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A Family Farm

The Spicy Lamb Farm celebrates the abundance of life with local food, fiber, and fun. The farm, originally built in 1914, is located on 12 acres in the Village of Peninsula in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), surrounded by mature woodlands. This family farm has been run by Laura DeYoung since 2007. In 2012, the farm began grazing off site in Cleveland and then in Akron as part of the Urban Shepherds grazing program. In 2018, an additional 12 acres of pasture at Camp Ledgewood was leased from the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio. And, since 2016, to meet the demand for agtourism, The Spicy Lamb Farm takes some sheep to Perkins Mansion in Akron, arriving in May and then returning to the home farm in September.

The family’s interest in sheep began when Laura spent her adolescent years living in England near the rural countryside. Her family had also had an orchard growing apples, plums, and pears in Akron. The passion for spicy herbs and vegetables came from a love of Asian food.

Laura is a member of the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, and the Northcoast Lamb Co-Op. She serves on the boards for the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council, Urban Shepherds, and Cuyahoga River Restoration. She has over 20 years in environmental planning and natural resource consulting; had a past career as a producer/director of television; was the founder of both Urban Shepherds and the Northcoast Lamb Co-Op; and has received grants from Sustainable Agricultural Research Education and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. She completed her doctoral program of study in urban and regional planning and a master’s degree in nonprofit management at The University of Akron; and she has an undergraduate from Denison University and an international baccalaureate from Hammersmith College in England, having completed her secondary education at Marymount International School in Kingston-upon-Thames. Her post-graduate agricultural classes have been at Cornell University, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, and University of New England (AUS). And, she has travelled to sheep farms in AUS, NZ, and UK for continuing education. Laura is also a National Sheep improvement Program Certified Ultrasound Scanner. And, she a member of the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern Strategic Implementation Committee and has been active in local food and clean water working groups in Akron and Cleveland.


Historical Sketch

The Garvey farm was part of Lot 37, which was formerly Boston Township until it became part of the Village of Peninsula in the 20th century. Mary Ingerton Garvey purchased the 40-acre. She was born in Summit County in 1860 and lived there all her life. She married Daniel Garvey in 1880, who was born in Ireland in 1859 and came to the U.S. in 1877. He was likely a saloon keeper in the 1880's. They had three children. Until her death in 1913, the family lived on Main Street in Peninsula and not on the 40-acre parcel.

The house and original barn (lost in 2014) were built in 1914. Yet there is no evidence that the Garvey family ever farmed or lived on this farm. It may be that it was leased to a tenant farmer. Over the years, the property functioned as a farm with a farmhouse, barn, cultivated fields and pastures, an orchard, and a vineyard.

In 1920 Daniel sold the farm to Otto and Ida Stahlberg. In 1922, they sold it to Frank and Anastasia Balinski who retained ownership until 1943. During this period it is likely that many of the landscape and agricultural improvements occurred. 

In 1943, the farm was sold to the Jones family. At that time, the farm comprised some 70 acres reaching all the way back to Boston Mills Road. They also lease other lands from the top of the hill and farmed all the way out to Olde 8 including what is now Camp Ledgewood. They raised dairy cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, horses, ducks, and bees. They planted an orchard and vineyard. Fields were used for pasture and corn. In what the park now calls the borrow pit, they planted watermelons and cantaloupe. They also ran a farm stand at the corner of Olde 8 and Boston Mills. They built the corn crib and other outbuildings which no longer exist. They farmed for some thirty years and then sold to the Hales who subdivided the property in 1969 and sold 10 acres to Clairmont and Barbara Ross.

On June 22, 1977, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park acquired the farm. On August 31, 2007, we secured a 60- year lease of the farm. We are currently farming approximately 10 acres as pasture, orchard, and gardens. In addition, we are grazing the adjacent power line with temporary fencing assisting heading north towards Boston Mills Road.

In 2011, the pavilion was added to the farm as a place for visitors to enjoy educational programming and meals thanks to the generous support of Greg Shellabarger.

On March 4, 2014, the barn was lost in a fire. It was rebuilt in 2015. The new barn reflects the original century barn but is a significant upgrade in terms of the heavy timber frames as well as daylighting with windows and skylights. The frame is mortise with white oak tenon  pegged into place with red oak pegs.

Environmental Sketch

The farm is located at the headwaters of an unnamed tributary in the Stanford Run watershed along the divide of the Boston Run watershed; both watercourses flow into the Cuyahoga River. Between the farmstead and pasture, farming has been setback from a riparian headwater stream and wetlands.

