â€œThe greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living on a small piece of land.â€? abraham lincoln
The Heart of Our Country Photographs by Paul Mobley
Text by Katrina Fried preface by WIllard scott
introduction by Michael Martin Murphey welcome Books
N e w Yo r k & S a n F r a n c i s c o
page 1: Keith Sutton, corn and soybeans, Jamesport, Missouri. pages 2â€“3: Keith Nelson with his son-in-law, Brian Lacina, and grandson, Trey Lacina, cattle, Crawford, Texas. page 4: Chuck Dallas, sheep, Wilsall, Montana. above: Marvin Cole, grain and livestock, Moscow, Indiana.
Preface Wi llar d
S c o tt
“Agriculture is the Mother of all industry.”
For the last 212 years, this declaration has appeared on the cover of J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Farmers Almanack. There were never truer words written. For proof of this, just look around at our great country. My family settled here in 1759, and as their ancestors had done before them in England, someone from every generation of Scotts has made his living by farming. As a youth, I spent summers on my grandfather’s farm in Maryland. It was there that I came to know a whole different world from what I’d experienced living in the city. For one thing, I learned how to milk a cow! I remember so clearly loading the milk cans into an old Model A Ford and delivering them safely to the Sealtest Dairy pickup station. From there, they would go on to Baltimore. It made me feel like I was playing a small but important part in feeding America, and that notion filled me up with pride and excitement. My grandfather never owned a tractor. He used real “horse power” on his farm. When he cut the fields for hay, I would stomp it down with my feet. There were no tractors back then, just plain old-fashioned manual labor. Today, even with machines, farmers are still the hardest-working people I know. I also remember the sweet taste of water from the country spring on the farm, the rooster crowing at dawn—nature’s best and most trusted alarm clock—and eating those hearty homemade breakfasts with fresh eggs, milk, ham, and just-baked bread made from grain grown right there in our fields. I suppose that’s why my favorite meal of the day has always been, and still is, breakfast. And the bigger the better! The memories of those days on the farm are an important part of who I am, and I consider that heritage to be priceless. Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our country, indispensable providers of the food, and now energy as well, that has enabled the United States to remain stable and strong throughout history. From the heart of our farmlands have come many of the nation’s greatest leaders, inventors, innovators, and caretakers of our natural resources. You know, farmers were “green” before anybody else! They are America’s true patriots and pioneers, who stand for the ideals that most all of us hold dear. American Farmer pays glorious tribute to these ordinary heroes, and reminds us of just how extraordinary they are. God bless America’s farmers. W. S. June 2008
preceding pages: Charles and Kris Maley with their son, Matthew, ranching, Crawford, Texas. above: Rusty Harris, cattle, Fairy, Texas.
Introduction M i c hael
M a rt i n
Photographer Paul Mobley journeyed into America’s heartland as a lone artist with a camera, a seeker of those who live closest to the land, the Keepers of the Keys to our continued survival—our devoted farmers and ranchers. Behind him lay a lifetime of commercial and creative success; ahead of him a vast landscape of forms and faces that challenge verbal description and categorization—the elusive Culture of Agriculture. He took no crew and rarely an assistant, working as a somewhat disenchanted artist in the domain of the most overlooked segment of society, those who live and die by the rhythms of Nature. One man, one camera. Confronting the subjects of his images, one at a time. Questioning, not with words, but with lens, shutter and light. There comes a time for many artists when this kind of departure becomes necessary in spite of the considerable professional and personal risks. At a time like this, the artist is not repudiating previous work, but mustering the courage to stand on the edge of a chasm and vault toward an unknown Other Side. A photographer who makes this crossing is often startled to confront the images of others who have done the same thing in their own lives. So it was for Paul Mobley. Farmers and ranchers are members of that shared brotherhood and sisterhood of Risk. And like those who have taken that spiritual leap before him, Paul was forever changed to discover his subjects were in fact fellow sojourners, returning his gaze. When I first met Paul Mobley at an annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, he simply wanted to take my picture. Not because I’m a known performer, a singing cowboy of the South, but because I’m a child of Texas and a passionate rancher with a family of cowgirls who work hard every day. I agreed, but when he showed me other pictures he had taken, I knew I’d met much more than a documenter of America’s farm culture. I’d met a kindred spirit. I, too, had left behind a career that had become far too wrapped up in commercial formulas, and I knew Paul’s path had been, and would continue to be, a lonesome trail—at least at first. It was fortifying to find another artist taking the powerful truth of American farmers and ranchers to the public—delivering a message of honesty, integrity, passion, and daily painstaking labor. Paul embarked on this project when the Culture of Agriculture was far from the center of the world stage. His travels led him away from a society focused on industrial development and high technology, a humanity driven by the urban elite and space-age dreams. He went beyond the part of the country where most city dwellers go on vacation—beyond national parks and “wilderness” reserves that are sometimes revealingly referred to as “recreation areas”—undeveloped land that we want for playgrounds. He went to the “aggie outback” that doesn’t show up on Top Ten destination lists—into fields of wheat, corn, and beans; into orchards and vineyards; into livestock pastures, pens, egg sheds and feed yards. He was far from the fashionable “country” of bed and breakfasts, scenic turnouts and “eco-tours,” among those who toil and sweat to grow the food found on the tables of the advantaged and the desperate alike. By the time the first phase of Paul’s journey was completed, agriculture had moved from nowhere in the theater of the world’s drama to waiting in its wings, poised for a major entrance. Mobs in developed and undeveloped countries were loudly protesting the use of land for producing distiller’s grains in ethanol plants instead of food. In the early summer of 2008, panic started spreading about high prices for fuel, fertilizer, farm 11
machinery, and the soaring costs for the transportation and distribution of fuel. Farmers who had suffered decades of loss and debt were now in a boom/bust cycle and making headlines. Ranchers were taking a beating on the skyrocketing prices of livestock feed. Their products and produce hit record retail highs, threatening to become food for the privileged, not for the People. Politicians were suddenly reversing their position on issues such as ethanol price supports, looking for an out that just simply wasn’t there. They were dumbfounded by forces they didn’t understand, because modern politics mostly addresses urban plight; elected leaders often have no clue when it comes to agricultural policy, failing to realize the most obvious truth: the production of food is not a rural issue, it is an essential human issue. In the midst of all the mayhem, Paul Mobley’s book of arresting images becomes timely and prophetic. American farmers and ranchers are in the spotlight now, and will likely remain there for a very long time. They feed more people than any other agricultural community around the world. Their global counterparts are watching their methods and decisions closely. They know their survival is dependent on American agriculture, in a way that our own urbanites have barely begun to recognize. Those outside of rural America need to see what is in this book. They need to read the mind-boggling interviews, insightfully conducted and edited by Katrina Fried, of the farmers and ranchers photographed. They’ll be astounded to find that those who are close to the land have a startling sense of where they belong in the universe. They love their lives, accept the inherent struggles, and are surprisingly at peace considering that they confront so many daily challenges. Perhaps it is because they know what it is to grow things, have worked to understand and to accept the forces of Nature. It becomes a spiritual quest in the end. After taking more than 32,000 images of all kinds of farmers and ranchers, from northern Alaska to the Louisiana coast, Paul Mobley’s admiration ran so deep that he felt forever changed by the experience. His photographs convey a sense that his journey into the heart of America will never be over. His work will pass on this intuition to others, and perhaps they will be inspired to better understand the sacred connection between the food they consume and those who provide it. Maybe they’ll visit a local farm or ranch next time they go on that “country” getaway. Perhaps they’ll seek out the farmers and ranchers who sell their products direct to the customer. Hopefully they will never visit a farmers’ market again without taking a moment to talk to those who feed them, the caretakers of our land, the Keepers of the Keys. For the theme song of the public television series America’s Heartland, Montana rancher Rob Quist and I wrote these lyrics: You can see it in the eyes of every woman and man Who spend their whole lives living Close to the Land; There’s a love for the country, and pride in the brand, In America’s Heartland, Close the Land. . . As ranchers who are musical artists, on a lone mission to give a voice to our way of life, our culture, our families and friends out on the land, we reached the same conclusion, on the same kind of voyage of discovery taken by Paul Mobley. It’s a dramatic and radical conclusion, but I stand by it, just as Paul does: Farmers and ranchers are the single most important contributors to the future survival of the human race and the living planet Earth. M. M. M. The Murpheys’ Rocking 3M Ranch North, June 2008 12
Ray Sneed, soybeans, Millington, Tennessee.
preceding pages: John York, apples and peaches, Mimbres, New Mexico.
David McDaniel My great-grandfather purchased the first piece of land somewhere around 1900. I started farming when I was twenty-one. I went to school for three years, and then woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to go back. That was in 1981. I think that first year I started, I farmed maybe 150 to 200 acres. Now we’re working about 3,000. Our main crop is cotton. We also raise some soybeans and wheat and a little bit of corn. We don’t have any livestock. No livestock. Just dogs. Right now we’ve just got three. That’s a slow number for us. Buck, Buddy, and Abby. One of them is a little Jack Russell and he’s constantly bringing something up. He killed a groundhog here a while back. It was bigger than him. He brought a catfish up one day last week out of one of the ponds. So he’s a tough little dog. And the other thing I raise, I guess, is sons. I’ve got three sons. The twins are twenty-two, and my youngest is nineteen. All three are in college, and they’re all studying agriculture. In fact, the twins— they graduate in May. One is getting married in June. One is getting married in July. And then they’re going to start farming with me. Me and my wife have been married about twenty-five years. And she does just about as much in the field as I do. And I’ll tell you another little odd fact: both the boys, they’re both marrying girls who grew up on farms. That’s unusual for nowadays. There are so many less farm families. One girl just lived like two miles down the road. And the other one lived about ten miles. One of their fiancées—she helps on the farm. She drives the tractor. And my father helps out. He just turned seventy. Then I’ve got a friend of his who’s his age. He usually comes to the field about 10 a.m. and leaves about 5. I’ve got another friend who comes about 8 a.m. and leaves at noon. He drives a school bus. And my mother cooks supper and dinner and brings lunch to the field. In between, everybody helps—my nephew, too. And then my sons come in. I mean, with school it’s a little harder, but sometimes they’ll get a day off in the middle of the week and anyways, we just kind of make due with what we got. I’ve been working toward them graduating, too. That’s one of the reasons I don’t carry any full-time help anymore. My grandmother passed away this past year and one of my sons is going to live in her house and we’re going to end up buying a home for the other one a couple miles from here. I live in my house and next door there’s my father’s house, and then my grandmother’s house. We’re all in a row. And my brother lives on the other side of me, so we’re all here together. Yeah, we’ve never left. Nobody’s ever left. these pages: David McDaniel (far left) with his twin sons, Jonathan and Jeffrey, his father, Gerald, his nephew, Payson, and his youngest son, Joseph, cotton, Brighton, Tennessee.
Imogene Yarborough My husband Edward had a saying: “God made this country to hold the world together.” A lot of our land is in the wetlands—full of swamps. But there is nothing better than when the water goes down after being high on the river. The native grasses come back full of minerals and salt. It’ll make a cow get slick and fat quick. There are only three families left in this county that make a living with cattle, and we’re one of them. Our ranch is fifth generation on my husband’s side. My mother’s people were cattle ranchers on the west side of Florida—we moved here to Geneva when I was twelve. That’s when I met Edward. He had just finished high school. I wasn’t even interested in boys yet, so he had to wait on me to grow up. But he was patient. We were married in December 1954, the year I graduated. We had two sons and two daughters. The boys did not go off to college—and I pushed, believe me, but I did not win. They stayed, that’s what they wanted to do. When Edward died in 2000, it was very, very unexpected. He was only sixty-nine. And it was difficult. We had to pay a very high death tax because of how valuable the land has become. I tell you, it is the most unfair tax that there is. We paid death taxes when grandpa died, when Ed’s uncle died, when Ed died—and we’re going to pay them again when I die. All on the same property. It makes it very hard for families to keep going. Right now, if you are in the cow business, you either married it or inherited it—because of the price it takes to buy land and cattle, and to get set up. The value of the dollar is just not there. And the gas prices— oh, my heavens. It takes so much more to live now. You have got to do it within the family. We all work the ranch together—that’s why we can keep it this way. Some women drive tractors, some ride the horses, some don’t do anything. I had to learn to do a little bit of everything. But my main job has been to go to seminars and bring that information home to Ed and the boys. Back in ’84 and ’85, I was president of the Florida Cattlewomen. I traveled all around the West and the Southeast. I got to share thoughts with ladies from other areas and learn about what they had achieved. I was also real heavy into beef education. I helped develop ‘Ag in the Class’ here in Florida, and I went into the schools teaching kids about all the by-products of the animal—“None of the cow is wasted except the moooooo.” I am seventy-three now, and every day of it. But it is still very gratifying when the cows are loaded in the semi and you see them going off to market. You see a job well done by your children, your land. It is a good feeling to just come in and close the gate behind you. You can sit back and enjoy what God really did create. We’ve worked very hard. And the people before me, too. We are all stewards of this land. 20
preceding pages: Stan Horton with his sons, Garrett, Shay, and Brent, alfalfa, Riverston, Wyoming.
these pages: Imogene Yarborough with her sons, Bo and J.W., cattle, Geneva, Florida.
