Every small town has its landmarks, whether it’s the historic buildings in the town square, a unique house, or the rundown barn on the side of the road. They stand the test of time and become part of the landscape, providing roots for the community through decades of progress.
The long brick barns of Pickwick Farms have become a landmark in the Bucyrus community. The history runs deep with beginnings in dairy cattle and a claim to fame as the Standardbred horse farm where artificial insemination gained significant momentum. But the horses left in the 70s and the barns recently hit a tipping point — they either needed rejuvenated, or they needed to go.
Fortunately, local 16-year-old, Ethan Stuckey had a vision and his parents, Kent and Laura Stuckey, had the faith that they could make it happen. Now, after building on Ethan’s vision, the Stuckeys are working alongside two other local families — Greg and Rose Hartschuch, and Chris and Andrea Schimpf — to reclaim the barns and put The Pickwick Place back on the map as a farm market, event center, and a destination to connect with agriculture. Working as a team — or being part of the “farm-ily” as they like to say — combines the talents of each individual to make the venture more successful as a whole.
“Ethan wanted to raise produce and we were looking for a spot to set it up, so we purchased this and decided to renovate it,” Kent said. “I grew up in the produce business; in Indiana my dad had about 5,000 apple trees and 30 acres of u-pick strawberries at one point. Ethan really encouraged me to purchase this property and go ahead with it.”
While this year’s produce including bell peppers, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, green beans, onions, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini is being sold at the roadside stand, the south barn is being renovated to house the full farm market where they hope to include more local products.
“What we want to do is showcase local people. Right now we have local maple syrup and honey. We want to have high quality, reasonably priced, local products. We want to showcase the community and make it a showplace for the community,” Kent said. “It’s also about transparency and knowing where your food comes from. That’s a theme Rose has built Acres of Adventure around — educating the public about what happens on the farm and why it happens. We want to carry that through on the retail side.”
Acres of Adventure will find its home in the north barn with games and activities to educate students and the public about farming. Featuring a petting zoo and corn maze, this portion of Pickwick is an expansion of what the Hartschuhs were already doing on their own farm. Moving to Pickwick offers new opportunity and a location that is easier to find.
“When I stopped teaching agriculture I knew I still wanted to be involved in education somehow, so we started a fall field trip program. It has really taken off over the last few years and we look forward to growing that here,” Rose said. “Any time that people can get out and see and touch and feel — really feel connected to farming — they’ll leave with a much better impression.”
The building will provide a space for the hands-on learning activities as well as a new classroom space to better facilitate field trips and groups. Rose is also doing much of the marketing and outreach for the new venture and has been pleasantly surprised by the interest in the event space which will be housed in the center barn. The space is slated to open for use on June 1, 2016, and many dates have already been booked for next year with some interest for dates in 2017.
The Loft at Pickwick Place features a rustic reception hall on the second floor of the barn that can seat up to 240 people. Renovations in this building will include dressing rooms for bridal parties and a 30-foot addition on one end for bathrooms, a prep kitchen, elevator and second stairway — one of the many things needed to bring the buildings into compliance.
“We are in city limits here, so codes and ordinances dictate a lot of what we do. There are some hurdles we’re working around — a lot of inspections and permits — but we have some great people guiding us through the process. We have contractors from here in Bucyrus working with us, we’ve had engineers evaluate the buildings and we’re working with an architect to design the improvements,” Rose said.
The interest in the event space is encouraging, but what might mean a little more to the crew is the general outpouring of support from their community. Within a week from creating a page for The Pickwick Place on Facebook, they received more than 1,000 likes and that continues to grow.
“If the barns were going to be saved, something needed to be done. And the community has just jumped on board with that. They are excited to see something happening here,” Rose said. “With the local food movement picking up, people really have a new found interest in knowing where their food comes from. This is a way that we can take what we’re doing already on our farms to the next level and connect with the consumers more directly. They might not drive out to the farm and stop in, but they will stop here and start a conversation.”
And when people are stopping in, it’s Chris Schimpf who may be the most excited. Chris and Andrea Schimpf bring customer relations expertise and farm market experience to the table, having spent 12 years growing and selling fresh cut flowers at Columbus markets. While the business was a success, they gave it up a few years ago as they simply didn’t have the time. The venture at Pickwick is much closer and gives them the opportunity to be involved locally.
“We did about two or three acres of cut flowers working in the Columbus markets. It was oriental lilies, gladiolas, sunflowers, azaleas and some others,” said Chris Schimpf. “I learned a lot about customer service at the farm markets. This is a little different than Columbus, but you still have the basics. I enjoy interacting with all the customers. To me, that’s the exciting part. I think one unique thing about Pickwick is that, especially in Bucyrus, a lot of landmarks are coming down. We’re preserving this one in a very productive fashion. It’s not just something they’re going to see and take a picture of; they’ll be able to experience it.”
The farm market it also providing an experience for Ethan Stuckey — a supervised agricultural experience (SAE), to be exact. Ethan has taken on the role of managing the produce at Pickwick as part of his SAE project in the FFA program at Wynford High School, where he also serves as chapter president.
“I grew up on a dairy farm so I’ve always worked. I sort of got involved in sports, but felt more productive on the farm,” Ethan said. “At times, the dairy can be frustrating for me, but working with crops really appealed to me. I always enjoyed going to my grandparents’ farm in Indiana, then one of my brothers threw out the idea of planting an orchard and it stuck with me.”
Ethan has jumped right in to the produce industry. After attending a few conferences in Ohio and Michigan this year and gleaning knowledge from his grandfather, Ethan knows what practices he wants to use.
“My biggest goal is to use integrated pest management and focus on reduced risk pesticides. Next year, I’ll transition into some no-till,” Ethan said. “The hardest part has been learning which weeds are which so I can properly spray for them and trying to stay ahead of diseases. It’s easier to control diseases through prevention.”
In addition, many berries have been planted for u-pick patches next year. Ethan has two acres of trees ordered to plant in upcoming years and with the Stuckeys and Hartschuhs operating dairy farms, ice cream has been mentioned.
With optimism from the Pickwick “farm-ily” and the feedback from the community it seems evident that this is only the beginning. Wherever the adventure leads, customers and fans can follow along with The Pickwick Place on Facebook or learn more about the families and the business at www.thepickwickplace.com.