FAMILIES COPING

Downturn endangers heritage of farming

Coys owned land since Civil War

3/25/2009
BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Walter ‘Butch’ Coy is worried about the future. The family business is in bankruptcy and their farm is in foreclosure
Walter ‘Butch’ Coy is worried about the future. The family business is in bankruptcy and their farm is in foreclosure

With the national economic crisis hitting the Toledo area especially hard, The Blade and WTOL-TV Channel 11 are teaming up throughout the year to tell the stories of how several families are coping with hard times.

STRYKER, Ohio - Since the Civil War, the Coy family has farmed a sprawling tract of land in Williams County, now producing corn, soybeans, and wheat.

But the tradition, as well as the livelihood of Walter "Butch" Coy, a fourth-generation farmer, is in jeopardy as the family business is in bankruptcy and the farm the family has called home is facing foreclosure.

"I'm worried about what is going to happen," said Mr. Coy, 39, who shares the home with his wife, Carmen, 39; his daughter, Amelia, 2, and son, Logan, 14 months. "This farm has been in my family for more than 100 years."

In recent years the costs of managing farms - seed, equipment, fuel, and fertilizer - have increased as the market for key products has diminished.

For the Coy family and their more than 300 acres, the grim reality of the credit crunch and faltering economy set in last year when their lender began taking a more aggressive approach in working with them.

POVERTY LINE: Unraveling the safety net

"There's money to made out here if the banks would back off and let us do our work," Mr. Coy said. "But they don't want to deal with the little people out there that don't have much money."

Roger Crossgrove, executive director of the Ohio Farmers Union, an organization with more than 5,100 members, said many farming families cope with the same problems that are affecting the Coys. Mr. Crossgrove said he's heard of a handful of farms in the past few weeks alone that have filed for bankruptcy or have been foreclosed upon.

"I hate to say it, but I think we are going to see many more this year, with commodity prices being what they are and dairy prices at the basement," he said.

For farm families, who often live and work on their land, bankruptcy and foreclosure are especially difficult, Mr. Crossgrove said.

"In a lot of these farm-family foreclosures, it is totally devastating. A lot of them are second or third-generation farms. Having been a farmer all of my life, to work your whole life and then end up losing it is devastating, depressing, and humiliating."

Ms. Coy said the public needs to be aware of what farming families are facing and that they, too, are struggling with foreclosure and bankruptcy.

"I think there are a lot of American farmers going through this, even right here in northwest Ohio," Ms. Coy said. "Some have even had to give up their farms."

She added, "I don't think people in the cities understand that it is not easy money.


"Just because we own 300 to 400 acres of land does not mean we are rich. If we don't get a good yield on the crops, we can't pay our bills."

And a loss of a farm is like any other layoff, she said.

"It's no different than someone getting laid off at GM and not knowing what they will do," Ms. Coy said. "There are no guarantees in farming."

Ms. Coy is an employee of the Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission, which administers early education programs for low-income children, and her family relies largely on her salary. At work, Ms. Coy has learned ways to cope with economic uncertainty from the low-income families she serves.

"I've seen a lot of it," she said. "That's why it is scary for me. We are one paycheck away from what these families deal with."

She added, "I know there are resources but it is hard to say we have to rely on that. It is just not something I ever thought I would have to do."

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com

or 419-304-1680.