The trees may be gone for good, but the former Ohio Department of Natural Resources tree nursery in Reno finally has a new purpose and a new owner.
"Me and my dad, we want to bring an interest in agriculture back to the area," said 21-year-old Todd Stacy, who with his parents manage Stacy Family Farm, LLC.
The Oak Grove family farming operation recently purchased the former tree farm, along Ohio 7 at Reno, for $1 million, said Andy Ware, deputy director for ODNR.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Fifth generation Stacy Family Farm operator Todd Stacy, right, talks with Southeastern Ohio Port Authority board member Jack Haessly about plans for the property that formerly housed an Ohio Department of Natural Resources tree nursery. Stacy Family Farm recently purchased the property to expand their Oak Grove U-pick strawberry business.
The money will be put into the state forestry fund and will help pay for capital improvement projects on state forestry properties, said Ware.
However, what made the Stacy's bid more attractive than the "several" submitted bids was not a monetary number, but rather their intended use for the property, said Jack Haessly, a board member for the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.
"Principally, they are going to keep it in the use of agriculture," said Haessly.
From 1925 to 2008, ODNR operated one of three state nurseries on the site, producing bare-root seedlings for reforestation efforts. Following years of declining seedling sales and increasing production costs, the state closed the facility in 2009 and appointed the port authority as a sort of realty agent for the property, said Ware.
After nearly three years of surveying the property, getting community feedback, preparing a master plan for the site and seeking bids for it, ODNR and Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed off on the sale approximately two weeks ago, said Haessly, who chaired the committee in charge of the project.
"It was really important to me because I know the Reno community well," he said.
Winter 2008 - The Ohio Department of Natural Resources closes the Marietta tree nursery, the last of three state operations.
April 2010 - ODNR inks a non-binding agreement with the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority to act as a sort of real estate agent for the property.
Sept. 2010 - A committee charged with developing a master plan for the property begins community input meetings.
July 2011 - ODNR auctions equipment used at the former nursery, including vehicles and thousands of tools.
Oct. 31, 2011 - Deadline for submitting bids; the SeOPA receives several offers.
Jan. 2012 - SeOPA submits the bid of Stacy Family Farm to ODNR as the best option, citing the Stacys' plan to continue using the land for agriculture and education.
Two weeks ago - ODNR and Ohio Gov. John Kasich sign off on the sale of the property, which the Stacys plan to use to expand their farming business.
Stacy Family Farm currently runs a U-Pick strawberry operation at their current Oak Grove location, said Janet Stacy, who manages the farm with husband Bill and her family.
However, with Todd and his siblings representing the fifth generation of Stacy family farming, the business is ready to expand, said Janet.
"Where we are, there isn't any room for expansion," she said.
But there is plenty of room for growth on the new property, which houses 12 buildings and already has an irrigation system in place, said Todd Stacy.
Also, the area's sandy loam soil is ideal for growing strawberries, he added.
Todd Stacy said he has big visions for the property, among them expanding the company's available U-pick crops and drawing in more crowds for education.
Approximately 1,800 school-aged children already tour the Stacy Family Farm each year, and the new property will provide even more educational opportunities for students to learn about farming, said Todd.
"Our parents, lots of them have stories about that summer they worked on the farm. Our generation does not have that," he said, pointing out that the farm could be a great summer job for high school students.
Stacy Family Farm currently employs 12 to 15 seasonal workers. That number will grow with the opening of the new location, said Todd Stacy, though by how much he is not certain.
As for new crops, the Stacys are not making any decisions yet.
"We'll figure out what's to come. It will be a slow expansion to figure out what works best for us and our customers," said Janet.
The family hopes to plant this year, and fully move the U-pick strawberry business to the Reno location by the 2014 season, said Todd.
The Oak Grove location will then have more space to grow vegetables that can be sold on site at the Reno farm, such as sweet corn, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and cucumbers, he added.
"I went to school for agriculture, so this has been the goal all along, to expand the family farm," said Todd, a graduate of The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute.
Haessly and his committee have striven to keep the Reno community involved in the nearly three year process during which the SeOPA surveyed the land, developed a master plan and solicited bids for the property, he said.
Thursday he will hold his final public committee meeting to summarize the project and thank all of the people involved.
"It's a slight bit of a celebration for our accomplishment," he said.
And Haessly can not wait to see the payout, in the form of lots of visitors to the farm, which he expects will draw crowds "by the bus loads."
"It's going to be a drawing card for this area," he said.