MORROW, Ohio - In the last hours of the worst winter in 20 years, a cardinal darted over the sleeping fields of Ghiels Carroll Road. Not far away, an elderly man slowly walked a path, in a coat the same shade as the redbird’s wing. All around him, life had gone brown. But in a few weeks, his land would shimmer velvety green in a new chapter of the man’s quixotic experiment of nearly 40 years: To nurture in southeastern Ohio the tropical wonder of bamboo.
The man is Jerry Burton. He is 72. In younger days, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps; then he sold insurance. But as he put it, he was a little too honest, and he got fired. By then, though, it didn’t matter. Jerry Burton had found his calling: bamboo. The books he read inspired him with bamboo’s versatility, beauty, and variety. When Burton got that pink slip, he was already on fire with a lush and verdant idea.
In the plant family, bamboo is classified as a grass. It needs no fertilizer or special growing medium. The U.S. Agriculture Department calls bamboo a specialty crop. About 1,000 farms and landscape nurseries in the county grow it for commercial sales. The American Bamboo Society has a membership of about 700 enterprises in the United States and 37 countries.
Become a WCPO Insider to read how Jerry Burton found and fostered his bamboo farm and how his youngest son is taking over the family business.