large pen is moved around a flatter area every two days.
Holly's fresh egg business is taking off with Black New Jersey Giants, Rhode Island Reds and Golden- and Silver-Laced Wyandots. Another chicken she decided to add as a novelty, the Araucana, lays blue and green eggs. She places one of these in each dozen pack as available.
Her father, John, has two bee hives, and Holly captured her first hive this spring. The bees not only provide sweet honey, but pollinate the crops. They're part of the farm's history, too, as Holly points out a hive that has lived between the walls of the farmhouse for more than 50 years.
As if produce, goats, eggs and bees weren't enough, Holly puts on her grandmother's apron and makes home-baked bread, too. One day a week Holly and Ellie (who worked for a bakery while living in Maine) create 50 to 80 loaves by kneading and stretching the dough, no electric mixers involved.
In February, Holly and John submitted the nearly 30-page application for organic farm certification. The process is technical, specific and all-encompassing. Fences must be constructed from untreated wood. Inspectors test soil for chemicals, and farmers have to keep a paper trail beginning with seed packets and receipts for each plant and ending with harvest dates. Because the farmland had not been utilized in 30 years, the process was streamlined to an extent for the Herbolds. Why insist on certification, in effect, to farm the "old fashioned" way?
According to Holly, "The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a reputable certifying agent with over three decades of service as a vital resource to farmers, gardeners and citizens who value a sustainable, local and ecological organic food system. Knowing that our family farm is certified by OEFFA gives my customers a credible guarantee that our products are organically farmed using natural processes that benefit not only environmental health but the health of my community. I can give back to my community by growing quality vegetables, baking organic and homemade artisan breads and sharing this wealth with my neighbors." More than 70 acres have also been approved for organic hay farming, one of John's projects.
OEFFA's Environmental Quality Incentive Program Organic Initiative awarded Her Bold Farm a $10,000 grant for a "hoop house," the first of its kind in Harrison County. Plans involve running an irrigation pipe from the spring house to a site above one of the garden plots-just next to the former site of the farmhouse. For four years Holly is to plant "a little of everything" in the nearly 2200 square foot house while developing and monitoring conservation practices.
As idyllic as the setting is, running a 200-year old farm in the 21st century presents its own issues. After signing the contract for the hoop house grant, Holly was told that Governor Kasich's budget cuts may eliminate the program's new projects-possibly hers.
Stringent organic certification requirements aside, selling her wares in a largely rural community means traveling to a farmers market over 60 miles away, selling produce with Bluebird Farm's booth at other weekly markets as well as finding customers through less traditional outlets.
Updates have been made throughout the years to the farmhouse her great, great grandparents built in the late 1800's, but there are nine other old buildings on the farm, including the spring house, a smokehouse, a stable, a pig pen and a chicken house. An architect has drawn up plans to restore the granary to living space again, eliminating "holes that birds fly through."
Of particular concern to the Herbolds is a historic hay barn that John's grandfather purchased from the Cope farm when Clendening Lake was formed. He had it reassembled on its present site. Still in use, the foundation is deteriorating and will be costly to rebuild. Preserving it means not only preserving part of the farm and family history, but the community's history as well.
These family acres have never been mined or drilled, and Holly worries, "Ours is one of the few remaining treasures of natural beauty in Harrison [County.] I'm concerned about the fracking planned for so much of our area. If the undisclosed chemicals used for fracking seep into our water table or watershed, they may also seep into my vegetables. I wonder how much longer I'll be able to take a drink from the springhouse that has been used by my family for nearly 210 years."
Odd little gifts tilled from the gardens keep her grounded: an old spoon, an arrowhead, an 1825 penny. Someday, Holly speculates, she'd like to have four or five acres of production with vegetables on all the hillsides; interns working the farm, learning about organics, staying in cabins along the woods; and opening the farm up as a writers' retreat (Holly is also a writer.).
A friend is creating a website for the farm, but Holly does have a Facebook page. For information on Her Bold Farm products or working part-time on the farm, call (740) 942-8042 or email Holly at email@example.com.
"I think my ancestors would be proud of the way our farm seems to breathe life into the food produced here. You can almost taste the fog rolling in off the bottom when you take a bite. I'm hoping in some small way of my own to show that keeping the farm alive is an important part of keeping the community alive and history alive."