Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This past Monday evening I found myself driving west out of Akron on Rt 224, past Lodi and into West Salem for a tour of Deer Lick Farm. As a spur of the moment thing last week I signed up for this tour of a working farm to better educate myself on what it takes to make a small farm sustainable in today’s economic conditions. As part of my interest in buying local foods, this seemed a good opportunity to get some first person, feet on the ground research.

The drive to the property itself was a lesson in transition. Leaving the city behind, I fell in line on the freeway with the big rigs heading out across the country to their various destinations. Exiting I-71 into Salem I entered a quieter part of the countryside and once I turned south on Rt 83 I was surrounded by corn and soybean fields dotted along the road with new homes where farm property had been partially sold off for limited development.

Although my maternal Grandparents were farmers of several hundred acres in West Virginia when my Mother was growing up, they’d sold the farm and moved to the big city of Akron by the time I arrived on the planet. My experience with ‘farming’ was watching my Grandfather plant his acre of kitchen garden each year and jealously observing my cousins 2 riding horses in the pasture out back. So truly I had no real idea of what a working farm should look like today.  What I found was a very pleasant surprise.

4 miles or so off the main road, I turned onto a gravel drive with a sign at the road announcing I’d reached my destination.  The gravel drive from the road up to the main house is a study in tranquility. I passed over a creek bed, through beautiful old trees lining the driveway, past a meadow with a good-sized pond and finally up to the main house and on up to the barn area. 

Getting out of the car the biggest thing to strike me was the quiet.  Literally miles from the city, the sounds that came to my ears were the bells tied around the neck of the goats as they grazed in their pasture and the short clack of a screen door closing as our host came in and out of the house bringing refreshements out on the lawn for our tour group. 

The farm house alone was well worth the drive out to Deer Lick (so named due to the large number of deer that visited the mineral spring on the property). Built in 1874 by the Briton family, it is a well preserved relic of an age gone by. Typical of true Victorian architecture, chimneys and turrets reach up to the sky sporting little iron details on their peaks. Porches with wicker furniture and ceiling fans beckon you to come on in and sit a spell. Built of lumber harvested and milled from the property, and although currently painted totally white, it’s easy to see the gingerbread details that cover the house.

Inside are 22 rooms and those on the ground floor (which we were privileged to tour) still boast original woodwork, huge fireplaces, beautifully finished pocket doors and a beautiful stained glass window in the office that still houses the safe installed on that location when the house was built around it due to its enormous size. 

Some accommodations have been made to allow for a downstairs bath and updated kitchen, but it’s easy to look around and imagine what the house looked like in the late 1800’s.

The original property consisted of some 600 acres in 1874.  Built around the same time as the house, the main barn also boasts a Victorian style. Along with the barn, the property now contains a silo, garden shed, smoke house, peafowl coop, weigh house, double bay carriage house and a two hole outhouse (no longer is use) and on the front lawn, a very pretty gazebo.

Upon arrival I was introduced to the owner of Deer Lick Farm, Karl Kanehl.  Karl reminds me of a guy who might coach high school sports rather than spending his life working this property. He's approachable, soft spoken and gentle mannered, and speaks thoughtfully and knowlegably about his farm and how it's evolved since the Kanehl family puchased Deer Lick. 

The farm has been home to 4 other families since the Britons initially sold it before World War II. The Kanehl family moved from the Wooster aea onto the farm in 1987. At that time the farm consisted of the main house and a little over 100 acres of hilly property and the family consisted of two parents and two children. At the time Karl’s sister had an interest in horses so they put horses on the farm, eventually adding goats (which his sister showed for 4-H) and some peacocks because Mrs. Kanehl was fond of them.

The sister grew up, married and moved off the farm years ago, Mr. Kanehl passed away several years ago, leaving Karl and his Mother on the farm alone with some serious decisions to make. Mrs. Kanehl felt they might need to sell the property because there were just the two of them left to tend to everything, but as Karl pointed out, the two of them had been working the farm on their own for years anyhow, so why couldn’t they continue? And so they did.

This past January Ms. Kanehl passed away leaving Karl on the farm with another big decision to make. With no thoughts of leaving, he now struggles with choosing new directions to take his farm to maintain sustainability.

Karl finds it somewhat ironic that as a farmer on land that he’s determined to keep together, he also sits on the Wayne County Planning Commission, helping make decisions on parceling out other local farms into development plots. Although I'm sure he can understand the trend in today's economic climate, he stands firm in his resolution to keep Deer Lick Farm viable.

The problem, Karl says, isn’t staying on the farm, but choosing between the myriad of paths to take to move forward. Although the farm is many acres, most of it is hilly and not tillable for produce, what Karl terms "row planting". There are a few very old fruit trees on the property that haven’t been tended in several years but could possibly be nursed back to fruition and he’s toying with the idea of adding some more exotic fruit trees such as a paw-paw.

Having made the decision to leave the horse market some years back he now has only two pasture horses  to tend along with a small herd of goats and, of course, his Mothers beautiful peacocks. But does he leave the goat business altogether or perhaps invest in some ‘better’ goats and expand that market? Maybe add sheep? 

In a way it's now much like a youngster trying to decide what they want to do when they grow up - there are so many choices to make.  No doubt, whatever path Karl ends up taking will be thoughtful and determined. I look forward to finding out what he decides and seeing how it all progresses.

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