Doug Mosebar If you’ve ever seen any of the Happy Cow commercials, then you’ve gotten a glimpse of our ranch. For years now we’ve promoted ourselves as a shooting location for movies and advertisements. It’s a beautiful setting, so we’ve done quite a few, and it’s a nice income supplement when it happens. We’re about three hours from Los Angeles, and the ranch covers 1,100 acres of cropland and pasture. That might be a little bigger than average for this area, but it’s still a familyowned operation. I manage the ranch for the Gainey family and I’ve been with them for thirty-five years; I came to work here when I was a pretty young fellow straight out of Cal Poly with a degree in Ag Business Management. The owners knew I would take care of it like it was my own. And I always have. Maybe one way I’m a little different than some other farm managers is that I’m also the President of the California Farm Bureau Federation. I was elected three years ago, and we have a membership of 90,000 throughout the state. We’re a non-governmental agency that basically exists to promote the interests of agriculture and assist family farmers and ranchers to do what they do best, which is to produce. It is both a very demanding and a very rewarding position. I represent what I consider to be the salt-of-the-earth kind of people who would do anything for you. I could travel to any state in the country, and if I found a Farm Bureau member, they would warmly invite me into their home, never having met me before, just because they appreciate what I try to do for them. I try to energize our members to tell their stories to the public and to our elected officials, to speak from their handson experiences and from their hearts. The farther removed we get from our agricultural heritage in this country, the more we lose touch with how important it is to produce fruit and fiber for nourishment and clothing. We lose touch with not just how important it is, but also what it takes to get that job done. So there’s a constant education that needs to go on with our state representatives. We have so much turnover there, and
We’re approaching a tipping point in America, where
every new politician is usually even more distanced from any
unless we’re very careful we’re going to end up relying more
agriculturally based thinking than the last one. A lot of effort
on imported food than the food we’re producing on our
goes into keeping those people informed, so that they recognize
own soil. And I think that’s pretty scary. Something’s got to
when and why there’s a need to pass certain laws and develop
give. But I think often times in life things have to get worse
regulations, and also understand the impact those changes will
before they get better. So as this situation gets worse, I think
have on everybody—not just on the farmers. For me, coming
there will be enough public outcry that it will give politicians
away from a visit to a senatorial or congressional office, and
enough, I’ll say mettle, to do what needs to be done. Because
feeling like you made a difference, is just plain satisfying.
we’re all in this together. We tend to, in our culture,
preceding pages: Doug Mosebar and The Gainey Ranch Crew, livestock and general farming, Santa Ynez, California. above: Doug Mosebar.
compartmentalize ourselves and act as if one segment doesn’t affect the others, but it really does. When I asked one of my sons, “Why aren’t you interested
I don’t think it’s in the cards for me to ever have my own farm. The cost of entering into a viable farming unit that has enough acreage, and being capitalized with enough
in going into farming?” he said, “Dad, you work too hard and
machinery and operating finances—it’s just not very realistic.
you don’t get paid enough for it.” There’s a lot of hard work
There may have been a time earlier in my career when I
involved, and there’s no weekends and holidays off. It’s not
had that ambition, but I’m so involved with the work I’m
like you can ever say, “Oh this is a special day on the calendar.”
doing now, I haven’t really explored it. You know what
Too bad. That crop is ready or that livestock has to be fed. It
they say: Life’s what happens to you when you’re busy making
has a huge impact on your life. It really permeates every level.
following pages: Wayne and Veronica Brost, dairy, Wasilla, Alaska.
Chris and Eva Worden We started farming together part time while we were both still in graduate school. We’re in our late thirties now and we’ve been farming in Florida for the past eight years. We have about fifty-five acres where we grow certified organic vegetables. This land had been horse pasture when we found it, and we worked for five years to build the right physical infrastructure and also to cultivate relationships within the surrounding community. Fortunately, people here really want local organic produce and the demand for it is high. We had the knowledge and the interest, and when the right opportunity arrived, it all just came together. Today, we produce more than sixty different fruits and vegetables to sell at local farmers markets and directly to customers who sign up for our harvest share membership. Several hundred people receive a box of our assorted fresh produce every week in the harvest season. They make a commitment to support the farm, and we make a commitment to feed them. We look at the children coming to the farm from year to year and it’s amazing to watch them grow and know that our food is going into the very building of their organs and their bones—and their future. A connection to food and to the land is just so basic to humanity. We believe everybody ought to have some basic agricultural skills, or at least know where their produce comes from. So we also offer workshops at the farm to help educate the public on how to grow their own food, because we all stand to benefit as a society from becoming more self-reliant. Vegetables are ninety-five percent water, and shipping them across the world, especially in today’s environmental and energy crises, just doesn’t make sense. We believe a community-based approach to farming is the best model for the future. What we’re doing is somewhat unique in the overall picture of American agriculture, but it’s a growing segment and sometimes it’s called “Community Agriculture.” Every year we accept six college students or graduates as apprentices on the farm who come from all over the world. They learn the necessary skills to become organic community farmers. We feel extremely fortunate to be able to farm this way successfully because we know how difficult it can be to farm at all. It’s definitely enough of a challenge to be interesting, but it doesn’t feel like a struggle. We think it also can be challenging for our customers who have totally changed their lifestyle to buy organic on a regular basis. We admire the effort they’re making out of concern for their personal health and respect for the environment. Our children spend their days with us as we work on the farm, and the idea that they’ll grow up knowing about their food and where it comes from is so important. When you learn that at a young age, it stays with you all your life. That’s one of the reasons why we host field trips for school groups. Our animals are very popular with the kids. We have a small herd of dairy goats, some chickens, a few pigs and cattle—all for our home use. We talk about how in order to have milk come from a goat, the female has to first be bred and then have a baby. It’s basically teaching them the facts of life through the farm experience. We have a booth at the farmers market a few times a week, and we make a real production out of it. The arrangement of produce we offer is just abundant and delicious, and it’s such a sensorial experience that it gets people excited about eating the vegetables. It’s also a civilized and neighborly atmosphere that fosters personal interaction, where the buyer can actually talk with the farmers who grow their food. It’s very different from what you experience at the grocery store. It’s humanizing. This farm is our dream. As the dream continues to develop, it keeps getting better than we ever dreamed it could be. 28
Chris and Eva Worden with their sons, Asa and Grant, organic vegetables, Punta Gorda, Florida.
above: Connor Lee, farmerâ€™s son, Wasilla, Alaska. right: Julia Vondra, dairy, Thompsonville, Michigan.
Ernie Righetti I’m living in the same house I was born in ninety-one years ago. The original deed shows that when my grandfather bought the ranch in 1890, he paid about $20,000 for 847 acres. If you look at today’s land value, you might say he got a bargain. Switching from cattle to avocados was just a good guess on my part. In 1966 I scraped together the money to dam a nice stream we had running through the ranch. That allowed us to collect enough water to plant irrigated crops, which we thought would be more economically rewarding than the cattle business. No one was growing avocados commercially in this county at the time, but I’d planted a half dozen trees here on the ranch in 1940 and they’d done very well. So I figured they were a pretty good bet. That first year after the dam was built, we planted seven acres of trees and today we have over two hundred acres. We pioneered the avocado industry in San Luis Obispo. We made about $50,000 a year from the cattle operation back then; now we gross around a million dollars a year growing avocados. So, like I said, it turned out to be a good guess. My sons grew up on the ranch, and now they each have their own home here. We’re very fortunate they chose to dedicate their lives to this business. Of course, we’ve had our trials, like every family. I’ve had twenty surgeries in my lifetime, so that’s kind of unique. I’ve had one knee replacement, done twice; a hip replacement, done twice; both shoulders done, the rotator cuffs—one of ’em once, one of ’em twice. I had a heart bypass. I had a mastoid operation when I was only thirteen years of age. I pretty near didn’t make it through that one. I got polio at the same time. As a result, my right leg from the knee down is almost useless. I’ve dragged that foot around my whole life. But I feel pretty lucky to still be around after ninety-one years, and I hope I’ll be around a few more. I’m out there on the ranch every day. I run around on a quad, a little four-wheeler. And once in a while I can lend a hand doing one thing or another. So as long as I’m able to do that I’m satisfied. I think that’s helped my health stay as good as it has for so long. I love what I do. My other real passion has been hunting the wild sheep of the world. I’ve climbed over quite a few mountain ranges all through Asia, North America, Canada, and Mexico. I shot my first sheep in the Yukon in 1974, a beautiful stone ram. Since then I’ve hunted sheep in Iran, Mexico, the Northwest Territories, Nepal, Spain, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Siberia. I took my last hunting trip in 1990. We’ve got two rooms in the house here filled with life-size mounts of the twentytwo different species I’ve brought home. I like to go in there sometimes and just admire them. I still eat a lot of avocados. I never get tired of ’em. My wife fixes me an open-faced avocado sandwich every morning for breakfast. We also make a lot of guacamole. And quite often we’ll eat plain slices of fresh avocado. You just cut out wedges of the raw fruit, without any seasoning. It’s delicious, right off the farm.
opposite: Ernie Righetti, avocados, San Luis Obispo, California. following pages : Ernie and his wife, Susan, with their sons, Craig, Donald, and David.
above: ernie righetti, cattle, Santa Maria, California. opposite: Allen Klingman, wheat, Chappell, Nebraska.
above: Clarence Davis, general farming, Honor, Michigan. opposite: Julius and Margaret VanThuyne with their son, Jules Jr., and daughter-in-law, Amy, row crops, Longmont, Colorado.
Ladene Rutt When she was pregnant with me, my mother read the name “Ladene” in a magazine and then she and one of my aunts sat down and wrote it about as many different ways as they could think of. They thought the prettiest one was with the capital D in the middle. So that’s how I got my name. I am seventy-five. Still working the farm every day. Hey, when you’re doing what you want to do, why in the world would you want to retire? We grow wheat and sunflowers. The prices are quite good right now, but our costs are every bit as high. So, the final result is the same. What’s costing you more at the supermarket is the rising price of oil, for the transportation. I mean, we only have fifteen cents worth of wheat in a loaf of bread. This is family land. My first husband, his family moved out here in 1919. We were married for ten years when he died of a heart attack. He had diabetes and he didn’t like to stay on his diet. He figured that if I didn’t see him eat that candy bar, it didn’t count. But it did count, eventually. He always went south every year, took the combine and harvested all the way from northern Texas back on up to here. He died in Kansas. You’re never ready for something like that. I think probably the hardest thing was sleeping alone. My boys were five and seven when it happened. It was very hard on the kids. And because it was hard on them, I had to keep going. That’s what a mother does. I didn’t hire help. I just went ahead. See, I was born and raised on the farm, so there was just no consideration that I wouldn’t stay. I farmed the place by myself for five years before I remarried. I met Larry at a bar. He came over and asked me to dance because I looked so much like his first wife. Now if you don’t think that’s a pick-up line… It’s been thirty-five years since then, so I guess it worked. I had never ridden a bike before, but Larry rode, and he thought it would be a good idea if I’d learn so I could ride along with him. As time progressed, I ended up doing most of the riding. He jokes that he has to work too much to ride now, so that I can afford to. I go to meetings and conventions on my bike all summer long. I’m an introvert. I can operate as an extrovert for a limited amount of time—but I enjoy that 300 or 400 miles coming back home all by myself again. Eventually there’ll come a point where I’ll think, I’m too old for this, but it hasn’t happened yet. My mother lived to 100, so I’ve got another twenty-five years to ride. I love the freedom. The feeling of the wind in your hair and the bugs in your teeth. All told, we have six boys and sixteen grandkids and four great grand kids. They’re scattered all over, from Florida to Canada. Mostly in a straight line. They come home as often as they can on the holidays. It’s great fun when we sit around the table all together for our noon meal. I hear all kinds of stories that I never knew happened. It’s probably a good thing or I’d have killed someone. I always make orange pudding for dessert, that’s a Christmas thing. You peel the oranges and take the white membrane out and put that in the bottom of the bowl and then you put a real rich vanilla pudding on top. And then you cover it with meringue and put that in the oven. Then their favorite salad is what we call “the pink stuff.” It’s cottage cheese, Cool Whip, pineapple, and raspberry Jell-O. It’s very sweet. I’m president of our local Farm Bureau. It takes time and effort, but it’s a good thing. I really enjoy the Women in Ag meetings. I went to the first one and I haven’t missed a meeting in twenty-five years. It’s a chance for women who are really interested in farming to get together and talk. I never much visit with women here at home; I’m mostly standing with the men, talking farming. There just aren’t that many women farmers in my area. Sometimes I have to educate the men, but mostly they’re not that hard to get along with. Farming isn’t work. It’s what I do. And riding is also what I do. And there’s one other thing that I do—I knit. I take my knitting along with me to all of the meetings. If people don’t know me by name they can say, “Oh, you know, the one that always knits.” I do mostly bright colors. Sweaters and afghans. I give them away as presents to the family and friends. Since 1985, I have averaged at least twenty-five projects a year—so, about 550 sweaters and afghans. I’m very active in my local Lutheran church—it’s a country church. My kids were raised in it and some of them have stayed with that, some of them haven’t. The youngest one goes to a church where he can play his bass guitar, and that’s fine. Just as long as they go, it doesn’t make much difference to me. One thing I always say to the grandkids when they’ve done something a little off the beaten path, “Weird is good.” That’s the whole thing. Be your own self and just do the best you can at it. 42
preceding pages: LaDene Rutt and her husband, Larry, wheat and sunflowers, Chappell, Nebraska. opposite: LaDene Rutt.
