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Matt Reese

I grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio and spent most of my youth writing, doodling, taking pictures, reading and exploring the surrounding farmland. With a family full of teachers, I also grew up around a culture supportive of education. I was active in athletics in high school before graduating from Ohio State University where I studied agricultural communications. This led to my career in agricultural journalism.

I continue to work on the family Christmas tree farm in Hancock County. I live on a small farm in Fairfield County with sheep, rabbits and chickens. I have a daughter, Campbell Miriam, who was born in the fall of 2007 and a son, Parker Matthew, born in August of 2009. We are active in our local church and with numerous other organizations.

I have worked for Ohio’s Country Journal since 1999. I also write a column for numerous newspapers around Ohio, Fresh Country Air and do freelance writing and photography work. I have written and self-published six books to date. To find my books, visit lulu.com and search for “Matt Reese.”


It's good to be the queen

By Matt Reese

Last spring, my family had the opportunity to meet the first ever Ohio Wool Queen, Elaine Leightey, and her husband Franklin, from Upper Sandusky. Leightey was crowned in 1955 as the first queen. It was fun for my wife to meet Mrs. Leightey because Kristin was the Ohio Lamb and Wool Queen in 1999 and is the current coordinator for the contest. Our daughter Campbell was extremely excited to meet the “Queen” and has royal aspirations as well, with hopes of one day being a Lamb and Wool Queen herself. All in all, it was a very royal afternoon.

Here are some very queenly photos and more about Leightey and the queen tradition she started. At the Ohio State Fair this weekend, 2010-2011 Ohio Lamb and Wool Queen Morgan Senath Melvin crowned Meghan Bennett, from Shelby County, as the next recipient of this honor. Judges at the Ohio State Fair will select the queen on Sunday, July 31 based on an application, interview and their answer to an impromptu question from a panel of judges live at the conclusion of the Guys and Gals lead competition.

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Sheep-wrangling realtor

My wife is a realtor and has her share of interesting stories through the years with clients, strange properties and misadventures. I thought I would share her most recent sheep-wrangling realtor adventure that happened a couple of days ago. We raise Horned Dorset sheep and she stopped and helped some fellow sheep owners in need. Here is a recent blog she wrote on the topic:

A funny thing happened to my sister and I yesterday. Driving back from Perry County we spotted two market lambs running along the 55-mph road. We turned around to get them to safety. Jessica ran to the house to get the owners and I, dressed in nice clothes from showing a house, went to the barnyard to get the lambs in the barn.

After Jessica opened the door to the unknown house because they did not come to the door, she found a 3-year-old little boy who said he was home alone.

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Things are hopping at the Reese House

Now that our barn is red (after three weeks of being pink) the neighbors are happier, but it is always an adventure at the Reese house. It is a wild week with Vacation Bible School at church every night, which keeps our evenings hopping. But things were even hopping in mid-day when the kids discovered this tree frog climbing on our window. It was clinging to the glass with its fascinating frog suction cup toes. I have never seen one quite like it. My wife was less than thrilled with the discovery.

We captured the frog in some Tupperware (again, wife not thrilled) and carried it out to a tree. The frog appeared to change color slightly from a brownish to a greenish color to match the moss on the tree. The children and I were in amphibian heaven and once the frog was away from the house, my wife even liked it a bit more.

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Delicious lamb is gaining popularity

I recently got a spectacular new grill (the kind that has charcoal and gas) with a side smoker box. I have seasoned it with bacon grease and is ready to go. The sizzle of the fire, the rich aroma of the cooking meat and the delicious results of summer grilling hold an irresistible appeal for me. Steak is great, pork chops are divine and chicken is delicious, but lamb cooked to perfection on the grill can top them all.

Now, I am a bit biased with regard to my affinity for lamb. I married the Ohio Lamb and Wool Queen whom I met on the job 12 years ago (being an agricultural journalist does have it perks) and we do work extensively with my in-laws’ flock of registered Horned Dorset sheep. We show our sheep at the Ohio State Fair and my daughter is already smitten with having sheep in our barn.

