The Dresbach family is offering tours of their fields of sunflowers and in the process, giving the public a glimpse of their farming operations that cannot be observed in their entirety by merely driving by the family’s Higby Road farm.
‘We’re trying to educate the public on a more holistic type of farming, and why that’s important for the soil and why it’s important for our health,” said Stephanie Dresbach who, along with her husband, Jarrod, the couple’s children, a couple of close relatives and a hired hand have been incorporating new and innovative enterprises into their traditional farming practices in recent years. “So, for me, being a nurse, I’m all about that. We’re just trying to educate the community and offering our farm as an opportunity to do that.”
“We make all our feed for the cows, the chickens, the hogs, the goats. We’re trying to get the farm completely self-sustainable,” said Stephanie and Jarrod’s 24-year-old daughter, Lydia. “We direct market a lot of our beef cattle and a lot of our customers asked us to go non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms). We’ve been completely non-GMO on the farm for four years now.”
“When you transition, everything has to go because of cross contamination,” Lydia said. “All the barns had to be cleaned out and the truck had to be cleaned out to get rid of cross contamination. It was a slow transition. The first year I think (Jarrod) wound up switching corn and the next year he said, ‘We’re going to (switch out) everything.’”
Although the Dresbachs typically grow 160 acres of sunflowers each season, the family cut back the acreage of sunflowers raised to 100 acres this year. This year’s rotated sunflower crop is not visible from the road.
The past few days, with sunflowers at peak bloom, the Dresbachs have offered wagon tours of their sunflower fields for a very small fee each day from 4 p.m. to dusk. Sunday, Sept. 8 will be the final day for tours this season. The tours are held at 255 Higby Road in Ross County.
Sunflowers serve as a cover crop, double crop and as animal feed on the Dresbach farm.
Of nine species of cover crops the Dresbachs grow on their land, sunflower towers above all the other species.
“They’re taller than everything else, so we’ll harvest the tops off the sunflowers to get the seeds which we run through a cold press to press the oils out of (the seeds),” Lydia said.
The family sells the extracted sunflower oil to a soy-free feed mill in Ohio. What is left of the seeds after pressing is used as a non-GMO, 27 percent protein feed for the family’s cattle, chickens, hogs and goats.
The nine layers of thick forage remaining after the sunflowers are harvested is used for rotational grazing of the Dresbach’s cattle.
Working well as a double crop, the sunflower crop follows the family’s wheat harvest each year.
In addition to sunflowers, the Dresbach family farms about 1,200 acres of ground in row crops, such as soybeans and corn.
The Dresbach children were instrumental, in part, for the family’s enterprises.
Stephanie and Jarrod expected their children to “bring something to the table” if they decided to return home and participate in farming after reaching their educational goals.
“That’s always been our motto,” Stephanie said. “You have to bring something to the table so the farm can help sustain itself and be able to afford to pay for you as well.”
The Dresbach children met their parents’ stipulation.
Their 22-year-old son Isaiah works as a hunting guide (from the start of deer season in late September through January) for hunters who pay to lodge in a barn-style building that the family constructed specifically for use as a hunting lodge near Wilson Run Road in Pike County two years ago. The family later decided to use the building as a venue for community meetings, weddings, graduation parties, baby showers and other social gatherings as well.
“The top of the barn is open with bunk beds; I have 14 beds (the hunters) will stay in,” said Lydia who cooks and cleans for the hunters. “We have 45 guys already booked for this coming year. Isaiah tries to cap it at eight per week, that way it’s not overwhelming for us ... it’s easier, cooking wise, to cap it at eight. In their hunt, it’s all inclusive so they get lodging, three meals a day and the hunt included in their package.”
Lydia serves as manager of the lodge and the farm’s bookkeeper, and tends to produce that she grows (nine total acres) and sells locally.
“Right now, the sweet corn is done; those four and a half acres are done,” she said. “I’ve got green beans left, tomatoes, peppers that are still bearing. And I picked some cucumbers, but they’re almost done. And we have our late lettuce garden and spinach that’s bearing.”
