Not long ago, I had an interesting meeting with Tim Rodgers, a retired schoolteacher and avid historian who lives in Hubbard.
Tim grew up in a North Bloomfield home in the muck area that was known as Ruetenik Gardens. As a boy and young man, he worked in those gardens until he went off to college. In retirement, he has written an interesting history of that once prosperous area.
Once the swamp was drained, according to Tim's history, it was divided up and rented to individual farmers. They raised potatoes, celery, asparagus, strawberries, spinach, head lettuce and especially onions. At one time, the area was known as the "Onion Patch."
Produce was trucked from the farms, and eventually a railroad siding was built on the Pennsylvania Railroad about a half mile west. As many as 150 loads of produce were shipped in good years. Eventually, the area became known as the Ohio Muck Farming Company.
Martin Ruetenik, from Cleveland, was a director of that company and would sometimes bring his son, Howard, with him when he would come out to visit the operation. Howard had a special interest in agriculture and when 225 acres south of the Ohio Muck became available in 1926, he bought it at sheriff's sale.
Howard immediately got busy getting the soil on that farm ready for planting that spring. He borrowed equipment from his father's Cleveland farm and started the North Bloomfield/Orwell Ruetenik Gardens.
Building a solid road back to the farm was first priority. More land was cleared, drainage ditches dug and permanent drain tile installed. Ruetenik grew onions and carrots on the muck in his early years. Christmas trees were grown on some of his non-muck or upland.
Howard Ruetenik was an agricultural innovator. He designed and built much of his planting, cultivating and harvesting equipment to handle the crops he was growing in the muck soils. He built greenhouses to start celery seed and, after he drilled a high volume water well, put in irrigation lines. In the 1930s he built two large walk-in coolers to store crops.
In 1950, he bought 1,000 acres of land owned by the Ohio Muck Farming Company, which made a farm of 1,225 acres. After making several changes, he expanded his production of onions, carrots and parsnips.
Since he lived and worked at Ruetenik Gardens, Rodgers' history vividly describes what it was like to work on a muck farm. Hundreds of young people worked in what was known as the "Kids Gang." If there was not enough local labor, a bus would bring help up from Warren. You would have worked eight-hour days, six days a week in season, paid hourly or by "piecework." Wages were 25 cents an hour in the 1940s and 50s up to 50 cents in the 60s.
Much of the time you were on your knees weeding crops or harvesting them. Wet muck would stick to your hands and knees. At day's end, you would have to wash and scrape the muck from your knees before going home. When the muck was dry, it was dusty and dirty.
During the 1950s and 60s, every acre of tillable land was put to use. But things were changing. Big refrigerated trucks from California farms would bring in produce on interstate highways year-round. Labor was hard to find because jobs in industry were plentiful and paid more than farm work.
Mother Nature at work was a bigger challenge. Rich, black organic muck disappears about an inch a year. Bloomfield mucks were not what they were at one time.
Sadly, Reutenik Gardens ceased operations in 1975, the passing of a well-run enterprise. A group of investors bought the property to go into aquaculture, but that didn't work out. Today, a company called PVP has several acres in the area and processes perlite and vermiculite.
The story of Ruetenik Gardens and the swamp and muck is a fascinating one. Thanks to Tim Rodgers for putting it together for our interest and historical purposes.
Parker is retired from Ohio State University and an independent writer for the Tribune.