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In the pines…

Earlier this week, I spent my afternoons and evenings helping shear Christmas trees on our family farm. Shearing a tree is a very interesting task that combines science, knowledge of the trees and art. It is both mental and physical, right-brain and left-brain.

Starting after their second year of growth, the trees are trimmed every year until they are sold. We have around 12,000 trees and we shear them all by hand with a serrated knife and a set of hand pruners, though there are all kinds of gadgets you can get for the task.

My dad does the bulk of the shearing, but I have been helping more in recent years and am slowly learning the complexities of this most important part of Christmas tree production.

Here is a quick lesson in the basics of shearing pines. The terminal leader (the branch that serves as the point at the top of the tree) sets the stage for a straight and attractive tree.

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Rain, rain, go away, so my barn won’t look this way

Last week I told you about my pink barn and the extenuating circumstances behind it.  This week, the prolonged pink coat has been the subject of increasing concern and conversation among my neighbors.

As I stated in my previous writing on the subject, my brother-in-law kindly offered to paint our barn but could only put the first coat on before leaving for a week. A week and a half later, the first primer coat continues to adorn my barn with a horrifying pink color that will haunt me for years to come.

While my brother-in-law has returned, we have not had a rain-free day since then to spray on the second coat. And, though it has rained every day, there also has been ample sunshine to highlight the bold pink color that can probably be seen from the next township.

The other night, after the rain, the weather cleared up for a beautiful evening.

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Our barn is pretty in pink at the Reese house

I am pretty sure that I am the only guy in the county with a Pepto-Bismol pink barn. Cars drive by really slow now and the neighbors are starting to talk, but that is the price for my policy of NEVER turning down free help.

It all started when we bought our old farmhouse more than two years ago. We were set to close on our home when the economy when down into the dumps. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in crises mode and all lenders panicked.

We had been pre-approved for several months, but when President Bush held a special press conference to address the economic collapse, we suddenly had a number of new requirements from our mortgage lender before we could close on the house. One of those requirements was to paint the barn (with the potential for lead based paint being cited as the reason). It was funny how the possibility of lead-based paint on the barn was not a problem prior to the economic issues that had surfaced in the economy.

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Fire up the grill for juicier pork

By Matt Reese

During the summer grilling season when meats aplenty and fire are united for top-notch seasonal dining, a favorite in the Reese house is slow-cooked pork tenderloin on the grill. While otherwise God-fearing law-abiding folks, the Reese family’s grilling techniques for pork tenderloin, though, have long been a dark secret due to our blatant disregard of federal government recommendations.

Three burners are required on the grill. The outside two burners are left on low and the middle is turned off, with the pork raised up slightly off the grill surface above the middle burner. The low temperature and slow cooking allow for apple wood smoke to penetrate the meat rubbed with ample seasonings.

The key, of course, is not over cooking the meat so it remains moist and tender. After about 45 minutes or so, the pork needs to be checked fairly regularly with a thermometer so it can be promptly removed from the grill when it is just under 145 degrees.

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Prevented planting? Preventative planting? Preventive planting? Which one is it?

Prevented planting? Preventative planting? Preventive planting? Which one is it?

As you may have noticed, we have done quite a bit recently on the OCJ Web site about the hot topic of crop insurance and this question came up numerous times in the last several days. I was unsure about this, so I looked it up. The Ohio State University sources I found use “preventative,” (http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu/farm-policy/crop-insurance-what-are-the-preventative-plant-rules/) so I went with that.

I posted a story on the Web site on this topic and, soon after, got comments from others in the ag community about how this was incorrect. The others said “preventive” was correct. In response, I did a bit more searching and found that the University of Illinois called it “preventive planting” as well (http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/news/stories/news5764.html).

Now vexed, I decided upon an excellent way to decide which was correct by making a quick visit to the USDA’s Risk Management Agency Web site.

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The tardy martin mystery

They arrive in mid April of each year —

One more reason to celebrate.

Another wonder of spring to cheer,

But the purple martins are one day late.

Maybe they’ll come tomorrow.

Then their throaty cries will resonate,

And bring spring’s joy to winter’s sorrow.