Brian Veazey, cattle, Kaplan, Louisiana.
Brianâ€™s father, Glen Veazey, cattle, Kaplan, Lousiana.
Jim ROss My brother Jesse and I have been making the sorghum since 1993. I came up with the idea. It’s just one of them things that hits you in the head, and I told my wife, “I’d like to make sorghum before I die.” Jesse had the land so I talked to him, and the next thing you know we were making sorghum. Sorghum is a syrup made from the sorgo cane plant. Some people liken it to molasses. But molasses comes from sugar cane, and sorghum comes from sorgo cane. The farm we grow it on was in my mother’s family going way back to the early 1800s and it’s just been kind of handed down on her side, until my brother wound up with it. My grandparents ran it as a dairy farm, and before that their parents did too. Now my grandfather was gored to death by a bull right there on the farm, and my grandmother was left to raise nine kids. One of them died from some kind of disease and one got killed in a gunfight in 1925. And it was in front of a church house, too. I liked sorghum all my life. I’m sixty-five right now and I been eating sorghum since I been big enough to walk, I reckon. Growing up, we always had sorghum at the house. The way we ate it at home was we’d mix up some sorghum with butter on a plate, and then we’d sop it up with a homemade biscuit. You didn’t buy it from the store back then. You went to where people were cooking it. Just like people come to our farm now to buy the sorghum. And we’re glad to sell it to them. Jesse has got two kids—a boy and a girl. The boy likes sorghum and the girl couldn’t eat it if she wanted to. I’ve got two girls from my first marriage and neither of them liked sorghum. Still don’t. My wife Margaret, she has three kids, and one boy and one girl don’t like sorghum and another boy does. That’s just the way it is. Margaret didn’t care much for sorghum until I started making it. But she loves to eat it now. She cooks cakes and baked beans with sorghum. She experiments with pies and cookies and gingerbread. You can use it like sugar and it gives a good flavor to anything. You can put it on pancakes or waffles. It’s high in iron and high in potassium and it makes a nice barbeque sauce. Every year we go down to the Kentucky State Fair in our motor house and donate four days of our time to give out free samples of sorghum on a little biscuit. We try to educate people about what sorghum is and how you can use it. Whether you eat it like I do or not, sorghum’s good to cook with. It’s better than corn syrup, and it’s healthier. We’ve shipped some to just about every state in the country. If I could get enough of it and bring it to California I think I could become rich. I don’t think there’s anybody in that state who makes sorghum. I’m not saying they couldn’t—we have people in the National Sorghum Organization from thirty states and Mexico. Right now there’s a big push to make ethanol out of sorgo juice, and they are experimenting with that. We won’t expand to ethanol if it works out, though. Those people will grow 1,000 or 1,500 acres of cane. We grow ten acres. That’s a big difference. Making sorghum is very labor intensive. You’ve got to squeeze out the juice from the stalks and boil off all the water and impurities until you’re left with the syrup. It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of eight gallons of sorgo juice to make a gallon of sorghum syrup. That’s a lot of boiling. Sorgo cane’s got a seed on top of it and it looks just like corn in the field when it waves in the wind. I like to talk about sorghum. 46
Jim Ross (right) and his brother, Jesse, sorghum, Catlettsburg, Kentucky.
“A farmer never has a perfect year, but he’s always striving for one.”
left: Elmer ralph Schultz, hay and wheat, Elk Rapids, Michigan. above: Marvin Cole, grain and livestock, Moscow, Indiana.
The peterson family, grain and livestock, Northfield, Minnesota.
left: Bill Manville with his son, Neil, and son-in-law, mitch feldkamp, corn and soybeans, Winchester, Kansas. above: Billâ€™s grandson, Brett Manville.
â€œI was born on this land, and I will die on this land.â€?
Ralph Gill with his family, cattle, Jackson, Wyoming.
Roy G. Davis I am seventy-five—I have to admit it. I got my start in this business by mowing lawns before the power mower was even invented. I was born into a very poor farm family in Georgia. We moved in 1935 to keep from starving to death, and settled in the Tampa area when I was three. My father had been hit by a car and left for dead when we were still in Georgia. He survived, but he was disabled. My mother had to support us on what little she could make. She taught us very high morals and ideals and we made it through. I got my first job at a nursery in the seventh grade, and I kept it all the way through college. It taught me a lot about the business and I really enjoyed working with my hands. After I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture in Ornamental Horticulture I went straight into the service. Both of my brothers were in the Air Force, but I graduated from ROTC as Infantry. At that time, they were killing second lieutenants in Korea pretty regularly. So I convinced both ROTC commanders to seek permission for me to transfer to the Air Force. This had never been done before. Of course, I couldn’t tell these guys: Look, I don’t wanna be a dead second lieutenant. So instead I said that both of my brothers were Air Force pilots and it was the family tradition, and, How in the world did I ever wind up in the Infantry? Both of ’em really believed my story, and they got it done. I found out later it actually took an act of Congress. So I made some history, but it wasn’t intentional—I just didn’t want to end up one of those dead second lieutenants. After four and a half years in the Air Force I decided I’d had enough traveling around the world, and I flew back home to Florida. I was hired to manage the garden shop at Tampa’s new Sears store. And I then managed the garden shop at Montgomery Ward for a while. All during that time we were developing a little nursery of our own on a small city lot. Eventually, my wife and I went into business for ourselves. We have two nurseries now and about 120 acres. We grow 225 different species of plants that are used in landscaping here. I believe the right plant for the right place is the right thing to do. Whether it’s native to the area should not be the controlling factor. God didn’t invent the asphalt parking lot. Therefore he didn’t design plants that are native to asphalt parking lots. We go all over the world to find the best plants for any given environment. My wife and I met when I was stationed in Oklahoma. Leta Joyce Dotson was her name. She was a long-distance operator, and every time I’d phone one of my girlfriends, Leta would take the call. I don’t know if fate designed it, but by about the tenth time, I began to get acquainted with her and I asked her for a date. She just had such a pretty voice and a beautiful personality. When I got out of the service, she wouldn’t marry me. So I came home, and after six months she called and said she wanted to visit. She did, and she never left. At our wedding I sang “I Love You, Truly” to Leta. I’m a pretty decent singer. Back in high school, I was in a gospel quartet that performed on the radio. I also sang at funerals, dances, just about anyplace that wanted me. I still do, occasionally—but not too many of the young girls ask a seventy-five-year-old guy to sing at their wedding anymore. I never considered going professional. Maybe if the “American Idol” program had been on when I was that age, I might have given it a shot. Well, those times have gone by. Both my sons work in the business now. I’m considered retired, but I’m actually still on the farm on a pretty regular basis. Except, of course, when I’m out fishin’. 56
Roy G. Davis and farm workers, woody ornamentals and roses, Dover, Florida.
Alice Wiemers I guess you could say that when I married my husband, I married the bees. He said, “C’mon Alice, help me with the bees!” So that’s how I learned about honeybees. I was a total novice. But he’d started as a beekeeper in his teens, helping out a neighbor, and just got hooked. We make our principal income as grain and livestock farmers, but keeping honeybees has been our hobby for the past fifty-eight years. In the agricultural world, bees are actually considered as livestock. So, just like all of our animals, the bees have management needs. We see to it that they’re in the proper location, protected from predators and close to water. And we inspect the hives throughout the year to make sure that they’re healthy. I would say most of the time we have a dozen or two colonies. That’s not many compared to the beekeepers who do this as their living—they have thousands of hives. However, we have a nice little local business selling honey, and we consume a lot of honey ourselves. We sweeten our beverages with honey, and I do some baking with it. We have honey for the pancakes, and for the cornbread. No, ma’am, we never get sick of it. And each time you take the honey from the hive it has the unique flavor of the particular flower that the bees were pollinating and visiting for nectar. The most important thing the honeybee does is to pollinate the flowers so they can bear fruit. They are responsible for almost eighty percent of the produce in our markets: melons, vegetables that grow on vines, fruits and berries. Beekeepers are paid by the farmers and the growers to pollinate their crops. Just as the spring flowers emerge, they start with pollinating whatever produce is in season in the south and then they move north. In February all of the big beekeepers head to California for the pollination of the almonds. From there they disperse to the apple orchards and all the rest. But we’re not in the pollinating business. We just want the honey. We like to keep the colonies near our home so if we have an hour or two we can say, “Let’s go look at the bees, see how the bees are getting along.” We watch to see how they’re flying, how they’re bringing in pollen, and things like that. You can learn a whole lot about the condition of the bees by observing them come and go. Most people don’t know that honey has natural healing properties. It has such a heavy viscosity that germs can’t live in it, so it can be used as a topical dressing for wounds. Occasionally I also gather the pollen just for personal use. You can take a teaspoon of pollen like a food supplement. It helps your immune system. People with multiple sclerosis actually buy bees to sting them in the critical areas. They’ve found that the toxin in the bee venom helps give some relief. There are some more unusual things that come from the hives too, like royal jelly. It’s what the queen bee larvae feed on, and it’s highly nutritious. They sell that in capsules or freeze-dried, and it’s supposed to give you lots of energy. We’re about at the retirement age. When you get older and you can’t lift the honey-filled supers so easily anymore, then it’s not that great to be a beekeeper. But we sure do love it. We’ll keep doing it as long as we can. Alice Wiemers, grain, livestock, and bees, Hondo, Texas.
Raymond Harvey, general farming and antique farm equipment, Dover, Maine.
Mary Jane Strand, cows, calves, and sheep, Casper, Wyoming. following pages: Mary Jane with her son, Herman Strand.
Pat Hardy I have an alarm clock but I’m usually awake before it goes off. It’s nothing to be up at six in the morning—the three boys, they’re kind of the same way. We like to smell the air before somebody else breathes it. This is my life. Yeah, nothing else. And it’s just a great life. I grew up on this farm. There were nine of us kids in our family. And I was the black sheep. The other eight all have teaching degrees. Eight teachers. Except for Pat. If I had went on to college I probably would’ve turned around and come right back to the farm. I just took to it. My dad had a heart attack at forty-six and I was thirteen or fourteen. By sixteen, I kind of took over the farming and never left. My dad always said he loved it when all us kids showed up together, and I found out what he was talking about after I had my own. We started kind of a tradition after my oldest son got married. Every Sunday after church the three boys and their families come over for a meal. I get to just sit there and listen to them talking about whatever’s going on—I don’t have to say anything—and it makes me feel good to see how close they are and know that when I’m gone they’ll take care of each other. And those boys enjoy it as much as I do—I get a big kick out of that, too. I think it just started off with some fried chicken and it went from there. Sometimes if we’re running late in the fields, we’ll do something real easy and all get together and eat out there. It’s like a big picnic. The grandkids just love that. It’s a fun time for all of us. Well, it’s a joy—I just love being with them. 64
Pat Hardy with his sons, Brett and Brad, and grandson, Jacob, soybeans, Grant City, Missouri.
“There’s a story behind each parcel of this ground.”
above: Trey Lacina, Crawford, Texas. opposite: Trey’s grandfather, keith nelson, cattle, Crawford, Texas.
