An Ohio Farm Gone Wild

| February/March 2005

  • Ohio Farm
    Wildlife on Gena and Robin’s land. Plants pictured include the colorfully named Square-stemmed Monkey Flower (purple) and Sneezeweed (yellow).
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
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     Gena Husman (left) and RobinArnold (right) with their dogs Sashaand Frickie.
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     Gena with a 10-week-old BarredRock hen. Top: Backyard beehives.
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     The modular home and front yard.

  • Ohio Farm
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Find the strength of your land and let it work for you: This has been our philosophy on our 12 acres, located on the edge of Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay. We decided to move to this land in Port Clinton, Ohio, almost 20 years ago. It belonged to the parents of my partner, Robin Arnold, and they generously deeded two acres to us, including a site for a house and a pond that Robin’s grandfather dug many years ago. We started with a mobile home, but then several years later replaced it with a modular home — nothing fancy just a little nicer, and we started to get interested in back-to-the-land living. When the time was right, we thought, we would like to buy a few acres and find a productive use for them.

When we first moved here, a farmer was renting the rest of the property from Robin’s father and trying to grow soybeans. Each year he planted, and each year he lost more than half the crop to flooding; he made his money off the insurance from the loss. Eventually, the construction of a dike reduced the flooding problem, but the property still wasn’t good farmland. The soil was a heavy clay that dried hard as concrete. When wet, the sticky clay clung to the bottom of our shoes like lead weights.

A few years ago, Robin’s parents decided to get rid of the farmer, which left 10 acres of land right in our back yard. We discussed whether we should wait and try to find a place that was a little more promising. After all, when we first moved here, we often had to put on knee-high rubber boots to go more than 20 feet out into the back yard where, once, we found 3- to 4-pound carp swimming around our feet! Although our yard doesn’t flood like it once did, the 10 acres we were thinking about buying frequently have standing water, especially in the spring.

But we weren’t searching for the perfect piece of farmland, either, and so about three years ago, after much discussion, we bought the 10 additional acres from Robin’s parents, and we waited to see what the land would tell us.

We didn’t have to wait long. Left alone, the land began to revert to its natural state. Marsh grasses, wild flowers and dogwood filled in the once-manicured bean fields. Trees have begun to appear as if by magic — not hand-selected trees from nurseries, but species native to the area whose seeds were borne on the wind from surrounding woods.

Our land now offers cover and safe haven to many animal species. At first, we saw only a few small animals — muskrats, mink, rabbits and birds. Before long, we saw an occasional deer; and then, one afternoon, we counted 22 in our back field! Migrating birds that once bypassed the cultivated fields now stopped to rest for a day or two in the tangled underbrush before beginning the final leg of their journey across Lake Erie to Canada and beyond.

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