Fairfield County

Rienschield’s Meats and Deli

Rienschield’s Meats and Deli is one of the few businesses to stay afloat amidst the ever-changing backdrop of Bremen.  Rienschield's is best known for their sausages, which they make from beef and pork mostly.  Because they are located in a rural area, they also process a lot of venison products, which is where owner Kenny Rienschield got most of his experience and practice.  During a year, Rienschield’s would process 50,000-60,000 pounds of venison.  At their current location, they can process about 2,000 pounds of meat in a week.  Because of this, it would sometimes take six months to process all of the deer that were brought in during hunting season.  Rienschield's Meats & Deli is the only food manufacturer in Bremen.

Kenny started out in the meat industry in 8th grade as a clean-up boy.  He eventually bought the shop he worked for in 1978.  This shop was located in Rushville and was a corner grocery store.  In 1982, he bought the current location of the business and started manufacturing sausage in 1985.  Before making sausage, the shop was strictly a butcher shop.  Due to changes in the market (i.e. people no longer put an entire cow in their freezer), Kenny began making sausage to keep the business afloat.  The current location was actually a locker plant, where people rented a place to store their meat, until Kenny renovated the building.  Currently, Rienschield's Meats & Deli makes 50 products - hams, bacons, bologna, sausages, beef jerky, and lunch loaves.  Although they have diversified their business, they do still butcher meat on location.  In addition to selling from their retail store on location, they also ship their products.  They are known for catering weddings and other events as well.  The big draw of their catering business is their hog roast; they bring their equipment to the event location and roast the hog on site.

Most of Rienschield's Meats & Deli's customers are not locals.  They are middle-to-higher income individuals because the business produces higher end products from hormone-free animals and does not use least-cost formulations.  Most of the customers shop weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.  People are now buying more frozen meat to have on hand, so that they do not have to shop as often.

Because Rienschield's Meats & Deli sells on the internet, they are interested in getting their name out to the public.  One of the ways they do this is through participating in competitions.  These competitions require the participants to develop a product and do the marketing and nutritional research on the product.  The products are not judged on taste, but rather on their marketability and nutritional values.  On the walls of the business are framed ribbons from Ohio beef contests; Rienschield's Meats & Deli has won several awards over the past few years for their meat products.  Because getting one's name out can be expensive and time-consuming, Rienschield's sells some of their products to other companies, who put their name on the products.  For example, one product would use Kenny's sausage recipe but would use the label, distribution, and marketing of another company.  This is a common practice in food production: larger companies using the products of smaller companies.

One of the new trends that Kenny discusses is the return to the old-fashioned way of raising animals.  Farmers are not relying as heavily on hormones.  Some farmers are raising hormone-free meat, which consumers are eager to buy.  One of the problems is that not all consumers are conscious of the quality of the meat they buy.  People are becoming more concerned about the residues from meat that comes from a cow that has received hormones.  The new buzzword in meat, according to Kenny, is organic.  He says he has been in the business long enough to remember when meat was hormone-free and now people are going back to that, a concept which he wholeheartedly supports.

Rienschield's Meats & Deli is a family business.  Kenny, his wife, and his daughter all work at the business.  His daughter is involved in the meat competitions.  She developed a granola jerky bar that won grand champion as a new and innovative product.  They are hoping that when the new plant opens, which will also be in Bremen, they will be able to produce more of the same products and some new products.  

Lancaster Farmers’ Market

The Lancaster Farmers’ Market takes place on Wednesdays from 6 PM to 8 PM and on Saturdays from 7:30 AM to noon in the parking lot of the Job and Family Services office at the corner of Wheeling Street and Memorial Drive.  During the summer season, vendors sell a variety of locally-grown produce and homemade baked goods at the Lancaster Farmers’ Market.  Sometimes there are special events at the farmers’ market, such as “The Taste of the Market,” where participating vendors offered samples of their products.  There are also Market Basket Days on the second Saturday of each month.  On these days, the Lancaster Farmers' Market Association holds a drawing for the "Market Basket," to which each vendor donates one item.  For each item purchased that day, customers are entered into a drawing to win the basket.  Finally, there is the Annual Salsa Competition, which has been held annually since 2004.  

The vendors vary from small-scale bakers and organic gardeners to large-acreage farmers.  2006 was Rosanna Miller’s first year selling her products at the Lancaster Farmers’ Market.   In addition to the lotions she makes, Rosanna sells homemade granola, mulberry jam, gingered rhubarb jam, maple sugar candy, cabbage, zucchini, and various herbs, all from her garden at home in Amanda, where she has lived since 2002.  She also sells herb jellies, such as Rosemary Orange Jelly.  Other vendors, such as Mary Thomas, known as the "The Pie Lady" among the other vendors and regular customers, have been participating in the market for a longer period of time.  Coming to the market only on Saturdays, Mary sells pies, cakes, and noodles (she owns chickens and uses their egg yolks for the noodles and the whites for the cakes).  Sometimes she brings as many as forty-two pies, and she usually sells out because her products are so popular.  Other vendors include Ohio Homestead Gardens and Apiaries, Hugus Fruit Farm, and Neeley Farms.

