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Getting back to the land grows into family business

JOHNSTON — During the COVID-19 pandemic, Melissa Ann Proctor, 35, developed her “granny hobbies” of baking and gardening into a full-time business.

“I like to think of all of us as ‘homesteaders,’ too,” Proctor said. “Using basic, old-fashioned survival skills — bartering with others in the area and working the land. In times when it might be hard to survive, if I can do this on my land and provide for my family along with others — I’m going to do just that.”

She didn’t come into her “granny skills” alone. Her mother, Diana DeJacimo-Cook, 57, of Warren, taught her traditional canning methods, bread-baking skills and shared heirloom recipes.

Tweaks and adjustments were made to those recipes, but Jordan’s Pickles and the Meadow Farms giant loaves of fluffy homestyle bread are hits at the roadside stand, online and at the weekly Niles Artisan Farmers Market.

So-called “granny hobbies” are skills from bygone days or “old-lady hobbies” that younger generation rediscovered, particularly while in the pandemic isolation of 2020 and 2021. Even though restrictions have eased, the Proctors, like many others, continue to hone their newfound abilities.

STARTING OUT

Proctor and her husband, Jeff, originally from Newton Falls, first realized their common interests of gardening and homesteading in 2014 when they first started dating. They worked together at Huntington Bank in the Warren Plaza.

Melissa and Jeff married in June 2016. Before moving to Johnston in 2017, they found a home in Howland, where they began to test their gardening skills.

“We were just two city kids with a country dream. So we turned our backyard of the first home into a trial-and-error type of garden — starting first with raised beds — which just didn’t work for us, no matter what we did,” Proctor said.

“I have my mom to thank for her teaching me at a young age how to garden. She had me right next to her helping and explaining things as she went along planting veggies, fruit trees, perennials. It was second nature to me to just do it. Then, sharing this with my husband was very important.

“Mom would make things so much fun. When we would cook and bake, she would gather all the ingredients on our kitchen counter as a child and pretend like we had our own cooking show.

“Mom is famous for her homestyle bread — the Easter Bread she makes,” Proctor said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how good and beautiful it is.”

Their first daughter, Jordan, “asked, very young, ‘I help?’ And wanted to be part of the mix,” Proctor said. While in kindergarten and first grade, Jordan had her own pickles stand out front of their home.

“Jordan is a giver. She loved seeing her teacher and bus driver light up when she gave them a jar of her pickles at the end of the school year,” Melissa said. “She just knows how much it means to people.

“We started offering plants to sell as the season produced them, all from seed — then, produce as it would grow. It was fun for all of us to visit with neighbors who walked the road in front of our house and would stop to chat and buy what we offered. That’s when Jordan’s Pickles became a thing,” Proctor said.

DIRT, PLANTS AND SERENITY

In 2017, their new home, which stands on 2 1/4 acres at 6610 Ridge Road, showed roof damage and septic issues.

Add to this Jeff suffered from family trauma, which lead to PTSD and depression, plus the pressure from his banking job during the pandemic and having COVID-19 himself. He took refuge in his wife and mother-in-law’s traditions.

He built a greenhouse, farmed their land and tended to chickens.

“Working with his hands brought to him a newfound hope,” Proctor said. “I would see the change in him after being outdoors for a good portion of the day — it was exactly what he needed.

“If it’s not gardening, people can find something that might give them the same kind of hope and peace my husband found,” she said. “Ours just happens to be in the ground and that also brings us closer to God.”

Jeff is currently a gym teacher at St. Christine’s in Youngstown and will be the new assistant coach for the Niles Red Dragon’s girls basketball team.

“Through the good graces of our church family, North-Mar in Warren, they helped with our financial burdens. We are so very grateful they were there for us, not just with the house repairs, but emotionally and church-family support. I can’t begin to say how thankful we are to have North-Mar in our lives,” Proctor said.

In 2019, Meadow Farms began offering home delivery of their heirloom-recipe soups and homestyle bread. “We only advertised on Facebook to get the word out. After that, pure word of mouth through patrons and at church, we had orders rolling in,” Proctor said.

Their second child, Selah, was born in 2019, giving Jordan her first baby sister. Another girl, Lilly, was born in 2021.

“Mom is the one who sits with the kids and cuts out all the fabric jar skirts — the labels. I taught myself to lay out graphics to help with our Facebook ads,” Proctor said. “When we get busy with orders, Mom and I will split ovens — at her house and mine, to complete orders.

“Little Selah now loves to be in the kitchen and has to have her own dough ball to knead — it always ends in the carpet or in the back of my car, though.”

She said she looks forward to seeing what Lilly will take to as she grows up.

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