Tom Stevenson It was just one of those things, I had to get away to realize what was here, you know? Growing up, I hated working on the farm. I have two brothers, and of the three of us, I was definitely the least likely to come back. I’ve always been much more laid back, joking around a lot. I was usually the one screwing off when we were kids rather than really doing my job. It was a real strange turn of events that took place. When I got out of college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I came home and started helping Dad out a little bit. He’s been growing strawberries here for over thirty years. I worked at this local farm stand, and just by chance they happened to buy a restaurant, so they leased me the stand. I started growing an assortment of vegetables. And I thought, Well, geez, this isn’t too bad. Now, as things have progressed, I’ve gotten into greenhouse tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, zucchini, and some small fruits, too. So we’re still in “expansion mode.” Being so young in this business can be a little weird. I’m
because I didn’t really know what I was doing and we would
under thirty and I go to all these meetings and I’ll be the only
butt heads sometimes. But we managed to work through
one there who’s near my age. You end up becoming fairly
it. I appreciate the farm in a way I never did before. Things
tight with the older growers, and they can teach you a lot. But
like doing chores, I don’t even call them chores now, it’s just
it gets a little frustrating not to have anybody around who’s
the routine. And I’ll tell you, it’s not something you can be
your peer. There is one young guy I’ve gotten to know and
halfway into. You’re either all there or you’re not there at all.
I’ll call him up sometimes—it’s just nice to talk to someone
A lot of people get stuck thinking of this as work. You just
else who’s working their ass off.
can’t think of it that way—it’s not work, it’s your life.
It’s definitely harder to socialize up here. Wayne is a
I’m the fifth generation to farm this land and ever since I
small town—there’s only 1,300 permanent residents. And
came back, it’s been kind of a dream of mine to own my own
the scary thing is, young people don’t stick around. Shoot,
farm stand. We’re in the process of building it right now, and
I hang out with my parents more than anyone else. I know
it’s a really cool little building. The new stand will be called
my relationship is definitely better with my dad now than it
“Stevenson” and that’s real exciting. After that, I’m not sure
was when I was a kid. The first year back was kind of rough,
what’s coming next—the sky’s the limit, you know?
opposite: Tom Stevenson, vegetables, Wayne, Maine. above: Tom’s father, Ford Stevenson, strawberries, Wayne, Maine. following pages: The Schmitt Family and farm workers, vegetables and sunflowers, Riverhead, New York.
Rodney Anderson My family nickname is Pip. That’s short for pipsqueak. I’m the youngest of five, and there’s only eight years between me and the oldest. We all grew up working on my parents’ farm, but I’m the only one still doing it full time. We go under the term “fresh vegetables” and we have a roadside farm stand as well as a wholesale business. We’ve always been a very close-knit family. Not only were we in the same house when we were kids, many days we were in the same truck, in the same field. I think being raised on a farm builds character and it builds drive. I played football in high school and Saturdays were game days. Well, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put in a couple hours of work in the morning before the game. And a lot of my friends were like, “What, are you nuts?” But, no, it’s who I am. With any family business like ours, when you’re living and working together, of course it can be difficult sometimes. A lot of it is the fact that the true workday never ends. I finish up on the farm at six o’clock, but an issue that came up that morning is still sitting across from me that night at the dinner table—telling me about it. So there’s never any separation. Some people say that agriculture is a “dying craft.” It isn’t dying—it’s just changing. But it has to be given that opportunity to grow and adjust to what’s going on around it. For example, people come out here because they say they want to live in the country. But they don’t want to see a tractor, or hear engine noise, or deal with dust—well that’s what the country is. It’s still an agricultural community at its base. People have to keep in mind that agriculture still has to be profitable to persist. If we let it get it to the point where the farmer can’t make a living anymore, he’ll have no choice but to sell his land, and the person buying it is going to be someone who wants to build on it. And pretty soon, that isn’t the country anymore. It’s a global economy today—with the Internet and new technology, and it’s affected how business is done. Like a lot of products have longer shelf lives now, so they can be shipped longer distances. That means more price competition, which is tough for a small farm like ours. So we gear ourselves more toward the local market, where people tend to appreciate having fresh produce straight from the farm and they’re willing to pay for that. It can be challenging, but the trick is to educate people about the difference between what we sell and what they might find in the supermarket. Quite honestly, farming is not a “get rich” job. It is long hours, it is a lot of work, it is a lot of commitment. Just about anybody you find in the business does it because they love to do it. But it’s got its perks: the commute is the backyard—you can make it to work in under a minute, you know, if the dog doesn’t tackle you on the way out the door. There’s a lot of things I enjoy besides farming. I travel and like to cook—I just don’t get an opportunity to do it so much. I don’t have my own kitchen for starters—unless you count the barbeque grill in the garage. I actually like to watch the Food Network and I’ve taken some cooking classes at the local college, too. I wanted to learn how to make babka and I did pretty good with that. Cherry-cheese is my favorite. I tried to take the sushi class this year but it filled up fast—I took Crème Brulée and Frozen Desserts instead. I’m not sure what the future will bring. Where things will go. I don’t know if I will stay and take over the farm eventually. There are a lot of factors involved. So it is with any family business. But I really love what I do. 72
Rodney Anderson with his mother, Faye, vegetables, Riverhead, New York.
“You have to take what the ground gives you, and that’s all you can take.”
opposite: Robert Thom, cabbage, Palmer, Alaska. above: Dave and Rose Ruhlig, produce and bedding plants, Carleton, Michigan.
Sarah Bean When we started out farming, we had $200 in credit card debt. No inheritance. No savings. It was one big juggling act. Neither one of us came from farm families. River’s from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota; I’m from San Francisco. I first came to Alaska when I was nineteen, looking for an adventure. River had already been living here for five years. Alaska definitely had an allure. There’s a lot of opportunity and it’s different enough socially and personally from the rest of the United States. Things really lined up in our favor when we were looking for land to farm. We just happened to see a little “For Sale” sign nailed to a tree by the road, so we called the number, and luckily the owner of the property was willing to finance it. Within six months we’d built our house on credit cards—about $16,000—and twenty years later, it’s still not finished! We started the CSA right away. That stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a style of selling produce whereby the customer actually pays for the whole season ahead of time, and then we grow produce that we deliver once a week. So there’s a real relationship, a bond between the eater and the grower. We had just eight customers our first year—and right now we’ve capped it at 150. This is Zone Two, which is colder than anywhere else in the country. So the growing season is really short—May to October. But we have the advantage of lots of daylight. We’re heading toward the summer solstice right now, so it’s light out when I go to sleep, and it’s light out when I open my eyes in the morning. The plants grow more hours of the day than they would in, say, California, and we can produce crops much quicker. It’s all organic, what we grow. I don’t know how to do it any other way. But it has been a long road. Back in the beginning, people thought organic was just dirty—it had blemishes, it wasn’t supersized. Fortunately, now it’s in demand. We made the choice not to become federally certified “organic” out of principle. When the National Standards for Organic Farming were up for debate, the certification had lobbyists behind it. Those people are hired by big corporations, not by small farmers. Suddenly chain stores like Wal-Mart were selling “organic” produce. Well, our food is way higher quality, and it’s what people believe they’re getting when they read the word “organic” on a package—but it’s not organic when it’s the big companies doing it. The standards that we were adhering to before were far higher. So to be certified, you’re paying extra for something that tells the public that you’re doing less. It just doesn’t make sense. We just decided, “Okay, that’s fine. By now we have made our name in the community and everyone trusts us.” And we haven’t changed a thing. We have two sons—one’s twenty and one’s thirteen, and they were both homeschooled. We’ve also traveled with them a lot. I think they want the farm to persist, but I’m not sure they’ll be farmers. The younger one still thinks he wants to live here and the older one has just seen so much of the world, I don’t know what he’ll end up doing. And we’re the ones who’ve encouraged and facilitated that. We’re way up here in this little corner of world and the last thing we wanted to do was isolate them and keep them sheltered. Alaska is the land of extremes, just like they say. It can stay below zero degrees for a couple of months, if not longer. But when it gets nice in the wintertime, it’s beautiful. The Northern Lights can be seen six months of the year—not every single night—you have to be looking for them. You turn off all the lights, and watch them through the windows. You can never see too many, there’s just no way. They’re absolutely awe inspiring. 76
Sarah and River BEan, organic specialty salads and vegetables, Palmer, Alaska.
opposite: Charlie Rainwater, cattle, Homer, Alaska. above: Charlieâ€™s son Chris Rainwater, cattle, Homer, Alaska. following pages: Chris with his wife, Jan Flora.
above: Bill Wood, tractor operator, Wasilla, Alaska. opposite: Greg Paris, farm mechanic, Wasilla, Alaska.
Don Bustos Native Americans have a saying: “When you make a decision about the land, you look seven generations into the future and seven generations into the past, and then you make your decision.” How would the ancestors have made it and how will it affect the next generation forward? My parents instilled that belief in me. I think that kind of instinctual sustainability is inherent to an agricultural population. It’s about having enough to eat and to grow and not abusing it because you realize that you have to use that land for future generations. We farm three and a half acres in the Espanola Valley about twenty-two miles from Santa Fe. We do seventy-two different varieties of produce, twelve months a year. In the winter we use nothing but solar energy to grow produce. We started doing that about seven years ago. Before that I had been growing bedding plants to sell and one month I got a fuel bill for $700 and I go, man, that ain’t going to work. So I started to think of other ways I might be able to heat that greenhouse and solar came to mind. We got a small grant from a USDA program called SARE—Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program—and I put it to the test. It seems to be working pretty well. Right now, the solar energy is applicable only to the greenhouses, but we’d like to get the whole farm off the grid. That would be our ultimate goal. I made the decision to become certified organic in the 1980s because I wanted to assure my customers of the credibility of the product they were getting. We can’t get better at it than we have, so now we’ve gone vegan to distinguish ourselves. We’re actually also a vegan organic learning center. I do workshops and hold forums and lectures to try to get the word out. Our farm is called Santa Cruz Farm and Greenhouses after the Santa Cruz church and the Santa Cruz de la Canada Land Grant. 44,600 acres were deeded by the king to sixteen families who settled here in the late 1590s. I still farm the same land my ancestors farmed and use many of the same rituals and traditions, mixed in with a little new technology. The whole sustainable system is more a matter of survival, I would say. We grew up on the farm and have continued the tradition. We’re not rich, but we’ve been able to raise our families and live the life that we choose. Our farm itself is a model of sustainability. For the last four years I have been fortunate enough to work for an organization called American Friends Service Committee and I’ve traveled a lot, replicating this model in four different communities in New Mexico. We’re getting quite a lot of countrywide recognition now. I sit on several other national boards, as well, and we do policy initiatives and carry them all the way to the federal level. For instance, I worked on the farm bill this year for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. I really enjoy having that kind of involvement. Mostly my daughter is running the farm at this point. And that is part of the sustainable model: it doesn’t depend on any one person. It is the way the system is built. Looking ahead, we’d like to create sustainable communities where people are living on the brown belts—where there is no water or irrigation to make farming a possibility—and growing food on the green belts to support their communities. It will just become more and more important for us to be self-sufficient and dependent on our own bioregions in the future. The land that I’m farming now was from my mother’s side, and it was passed down from women to women, but my mom didn’t have any daughters—she had four sons. I turned fifty last year. My kids are here helping me daily and we’re hoping my daughter can take over when I retire. I’ll be happy if it returns to the women and they’re back in charge again. That would be pretty neat. It’s been that way for close to 400 years and I hope it can continue for another 400 years. That’s the ultimate goal. You know, it was a real simple life. It was relaxed and it was pleasant. I look back on it and I think that I was blessed and I still am. I enjoy what I do. I’m really fortunate. It doesn’t feel like work, it’s like my calling—what I was meant to do— developing this sustainable agricultural practice and sharing that information with my neighbors and friends. 84
Don Bustos, organic vegatables, Espanola, New Mexico.
left: Sophia Hemming, cherry farmerâ€™s daughter, Traverse City, Michigan. above: Della Hughes, hay, Terry, Mississippi.