Surrounding the farm are mature woodlands. Redtail hawks, coyote, wild turkeys, deer, and other wildlife are often seen on the farm.

 

The Sheep at Mutton Hill

Akron’s Founder was a Shepherd 

Akron’s founder, Col. Simon Perkins moved his family into the stone mansion on the corner of Copley Road and Portage Path in 1837. “Mutton Hill” is the name that residents of 19th century Akron gave to the then 150-acre farm. To help manage what would become one of the finest flocks in Ohio, Perkins hired John Brown in 1844 to tend to the 1500 Merino sheep. John Brown traveled through the capitals of Europe to find markets for U.S. wool. Col. Simon Perkins operated a woolen mill in what is now downtown Akron in the 1850’s. Because they were so successful, they started a warehouse in Springfield, MA where they sold Ohio wool on the East coast, England, Belgium, and France. The abolitionist Brown who led the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 was the most consequential man ever to live in Summit County.

In 2016, a flock of sheep returned to the residence at the home of Akron’s founding family, arriving in May and then returning to The Spicy Lamb Farm in September. In 2018, sheep specific programming brought in about 1500 people and an additional 3500 visitors were drawn to the mansion to learn about the sheep.

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The Canals Made Ohio a Leader in Sheep Production

The development of sheep raising in Ohio during the 1840s in the Midwest was mainly due to the Ohio and Erie Canal which was used to transport wool, butter, and cheese. Prior to the canals, early nineteenth century shepherds supplied eastern seaboard markets by droving wethers, carrying their own fleeces, on a route along Lake Erie, through the Mohawk lowland and the Hudson valley to New York City. From about 1817, until it was supplanted by canals, droving from the West was estimated to include about 50,000 head of sheep per year with half coming from Ohio.

Exports over the canal rose from 107,794 pounds of lamb in 1840 to 8,805, 817 pounds in 1850. The number of sheep in Ohio increased 94 percent during the forties; and outside the state, where sheep raising had been insignificant, the increase was 144 percent. In 1840, when the federal census first included livestock numbers, Ohio, although largely unsettled, was amongst the leaders in raising sheep. In 1840, Summit County had 90 to 150 sheep per square acre; and sheep were 25% of the total animal units. When the 1850 census was taken, Ohio was second only to Vermont in sheep density, and in total numbers it had half of all sheep in the north-central states. By 1860, Ohio was in first place. In 1870, Ohio reached its peak with 121 sheep per square mile. By 1880 the rising sheep population of western states was impressive, but Ohio's average density was still more than three times that of any other state, except Vermont.

Census figures in following decades showed a decline in the East and rise in the west, while Ohio, continued to be a leader in sheep per unit area until overtaken by Texas in 1950. In 1945, with 56 million sheep, Americans consumed about six pounds a month; and wool and meat combined to drive the market. World War II changed the sheep market, as canned mutton fed to soldiers turned many young men against the idea of ever eating lamb. Then wool demand changed too as other meats began taking over the market. A 2011 study showed that one in two Americans had never tried lamb and that American less than a pound of lamb per year on average.

Today, Ohio is still the largest sheep producing state east of the Mississippi with 119,000 sheep. There are now 5.2 million sheep in the country; and the average sheep farm in Ohio is 40 head. According to the last census, there were 18 farms in Summit County that had sheep, making Summit 18th out of 83 counties.

Sheep are Part of our History

Sheep were domesticated 10,000 years ago. 4,000 years ago, man learned to spin wool. Sheep make the spread of civilization possible. Sheep production is the oldest organized industry, with wool being the first international trade commodity. Sheep were brought to Spain by the Romans resulting in the Merino breed. Anyone caught taking a Merino out of Spain could be put to death, but they were smuggled into England. The wool trade helped finance Columbus’ explorations of the New World where he introduced sheep into the Americas. In Europe, England and Spain became rivals in the wool trade. England did not approve of exporting sheep to the new world so they had to be smuggled into the colonies. By 1698, America was exporting wool goods, and it was the restrictions on raising sheep and wool manufacturing, along with the Stamp Act, that led to the Revolutionary War. Weaving homespun wool garments was a sign of patriotism during the revolution. As the country was settled, people were required to have sheep in some areas for the jobs the textile area created, insuring the success of the local economy.

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