Medina County man is the neighbor every farmer wants to have
ABOVE: The Ohio Livestock Coalition and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation named Don Diefendorff the Medina County non-farming rural resident this year’s Neighbor of the Year award winner. Diefendorff, left, is pictured with Matt Boyert, who nominated him for the award.
BELOW: Diefendorff keeps the farmstead he bought in 2004 in great condition. He has turned the big barn into a gathering place for friends and family.
By Kyle Sharp, Ohio's Country Journal
It's a horror story often heard within the agricultural community. Land next to a working farm is sold to non-farmers who move in from town and start complaining about the equipment, noise and periodic aromas that come with the rural landscape.
Fortunately, the Boyert family of Seville in Medina County has not had that problem. In fact, when Don Diefendorff and his wife, Beth, purchased the old farmhouse and 6 acres across the road from the Boyerts in 2004 and moved from near Akron, Diefendorff quickly became a friend and extra farmhand.
"Shortly after moving in, he came over and introduced himself to us," said Matt Boyert, 25, the second-oldest of six children raised by Mike and Patti Boyert. "Since making our acquaintance, he has readily come over and assisted us with our outside chores. He has even reached a point where he has helped pull a couple of calves and came over to watch a veterinarian perform a C-section."
Diefendorff considers sharing in these farm experiences a blessing.
"When you see a calf being born, which I'd never seen, and you see life being brought into this world, it gives you a different outlook on life all together," he said. "I have a whole different appreciation for animals now. You don't realize all the work that goes into it. I see the (Boyert) kids in and out of the barn from 6 a.m. to 9 or 10 at night."
While Diefendorff's father, Don Sr., grew up on a farm, Don grew up and had lived his whole life in the small town of Norton near Akron. He and Beth met in high school and have been married 30 years, raising three children: Adrienne, 28, Elise, 26, and Shawn, 25. Their daughters are married and have kids of their own, while their son recently got out of the Marine Corps.
Diefendorff, a retired teamster, worked 30 years at the Reiter Dairy processing plant in Akron. So perhaps it was appropriate that he and Beth bought and moved to an old dairy farm. The farmstead had been in the previous owner's family since 1843.
"My brother-in-law bought the farm, because the people who owned it were going to sell it and make it into allotments," Diefendorff said. "He brought my wife out and she fell in love with it, and the rest is history. We always wanted to by an old farmhouse and restore it back to what it used to be."
The Boyerts are glad they did. They have really improved the place, Matt said. And while the Boyerts have taught Diefendorff about farm life, Diefendorff has taught the Boyert kids how to hunt, do woodworking and has helped them with non-livestock 4-H projects. He helped remodel the Boyert's kitchen.
"I've always been real handy with woodworking and that kind of stuff," Diefendorff said. "I love to teach a kid how to use a table saw, nail gun, a drill, whatever. I've always enjoyed teaching kids and seeing the looks on their faces when they do something the first time. You get a different appreciation when you help someone out. It's just a good feeling. That self-satisfaction of saying, hey, I helped them out."
Because of that desire to help and teach children, Diefendorff assists the Boyerts every year with their fall farm tours, when about 10,000 people, many of them school children from inner-city Cleveland, visit the farm.
"When you see those kids look at a live cow for the first time and see the look of enjoyment on their face — that makes my day," Diefendorff said. "I drive the hay wagons for the tours, and I love it."
The Boyerts raise Shorthorn cattle, along with 4-H pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys. They have two greenhouses and a retail garden store on 14 acres, 34 acres of mostly pasture around their house, and they rent an additional 80 acres for soybeans and hay. They raise pumpkins in the fall for the tours.
"There's been times Don has gone above and beyond for us, and he didn't have to — helping if the cows get out and educating other neighbors about agriculture," Matt said. "We never expected anyone from the city to move out here and be so helpful. Whenever we need something, he's always the first person we call."
Diefendorff grew pumpkins last year for the Boyerts farm tours. He also raised gourds and peppers. This year, he's adding sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and some other vegetables, and he and Matt are opening a produce stand on Diefendorff's property.
"It's just for the fun of it to see if we can make a little money. If it goes OK, maybe we'll do more next year," Diefendorff said. "I've got to do something with the land. I got tired of mowing it."
For his responsible, courteous and respectful actions, Diefendorff was named the non-farming rural resident Neighbor of the Year by the Ohio Livestock Coalition and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Matt nominated him for the award.
"To be a good neighbor, you've got to have good neighbors. If I didn't have good neighbors, I wouldn't do the things I do. So, it's a reflection on them, the whole area and the community," Diefendorff said. "Over the years I've found if you treat people decently, they'll treat you decently."
Being neighborly also makes life more enjoyable. The Diefendorffs and Boyerts regularly have fun with each other, playfully jabbing about leaves blowing across the road or seeing who can grow the biggest pumpkin. The Boyerts even helped Don and Beth last year when they attempted to make maple syrup for the first time.
"We tapped the trees out front, hung buckets on them and were getting some sap," Diefendorff said. "But I went out one morning and Anna (the Boyerts' 16-year-old daughter) had put two bottles of Aunt Jemima maple syrup in the buckets. I just busted out laughing."