Ohio Homestead Gardens and Apiaries

Jim and Lea Agsten of Ohio Homestead Gardens and Apiaries sell honey, onions, garlic, elephant garlic, raspberries, green beans, jams, and jellies at the Lancaster Farmers' Market.  The goal of Jim and Lea's farm, which is 1.2 acres, is to build a sustainable local food system for their family.  In the Lancaster Farmers' Market May 2006 Newsletter, they wrote of their farm: “Our lives are devoted to creating and maintaining a food system that is good for our family, good for people, good for the earth, and good for the future. We feel called to live in a right relationship with the earth, recognizing that the entire world is interconnected and a manifestation of God. Harvesting a diverse variety of produce, we believe that people can live in harmony with, not in competition with nature. We work at applying the principles of sustainable living and farming into our lives. We believe that the earth is God's Creation and is to be respected and protected, and that we are to be good stewards of the land.”

Jim is currently the Fairfield County Bee Inspector.  Before he was a beekeeper, Jim worked in the field of technology in Columbus.  He had always been interested in bees, so after his company got bought out and he got laid off, he began taking beekeeping classes.  The instructor of the class was the county bee inspector at the time and was planning to give up the job, so he put in Jim's name.  Jim has been beekeeping ever since, producing his own honey at seven different locations and monitoring the bees and beekeepers in Fairfield County.

Hugus Fruit Farm

Ralph Hugus is the third generation to own the Hugus Fruit Farm, which has always been at the same location on Old Rushville Road in Rushville.  Ralph's great-grandfather bought the farm and initially used it as a rental property with livestock, grain, and fruits, while Ralph’s grandfather became more specialized with the fruit and cattle aspects of the farm when he took it over.  When it came time for his grandfather to retire, Ralph's uncle took over the cattle farm and his father took over the fruit farm.  His uncle gave up the farm to become a minister and Ralph's father took over the cattle business.  He could not keep up with both the fruit and cattle, so he decided to become a fruit farmer exclusively.  Ralph's mother (Joann), father, and wife (Nancy) are involved in the business today.  Ralph takes care of the "outside" business - planting, growing, spraying, harvesting, etc. while his wife takes care of the paperwork, website (see www.hugusfruitfarm.com/), bookkeeping, advertising, hiring, and the weekly payroll.  During harvest season, she is also involved in sorting the fruit and running the store.  Ralph's father takes care of the mowing at the farm.  Ralph's mother, Joann, takes care of the store, phone calls, and the ordering.  Like many farm families, one of the members, Nancy, works part-time off of the farm to obtain insurance.  They explain that today, people do farming because they love it, not because it provides a great income.  

The Hugus family feels it is important to take an active role in the community.  For example, since 1956, Hugus Fruit Farm has donated apples, equipment, and their farm as space to make apple butter for the Rushville United Methodist Church.  When they began, members of the church would make apple butter three Saturdays in a row in October, but now the event takes place on the last Saturday of October.  They make the apple butter in 30 gallon copper kettles.  They begin peeling apples on Friday and build up the fires 4 AM on Saturday.  At 8 AM, they begin to boil apples.  Three people are required to man each kettle, and about 12-15 people participate each year.  It is usually the same people that participate, but now younger couples are starting to get involved.  After they make it, they can the apple butter in pint and quart containers.  All proceeds go to the church.

Another community event hosted by the Hugus Fruit Farm was held in the fall of 2006.  On September 16, 2006, Hugus Fruit Farm celebrated its 60th anniversary with a family-oriented event with old tractors, weaving demonstrations, a 4-H pie baking contest, walking orchard tours, a video for children on the orchard, an apple education area for children, an observation beehive, craft tables, food booths, pumpkins for decorating, music by the Back Porch Swing Band, balloon animals, and a raffle for a hot air balloon ride.

The farm has about thirty acres of fruit trees.  At the farm, they sell fifteen varieties of peaches, including white and yellow varieties.  White peaches are not as full-bodied in their flavor, but are sweeter.  In contrast, yellow peaches are not as sweet, but have a more full-bodied flavor.  In August, peaches, plums, and blackberries are harvested, and in September, apples and then pears are harvested until the end of October.  The on-site store stays open as long as there are apples, which usually means until January or February.  The business also has a cider press; cider is pressed every week, rather than just in September and October, to ensure that what customers buy is always fresh.  The store also sells spices for cider and local products, such as Ohio cheese and maple syrup.  In addition to selling at the store and at the Lancaster Farmers’ Market, Hugus Fruit Farms also sells to several small local grocery stores.  They do not sell to larger chain stores.

