When we visited the dairy farm of Larry and Mary Jane Stahl in November, they were in the process of expanding their operation by constructing an addition on their existing barn. We caught a glimpse of the milking herd waiting in the barn before we headed through the woods up the hill across the road. Larry and Mary Jane own much of the land in view, and are grateful to be surrounded by family members who work alongside them on the farm.
Reaching their favorite spot at the top of a field, we were all in awe of the view of hills reaching far into the distance. Though Larry and Mary Jane visit the site frequently, they were no less delighted than we were to stand on that spot and breathe in the fresh autumn air and appreciate the view with reverence. “Don’t advertise it too much,” joked Larry. “It’s not for sale.”
Be that as it may, as we began to talk about their land, themes emerged that have become so familiar when talking with Coshocton County farmers. Larry and Mary Jane have a deep respect for their land, for its beauty, solitude, and sustenance. They value their family and are grateful for children willing to take on farm duties with an eye on the future. They are familiar with the struggles of modern agriculture, the tension of needing to expand to stay in business, and the very hard work of running a dairy operation.
They spoke eloquently about their favorite spot:
Another common theme that often arises in our conversations with farmers is the history of oil and gas drilling in the area. In Mary Jane’s case, an oil lease brought welcome income years ago when the farm finances were precarious and helped her keep the farm running, though one well left a scar on the land where they are still not able to mow hay. She and Larry talk about the importance of reclamation and the changes they have noticed over the years:
The Stahl farm is a truly beautiful place. Hauntingly beautiful, even. As we were traveling through the woods to get to their favorite place, Mary Jane pointed out another spot there on the trail that she loves during a snowy hike. Below is a sketch from a later visit to that spot when the county was blanketed under a foot of snow. I couldn’t quite get the place out of my mind after the first visit, and was grateful for the chance to return and paint it again: