Ohio Farmer Works to Sustain His Community
A simple motto guides Larry Klco’s decisions for his Lake County, Ohio pick-your-own farm: "If you want to buy it, I’ll grow it." That concept has helped Klco, a first-generation farmer, build a successful specialty operation that delivers fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables to 125 farmers’ markets in eastern Ohio each summer.
The range of crops is amazing. Last summer, Klco and his family produced six types of tomatoes, six melon varieties, 10 different squashes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, cauliflower, cabbages, sweet corn, Asian greens, and more. He recently began growing herbs, a small orchard, and thornless blackberries on a specially designed trellis to make picking easier for consumers.
When local Croatians complained they couldn’t find a specific pepper that is popular in their homeland, Klco went through the seed books with them to find the right pepper. This year, he will raise 5,000 of his “sweet Croatian peppers” because of consumer demand.
Customers influence more than Klco’s choice of crops. When he began thinking about preserving the 30 acres he owns, his number one question was how customers would react if he accepted tax dollars for preserving his farm.
According to an American Farmland Trust study, Lake County, just east of Cleveland, is one of the highest risk areas in the nation for loss of farmland to urban sprawl.
As Klco looked into the issue, he found a survey that showed local people wanted their community to remain rural. He developed an application to the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program that factored in the benefits to area residents of his pick-your-own and farmers' market operations. He persuaded two farming neighbors to join him in preserving a combined 100 acres.
Ultimately, he convinced village officials that the cost of matching federal conservation funds to save the land would be far less than the cost of supplying local services if the land were to be developed. Klco ultimately qualified for the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program funds—and found that his customers were delighted.
“I can’t tell you how many people stopped to thank me for preserving the farm,” he says. His only regret about protecting his land came this year when he sat down with his tax advisor.
“I don’t think a landowner who preserves his property should pay taxes on that payment [for preservation] because of what they’re giving up. I think that’s wrong, and it should be changed. I know that holds other farmers back from preserving their land.”
Klco, however, is still glad he preserved the farm, and he has more ideas to serve his customers, especially with education about cooking their purchases. He is optimistic about the future, citing the growing public interest in eating fresh produce, new research on health benefits, and the redesign of USDA’s food pyramid to emphasize fruits and vegetables.
“I’m confident that specialized agriculture has a very bright future, but it’s very high management, very hard work, and very high risk. My concern is whether we can make it profitable enough for the next generation to come back to the farm.”
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