Growing into a ‘Down the Road Farm’


Lauren Ketcham co-owns and operates Down the Road Farm in New Lexington, Ohio in Perry County with Zachary Schultheis. She can be found at the Zanesville Farmers Market on April 20 at Weasel Boy Brewing and on select Saturdays at the Muskingum County Fairgrounds (May through October).

I didn’t grow up on a farm or with a garden in my backyard. I grew up on a steady diet of processed foods and restaurant fare. Until I graduated high school, lettuce was synonymous with “Iceburg” and cheese (if you can call it that) came individually wrapped in processed slices. That all changed when I moved to Athens to attend Ohio University. I quickly caught the bug for local foods in that small community so deeply committed to those values and full of inspiring doers.

It was there I met Zack, my current farming partner. We moved to New Mexico, and later traveled the country working stints on organic farms, learning what we liked (and didn’t like) about different models. But, southeast Ohio kept calling us home. We knew we wanted to farm, and put my organizational and communications skills to use building a business, so we returned to Ohio where we could put down sustainable roots.

We started our farm in 2011 and chose our name, Down the Road Farm, for three reasons. As beginning farmers, we knew we had a lot to learn, so we joked our budding enterprise would be a farm “down the road.” It also represents our commitment to local, to be the farm next door, selling to our local community in Perry, Fairfield, Licking and, now, Muskingum counties. Finally, our name is about our commitment to sustainability. We are tending this piece of land and choosing production practices that help protect our soil and other natural resources for the future.

We grow and harvest everything by hand on just under 2 acres of our wooded, 12-acre farm. We use no hazardous synthetic chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers and never any genetically engineered seed. We instead use cover crops, physical barriers (like row covers), crop rotations, mulch and compost to manage weeds and pests and improve soil fertility. We believe that bio-diverse farms with healthy soil grow resilient plants and nutritious food.

We currently grow cut flowers and a wide-range of produce, including tomatoes, garlic, strawberries, radishes, turnips, ground cherries and kale, which we market spring through fall. Late last year, thanks to support from NRCS EQIP, we were able to build a 30-feet by 76-feet high tunnel, so we hope to be able to extend our season moving forward. In the winter, we also make handcrafted soap.

I particularly like growing flowers and sharing their beauty with customers. Simply put, I love being around them whether that’s watching the bees and butterflies dance between blooms, harvesting them, making arrangements or even weeding! Don’t get me wrong. Flower farming is like other farming — hard work — but I find its work that nourishes the soul.

These days, my nourishment also comes in the form of homemade food using the produce we grow on the farm. I eat leafy greens in a range of deep, dark colors, fresh-made cucumber and tomato salads all summer long, summery goodness captured in mason jars and freezer bags during the winter, and never any bright yellow processed cheese product.

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