COPLEY — Jennifer LittleBear squats down, opens the door of a metal cage in the lower level of her family’s 160-year-old barn and pulls out first a speckled quail egg and then a brown female quail.
The birds are some of the menagerie that lives on LittleBear’s 25-acre farm, which has been in her family for four generations — 100 years, making it a Century Farm recognized by the state.
"It's kind of a tribute to all the work that they put into it,” said LittleBear, 39.
The house and barn on Jacobs Heritage Farm were built in 1859. The farm’s been in the Jacobs family since 1919.
LittleBear’s great-grandparents, Frank and Agnes Jacobs, immigrated to the United States from their native Hungary, settling in the Akron area, where there were many other Hungarian immigrants.
The couple, who spoke only a few words of English, purchased the Copley Township farm on a road that would come to be named for their family — Jacoby, with the S at the end of their name becoming a Y when a county representative mistook the flourished S in Jacobs’ signature.
The Hungarian pepper farm was handed down to LittleBear’s grandparents, Frank and Vilma Jacobs, who farmed until the 1970s, including raising pigeons for meat.
LittleBear’s mother, Mary Surowski — who built a home on the property in the 1960s and still lives there today — had little interest in farming, so LittleBear’s uncle, Frank Jacobs — who also lived in a house on the property — took over the farm and turned a large portion of it into Copley Greens Golf Course, which closed about five years ago.
Because her mother’s house was on the property, LittleBear spent a lot of time with her grandparents growing up, which helped convince her to run the farm.
“I was kind of raised between the two houses,” she said. “I've always been drawn to it as a farm.… I always loved the stories of the farm.”
Over the last decade or so, LittleBear has been working to change the property back over to a farm from the golf course.
LittleBear tries to keep the farm as traditional as she can, farming the “old ways” of her great-grandparents by using natural methods instead of chemicals and raising “really traditional Hungarian” livestock, including about 16 aptly-named Jacob sheep, three horses, about eight quail, four hives of honeybees, geese, ducks and chickens. She also raises a rare Hungarian breed of pig, Mangalitsa, which makes a rich, lard-heavy pork.
LittleBear sells most of her female livestock for breeding and uses the male livestock for meat. She takes orders for meat, but she also sells products, from honey and plants to fudge and jelly, at a self-serve farmstand on her property.
LittleBear works in international sales for a local plastics company four days a week, working on the farm in the early mornings, evenings and weekends. The farm's only worker, she doesn’t have children but plans to keep it in the family.
A few years ago, the barn’s original stone foundation had to be replaced with cinder blocks when the whole barn started to tip over. The barn, which still has the original wooden beams, tree bark and all, had to go up on stilts. But now it’s secure, housing horses, sheep and quail.
“Now it should stand for another couple hundred years, hopefully,” LittleBear said.
Other family farms
There are about 1,500 registered Ohio Historic Family Farms, including nine in Medina County, 11 in Portage, 12 in Stark and 14 in Wayne. The oldest in Ohio is an Adams County farm in the same family since 1772.
In Summit County, there are four other historic family farms recognized by the state: Heritage Farms in Peninsula, Seiberling Farm in Norton, Call Farm in Stow — much of which has become the Call’s Farm housing development off Fishcreek Road — and Kendall Farm.
Nathan and Catharine Seiberling — whose descendants created the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. — established Seiberling Farm in 1831 after traveling to Norton from Pennsylvania via covered wagon, said Norma Nice, who’s related to the current fifth-generation owners and grew up down the road from the 132-acre produce farm open daily in late summer.
“You just think back that far, there was no Walmart to go shopping at... they were true pioneers and gave us a good foundation to build on,” said Nice, 65. “I think they were risk-takers.”
Heritage Farms started as the Lawson Waterman farm in the 1840s, with Waterman moving there from New York and starting out building canal boats. Ownership of the 115-acre farm, which now focuses on Christmas trees and agritourism, moved down the family tree until Carol Haramis — Waterman’s great-great-great niece — took over the farm in 1979.
“Every generation has done something different with the farm, have had to reinvent themselves to make sure the farm would pay for itself and be able to pass it on down through the generations of the family,” said fifth-generation owner Haramis, 62. “To me, it’s like an honor, the fact that I’m the one that gets to carry the torch for the next generation.”
Contact Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, email@example.com or @EmilyMills818.