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Last week, while out and about, I decided to stop by Hershberger’s Farm & Bakery, a very popular place with both the locals and visitors to Ohio Amish country. I was hoping to chat with Daniel Hershberger, the owner of the farm and bakery but he was out for the day. I went into the store and started chatting with Alvin Hershberger, Daniel’s father. We talked a bit about some goings on and I showed him some of the photos of Amish country and some of the blog articles that we write. One thing led to another and soon Alvin asked me if I knew how Hershberger’s Farm & Bakery got started. I told him I had no idea but certainly would like to know. He proceeded to tell his story. In short order, I told him to put his storytelling on hold while I dug out my paper and pen. This was one story I wasn’t going to miss. Not only did I get a great story but Alvin took me around the property while he was telling me his story and let me get some great pictures.

This is more than a story of “what happened”. It’s also a story with some powerful life lessons and epitomizes the Amish values of personal responsibility, a hard work ethic, family cohesion, and the willingness, and ability, of church members and community to help one another. It is values such as these that made America a great nation.

The first development, on the property that is now owned by Daniel Hershberger, were some buildings erected by a Mr. W. Sharp. Most notable of the buildings was a barn that was built in 1878. Alvin took me to one of his storage buildings and showed me one of the original barn doors; etched into the wood barn door is: W. Sharp 1878. Alvin also pulled out the original “Hershberger’s Truck Patch” sign so I could get a photo of it.

Mr. Sharp was actually a homesteader on 96 acres. He could have the land for free if he developed it. I doubt there’s any opportunity like that in Holmes County anymore. Pretty much the entire property was wooded so Mr. Sharp had his work cut out for him. It seems hard times fell on him and the property was next purchased by a Mr. Jacob (Chek in PA Dutch) Miller, an Amish man. Mr. Miller was from that time on known as “Sharpie Chek” and the farm became known as “De Sharpie Chek Farm”. Associating names with other names, events, or other peculiarities are quite common among the Amish. The farm continued to change ownership to a couple of Sharpie Chek’s sons. Then, in 1964, 77 acres of the original farm were purchased by Alvin.

The original business, of what is today Hershberger’s Farm & Bakery, started as nothing more than Alvin and his wife, Emma (Raber), selling a few baked goods out of their home. This small home-based business was started with no real thought about developing a large, successful business, but simply as an attempt to earn enough extra income to start paying off a very large hospital bill that Hershberger owed.

Alvin says one day an “awmahdeenah” (Amish deacon), stopped by to talk to him about his inability to pay off the hospital bill and said that the Amish church fund was ready to pay the bill in full and encouraged Alvin to take the money. Alvin told the deacon “Wait a bit. Maybe I can find a way to pay it.” Alvin and his wife Emma thought about their dilemma and what they might be able to do to solve it. One day she said to Alvin, “I can bake, if you can sell.” And so it started! In 1973 Emma started baking and Alvin put up a picnic table under the big tree in the front yard and started selling his wife’s delicious baked goods. My mom told me she remembers that Emma was well known as “a very good baker.”

The business grew and began to thrive. Soon some of the Hershberger family’s home-grown produce was also for sale at the picnic table under the tree. Hershberger clearly remembers, “One day, about 1986, a Statey (Ohio State Patrolman) comes to the farm, parks his patrol car, and walks up to me by the picnic table”. The patrolman says to him “I don’t have very good news for you. We’ve been getting some complaints. This little township road that runs past your house is not a parking lot”. I had to chuckle because I remembered this part. We use to go down to get baked goods from Hershbergers back in the 80’s. There were cars parked in the driveway, along the road, and anywhere else you could find a spot.

Shortly after the patrolman’s visit, steps were taken to better accommodate the growing number of customers that continued to come to the farm. The first of several buildings was put up across the street from the farmhouse and barn. It was a small 20 x 28 building that served as the new retail store. A sign was made and put up in front of the little building. The sign read: “Hershberger’s Truck Patch. Fresh baked goods baked daily. Fresh vegetables in season.” In 1998 Alvin sold the farm and the business to Daniel, who has continued to expand the operation.

A few days after Alvin shared this story with me, I went back to the farm. This time I got the opportunity to talk with Alvin again, and also with Daniel. I was sad to hear that Emma passed away a number of years ago. Daniel remembers and acknowledges how instrumental she was in running the business and doing so many things “behind the scenes“.

Since Daniel purchased the business, his family has been actively involved in running it. In 2002 another building was added, next to the store, to house the bakery equipment and operations. Today more buildings and services have been added including buggy and wagon rides, a farm animal petting area for children, and a leather and gift shop. Daniel says the gift shop contains very popular wooden toys for children and a puppy store. Canned goods, jams, jellies, home-made noodles, cheese, and the very popular fry pies are now sold in the store as well.