Gene Veliquette Cherries are our specialty. We grow light sweet cherries, dark sweet cherries, and pie cherries, the red tart ones. It’s just like you can’t be too sexy—you just can’t have too many cherries. We’re up in northern Michigan, about twenty miles from Trevor City, which calls itself the cherry capital of the world—in fact, the airport is called Cherry Capital Airport. They say that the density of cherry orchards in this area is the highest in the world. Ourselves, we have about 3,000 acres overlooking some of the prettiest lakes up here. That’s a lot of cherries. To give you some idea, a well-grown cherry orchard will produce five tons of cherries per acre. That’s 10,000 pounds, and each pound has 140 cherries. So you get 1.4 million cherries per acre. We’re a family farm. I have a twin, my brother Dean, and eight of our other ten siblings are in the business. We all grew up right here on our parents’ dairy. So, the apples did not fall far from the tree. My dad came back from World War II after serving in the “CBs”—that’s slang for a construction battalion in the Navy—with a “can do” attitude. That was their motto. We learned a work ethic from him that has given us a terrific advantage. We all work hard. And we’ve been innovative, as my dad was. So, I think it was our good fortune to have picked our parents the way we did. Dad always kept three acres of cherry trees on the farm, so we grew up picking cherries every summer. Because we had a reputation for being good workers and good pickers, one of our neighbors invited us to work on a crew operating the first cherry shaker in the county. That was a real defining moment, because we realized this machine was going to change the entire cherry industry. A five-man crew could now do the same work it used to take 500 to do. So while we were still in college, Dean, my older brother, and I formed a partnership and we borrowed a whole bunch of money from the bank, bought a cherry shaker, and started leasing orchards. And it grew from there. Now Dad’s passed on, but we have four generations of stockholders. Dean’s three boys all help out, and my son is involved in the business, too. In fact, he’s running for township trustee because as busy as we are, we still have to be involved in the local politics. We live in an area that is very desirable. There has been a lot of growth, but there’s a strong constituency to stop it. I tell people all the time that we can put up with frost, wind, hail, and drought—but we may not survive the agenda of the local township board! Our son is twenty-eight, and my grandchildren range from one to thirteen—I don’t want to be the one that sits back and does nothing while they take away our property rights. You know, not on my watch. Just recently, the board tried to pass an ordinance saying “scenic vistas” must remain unblocked. Well, what exactly defines a scenic vista? They don’t say. And driving by our farm, you could argue that everything is a scenic vista. They actually proposed this amendment and declared that it enhances the property rights of the people driving by our farm—that their right to see that picturesque view is more important than our right to use our own property. Well, I helped make a lot of noise to raise the public’s awareness, and when they put it to a referendum, it was defeated. But here’s my favorite part of the story: According to the Trevor City Record Eagle, our local paper, I’m the “misinformed farmer that confused the majority of the people”! I’m actually kind of proud of myself. You know, that would make a pretty good epitaph. 88
Gene and Dean Veliquette, cherries, Kewadin, Michigan.
Marc Arnusch When I went off to college, my dad tried to steer me on a different path. We were just coming out of the late eighties and early nineties, when agriculture made for a very tough living. He thought there might be better opportunities for me to work somewhere else, maybe in an associated industry. He wasn’t alone in his thinking. At the time, a number of farmers were encouraging their children to go off and pursue other careers. But when I graduated, I decided to come back to the farm. And after a year or two, with his support, I went out on my own. When Dad retired in 2003, I absorbed his operation into mine, and now I farm about 1,800 acres. So he helped me get into the industry, even though he may have had his reservations. Our small farming community—we’re just northeast of Denver—has evolved over time, but it’s still centered around family and learning by watching rather than reading out of a textbook or watching a DVD. In some ways we farm very much the same way today as my dad did thirty years ago. Mostly in terms of learning how to establish that work ethic early on and knowing what it takes to produce a quality crop. On the surface, farming hasn’t changed much since I was a kid, but in practice it now requires so much more capital. My parents used to go through tens of thousands of dollars to operate their acreage. Today we go through hundreds of thousands— if not millions—to produce on the same acreage. So certainly the financial burdens are greater today. But we’re making a good living. We’ve learned from our mistakes. And we tend to take a little bit more risk than our parents did. We have also divested ourselves into more things beyond just the farm: we run a very large, successful corn seed business, and we have a consulting firm that helps large landowners and developers with land-planning issues specific to agriculture, open space, or greener communities. Because when you’re looking at the treatment of prime farmland, it’s our belief that you should put a steward of the land in place to help assist in that decision-making process. Right now, for instance, there’s this large community that’s beginning to take shape just to the west of us where they are basically going to start building a town from scratch, and plunk down 10,000 brand new homes on 10,000 acres in a very agricultural area. And this group has come to us to ask for our assistance on how they should plan for their water use and how farming and urbanization could coexist. We’ll be helping them implement a revolutionary irrigation system that is highly energy efficient and reuses the town’s water to irrigate the farmland in proximity. They’ve dedicated 1,440 acres to agriculture, which will be actively irrigated this way, and we’ve proposed concepts to them such as community-supported farming, where people living in town can have a membership in the farm and actually assist in growing some of the crops. The balance of acreage is pasture grass, and so we’re encouraging them to build on the land that’s least productive and sustain the land of highest productivity. We believe that’s the kind of successful model that allows us not to blacktop prime agricultural farmland. My son Brett does work on the farm with me. He is also the local president of his 4-H club, so he participates in agricultural environments, and he has a garden and grows field crops. Being twelve, he certainly has a number of different interests besides farming. I’m not going to push him into this business, but I think there’s opportunity here for him if he wants it. We definitely love what we do. But it goes beyond that. It’s tradition, and in our case it’s a heritage. Farming has been on both sides of my family as far back as we can trace. It’s just something that’s bred into you. That’s why we have such an emotional attachment to the soil. And that’s why you see when a farmer retires it’s the hardest thing that he can do, because his body simply can’t go on, but his mind is still after it. A farmer never has the perfect year and that’s something that he’s always striving for. When you plant that crop in March and you harvest it in November, no sooner do you get done than you’re thinking about the next one. And it’s this connection to nature that basically drives us to do what we do. When my dad retired five years ago he actually came to work for me as my technical advisor. We say part-time, but it actually turns into full-time. Looking back at it now, I think he’s glad at how things worked out. There’s something to be said for your family following in your footsteps, and I know that makes him feel good. He was trying to do the right thing, to open up the doors of possibility for me. I understand that, but at the end of the day, the farm is really where I wanted to be. preceding pages: Robert Domann (left), row crops, Winchester, Kansas. Ed Navinskey (right), row crops, Cummings, Kansas. opposite: Marc Arnusch (left) with his father, Hans, sugar beets, wheat, and corn, Keenesburg, Colorado.
Milt and Charles Fricke, grain, Papillion, Nebraska.
â€œWe are the stewards of the land.â€? opposite: Edgar Lenhart (seated) with his sons, Darrell and Craig, and grandsons, Gerad and Tyler, cotton and row crops, Tivoli, Texas. above: Charles Schwabauer (standing, center) with his son, David (far left), lemons and avocados, Moorpark, California. Joseph Terry, Sr. (second from left) with his sons, Joseph Jr. (seated, front) and Ed (far right), strawberries and row crops, Ventura, California. following pages: Allen King (foreground) with his son, John (on tire) and farm workers, cotton and grain, Brownsville, Tennessee.
DeWayne Justice Ranching is a dangerous occupation. People always tell you to watch out for the bulls. But a cow with a calf is far more threatening. I’ve got 180 head of cattle, and I’ve got about 170 stitches from one of them. She’s a big old longhorn. She hooked me and hung me up by my arm, ripped up my side and hit the rib, shook me around a while and peeled a thin layer of hide off the length of my leg before I could get free. I’ll tell you, these ain’t pets. Yeah, it’s harder than it used to be. Hell, when I was a kid, when you got bucked off a horse, you just landed in the dirt and bounced back up. The first time I realized that I had gathered a little age, was when I hit that ground and just kind of stuck. I’m sixty-three now. I don’t anticipate ever retiring. I grew up in conditions that would make a lot of people shudder today. There were three of us kids, my parents, my uncle, and my granddad, living together in an old three-room house. It was a different world we lived in. Nobody had a lot of money, but you got the things you needed—and maybe one or two presents at Christmas. I started working for wages when I was eight; 25 cents an hour. I got paid at the end of the week, I got a place to stay, and damn good food—my mom was a helluva cook. She’d go to the grocery store every Friday—one day, that was it. I can remember sitting around the supper table on a Thursday night, you’d be looking for something else, and Daddy would stare right at you and say, If you don’t see it, you don’t need it. Neither of my parents went to college, but they were both readers. I don’t think a night went by when my mom didn’t read to us kids from the time we were little bitty. She’d bring home books from the library. This was before the age of television and there weren’t a whole lot of other things to do. I still love to read. I usually have about four books on my bedside table going at once. But with farming, you can’t get it out of a book. And you can’t get it off of a movie. You have to be there, you have to feel it. You can always judge by a man’s hands whether he makes his living off the land. There was an old gentleman who worked for me, and he never wore gloves. And when you shook hands with him it was like shaking hands with an old saddle. There’ve been times when I wished I had selected another path, but those are usually the times just after that path has branched off from the road you’re still on. And you can get stuck, mentally, at that crossroads. But you can’t go back. If you’re going to be in this business, you’ve got to be a hundred percent dedicated. You can’t ranch for a living if you don’t love it. It’s just too damn hard. 100
DeWayne Justice, citrus and livestock, Waddell, Arizona.
â€œYou either marry it or inherit it.â€?
preceding pages: (standing) James Teter, Dave Harris, and Roy Gabel; (seated) Leroy Gabel, Joe Mahan, James Stockton, and Bob Halvorson, Montana. above: Leroy Gabel, malt barley and sugar beets, Huntley, Montana. opposite: Joe Mahan and Miracle Browning, cattle, Huntley, Montana.
left: Bob Halvorson, hay, Huntley, Montana. above: James Stockton, ranching, Huntley, Montana.
â€œThe cheapest thing about a horse is the price you pay for it.â€? 108
James and Kathy Teter, horse breeding and livestock, Huntley, Montana.
Dave Harris I’ve had between fifty and a hundred cattle and five and fifty-five horses for most of my life. I’ve raised anything that’ll eat, it seems like: horses, cows, sheep; even had a goat once. My family was from the Bull Mountains and I spent most of my youth there, working on different ranches. My folks lived on the edge of town and we had a couple of horses and a milk cow once in a while. But for the most part, in the summers I spent all my youth herding cows, and that’s really all I ever wanted to do. Of course, when you don’t have much money you can’t buy your own ranch, so at twenty-one I went to work for the Billings Fire Department to support my agricultural habit. I retired a year ago, after thirty years as a firefighter, and we moved to this wonderful little place here in Crane, Montana, that’s all paid for. My cows are still back in the Bull Mountains—about 300 miles as the crow flies—but they’re coming home this fall, and I’m fencing for ’em right now. Where I grew up was not way out in the country, but it was far enough out that I had horses all my life. They were my first passion, and I was breeding them to sell for a long time. The cheapest thing about a horse is the price you pay for it. They are very labor-intensive, and it’s a tremendous amount of work for the money. So I finally had to give up my horse habit. But I had some very fine horses over the years. The last one I’ve got left right now, his name is Buster’s Last Boy. I’m supposed to be retired, I’m not supposed to be out there from daylight to dark stomping in fence posts, but it’s just how it is. This is retirement. But I do it for the peace of mind and the satisfaction and what God gives you back from the earth—the serenity, I guess, and the lack of conflict. To see your alfalfa come up each year and have a bale of your own hay, or to watch a tree grow—I don’t think there’s anything in the world as exciting as that, I really don’t. I planted my first tree when I was twelve. I found this little apple tree about a foot tall over on the edge of my folks’ place, and I dug it up, replanted it in our front yard, and it’s still got apples on it. It’s a good apple tree. Since then I’ve planted hundreds, maybe thousands of trees, one at a time. The return is not necessarily in dollars. The return is, I don’t know, somehow more spiritual. I mean, I was a firefighter for thirty years and I am very proud of that fact, you know? That’s very demanding work and there’s a giant reward for helping people and saving lives. But the peace that you get watching a calf being born, watching your trees grow…that’s something else. We’re just a spit from North Dakota, you know, here in eastern Montana. And in Williston—which is fifty miles from us—the last six months were the driest they have ever had since record-keeping began. By the grace of God I have irrigated ground, so there will be enough water for my crops. But my pastures will be less than adequate and that’s one of the reasons why right now the livestock end is down to about the minimum. You absolutely have to do what the ground dictates; you can’t over-graze. There is no farmer in this country that isn’t trying to make their place better, their ground better. The stewardship of the land—be it owned, leased, whatever—is our first concern. You have to take care of that ground. Even if it’s not yours, it’s God’s anyway. It’s going to be there when we’re gone and I think that if you can’t leave it better than when you got it, you shouldn’t have it. The rancher and the farmer have a pretty good idea, after being on their land for a hundred or more years, of what will work and what won’t. Somebody that’s gone to school in another state and learned some things from books sometimes has a good idea and sometimes needs to listen more. You know, you can have a tomato plant wherever you’re at. If you’ve got sun somewhere, you can hang it out one of your windows and grow your own tomatoes. And if you do that, you can understand what it’s like to live on a farm or ranch and see that miracle of life and the miracle God’s given us. I still have my oldest cow and her calf—that was the first cow that my wife had to help me assist. We had to pull the calf, it couldn’t come by itself. We were out in the middle of nowhere and it was a little rough. But they both lived. And so there are some that you kind of keep forever. You’re not supposed to be emotionally attached to your livestock, but you are. Our place is known as Crane Falls Ranch. My wife says it’s not a ranch, it’s a farm, because we don’t have any cows here yet. The cows make the ranch. But I say, “It will be, because my cows are coming!” We’re in the most beautiful spot in the world. God gave eastern Montana just enough rain to be perfect. He gave everyplace else in the world too much or too little. He’s got a plan for us. I don’t know what it is, but I know He’s got one. preceding pages and opposite: Dave Harris, cattle, Crane, Montana.
preceding pages: Ralph te Velde, dairy, Ontario, California. above: Cloral â€œtinyâ€? Beeler, goats, Beulah, Michigan. opposite: Max Gingg, dairy, Buckeye, Arizona.