Stephanie and Jarrod’s 19-year-old son Jacob started an apple orchard three years ago. The first year, he planted 100 apple trees, 100 apple trees the following year, and plans to plant 100 more apple trees next spring. Currently, Jacob’s orchard consists of 50 Gala, 50 Fuji and 100 Honeycrisp apple trees.
“This is the first year, three years in, that we’re getting a decent produce off of the trees,” Stephanie said. “Next year it will be even better.”
In addition to apple trees, Jacob raises chickens. Currently he tends a flock of 500 free range Golden Comet laying chickens that live in mobile chicken trailers.
“They follow our cattle around,” said Lydia. “They’re inside an electric fence and at night we lock them in the trailer to keep predators out. Every morning at 6 Jake gets up and lets them out.”
“The chickens are in a mobile (trailer) where we are teaching them to be mobile,” Stephanie said. “The goal is for them to follow the cattle, which will also provide nutrients to the soil and help on no-till because we don’t till the soil, we put it back into the soil to make a healthier soil.”
The family sells the eggs locally.
Lydia partnered with Jacob in bringing a hog operation to the farm.
“We have 10 of them,” Lydia said. “Three of them went to the butcher today (Sept. 5) ... We have several of them already sold that are on a waiting list, but we plan on eating some of them as well.”The Dresbach family
The Dresbachs also raise Angus-cross cattle on the farm and direct market about a third of the beef they produce to the local community.
The family is in the honey business with bee keeper, Dan Williams, of Frankfort, who tends around 25 honey bee hives on the Dresbach property. Williams takes care of the hives and allows the family to buy back wholesale the honey in the hives for selling to local customers. The honey is dark in color due to the presence of buckwheat on the property. Williams bottles the honey and Lydia attaches labels to the jars.
“We don’t actually manage and take care of the bees ourselves,” Lydia said. “A lot of us are allergic to bees.”
In March, the family bought four greenhouses at an auction. Three of the greenhouses are 30 feet by a hundred feet, and one measures 10 feet by 100 feet.
“We’re going to take the smaller one and put it by our compost pile and make it into a winter chicken house,” said Lydia. “We’re going to (plant) one with produce growing in the ground (for growing plants in winter), one with flats of flowers and one with flats of vegetables,” said Lydia.
Jarrod’s recent enterprise is making a natural spray foliar fertilizer from the castings of red wiggler worms.
Stephanie’s enterprise is the Farm to Table event.
“I posted the first one on Facebook. It’s the only way I’ve ever advertised, on our Facebook page,” she said “I kept it small. I wanted 10 people at the table. So the first 10 people scheduled. Some people were initially curious. They thought they were going to get samples of meat and stuff like that. They didn’t know they were going to get a full meal.”
Stephanie provides participants with cutting boards, knives and bowls and the participants assist in preparing foods for the meals.
“When we’re done cooking the entire meal, we sit down at the table and have a big family dinner, basically,” she said.
After the meal, participants are transported by wagon to Jarrod and Stephanie’s home where their children “go over all their operations” and the participants then tour the orchard and gardens, see the press used to extract oil from sunflower seeds and hear Jarrod discussing his worm operation. Following the tour, participants are taken by wagon back to the lodge for coffee and desserts made from berries and fruits grown on the Dresbach farm.
At the end of the event, participants may purchase fresh produce on tables at the lodge. “It’s a way of getting our name out there so people know we have these products available for purchasing,” Stephanie said.
My goal was to introduce people to the way we live,” she said. “I like the idea of sitting down to family meals like people used to do. It’s so fast paced these days. This is a way of slowing down.”
The next and final Farm to Table event is already booked up and will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14.
“For next year we’ve decided to start having (the events) earlier through the week and do multiple ones,” Stephanie said.
She also said Jarrod plans to provide a Farm to Table event for 50 or more people next year. “A more-catered event,” Stephanie said.