Neeley-Friend Produce

A long-time vendor at the Lancaster Farmers’ Market is Carl Friend, who sells varieties of both white and yellow sweet corn from Neeley Farms out of the back of his truck.  Carl also sells sweet corn and other types of produce including squash and zucchini at Friend Gardens, the farm stand located at his home on Coonpath Road outside of Lancaster.  Carl has lived on Coonpath Road for 20 years and in Lancaster all his life.  He was a plumber most of his life, but about fourteen or fifteen years ago he entered into a partnership with Neeley Farms.  Although he mainly sells the produce grown by Neeley Farms, he still grows some food himself, including the tomatoes and Blue Lake green beans in front of his house.  Carl gets a lot of the same customers year after year, and the same people from the county come and buy corn two or three times per week.  

Carl’s business partner David Neeley’s entry point into farming stemmed from an overproduction of sweet corn in his garden.  At first, he put the extra ears in the front of his house for the neighbors to take.  Eventually, his son Benjamin got interested in farming when he was in high school through Future Farmers of America and started to look at the corn as a business to make money for college.  Benjamin, now 35, is in charge of producing, buying seed, and deciding which varieties to grow.  The Neeley family owns about fifty acres, which they use to grow cantaloupe, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon.  

Millersport Sweet Corn Festival

Because sweet corn is such a significant product of the area, it is fitting that there is an entire festival dedicated to it.  The Millersport Sweet Corn Festival, which always takes place the Wednesday through Saturday before Labor Day in Millersport, was started in 1947 by the Millersport Lions as a way to help local organizations raise money.  

The festival has a large variety of food stands. For dinner, festival-goers can eat pizza, hot dogs, shredded chicken sandwiches, hoagies, chicken on a stick, steak on a stick, cheese on a stick, waffles, dipsy dogs (similar to corn dogs), roasted half chickens, pulled pork sandwiches, or barbecue rib sandwiches. For dessert, there is homemade ice cream, cream puffs, apple dumplings, fudge, buckeyes, or cookies.  And, of course, there are bags of kettle corn and ears of sweet corn for sale.  

Perhaps the most interesting food operation at the festival is the stand where ears of corn are sold for $1.25 an ear.  The corn is brought to the stand in trucks.  Next, it is grabbed by workers who are operating an old-fashioned corn husking machine.  They place the ears in the machine; the husks go up a conveyer belt into a trailer that serves as a movable dumpster.  The shucked ears are moved to an area where workers de-silk and clean the corn.  After this, the corn is put into a large cooker that resembles a restaurant fryer.  When the corn is cooked, it is taken out of the cooker and moved to a preparation area, where it is buttered and sold.

During the Millersport Sweet Corn Festival, several corn eating contests are held.  2006 marked the sixtieth anniversary of both the festival and the contest.  Each year, there are seven contests held during the four days of the festival.  Most of the competitions are for people of all ages and both sexes, although one contest is a ladies only contest.  If a competitor does not win in one contest, he or she is eligible to compete in the subsequent contests.  After these contests have been held, the winner from each contest competes in one final contest on Saturday night for the title of Millersport Sweet Corn Festival Corn Eating Contest Grand Champion.  The contest is based upon who can eat the fastest, rather than the most.  The judges base their decision on speed and the "cleanliness" of the ear, meaning that the ear is free from corn niblets.

The first contest of 2006 was held on Wednesday, August 30th at 5:30 pm.  In the youth division, two brothers competed against each other; the six-year old beat his four-year-old brother.  This was the third year that the winner has competed and the second year that he has won.  As one audience member pointed out, the winner had mastered the "spin technique," meaning that he twirled the ear of corn as he ate to finish it more quickly.  Evidently, he had learned that from his older counterparts in the adult division.  In this division, fourteen men and one woman competed for the title.  The contest had two heats, one with eight competitors and one with seven competitors, in which each contestant ate one ear of corn.  To determine who went in each heat, names were randomly drawn.  After this, the winners from each heat competed against each other for a spot in the championship on Saturday night.  During this final heat, the two competitors had to eat four ears of corn.  During the competition, several people took pictures of the competitors and ate ears of sweet corn, which are sold in the building next to the area where the competition was held.  There were between 95 and 100 people watching the competition. 