Andrea Dockery I met Thad at a community picnic in Jeffrey City and, well, you really notice a single, good-looking cowboy standing there in a town this small. He grew up just a hundred miles from here, and his family has been ranching since the early 1900s. When I told my dad that I wanted to marry him, I said, “He doesn’t live from paycheck to paycheck, he already owns his own cattle, and he wants to ranch.” We got married in ’99, soon as Thad got his cows paid off. We live in a 1973 trailer house with our daughter Laura, about quarter mile from the house I grew up in, where my parents still live. My great-grandfather homesteaded this land along the Sweetwater River, which was passed on down to my mother. I have two brothers, but I was the one with the real passion for ranching, and they both wanted a better living. Running cows and raising beef for the country is not going to make you rich. It’s more of a way of life and a love for the land. The family property is our winter pasture, but our summer pasture is 80,000 acres of BLM land—Bureau of Land Management. It’s federally managed land and we pay to put our cattle out there. They just kinda roam freely. I’ve seen many times antelope and the cows drinking from the water tank at the same time. There are feral horses, too. They are all in harmony out there. We run Black Angus cows. We sell about sixty head a year and that’s our main source of income. Fortunately, prices have been up lately. A steer that weighs 900 pounds goes for about $900. It’s helpful, but then the price of everything else, like gas, has skyrocketed. We also face challenges with being able to continue using the federal land. Certain environmental groups use the idea of protecting endangered species to try to keep the cows from grazing the land. Like sage chickens—that’s a big one. They are gray-andwhite-speckled birds that live out in the sagebrush. There’s been a movement in parts of Wyoming to restrict livestock grazing out of concern for the sage chickens. They don’t consider that there’s coyotes and wolves that eat the baby chickens. These people look at the land and they think, well, it should be lush and green—like an irrigated, un-grazed pasture. They just want a pristine place to go and observe how beautiful it is. But it’s sagebrush land that people didn’t want when they homesteaded, and that’s why the government ended up with it. The mentality of the special interest groups is that we’re just raping the land. But if you had to make a living off of the land, wouldn’t you do your best to take care of it? Would you turn your cows out if there wasn’t any grass? That would be really dumb. My grandfather was instrumental in getting electric water wells out there for the cows. And those are beneficial to all the other wildlife, too. My grandpa, dad, husband, and I, we’ve all worked to improve the land. So it is angering, because this is our life and our livelihood, you know? Our culture and our heritage. And it’s like they don’t see that. The real scary thing is they’re suing the BLM—and they’re winning. And if that happened in our area, we have no place else to go for the summer with our cattle. We’d be put out of business. I can’t even imagine selling and moving somewhere else. So we’ll just keep doing everything we can to keep going. People are like, “How do you guys do it? You don’t make any money.” And I say, “We’re not doing it for the money. We’re doing it because we love it. We love our land and the way of life and the cattle and horses and all of it.” left and following pages: Thad and Andrea Dockery with their daughter, Laura, cattle, Jeffrey City, Wyoming.
â€œSelling a piece of my land would be 122
Casey Mott and Rebecca Colnar, cattle, Custer, Montana.
damn near like cutting my arm off.â€? Rick and Sherry Saylor, row crops, Buckeye, Arizona.
opposite: Virginia â€œLittle Bitâ€? Anderson, ranching and livestock veterinarian, Cranfills Gap, Texas. above: Jessie Ridgel, ranching, Clifton Texas.
Shirley Schollenberg Back in 1959, one of my uncles heard about free land in Alaska: you could homestead up to 160 acres and all you had to do was clear a small portion and live on the land for a short time and it was yours. He came here in June to check it out when the green grass was belly deep and he thought it was God’s gift to cattlemen. So he went back home and convinced his four sisters that they should all move their families to Alaska—of course, nobody had really researched what the winters were like. My parents were the only ones who stayed and settled on that original parcel of land in a small community known as Happy Valley. We’re pretty modern nowadays, but we certainly weren’t when we first moved up here. I was probably in eighth grade before we got a television and a telephone. We used to do all of our communication with a CB radio. And I can certainly remember when we first got running water. That was a big deal—I was probably already in high school. But in some ways, things haven’t changed that much. There were eighteen kids in my graduating class in 1974. My daughter Katie graduated four or five years ago from the same school, and there were still eighteen in her class. My family always teased me—because this is a fishing village—that I was going to marry a fisherman. And I said, No, I’m gonna marry a cowboy! Well, sure enough, I married a fisherman. He goes out on the boat around the first of June and is gone all summer. When he leaves, that’s about the time I start farming. So it’s really nice having Katie around. She’s twentythree now. She has an outside job, but she certainly spends time on the tractor and training horses with me. One of the things that she always does first, after she’s been away for a little while, is get on her horse and ride to the beach. There’s a smell in the salt water that just makes you feel like you’re home.
right: Shirley Schollenberg with her daughter, Katie, hay and horses, Ninilchik, Alaska. following pages: Dave Vaughn, cattle, Lander, Wyoming.
left: John Morgan Oâ€™Brien, cows, calves, and horses, Refugio, Texas. following pages: John with his sons, Morgan, Mick, and Dick.
above: Jim Chapel, sheep, Ballantine, Montana. opposite: Bud Fisher, horses, Worden, Montana.
Billy Doland We are down here in Grand Chenier, southeast of Lake
I probably wouldn’t have evacuated if it weren’t for
Charles, right down on the Louisiana coast. It’s one of the
my wife and son-in-law. I thought the storm was going to
prettiest places there is. But it wasn’t too pretty after Hurricane
Galveston. My brother hauled all his equipment out and
Rita hit us a couple years ago. It just about wiped everything
offered to help me haul mine. I told him I wasn’t hauling
out in this part of the country. My house ended up five miles
nothing, I was going to put it in the barn. I may need it after the
away from where it started. It just floated across the marsh. I
storm, I said. Well, there was nothing left of the barn, hardly—
had 450 head of mama cows, and only thirty-two were left. It
no equipment left either. I was being optimistic. I guessed that
seems like a bad dream sometimes, but it’s just a fact of life.
it was going to go somewhere else, and I guessed wrong. these pages: Billy Doland, cattle, Grand Chenier, Louisiana.
A lot of folks relocated up to the north. We had the National Guard roadblocks up for three or four months. You couldn’t get nothing in. You couldn’t get nothing out. It was just an uphill battle all the way. It was real disappointing to a lot of people that wanted to come back but just never could get their permits and paperwork in order. There aren’t near the number of people living here that was here before; I’d say less than half. Now I spend a lot of time sitting in my swing out here under my oak tree, enjoying the cool breeze. I do what I feel like doing. I’m content with what I’ve seen. I haven’t been a very worldly traveler, but I never seen no place as good as this. I’ll keep working the land until I draw my last breath, I guess. Everybody I see who’s stopped working, they don’t live very long. That’s what they say: You retire and you die. I had a misfortune of having some blockage in my carotid artery in ’06. I got to where I would pass out one time or another. One day I passed out over the tractor wheel and I could hear my wife hollering at my daughter. I could hear them talking but I couldn’t answer them for a long time. They wanted to take me to the doctor. I told them I wouldn’t go until the next week. I had to get my cattle moved back first. My wife told me, “You got people that can move them cattle better than you.” I said, “Maybe they can, but I want to be there.” I was hardheaded. So I was real fortunate. I was able to get a good doctor. I had a bad valve, so we had to do open-heart surgery. I got over it okay. Now, the only medicine I have to take is something for my cholesterol. I told that doctor, I said, “I’d rather go on a diet than take medicine.” He said, “At your age, you ain’t going to go on a diet.” And I guess he was right. My wife fixes a fried crab that is awful good. We haven’t had but two devastating hurricanes down here during my lifetime: Rita and Hurricane Audrey, in 1957. There was about 500 lives lost in Audrey. It flooded, but a lot of houses stayed. I was twenty-three, and old daddy Financially, it was real devastating. But we’re still here.
told me back then, he says, “Son, don’t ever own no more
I’m lucky everything I had was covered for by insurance.
cows in this country than you can afford to lose.” Well, I
And the government paid for some cattle. We bought a new
fooled around and lost more than I could afford to in Rita,
manufactured house, a double-wide. We’re comfortable here,
but that’s the way it goes. I’ve lived here all my life and we’ve
and real happy to be back. A lot of people owed for their
seen the water come over that Grand Chenier Ridge twice.
homes and stuff. Some didn’t have insurance. Some that did
I’m hoping it’ll wait another fifteen to twenty years before it
had a real hassle. They had to sue the insurance company to
happens again. By that time, it’ll be somebody else’s worry.
get their money.
I’ll be gone.
following pages: What remained of an American flag after Hurricane Rita ravaged coastal Louisiana, now hanging in Billy Doland’s barn.
John York I worked as a wildlife biologist in the Department of Agriculture for thirty-five years. But in the back of my mind there was always this sanctuary idea, a place to go for the family in case something devastating happened. So, in 1970, my wife and I found a small, run-down orchard for a good price. And for the next twenty-five years we paid monthly on almost everything— the tractors, the land, the house. So when we walked away from our federal jobs, we owned it all. We didn’t owe a soul. We wanted to produce good fruit at a low price for people who couldn’t normally afford it, and still make a little bit of money doing it. And that’s been our guiding light from the very beginning. We’re part of a program called Integrated Pest Management Program, so we don’t use pesticides. For example, we use this thing that confuses the male moth so he can’t tell what a female looks like, whether it’s a rock, a pole or a leaf. Poor fellow, he’s wandering around wondering, What the heck am I lookin’ for? The demand for our produce is just so high that we have a larger clientele than we can even begin to serve. We pick our fruit at the absolute ultimate ripeness and we are in the market within two days. We do about 14,000 pounds of apples and about 5,000 pounds of peaches. Unless, of course, the weather drops to sixteen degrees on May 1st as it did this year. There may have been one apple out of 450 trees. It’s what we call a catastrophe. But that’s just the way it goes. Every few years, we’ll lose the whole crop. That’s farming. We also grow asparagus and raspberries, and we just put in—talk about an optimist—I’m 74 years old and I just put in a hundred new peach trees and a grape vineyard. I don’t know if I’m crazy, hopeful, or just leaning against the wind. But when you lose so many crops to frost, you have to branch out and try something else. We’re using a new asparagus hybrid. It’s just outstanding. Our stalks are often as big as bananas and tender from the base to the top, and so sweet. People go crazy. My wife Josie is my partner. Without her this would not work. She went to help her mother the other day and I wrote a little thing up on the board. It says: You don’t realize how much your partner does until your partner doesn’t do it. It was kind of an eye opener to me after all these years. I met Josie on leave from the Navy. My mother wanted to set us up. Well, I had my sights set on another young lady who was what we called a “sweaty.” That’s just a gal who’s perky and, uh, laughs a lot— let’s just leave it at that. But I knew my mother would nag me until I asked this girl Josie for a date, so I did. Lord help us all, if that wasn’t the nicest smelling girl I’d ever met. And I said to myself, You have just stepped in it, friend. It ain’t gonna wipe off your boots, so you might as well just live with it. We’d spent less than two weeks together when I proposed a year later. We are married 52 years. I just lucked out. She spoiled me rotten right off the bat. And I’ll never forget how warm she was and how good she smelled. We have four kids and eleven grandkids. They’re all a helluva lot smarter than I am. I’ve tried for years to be an example, but I seldom succeed. I’m just not into the modern generation of iPods and Blackberries. My folks were here back at the turn of the century, and my dad was an absolute marvel of a human being. He raised cattle and cotton, we had a 700-acre cotton farm at one time. Daddy did about everything. He came to New Mexico and became the deputy sheriff back in the wild and wooly days of the early twenties. And he was a well driller and he prospected for gold. You know, in those times, you did whatever it took to stay alive. He was an honorable man making an honorable living, be it twenty-five cents an hour or “40 and found”—that’s a cowboy term: forty dollars in food and a place to sleep. You need to remember that one of the biggest problems in agriculture today is the shortage of young people. Who in the world can afford $450,000 for a hundred acres, plus a quarter million for the equipment, plus enough money to last a few years before seeing a profit? Yet, you could rent one acre on a long-term basis, plant raspberries, and make some good money. It all depends on what you need to live. Are you trying to build a Rockefeller fortune? Are you trying to break even? You got to set that level yourself. Nobody can do that for you. That’s the bottom line. $40,000 to $50,000 is certainly within everybody’s grasp. But some guys are out there trying to make a killing. They need to sit down with their pastor or with their wife or their dog… and say, “Look, dog, I’m in a heap of trouble here, what do I need to do?” The dog says, bark, bark, bark: sit back, reevaluate what you’re doing, set yourself a goal of what you want to make, and unless it’s in the millions, it’s probably reachable. Let me give you one more little bit of advice that you certainly don’t want or need, but I’m gonna give it to you anyway: If you don’t love what you’re doing, don’t do it. Because I have seen so many men and women spend their entire lives doing things that they don’t like. They have wasted an entire lifetime and ended up bitter and disillusioned. Do what you love to do. John and Josie York, apples and peaches, Mimbres, New Mexico.
above: Tom Ingram with his sons, Robert and John, and grandsons, Thomas and Ben, peanuts, Opelika, Alabama. opposite: Terrell Hudson, cotton, Unadilla, Georgia.
