They have been friends since before they started first grade, and Tuesday, on National Agriculture Day, they were honored for their role in maintaining and promoting Ohio’s Historic Family Farms program.
“It’s unique in the state of Ohio,” said John Levo, whose family was honored along with the families of Becky Strafford and Bob Carey. “All three of us started first grade together in New Vienna, went all through school together, have maintained our friendship over the years, and all have come back in some way to acquire our family farms.”
John Levo and his wife, Kathy, are longtime Hillsboro residents who had long professional careers in Hillsboro before they retired and decided to purchase the family farm around the Snow Hill Country Club near New Vienna. John was a banker and Kathy a teacher for the Hillsboro City Schools.
John said the Carey farm is located in the Careytown area in Highland County and the Strafford farm is located off Bernard Road near New Vienna in Clinton County.
The Levo farm is in its fourth generation of family ownership. John said his great-great-grandfather, Fred Johnson, originally purchased 102 acres in 1902 where he grew hay, corn and wheat and raised horses, hogs, cattle and sheep.
“It was a big farm for that time,” John Levo said.
Johnson originally lived in Careytown, but moved to New Vienna so his children could attend school there. One graduated from Ohio State in 1890 and two others went to Ohio University.
When the opportunity presented itself, Johnson purchased a farm. It was passed down to John Levo’s grandparents, Bill and Anna Levo; then John’s parents, P.J. and Kathleen Levo; then in 2008, John and Kathy took sole possession.
Today the farm has 127 acres. The Levos raise blueberries on the farm and lease the rest of the land to a second generation family that farms corn and soybeans there.
“It’s always been something we’ve been proud of in our family,” John said. “There’s an old saying that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. I guess I just had dirt under my fingernails.”
John said he and Carey attended Sunday school together at the New Vienna Methodist Church before they ever started school, and that the Levo and Strafford families were friends long before he was born.
“It’s kind of typical of a small town community. Everybody knows everybody,” John said.
All three families have been promoting the Ohio Historic Family Farm programs. Levo said they will give a presentation to the Lynchburg Lions Club at 7 p.m. March 28 at the Lions’ building and another presentation in July to the Highland County Historical Society.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David T. Daniels, whose family farm near Greenfield has been recognized by the program, presented the three families with resolutions from Governor John Kasich and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor at a ceremony Tuesday at Creekview Barn near Leesburg.
“These three families are out there talking with area people who might not otherwise learn about this historic program,” Daniels said. “But the bigger picture is their efforts help keep agriculture at the forefront, which keeps our communities strong, our state strong and our nation strong.”
Daniels also announced the addition of the Ohio Sesquicentennial Farm designation to the program. Ohio’s Historic Family Farms Program now has three levels of recognition: century, sesquicentennial and bicentennial.
Ohio’s Historic Family Farms program, originally named Ohio’s Century Farm program, began in 1993 with only a few hundred farms. Today there are nearly 1,300 registered farms across the state, with at least one registered in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Monday’s event was one of many Daniels will participate in during Ohio Agriculture Week, March 14-18, to honor local farmers and agribusinesses and the economic impact they have on the state. Ohio Agriculture Week is celebrated each March to help educate Ohioans about the importance of the state’s $105 billion food and agriculture industry.
“Food and agriculture is Ohio’s number one industry and is the basis for virtually everything in our lives,” Daniels said. “It meets our basic needs, it provides a market for food processing and manufacturing industries, it supports local industries and businesses. I’m glad to spend National Agriculture Day with these historic farm families because everything that agriculture provides us today started with them.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.