Congratulations - Harry and Sharon Spieth

Ashtabula SWCD 2017 Cooperator of the Year

Harry Sharon Spieth  2017 Cooperator of the Year 

Harry and Sharon Spieth operate Pleasant Valley Fisheries between Cherry Valley and Richmond Townships.  Along with the fish farm, they run a hay operation on approximately 560 acres.  That is today, but their story on how they got here is a story worth telling.  

Harry is second generation farmer who grew up in Richmond Township on a 20 head dairy farm.  He had two brothers and two sisters.  His dad was a County Commissioner and twice a month had to attend meetings in Columbus. “I was 7 years old and when dad was in Columbus, mom and I would milk the cows”.  The farm consisted of approximately 125 acres with a grain and hay rotation.  Drainage was the biggest obstacle along with the daily hauling of manure. 

Harry graduated from Jefferson High School and worked off the farm for a couple of years.  His dad asked him to “give farming a try” and he came back to the dairy farm.  No matter where life has taken him, he has always been involved in agriculture.  When Harry turned 21, he purchased the farm and by that time, the farm had grown to 205 acres with 190 tillable.  Harry is very quick to point out the huge amount of information and technical advice that Ashtabula County’s first District Conservationist John Wilson provided him.  “I think the reason John and I got along so well is that I listened to him and tried what he recommended.  He was a tremendous Ag leader for this county.”

Harry was drafted in 1960 and served this country for 2 years.  While he was gone, he sold the mature cows, kept the young stock and was able to start the dairy operation again upon his return from the service.  In time, Harry worked with Production Credit and built a 100 cow free stall barn and milking parlor. He utilized the floor of the barn for manure storage and hauled manure about every 2 days.

The only constant in life is change and Harry has lived through some changes.  In 1978 he sold the cows and went to work for Stanley Hofka.  

For 13 years Harry was part of constructing many conservation practices in this county. The other change that occurred for Harry was he met his wife Sharon in 1978 and was married soon after.  

Sharon grew up on an 80 acre dairy farm in Trumbull County as one of 15 children, 4 brothers and 10 sisters.  “Dad would not let the girls of the family drive tractors and operate equipment.  When I meet Harry and got a chance to operate equipment, I really enjoyed it.”

When Harry and Sharon got married they purchased approximately 51 acres in Cherry Valley Township and built a home and a barn so they could raise a few animals for their own consumption and maybe some 4H projects.  4 H projects were definitely on the agenda because when Harry and Sharon got married they instantly became a family with 7 children and spent 10 years as 4H Leaders.

Both Harry and Sharon smiled when they spoke of building a barn for a few animals because soon after the “few animals” became a contract heifer operation of 400 head.”Our first customer was Gaylord Millard.  I don’t want to leave any out but we sold to the Hass brothers, George Kalas, Dick Campbell and Dave Millard”.  They utilized the home farm and rented farms totaling 560 acres to raise hay for the heifers.  “Manure management was a challenge and I fabricated a semi trailer to haul manure to all the farms.  I would spread before the hay grew and after a cutting.”  The heifer operation ended in 2002 due to changes in government regulations which made it hard for a dairy farmer to justify having someone else raise their heifers.  “I sold my last heifers to George Kalas.”

In 2005, Harry was working for Jerry Konopa cleaning out a pond at Thunderhill Fish Hatchery.  A lunchtime conversation about raising fish was the beginning of the next chapter in Harry and Sharon’s life.  “We decided to raise perch and it all started in our garage on Hayes Road.  The beginning was a lot of trial and error.  We lost our entire hatch the first year and had very few fingerlings survive the second year” 

As Harry and Sharon learned from their mistakes and started to achieve successful hatches, a decision was made to expand the business.   In 2007-2008, approximately 34 acres of ponds were constructed on the home farm in Richmond Township.  The amount of perch eggs the ponds could produce was way too many to continue the hatchery in the garage, so in 2009, the barn became the perch hatchery and home to approximately 27 million perch eggs!  “You lose 20% during the hatch.  You lose about 33% the first week because they won’t eat.  This leaves about 18 million perch to raise.” The first thought was to raise the perch for human consumption.  The biggest challenge in the north is the lack of growing days compared to the south.  It takes much longer to grow a perch to size for consumption in the north than in the south.  The advantage of a northern location is the colder water (45 degrees) needed for perch reproduction.

The perch are hatched and raised in the hatchery till they are 1”. Once they achieve an inch in length, they are moved into the raceways where the next inch of growth is achieved.  The need for constant water flow and cold temperature is achieved by drawing water from a 3 acre pond constructed uphill of the hatchery and raceways.  Water flows through the hatchery/raceways and is discharged into the pond downhill of the barn.  Then the water from the lower pond is pumped back into the upper pond.  The ultimate water conservation project!  The solid waste generated from the unused feed and fish manure is handled in buckets and placed on the garden.

When asked to reflect where they have been and want to go with the fish farm, the Spieth’s responded.  “We have learned a lot from the beginning of this journey.  We owe a huge thank you to Laurie Tui, OSU Extension for her knowledge and willingness to work with us as we experienced the ups and downs.  A big challenge we have now is the cost of fish food. We are working on a project to create our own fish food.”

When asked if they ever thought of slowing down, they both smiled and said they will when they die.  Their journey has been filled with many ups and downs but their spirit to pick themselves back up and keep going is truly inspiring.  When asked if they would do it all over again, Harry responded with an emotional quiver in his voice “In a heartbeat”.

Please join me in congratulating Harry and Sharon Spieth, 2017 Cooperator of the Year.

 

 Harry and Sharon Spieth 2017 Cooperators of the Year