The purple martins are two days late.

The sugar peas in the garden have sprung.

The daffodil bloom is first-rate.

The wheat fields are green beneath the sun.

The purple martins are three days late.

The insects are buzzin’ with no Martins to eat them,

Gnats have begun to congregate.

I just can’t imagine what would keep them,

The purple martins are four days late.

The martins have arrived on the very same day,

For more than 45 years — now this wait.

My old martin house by the pond is crumbling away,

And the purple martins are five days late.

They fly up here from far down south,

From the Amazon to our northern state.

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We all need to work together to feed the world

For a story in the Mid May issue, I had the chance to talk with Dawn Combs who farms a little differently than most farmers in the state. She has a very small herb and honey farm that adheres to the principles of biodynamics that combine old-school herbal knowledge, folklore and science. She admits that some of the components of this type of closed-loop farming system may sound a bit kooky. The phase of the moon, constellations, old wives tales and strange crop inputs all come into play in biodynamics, but there is a sound dose of science and common sense mixed in as well. Companion planting, soil science, chemistry and biology are all part of the farming practices.

The bottom line is that it seems to be working for Combs and, a result, is garnering some attention from local agriculturalists that are likely baffled by some of her practices. But, no matter how conventional they may be, I think any farmer would admit that there are just some things that we still do not quite understand in the annual struggle with Mother Nature on the farm.

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Ohio FFA once again inspires

We are fresh off of the Ohio FFA State Convention, which never fails to reinvigorate the spirit and the hope for the future of Ohio agriculture. The event once again highlighted the immense talent, dedication and drive of Ohio’s young people in many ways, from the fantastic retiring address from State President (and national officer candidate) Amy Jo Frost to the ingenuity and work ethic of the many proficiency winners.

Also, the event marked the unofficial kickoff of our new FFA page on the Web (http://ocj.com/ffa) that serves as a forum for FFA reporters around the state to post their chapter news and a way to highlight and recognize the many great FFA-related events throughout the year. As a part of our massive effort to pack this full of all things FFA, we relied on the help of some FFA students for Convention this year. Stacie Seger (Ft. Loramie), Eileen Gress (Triway), and Devon Alexander (Anna) did a fantastic job of getting interviews, providing their “behind-the-scenes” insights and sharing the students’ perspective of convention.

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April (and May) showers, soccer and planting

By Matt Reese

My daughter has always been energetic and I was excited when we had the chance to harness some of that energy for something constructive when she started playing soccer at three years old. What I have since discovered in her (and her teammates’) exploits on the field of play is somewhat less than constructive, though certainly entertaining.

Last fall and this spring, her team took to the fields in epic battles of post-toddler soccer struggles. More often than not, multiple players from each team are sidelined due to crying, distractions or potty breaks. And, most generally, if the players stay on the field and reasonably engaged in the game, it is a great victory worthy of celebration with a post-game ice cream cone (a favorite for both daddy and daughter).

The season has wrapped up for the spring, and needless to say, this weather has been less than ideal for the mud-covered little kid soccer leagues due to the steady deluge of rain, brisk winds and cool temperatures.

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Brush pile and tractor tales

After last week’s tornado hit our Fairfield County home, we have been busy picking up a mountain of limbs from the four large trees that blew over (two of them narrowly missing our house). My friend with a landscaping business (Priceless Landscaping) came and helped us one day and brought his tractor, which fascinated my 20-month old son. Other than his nap, my boy insisted upon being on or within five feet of the small John Deere with a loader. My friend hauled away two huge trailer loads of limbs and stumps and we used the tractor to make a massive brush pile in our pasture.

My son had a grin plastered his face as he got to ride with anyone who was driving the tractor and would protest vehemently if anyone tried to remove him, even when the cold winds picked up and it started to rain. Because his trailer was full of limbs, my friend left his tractor through the next day and parked it behind the garage when my son could not see it.

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Wow! What a storm!

Wow! What a storm last night. For the first time since we have lived at our new home, we gathered up the kids and headed to the dank basement because of a possible tornado. It sounded fierce outside and we thought it would be best to take the safe option.

