Oct 7, 2008
Ohio Tour Highlights Buurma Family Vegetable Farm

A few weeks ago, I took part in the North American Strawberry Growers Association’s (NASGA) summer tour in Ohio. Bus tours might be the best way to explore a state’s rural countryside and see how its farmers and farm marketers ply their trades.

I’ve toured a few states by bus – Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Iowa, Ohio – and have discovered that there’s a lot tucked away in the sparsely populated corners of our country. A state is more than just its big cities.

Let’s take Celeryville, Ohio, as an example. It’s definitely farm country. The NASGA buses drove through fields and fields of vegetables (none of them celery, unfortunately, which isn’t grown there anymore). Some of those fields belonged to Buurma Farms, a family business that’s been around since 1896.

Jim Buurma led the tour through the farm’s packing facilities, where we saw boxes and boxes of radishes and leafy greens being readied for shipment. It was a large, impressive operation. I took lots of pictures.

Back in the office about a week later, I called Buurma Farms to learn more about what they do. I talked to Chadd Buurma, who runs the farm with 11 partners – all brothers, cousins or uncles. Jim, Chadd’s father, retired more than a decade ago, but is still active on the farm. Chadd, 44, is part of the fourth generation of Buurmas to run the farm. Members of the fifth generation also work there, he said.

Besides the main Ohio farm, the Buurmas have branches in Gregory, Mich., and Claxton, Ga. Among all three farms, they raise 40 crops on almost 5,000 acres, and they pack and market an additional 20 crops from other growers. Their big crops are radishes, sweet corn, leafy greens, green onions, peppers and cucumbers, Chadd said.

“(The diversity) is nice for our customers,” he said. “They can use us for one-stop shopping.”

Ohio is a good central location when you happen to be selling around the country. The company sells produce to retail and wholesale outlets in nearly every major metropolitan area east of the Mississippi River. About 2 million packages of Buurma produce are shipped annually, Chadd said.

“We’re 24 hours away from two-thirds of the nation’s population,” he said.

This is Buurma Farms’ third season in Georgia, where there are about 350 crop acres. Though the family stopped growing celery in Ohio about a dozen years ago (thanks to soil disease), the Michigan operation was unaffected and still grows quality celery, Chadd said.

Chadd is proud of being part of a family farm that’s lasted 112 years and five generations – and shows no sign of stopping.

“We work hard and enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “It’s a testament to our faith.”

For more information, visit www.buurmafarms.com.

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