Dan Foglesong I don’t know if you call this a business or not, it’s a way of life. I don’t know if you consider it work or not, it’s just a part of you. I probably knew long before I was in high school that I was going to be a farmer. That’s what I always wanted to do. I was fascinated with it, liked the animals and the equipment. I love a challenge. And I don’t think you’ll find anything else in life that’s more challenging than trying to make a living at farming. To be successful you have to be into the technology and keep up with it. All of our records and logs, our field maps, our payroll is done on computer now. I even have handheld computers I take to the field with me. I’ve got my laptop, which I use at the barns a lot with the cattle. And I’ve got my pocket PCs. Like to weigh in the cattle—they’ve got electronic ear tags and you scan ’em when they come through the chute. And I’ve got a handheld regular GPS and one in the tractor. You might say it’s more of a gadget. I don’t really consider myself large enough to justify it, but it helps a little, and— I kinda like gadgets. I was talking to an older gentleman I know the other day about investments. He said the best investment you can make is in yourself, something that you know, something that you’re good at. That’s the best place to put your money. When I got out of high school I had 150 acres. Today I own about 1,175. I started with about seven or eight cows. Now we feed about 600 head a year of fat cattle and 120 head of mama cows. We raise about 180 acres of corn and 100 acres of soybeans. Our big cash crop is burley tobacco. We’ve only got twelve acres but we can gross $3,500 per acre. And that’s kind of conservative. We’ve done alright. The good Lord’s been good to us.
left: Dan and Sharon Foglesong with their children, Drew and Danielle, corn and cattle, Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia. following pages: Glenn Lee Chase (right) with his son, Donald, peanuts, Oglethorpe, Georgia.
Donald Ernzen with his sons, Bart, Rick, and Matt, and grandson, Caleb, dairy, Easton, Kansas.
â€œHard work never killed anybody, but it sure came close.â€?
above: J.D. Briskey, tomatoes, Five Points, Alabama. opposite: Scott Fitzwater, farm mechanic, Beatrice, Nebraska.
Brooke Ryan Turner I bought my first cow when I was eight and went from there—farming’s just in my blood. Anytime I’d get a little extra money, I’d buy another one. By the time I graduated high school, I had twelve cows and their babies. Today we run 150 head of cattle on about 1,500 acres. We also grow corn and soybeans, and we put up alfalfa hay. A lot of the hay goes to feeding the cows, and then we sell square bales to horse people. That’s our grocery money—or my job in town, you’d say. I’m a cowboy poet and singer-songwriter. I’ve been singing since I was just a little bitty tyke on the tractor. We started a cowboy church here, and once a month or so we get together and do a service. It’s got a western flair to it. I perform my music all over the country. In the spring and fall I don’t book much because we’re so busy on the farm. But in the summer and winter I do quite a few shows—sometimes two or three a week. There’s also a national cowboy poetry festival in Elko, Nevada, every year, and a big cowboy gathering in Heber City, Utah. If I can, I always take the kids. So they’ve seen a lot of America. My wife and I have three children. My daughter Nevada is sixteen, and my sons Cordell and Chance are thirteen and eleven. The youngest is kind of a motorhead. He just loves to drive things: four-wheelers, pickups, cars, you name it. And this Cordell, all he thinks about is hunting and football. He’ll be a freshman next fall, and he brought home the new training schedule. They’ve got him lifting weights every day. It’s eleven miles through town, so there’s going to be a lot of gas involved. But he wants to do it so bad that we got to help him. The boys have ridden bulls since they were ten. They all rope and my daughter runs poles and barrels. Nevada just loves the rodeo. I think she’ll do it forever. She qualified for the junior-high finals and we ended up having to haul her clear over to Gallup, New Mexico, to compete. She was twenty-eighth in the nation, out of 102. And she just got named the Iowa High School Rodeo Association Queen. She’ll probably end up getting a rodeo scholarship for college. I didn’t do rodeo growing up. I wanted to, but it’s something my daddy wouldn’t go for. Probably because of the expense— it costs a lot to drive all over the country and we didn’t have much money. I rode bulls after I got out of high school. I didn’t do it very long and I wasn’t very good at it, thank God. I did once ride a horse 744 miles from southwest Iowa to Nashville, Tennessee—back in 2002. It’s kind of a tough deal. My sister Jyl was paralyzed in an accident; she just blacked out and fell off a forklift on the farm. Her butt was only about three feet off the ground, but she just landed wrong and broke her back. It was a freak thing. I wrote her a song and put it on a CD and rode to Nashville to try to get somebody to raise money with it for spinal cord research. Nashville wasn’t very friendly to me, but when we were going through St. Louis, I got on a TV show called “Show Me St. Louis.” We also went to Washington University and met one of Christopher Reeve’s doctors. Through all that I got my sister into the hospital there. The ride took thirty-one days and we did about thirty miles a day. My dad brought his camper, and my brother drove the pickup and horse trailer. We tried to do a show every night along the way to tell people what we were doing—in a town park or somebody’s house, wherever we could gather a small crowd. The hardest part was being away from my family. And I had calluses in places I’ve never had calluses before. But I met a lot of good friends along the way and now my sister has some of the best care in the world. So it was well worth it. I try to do a fundraiser for spinal cord research every year. I also donate all the sales from my two CDs. It don’t amount to much, but every little bit helps, and hopefully it raises some awareness. I always say, If I can keep one person from parking in a handicap zone, I’ve done something. Because most people don’t have a clue how tough a person with paralysis has it. You lose so much. Your mind still works but your body just won’t. It’s terribly frustrating. Jyl’s having a heck of a time coping. She just cries and cries. With everything we’re doin’, our days are long. Last weekend we were in the field, and the earliest I got to bed was two in the morning for five days in a row. I’m always up at 6:30 to get the kids ready for school, and we have breakfast together every day. I’ll sit right there and visit with them ’til 7:30 and put them on the bus. Then I start on my day. You can’t imagine the hours we put in. I’ve got several songs and poems in my head I haven’t even had time to write down. There’s this one I’ve been singing for a couple years now and I don’t have one word of it on paper, but I’ve performed it a hundred times. I tell everybody this is “the song I haven’t written yet.” 152
Brooke Ryan Turner, cows, kids, and crops, Clarinda, Iowa.
“You better love it—’cause it sure won’t make you rich.”
above: Fred Birdsey, general farming, Interlochen, Michigan. opposite and following pages: Barbara Mazurek, livestock, Utopia, Texas.
Jules Marchesseault I was born and raised in the mountains of Montana. My father was a rancher, but I kind of always wanted to go into science. Astronomy has always fascinated me. I started out, actually, in chemical engineering. But I was drafted in the summer of 1958. I spent pretty close to two years in the military. When I came out, I started to go back to college, but then my dad had a chance to lease a ranch up in the Grasshopper, and in the meantime, you know, I met some gal. I was about twenty-five when we got married—she don’t like me to say this—but I married a teenager! I was actually going with her roommate at the time, up at the college, and she was a little gal by the name of MacDonald. And Bonnie and her, they kind of cooked it up, and the roommate said, “You know, I’m not so crazy about him.” And Bonnie said, “Well, I kind of like him,” so that’s supposedly how it happened. They kind of carved me up like a piece of pie, but I never regretted it for a minute. We got married on the 24th of June, 1961, and, well, I have to give her a lot of credit. Less than a month later, she was on a ranch that didn’t have any plumbing, cooking for twelve hay men on a wood-burning stove. It was a Monarch—a good old stove all right, but you had to keep fueling it, you know. So I call her a true pioneer woman. Looking back at it, we’ve had a lot of good times. It was not my first calling, the ranching. But it has a lot of rewards in many ways. Our children had a good raising. We like the lifestyle. I mean, sometimes you wish you were someone else when the weather’s tough, but we’ve been on this land for forty years. And every day is different. There’s always something coming along that you never expected. I turned seventy last fall, and I’m still in relatively good health—outside of my elbows, my knees, my wrists, and my shoulders. We’ve got a wonderful life together, the two of us. It’s been a struggle many times because we came from the basement up—we didn’t have any money. I told somebody once, I said, “I didn’t go through the Depression, but I can tell you one thing, we had our own little depression.” Maybe nobody else knew that, but we sure did. But we were young and we had our health and those are the two things that can get you through a lot of hard times. I told Bonnie the other day, I said, “If you knew then what you know now…” She probably wouldn’t have said yes—she’d have told me good-bye. 158
above and following pages: Jules Marchesseault, cattle, Dillon, Montana.
Paul and Joann Bencal, grapes, Ransomville, New York.
preceding pages: Allen and Margaret Klingman (left), wheat, Chappell, Nebraska. Paul and Miriam Engle (right), grain, Washington Court House, Ohio. these pages: Ivan and Daria Basargin, vegetables, Homer, Alaska.
kitchen, and a bedroom for Mom and Dad, and another little bedroom for all my brothers and sisters. And we would sleep in the living room and some would sleep on the floor—we just kind of camped out. During the wintertime, when we didn’t have anything to do, Dad would tell us, “Go out there in that field and dig a hole!” We’d ask him, “What do you want us to dig a hole for?” “Just dig a hole!” he’d say. So we’d do it and come back—“Okay, I finished digging a hole.” And he’d say, “Now go cover it up.” Just to keep us active, to keep us working. My dad bought his first land when I was about three. He had cows, horses, pigs, chickens, goats, and, you know, just about everything. He also farmed cotton, corn, and broom corn. That’s a stalklike corn that they use to make brooms. It was real delicate stuff, and if it got wet, the price would go down. So we had quite a few nights when my dad would say, “Everybody get up! The rain is coming! We got to go and get the cut broom corn out of the field and put it in the barn!” Everybody helped out on the farm, including my mom. I remember when she was out there picking cotton, I was on top of her cotton-picking sack, riding along. We got a lot of group attention, but once in a while my dad would get with each one of us, and he would talk to us and give us advice. Of course, when we were out working, it was always that constant communication. Showing us how to do it and why and just instructing us in the ways of life. He would remind us that when he got here he didn’t have very much in his pockets, and a lot of people helped him out to get started. And as he went, he acquired a little bit of money and a little bit more money. The most important thing for him was that we get our schooling. I am very appreciative of the way they raised us all. They brought us up right, and I’m glad for that.
Richard Romero (son of Catarino and Margarita Romero)
They still live at home and they’re very, very active. He
My dad was born in Mexico in 1909, and he was five when
stopped farming about twenty years ago. But he still keeps
his parents came across. My mother was born and raised here
a garden. He gets out there and tills his little garden and
in Bee County. She’s Mexican-American. He was twenty
fertilizes it and plants it and keeps it up. He keeps going
when they got married. She was sixteen. They just celebrated
all the time. And he still drives his old pickup. He had his
their seventy-seventh wedding anniversary. They’ve always
license renewed not too long ago, and he says, “As long as my
been very good to each other. As far as I know, they never
insurance covers me, I’m going to drive!” My mom never did
drive, but she rides along with him, and my dad’s losing his
My mom had eleven kids, but my brother Isaac died of
My dad is ninety-nine now, and my mom is ninety-five.
sight pretty much, so Mom kind of guides him—you know,
leukemia when he was little, so now there’s ten of us. I am
“You’re turning too close,” or, “Here comes a car, move to
the “middle man.” We’re all very close. The little old house
one side.” Everybody’s amazed at the life that they have.
we grew up in, it’s still sitting there. We had a living room, a
Everywhere you go, everybody knows mom and dad. Catarino and Margarita Romero, corn and cotton, Mineral, Texas.
“It’s been a rough life, but it’s been a sweet life.”
opposite: Clifford and Martha Hansen, cattle, Jackson, Wyoming. above and following pages: Walter Jackson, citrus, Vero Beach, Florida.