I do not know if there was a tornado here or not, but the morning light revealed quite a bit of damage. Two electric poles down from our house, the pole was snapped off about three feet up of the ground. The pole and electric line are out in the field.

We had four very large pine trees that uprooted and fell over, narrowly missing the house. We had countless pieces of slate blow off of our old roof. The wind shattered an old glass window in the barn and blew off part of the barn roof. There were also several places where siding had been blown off of our house.

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The planting season has started for Christmas trees

While cold, wet weather persists, corn and soybean growers can only sit and watch their soggy fields hoping for sunnier days ahead. Because we plant most, and usually all, of our Christmas trees by hand, we can get out in the fields comparatively early to put our Christmas tree seedlings in the ground. We use a 6-inch auger to drill holes and then four or five of us follow behind, kneeling down in the dirt to plant the trees.

This year we are planting 2,800 trees or so, mostly Canaan fir, but also some white pine, Concolor fir, and Black Hills Spruce. We started planting in earnest on what was the first semi-warm day this season on Saturday. We worked from 8:30 to 8:30 crawling around in the dirt and got about 1,100 trees in on our drier ground. We are still waiting on our wetter ground to get fit, hopefully sometime this week.

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A royal afternoon

My family had the opportunity to meet the first ever Ohio Wool Queen, Elaine Leightey, and her husband Franklin, from Upper Sandusky. Leightey was crowned in 1955 as the first queen. The dress was handmade and she was treated like real royalty, meeting celebrities including Phil Donahue and Neil Armstrong. She had number of other great stories to tell that I will include in an upcoming story.

It was fun for my wife to meet Mrs. Leightey because Kristin was the Ohio Lamb and Wool Queen in 1999 and is the current coordinator for the contest. Our daughter Campbell was extremely excited to meet the “Queen” and has royal aspirations as well, with hopes of one day being a Lamb and Wool Queen herself.

All in all, it was a very royal afternoon.

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Gibbs the latest in a bumper crop of Ohio ag leaders

Much to the dismay of Buckeye fans, Ohio State was not No. 1 in basketball or football. Ohio is not the top corn or soybean producers in the nation. Nor is the Buckeye State at the top of the list for the production of many agricultural commodities. But I do think a case can be made that Ohio is near or at the top of the nation in another very valuable category — farm and agricultural leadership.

From the FFA to the commodity organizations to the Federal Government, Ohio has a rich history of producing leaders with agricultural backgrounds. One of the most recent additions to this storied history is Bob Gibbs, the first-ever former state Farm Bureau president to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

Gibbs graduated from The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in 1974, and then started raising livestock at his Hidden Hollow Farms in Holmes County.

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Keep focus on the value of our food

“Pork chops.”

“I think we’re going to have pork chops tonight. I love pork chops. We’ll probably have some sweet corn and some iced tea too. Mmmmmmm.”

In college, I worked for an old guy who refinished high school gym floors in the hot summers. On our long road trips to and from jobs, we would often have long discussions about one of our favorite subjects — food. Whenever conversation of the day’s work trailed off into long stretches of silence, he would inevitably blurt out the name of one of his favorite foods, usually whatever his wife was making for dinner.

I too love talking about food, and his dinner discussions would always result in resumption of lively conversation for the duration of the trip. People love talking about food and, in recent years, it has become clear that they also love to talk about the rising prices of food.

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How will you celebrate Ohio Ag Week?

By Matt Reese

How will you be celebrating Ohio agriculture week?

Just last week, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 89 designating this week (the second full week of March) Ohio Agriculture Week. HB 89 was passed unanimously by the General Assembly and is intended to increase public recognition of the vitally important role agriculture plays in Ohio.

I will be spending part of the week in Washington DC with the Ohio Farm Bureau on their annual lobbying trip with the county presidents from around the state. My wife and children will be going to a couple of local elementary schools to talk about agriculture on our small farm and in the state of Ohio. They may even be taking one of our sheep with them (which has always proven to be an adventure in the past). In addition, my wife is planning an agriculture activity for our daughter’s class at church. 

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