Appalachian Foodways

Fairfield County has a strong Appalachian heritage.  Deanna Tribe, an extension specialist in community development at the Ohio State University South Centers Extension Office and lifelong resident of the community, describes Appalachian foodways as “down-home, country cooking.”  For those unfamiliar with Appalachian foods, they are often fried and include a lot of meats and vegetables.

Appalachian foods run the gamut from some of the better-known dishes, such as fried chicken, beans and cornbread, and homemade noodles, to some lesser-known items, such as baked steak (a tenderized beef steak that is either fried or baked, and gravy is made in the same pan after the steak is cooked), mush (corn meal with water and a leavening agent that is shaped into a glass baking dish, refrigerated overnight, sliced up, fried in a skillet with butter, and then served with syrup), and creamed tomatoes (either fresh from the garden tomatoes or tomatoes that have been canned are thickened with a white sauce).  These dishes might be served at fundraiser dinners, restaurants, community gatherings, or every day meals.  It is important to note that many of these dishes are not as prevalent as they once were; this is due in part to the amount of time it takes to make the dishes and the fact that Americans are reading the nutritional information on food labels.  Appalachian foods have gotten a reputation for being “unhealthy,” although that issue is still up for debate.  

Today, Appalachian foods are often made for the nostalgia they inspire and the traditions they mark.  One such annual event where Appalachian foods are made using traditional methods is the Wilkesville Bean Dinner.  This event, which is in its 138th year, features beans cooked in iron pots over coals and served in enameled buckets.  The event began as a celebration for Civil War veterans and has continued in much the same fashion ever since.

Hog Roasts

The hog roast is another Fairfield county tradition that finds its roots in the county’s German and Appalachian heritage.  In the past, hog roasts took place when one farmer would have other farmers come to his land to help with a particular chore; all of the farmers’ families would come and have a meal, such as a hog roast.  Helen Neel, a longtime resident of the area, remembers butchering days (and thrashing days) when she was younger, where families in an area would come together at one house in order to butcher their meat.  While the men would work, the women would cook a feast.  There were no specific foods made especially for the event every year, but Helen points out that the food was always marked as special.  That is, the women throughout the year would set aside food to “save it for the thrashing.”  Usually, about 10-12 people would participate.  

A hog roast is just that – a whole hog is brought into a location and is cooked on site for a large group of people.  One hog can feed about 350 people.  A hog roast might be held to celebrate a wedding or as part of a political rally.  Along with the meat, a hog roast often includes potato salad, beans, bread, beer, soda, pies, and cakes.  At the Bremen Oktoberfest, Rienschield’s Meats and Deli roasts and serves a hog outside of the business, located at 116 S. Mulberry St.

The Amish

One of the biggest changes to the Bremen area has been the movement of Amish families into the community in the last 25 years.  They moved to the area because land was available and reasonably-priced.  The main interaction between Fairfield County and the Amish community occurs when Amish farmers sell their produce and products to other Fairfield county residents.  For example, every Saturday morning, one Amish family sets up a stand at the corner of Marietta Street and State Route 664 selling produce (squash, cucumbers, lettuce) and baked goods.  Another family sells produce, including cucumbers, squash, and lettuce, at the Lancaster Farmers' Market.  

Shifts in Family Farming

Although farming in the area has changed significantly, many area farms have been owned by the same families since the 19th century.  One such farm is the Young Farm, owned by Loren and Linda Young.  Their farm has been in the Young family since 1812.  Loren has lived on the farm his entire life, except for the time he spent at college.  Their son, who is now taking over the farm, will be the sixth generation to farm the land.  The Youngs trace their ancestry from Germany to Pennsylvania to Ohio.  Originally, the farm raised horses, cows, sheep, and crops, most of which were used to feed the animals.  When Loren took over the farm, he changed the farm to a hog operation.  He raised about 100 sows as a part-time operation; his primary occupation was as an agriculture teacher.  Two years ago, he quit raising pigs because the business end of the pig operation has gone to larger businesses.  He decided to focus on teaching, rather than expanding his hog operation.  

Now, his son is renting the land to start a sod farm. Growing sod is a new experiment for Fairfield County.  Loren's son has three locations where he is beginning to grow sod.  Like Loren, his son has a full-time job as an accountant and farms to supplement his income.  Linda explains that what is different about her son's farming is that it is more business-oriented.

According to Loren Young, the biggest shift in Fairfield county farming has been the shift from farming as a stable, full-time occupation and lifestyle to a less stable, part-time activity.  The point came when farmers had to decide whether to expand or find another job to supplement the farm.  Many farms combined or were sold to larger farms.  Fairfield County itself is not designed for large farms, as the land is uneven and trees abound.  The farmers who did continue farming often became specialized.  In other words, they focused on one crop or animal.