By: Holly Davis
The apples of their eyes
While Assistant Professor Seungki Lee might be over 6,800 miles away from his parents in South Korea, on a sunny day this past fall at an apple orchard in Ohio, he felt a little bit closer to home. Lee and fellow AEDE Extension team members Margaret Jodlowski and Yao Wang took a trip to tour the operations of Lynd Fruit Farm, a popular fall destination just outside of Columbus.
While visiting Ohio farmers is part of Lee’s job, this trip was more personal. Lee’s parents run a small apple orchard in South Korea, a unique venture in a country where agricultural goods are mostly imported from other countries. Lee’s interest in agricultural economics seems to make sense given he is the son of apple farmers. So did his instant connection with another son of apple farmers, Brian Lynd, now a fourth-generation farmer whose family began Lynd Fruit Farm over 100 years ago.
“Visiting Lynd was inspiring to me given my parents run an apple farm back home,” Lee said. Lee, who studies technology adoption, was impressed by the efficiency of the family-run operation given the struggles Ohio farmers face finding labor and dealing with price increases for things like fertilizer.
“Lynd’s has a successful business model. It takes advantage of the economy of scale, but also has diversified revenue sources through unique experiences (apple cannons, the corn maize, etc.) and selling products in the huge market, which makes the farm financially more resilient,” Lee pointed out. He was also impressed by a new technology the farm adopted to stay competitive. Software from Ohio State FABE Professor Heping Zhu, has reduced the amount of spray that Lynd puts on fruit trees by 25% - a considerable cost savings. Maintaining a resilient operation in today’s complex economy can put a lot of stress on the shoulders of Ohio farmers like the Lynds.
“You wear so many hats,” said Brian Lynd. “There’s a lot of people that depend on you to get a crop across the finish line. You still have to find the time to be a dad and husband,” Lynd told the group of Ohio State faculty.
It’s a family affair
On most fall weekends, you’ll find Lynd’s wife and three kids sorting apples, helping out at the farm’s popular goods market, and doing other essential tasks to keep up with the demand during the busy season. Given how grueling the farm life can be, farmers often find themselves conflicted when they think about how their kids factor into succession planning.
“You always want your kids to do better,” Lynd said. They could make a lot more money doing something else. It’s hard to encourage them into this line of work, because I have first-hand experience with how much it can sometimes personally take away.”
Lee’s colleague, Assistant Professor Margaret Jodlowski, studies farm labor and decisions that farming families make off-farm.
“Brian’s devotion to the business because of his family's history as apple farmers was very moving,” she said. “I appreciated what he said about taking care of their migrant workers and having the same people year after year; you could tell the human connection was something he was really invested in,” she added, a reference to the eight-family migrant camp the farm also hosts.
The need for labor impacts a lot of Ohio farmers like the Lynd’s, who plant about 12-18 thousand trees annually. During its busiest times on fall weekends, Lynd’s can see over 100 people enter and exit their operation, every 10 minutes.
“The migrant camp families love it here,” Lynd said. “They’ve been here a long time, and they leave every December to visit their families back in Mexico, and they’ll come back in February. The farm doesn’t wait. Mother nature is in control, and these families are here when we need them.”
Sharing the wealth
An operation as large and old as Lynd Fruit Farm means they know what they’re doing. And they’re passionate about sharing that knowledge to help other Ohio farmers succeed.
“Everybody is very helpful in the fruit growing community,” Lynd said. “There’s room for all of us - we have nothing to worry about if we all try to help each other. If I know something is working, I have no problem telling another grower and helping them out.”