About a mile and a half off the beaten path of downtown Berne sits the largest dairy farm in Adams County.
It's so large that it is owned by a group of investors. Each investor has his or her own reason for wanting a piece of this farming operation, but only one actually works the farm.
The investors and the on-site owner all have one thing in common. They all hail from Ireland, which is why they named the farm Irish Acres.
Eddie O'Donnell and his Irish investors purchased the farm - formerly known as Hillcrest Dairy Farm - in 2003 from Roger VonGunten, whose great-grandfather originally owned the property. About 1970, VonGunten purchased the farm from his father, Sherman. With his sons, VonGunten raised dairy cows on the farm's vast acreage.
What happened next would change the VonGunten family's farming livelihood forever. The bottom dropped out of the dairy market. VonGunten knew that to stay competitive and profitable he would have to invest heavily in the farm and expand, but the dollars just weren't there.
So like many farmers who face financial adversity, he put Hillcrest up for sale.
In the agriculture world, when a sizable farming operation is on the market the word literally travels the globe. Eddie O'Donnell learned about Hillcrest in a real-estate magazine in Donegal, Ireland, where he worked in a similar diary-farm operation. He and his partners formed a limited liability company and finalized the deal with VonGunten to buy Hillcrest.
O'Donnell moved his wife and three children to Berne, changed the name of the farm to Irish Acres, rolled up his sleeves and quickly put the farm back in the black.
"Roger already had a good operation here, but the milk prices fluctuate so much in this country it can be difficult," O'Donnell said. "If milk prices fluctuate by a mere 2 percent, it can have an immediate impact on the profitability of the entire operation.
"Roger grew this dairy operation to the extent that he could, and it would have taken a huge investment and undertaking for one family to maintain its profitability. Our investment made the business financially strong almost right away. Also, right after we took over, the milk prices went back up."
Buying Hillcrest wasn't just about making a profit, according to O'Donnell. It had everything to do with helping the local economy.
"My vision was employment," he said. "Roger is very much needed in this operation and he comes to work every day and continues to work this farm as if it were his own. And this complex was totally built by Amish construction workers in the area. We also employ 16 full-time workers, some of whom live on the property in our bunkhouse."
The farm has grown to 1,600 head of dairy cattle. The cows are milked three times a day. The property features a state-of-the-art milking parlor and milking machines, and the milk is picked up twice a day for processing off-site at Schenkel's All Star Dairy in Huntington.
Since purchasing Irish Acres, the investors also bought another smaller operation (800 head of dairy cows) in Sydney, Ohio. They named it Irish Acres II.
Irish Acres is big business, as O'Donnell explained in his thick Irish brogue.
"This dairy farm is like a big factory," he said. "It is worked all day and all night every day in order to run smoothly and stay profitable. There is no downtime in an operation like this, and that's one of the reasons why I love this so much."