Microsoft co-founder bought the farm?
Madison County rumors say Gates now owns land there
Friday, December 25, 2009 3:01 AM
By Spencer Hunt
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
When a 5,300-acre farm was sold at auction, its Madison County neighbors were happy that it would not become the home of Ohio's largest dairy.
Now, they're wondering whether the company that paid $27.1 million for the very large farm is owned by Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and the world's wealthiest man.
"We really believe that that's the case," said Alan Garcia, 46, a software engineer who owns a home about a mile northeast of the site.
Local officials say the rumor is rampant, but they don't know whether it's true. Public records lend support to the theory but aren't conclusive.
Midwest Farms LLC, the highest bidder at the auction on June 30, lists Michael Larson as its business manager in corporate records on file with Ohio and Washington state. He is listed as being from Kirkland, Wash.
The same name also appears in Securities and Exchange Commission records as the business manager of another Kirkland-based company, Cascade Investment LLC. Gates is listed as Cascade's major shareholder; other shares are owned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust.
Is the Michael Larson of Midwest Farms the same Michael Larson of Cascade Investment? Calls to Cascade were not returned.
A representative of the Gates Foundation, who wouldn't give her name, said the purchase of the farm would be "of a personal nature," and the foundation would have no information about it.
Madison County Commissioner David Dhume said he heard the Gates story about three weeks ago, and he doesn't know whether it's true. "Things fly around," he said.
Garcia and another member of Darby Creek Matters, a small group of property owners that formed to fight plans for a 5,400-cow dairy, said they would be happy if Gates is the owner.
They point to the Microsoft chairman's interest in enhancing agriculture and food production in developing countries to combat hunger as a positive sign that he would keep the Madison County land as a farm.
"I think he'll be sensitive to the Big Darby," real-estate investor Patrick Grabill said.
The neighbors feared that the 140,000 tons of liquid manure the cows at the proposed dairy would have produced each year would foul the air and poison Big Darby Creek, a state and national scenic waterway that's home to 37 rare and endangered species of mussels and fish.
The dairy was never built, and Orleton Farms instead sold the land to Midwest Farms. Midwest Farms paid about $4,516 per acre for the 5,324-acre farm 4 miles north of London, and for a separate 677 acres just south of Rt. 40.
Ohio Department of Agriculture officials say they haven't been contacted about any plan to build a large livestock farm there.
"We haven't heard anything," said agency spokesman Bill Schwaderer, "nothing at all from the new owners."