By Christina Drain
James Patterson has many passions in life — among those are fruit farming, his family, community service, Ohio State and promoting the land-grant mission.
That he is a farmer and a Buckeye is by heritage. He is the fifth of six generations of farmers at the Patterson Fruit Farm in Chesterland. His father graduated from Ohio State with an agriculture degree in 1932; his mother graduated in 1936, majoring in home economics. Patterson graduated in 1964 from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. His wife Nancy and two sons also graduated from Ohio State.
“I knew all along farming was something that I wanted to do and so the natural place to go was Ohio State,” he said.
Listen to Patterson’s view on the importance of college
The namesake of the Patterson Lecture series served from 1994-2003 on the Ohio State Board of Trustees, a nine-year term spanning three presidents, including current president Gordon Gee’s first term and William Kirwan; he was chairman of the board when Karen Holbrook was hired.
“Each of those individuals kept advancing the excellence of the university, in my opinion,” he said. “There were tremendous strides in the number of research dollars that were coming in, in the amount of development dollars that were committed to the university, the percentage of students who were completing their degrees, the [entrance] ACT scores rising. I’m not even sure I could get into Ohio State these days.”
The university moved from open enrollment to selective enrollment during those years.
“The branch campuses at that point became tremendously important because Ohio State should be accessible to all students but the main campus can only hold so many,” he said. “If there are avenues for kids to enter Ohio State, that’s key to being a land-grant university.”
There’s no greater supporter of land-grant universities than Patterson, according to Bobby Moser, special assistant for External Relations, who was vice president of Outreach and Engagement when the Patterson Lectures began.
“When he was on the board here, he was constantly talking about and emphasizing and supporting the land-grant mission, being an engaged university, engaged with the community, engaged with the state of Ohio in a way where a university can make a difference,” Moser said.
Although land-grant universities were originally established as agricultural and mechanical arts schools, Patterson cites the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities study as a still viable, albeit dated, roadmap for the future of land-grant universities. The study identifies three areas of concentration — teaching and learning, discovery and extension and outreach.
“I see more of the university participating in outreach and engagement,” Patterson said. “More than ever, this mission of access and affordability and accountability that a land-grant university has will only continue to grow and become extremely important.”
Patterson’s commitment to his community and beyond has been exemplary: Former Geauga County commissioner, leadership positions in Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Fruit Growers Society, Farm Credit Bank of Louisville and Cleveland Foundation Lake-Geauga advisory committee. He served on the Nationwide Insurance Enterprise and the Nationwide Financial Services boards of directors. After his term on the Ohio State board, he was appointed to the Ohio Board of Regents; his term ended last September.
He continues to serve on both the Geauga Regional Hospital and the University Hospital Health System of Cleveland boards as well as the Geauga County Park District.
“My folks were active in organizations, my wife is, my kids are,” he said. “I’ve always had an interest in higher education. It’s been a way to keep connected, to try in some small way to make a difference. I guess it’s just personal interest and a little bit of heredity. I just want to give back to the community whatever that community is.”
The Patterson Fruit Farm has evolved into “agritainment,” as Patterson calls it. They have always sold apples, peaches and strawberries at a roadside market, but the market has grown to the point that they now sell wholesale to stores. Customers are now drawn to the farm to pick their own fruit as well as take a wagon ride, bring a picnic lunch to one of the picnic shelters or enjoy a bonfire in the evening.
“I think people just want to get out to the farm and they don’t care as much about the apples as they do bringing the kids out and riding around the farm on the wagon,” he said.
Patterson talks about the future of farming
While the sons now manage the day-to-day operations of the farm, Patterson and his wife are still involved.
“We think we are doing everything we’ve always done, but we know we’re not. The boys run it,” Patterson said. “I tell people the difference is we sort of feel free enough now that if we want to take off we can, but we are still active. I can’t envision ever retiring.”