In 2007, the Stoller family farm was chosen by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as one of seven farms across the country that were models of best management practices: healthy soil, protected waterways, and ecological integrity. “It shows that ‘organic’ and ‘conservation’ go hand-in-hand,” says Scott Stoller.
They’ve received several conservation awards at the county and state level in recognition of this thriving 350-acre certified organic dairy farm. They grow corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and alfalfa as winter rations for their herd of 100 Holstein/Brown Swiss cows. They also have goats, chickens, donkeys and two dogs, Sassy and Benji. So welcome is their way of land management to the community, that several local landowners ask the Stollers to lease their land for organic agriculture. So in addition to their home farm, the Stollers have taken over the stewardship of an additional 130 acres nearby.
The Stoller family hosts field days, tours and pasture walks for other producers as well as for NRCS, Farm Bureau, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and their local food co-op, Wayne County. The farm’s ideally located for such activity, since it’s only an hour southwest of Cleveland and west southwest of Akron, both major metro areas.
While the Stollers’ accomplishments are tremendous, they attribute their success as much to the grace of God as to their own hard work, because, like the best of stories, their success was preceded by tragedy.
The Stollers had returned to the family farm one year previous to help Scott’s ailing grandfather when Scott lost half of his right arm to a baler accident in 1997. Four months after the accident, his grandfather passed away and they bought his grandpa’s half of the farm. 4 months later still, his grandmother passed away and they bought the other half of the farm. “Everybody thought we were nuts,” Charlene says. “Scott had just gotten his prosthesis and was still going through all these surgeries and wasn’t even sure he’d be able to milk the cows.”
Scott didn’t let it get him down, Charlene says. “He has made up mentally and emotionally for what he’s missing physically. He likes to joke that he’s not really handicapped until he loses his teeth!”
Prior to the accident, the Stollers farmed conventionally. Why did they transition to organic? Scott says it’s “Because I married a little lady who routinely asked me why I gave antibiotics to my cows.” Charlene feels the biggest kick start was Scott’s accident. “We do a lot of things in the house and we transfer that thought to the barn, and we do things in the barn that we transfer to the house. It’s just connecting the dots. You see one thing and that prompts a question about the next thing.”
“For instance, just a few miles from here a truck full of liquid nitrogen that was destined to be sprayed on farm fields spilled accidentally. They evacuated everyone nearby. Everybody was worried about contamination. If the spill hadn’t occurred, the truck would have gone a little farther down the road and sprayed its contents on acres and acres of land. We would have fed what grew on that land to our cows and we would have drunk the milk and nobody would have thought anything of it. When there’s a skull and crossbones on the label of something you use on your food, connect the dots! Interfering with what’s been perfectly made creates problems.”
Before transitioning to organic, Scott says he would argue that “you cannot feed the world farming organically.” He doesn’t feel that way anymore. “The system has proven itself. It works.”
The Stollers practice Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing, or MIRG as it’s known among graziers, which means that the cows are moved to fresh pasture twice a day. The pastures consist mostly of bluegrass, little Dutch clover or ladino clover, mixed in with orchard grass and alfalfa for dry spells since bluegrass doesn’t do well without plenty of moisture.
The human head count on this farm is ten. Scott and Charlene feel utterly blessed by their eight children, who range in age from 1 to 18 years old. “People sometimes wonder why we have a large family,” Charlene says, “but I can’t imagine how we would have made it without them. We homeschool our kids, and it works out wonderfully. They love to be involved on the farm and it makes them feel integrated and needed and valued.”
“There’s no question that farming organically gives my kids a better chance at farming in the future,” Scott says. “For me it was ‘how dad always did it was right.’ They’re all gung-ho for organic agriculture, because they’ve never known anything different. This is normal to them. At this point, ALL my kids would say they want to go into farming. Yesterday I was short of tractors because there was so much to do and not enough equipment to go around. They’re disappointed if one of them gets to do something and the other doesn’t. You can just see their faces fall.
“It’s fun here. There are stressful days, but it’s mostly fun.”
Scott and Charlene intend to leave their children a farm that was better than they found it, but, Scott points out, “We’re not done yet. We’re trying to improve daily and weekly.”
Sounds like a plan.