By Keri Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA member
Lou Driever is one of the most recent members to join Rural Action. He was introduced to Rural Action through an Appalachian Beginning Forest Farming Coalition event at United Plant Savers Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary.
Though Driever isn’t a resident of southeast Ohio, it didn’t discourage him from joining Rural Action and attending its workshops.
“I enjoy when I can get off the farm for a couple days, meet folks and see what we can learn together.” His fourth generation family farm is located in Champaign County, Ohio which he manages for his aging parents (88 and 90). “There are a lot of things they can no longer do and I’m happy to help them out.”
Driever’s introduction to farming started at an early age. “My grandmother had a half-acre strawberry field that I got to pick – the same one that my dad picked as a kid,” The family also sold apples at a roadside stand. Later, he bucked hay and detasseled corn.
Following four years in the U.S. Army (2nd Ranger Battalion), Driever continued to engage in farming while pursuing his “day jobs” — as a military contractor, airport manager, and logistics coordinator.
A disabled veteran, Driever also used his U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to obtain a degree in agriculture from the University of Northwest Ohio. He has deeply rooted experience in agriculture and a passion for learning.
While the family farm produces the traditional corn, beans, and hay combination common in Ohio, Driever has also added shade crops to the mix: goldenseal, black cohosh, blue cohosh and even some false unicorn root.
Predators are a big challenge with these varieties, Driever explained. In addition to deer-fencing his patch, he’s installed owl boxes to keep down voles; spreaded branches on the seedbeds to discourage wild turkeys, and installed a network of cameras to minimize poaching.
Additionally, “One of the things that I do that’s a little bit different for most people, is I use a Ditch Witch in the woods,” Driever said. “With the Ditch Witch, I can create seed beds that are roughly four to five feet across, and effectively what I’m doing is creating raised beds in the woods through excavating a small trench.
“Ultimately, the Ditch Witch helps improve the drainage and makes it easier to work the beds because you can walk through the little ditch and have access to the seed beds without stepping on the roots.”
Recently, Driever started a small apple orchard and planted a hican orchard. “Hicans are a hybrid of pecans and hickories – that’s seemed to be an interesting niche market to explore,” he added. He plans to expand his orchard this spring.
As any gardener, farmer or Rural Action member will know, farming isn’t easy work – it requires care, patience, planning and creative solutions.
“I basically try to learn as much as I can – online, and in books, wherever I can, wherever I can pick up the information – so that I can incorporate what I learned into my own growing procedures,” Driever said.
The current parcel began being farmed around the 1840s, he said, which presented a challenge regarding soil quality. “The first 100 years of farming was done with not a whole lot of scientific knowledge about how to preserve the quality of the soil, You have challenges with that; The plus side is, we now know how to do soil analysis” to work toward restoring the viability of the land.
Driever is also actively involved with the Farmer Veteran Coalition — a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition to becoming successful farmers.
“It’s very easy to transition to becoming an unsuccessful farmer,” he said. “So we try to avoid that; a veteran may be a great tank driver, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to drive a tractor. So they’ve got some skill sets, but they may not have the exact skill sets that they need.”
The FVC helps members through mentoring, disbursing $3,000-5,000 kick-starter grantst, and giving away five free Kubota tractors per year.
Around 1,000 of the 30,000 FVC members live in Ohio, though an official state chapter just recently formed. Anyone curious about the FVC can learn about its benefits and opportunities at farmvetco.org.
“Our goal is to help the members … pure and simple, and we want everybody to be a successful farmer, so that we help one another,” Driever said.
A lifelong learner, Driever embodies, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” As he pointed out, “If you want to learn, the resources are out there, you just have to be active.” He noted that though one may be able to successfully harvest, there’s more to farming than a viable crop.
“One of the important things to know before you get into raising a specific crop that people seem to forget is: how am I gonna sell it? You can be totally successful at raising a crop and harvesting a crop from processing, but if you don’t have a sales outlet, then it’s all for naught,” Driever said.
“I’m happy with where I’m at right now,” he said. “I’m making progress with it. And everything seems to be very prolific.”
Driever is planning to attend the next Southern Ohio Forest Farming Conference and looks forward to visiting with other members of Rural Action at the event.