Doris Barrett Smith Everybody always calls me Mommy Doris. And everywhere I go, they know me. I was born in Marshal township in Highland’s County, Ohio, on May 21st, 1907. I’ll be 101 this year. My parents’ farm was inherited from my grandparents. They were the first homesteaders for that land, as far as I know. My grandmother died during the 1918 flu epidemic. Her house was the house that I grew up in. There was no electricity, you know. When I was a little girl, I had to study by the light of the fire behind the grate in the living room. I remember more than anything else the farm—the planting and the harvesting of the crops. My sister and I would drive a horse and buggy with water jugs around to the men in the fields. We also made butter and took it to Hillsboro to sell. Shoot, my mother was always very particular about having the butter firm when it got to its destination. She would make it in five-pound rolls, and we would put it in the boot of the buggy, and she would cover it with white cloths and large rhubarb leaves from the garden to keep the sun off of it while we drove. It was nine or ten miles. And we kind of had a lazy horse. Winters were really cold—we don’t have winters like that anymore. I had the measles one year and they thought I was over them, so my sister took me out on a sleigh ride. She upset my sled in a snowdrift, and then I got pneumonia. I became very ill, and so the doctor said I would have to have a glass of milk every so often. Well, I hated milk. I wouldn’t drink it for anything, so finally, they offered me a nickel for each glass I finished. Well, I could take that nickel and go to the store and get a whole big sack of candy—so I drank the milk. And then the doctor said I had to have Beechnut bacon. My mother would open a can of that bacon— which was already cooked—and she would hold it over the fire until it got hot, and then spoon some on my plate. Beechnut was an outstanding brand, and the doctor wanted the right amount of salt and everything in that bacon, so that’s what I got. We were all good cooks. We had a wonderful teacher. My mother didn’t go to the store and buy a loaf of bread—she baked it. And she would aim to have it come out of the oven just as we got home from school. She never cut the bread with a knife. She used her hands and pulled off chunks, and set it out with apple butter or jelly, and we ate that hot bread, and it was delicious. I met my husband in church. The first time he saw me he said to his friend, “I’m going to marry that girl.” Well, we had a love that didn’t quit. I mean, there never was any question in our thinking of a divorce or anything like that. And we were just all one happy family. We had our kids right away. At one point, when they were very small, we would be able to ask them, “How old are you?” And one would say “one,” the other’d say “two,” the next would say “three,” and the last would say “four.” That was about as many children as we could afford. The Depression was heading in. In fact we moved onto one farm to work it for someone else, and when you did that, you had to buy an interest in their crops. So we paid about $2.35 a bushel for the corn that the man had in the cribs. Then the price dropped to thity-five cents. And that about killed us. We had a tobacco crop, but we only got seven cents a pound for it. And we sold hogs for three cents a pound. So we had a very difficult time. But we still had a good living. We were very self-sustaining. We raised things you would ordinarily buy out of the grocery store today. And we even made our own maple syrup. Tapped the trees and got the sap and boiled it down. We got a good price for that. And so we managed. Outside of the work I did at home, the most important contribution I’ve made is my involvement in many agricultural organizations, especially The Associated Country Women of the World, which has almost eight million members. I have traveled to many parts of the world on behalf of that group to improve living conditions in countries like Africa. And it makes you really appreciate the things you have at home. I’m just very thankful for my long life and for my family, especially my sister who did so much to help rear all my children. She made every stitch of clothes they ever wore. We didn’t have much money, but my children always looked good. My one great-granddaughter, she’s been a red-hot politician. Dinah—I call her Dinah, that’s her name—she always worked for each election of whatever Governor Strickland was doing. And she said, “All I want to do is be able to take my grandmother to the governor’s mansion.” So when I turned 100, we went to the governor’s mansion in Columbus, all of the family. We had seventy-five of my relatives there. Now of course, some of them were related in peculiar ways. They were really Mommy Doris’ fans. We just took cake and punch and things like that. But they were fancy. And so it was a day we could all be together and get outside to just enjoy the grounds. I remember it so well. It was such a pretty day. Doris Barrett Smith, general farming, Hillsboro, Ohio.
opposite: Beulah Poindexter, greenhouse/vegetables, Anchor Point, Alaska. above and following pages: Alvin Sexten, sheep, Washington Court House, Ohio.
Chester Bradley When I was a young lad growing up in the 1950s, my mama and daddy were sharecroppers. If we sold the cotton, my daddy got three dollars and the lady who owned the place got the fourth dollar. Or, when we gathered the corn, he would get three loads of corn, and she got the fourth. We lived next door to a white family and my mom washed and ironed for all of them. Their children and me had a nice time coming up together. There wasn’t any black kids in the neighborhood. But it wasn’t prejudiced or nothing. We all swam together, played together, hunted together, picked beans together. They had cows and I would always help them vaccinate their calves. That inspired me. I said when I got to be a big boy, I wanted me a farm. I moved away and went north to Detroit when I was about twenty. I worked as a crane operator at the Ford Motor Company and as a longshoreman on the waterfront. I put in eight hours a day at each job. That’s a long day, but I enjoyed it. Then, on my way up to the Montreal Expo in 1967, I was in a car accident. I got my neck broke twice and I was paralyzed. I stayed in the hospital there for six months. After that, I moved home and I married my sweetheart. I got to where I could kind of get around, so I decided to buy me a farm. I started with forty-two and a half acres. Then one of my neighbors, he was an old man, he sold me another forty acres. He’d been toting that mortgage on his back, and now he’d finally got it paid for, and he wanted some money before he died. That’s how my farm started to grow—I kept buying land from the folks around me. I started with cattle and that’s still what I do. My wife died when our baby girl was seven years old— she’ll be nineteen this year. We already had two girls in college, one in high school, and my youngest was in the second grade. I raised them all. I always told them, “If you want nice homes and nice cars, you can’t get them working at McDonald’s and the Chicken Poultry. You get your education, can’t nobody take that away from you.” That’s what I always instilled in them. What I like about cattle farming is being my own boss. I say I had a good life. I wouldn’t trade nothing for it. What I like best about it now is being around other farmers, and talking and competing against one another. I do enjoy that, seeing who can grow the most hay to the acre. 180
Chester Bradley, cattle, Rose Hill, Mississippi.
“It’s not work, it’s a way of life.” opposite: Alfred Martin, cotton, Pelham, Texas. above: J. E. “Sonny” Lewis, Jr., livestock, Quitman, Mississippi.
J.E. “Sonny” Lewis, Jr. I learned farming the hard way. I was born in the middle of the Depression and grew up as a sharecropper. My granddaughter Chelsea is the fifth generation now to farm this place—it’s been in the family for about 120 years or so. We’re livestock only. I raise cattle and swine. And Chelsea, she has the goats. Chelsea has cerebral palsy. She lives next door with her mother and father and we all share the care of her. It makes a good life for all of us, and Chelsea loves us. My wife Jackie takes care of her personal hygiene, fixes and feeds her food. She depends on Jackie more than she does me. But mine and Chelsea’s relationship is more verbal—talking and stuff like that. We are all really more blessed by Chelsea than she is by us. She’s just a very special person. Chelsea can’t do much physically around the farm, but she owns the goats. I do most of the manual labor for her, and she calls me her manager, but she shares in all the decision making. She also has a lot of baby goats that have to be raised on the bottle and she can take care of some of that. She can hold them on her lap and feed them. She really enjoys that. That’s the highlight of her goat career. I come in from my work every afternoon at three o’clock, just after Chelsea gets home, and we have a Coke break together. She tells me about school, and I tell her about the animals. We discuss what we need to do with the goats. Recently we had one with a sore foot. She saw the goat limping out in the pasture, and she insisted that I get out there and see about that goat. Well, I did as I was told. She graduates this spring and we’re not sure what she’ll do after high school. For the last twelve years, we knew what each year was going to be, you know? I know Chelsea would love to have more independence. That’s part of being a teenager—she’s nineteen, but as limited as she is, you just can’t give her a whole lot of freedom. We have to find something that will make her as happy as school does. She’s too bright to stay at home and be cooped up in the house with old folks. We’ve talked about building a special barn for her to work with her goats. In the wintertime, we have to bring the momma goats inside. Of course, I bring them into the hog barn now, but it would be a lot better if we had an air-conditioned, ventilated barn just for the goats. If we can manage that, it would give her a chance to spend more time with them. Chelsea’s the happiest person I’ve known, and to be around her, you can’t help but be happier yourself. She just brings so much joy. 184
Sonny Lewis with his granddaughter, Chelsea Rogers, livestock, Quitman, Mississippi.
above: Cecil McMahan and Paige Efting, general farming, Davisburg, Michigan. opposite: Don Schmidt, pigs, Honor, Michigan.
Keith Sutton I’m almost a 24/7 guy, working here on the farm. My father used to be involved in the business and in ’93 he had a stroke, so more of the workload went on me. We don’t travel much. The farthest I’ve been is Hawaii. That was different. I guess I’m just not a beach person. We’re pretty much meat-and-potatoes, you know? Well, my wife must be a good cook— I’m not very skinny. We have three kids. Tiffany’s the youngest—she’s sixteen. The difference between her and the two older boys is twelve and fourteen years—we did a lot more sleeping. In her baby pictures, she’s got the longest, blackest hair and the blackest eyes. She almost looked like a china doll. In some ways, she’s more like an only child. But the older boys live close and they both pick on her. They‘ve always been very protective. Her oldest brother makes me look like a shrimp. We’re not handling the dating very well. She was fifteen-and-a-half before she was on her first date. So that was about five minutes ago really. I guess I was a typical dad. I told her to tell her boy that he’d better treat her with respect or I’d break his neck. You can ask my sons, they’ll tell you I was pretty strict. Am I overbearing? No, I’m not overbearing. There’s some things you have to be strict on and other things you’ve got to be a little lenient on. If you tried to be a hard ass all the time, they’d never listen to you. If you’ve got a good kid, you don’t need a lot of rules. But, we’re not on an “every weekend got to have a date” program. I grew up on the farm and I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. I got a BS in agriculture. just for backup privileges, you know, in case farming didn’t work out. I didn’t have to find out because, you know, it was the early seventies—we’re in a similar stage of our economics right now—where we’ve got inflated commodity prices, inflated land prices. A lot of grass was torn up back then to grow row crop, and that’s taking place again now. And then in the eighties we had eighteen and twenty percent interest rates. A lot of guys lost everything they had. I feel fortunate that I made some very good decisions, because I’m still here. I think agriculture will just continue like any other business. It will get more concentrated, fewer farmers, larger operations. In a way, it’s pretty spooky. We used to study that monopolies were illegal because they didn’t want anybody to corner the market. And it’s getting now to where we have monopolies in almost every industry. Take the gas companies, they can charge whatever they want to. Because as long as we keep buying gas, they’re going to keep pushing it up. As long as you keep buying a new car, you keep pushing it up. Our economics is just a vicious circle, you know? A lot of people don’t have a clue what goes on out here in rural America. Animal rights people—we all try to take care of our animals—but they think we absolutely don’t know what we’re doing. They want to regulate it from Hollywood. That pisses me off. The only thing I know for sure is we’ve got to keep some kind of energy policy in force, and you’ve got to keep your own food supply in force. If we don’t, we’re in deep doo-doo. We’ve got to become more self-sufficient; more self-sustaining. We’re Christians, but we don’t attend church on a regular basis. I think religion is pretty simple. You’ve just got to believe in the Man, and everybody’s got their own path that they think will get them to heaven and that’s what they have to follow. The world’s changed so much since I was growing up. I think a lot of young people now think things are just owed to them. Maybe that’s the whole United States population. They don’t have the respect for a lot of things because they didn’t have to start from nothing and build something. I’ve raised all my kids to be hard workers. My boys never did make it to college, but Tiffany will for sure. She’s thinking about studying agrobusiness. Whatever she decides to do, I want her to be happy—I think that’s what every parent wants.
Keith Sutton with his daughter, Tiffany, corn and soybeans, Jamesport, Missouri. following pages: Doug Manning, apples and sweetgrass, Empire, Michigan.
Owen Beal I’ve been lobster fishing on my own since I got out of high school in 1960, but I started fishing way before that. My dad taught me. He was a lobster fisherman and he learned from his dad. We go back five generations. I suppose it’s like any job. If you like your job it ain’t hard work. And I like the fishes. I’m from a family of ten and I am next to the oldest. There was me and six sisters before my first brother came out. My wife and I have four daughters, so it was a familiar situation. I was hoping for one boy in there, but it never happened, and a friend of mine told me, after the first couple of girls, “You don’t have to worry.” He said, “If you’ve got the girls, the boys will come.” And he was right. I don’t suppose it bothers me that I don’t have a son to take over. I do have one grandson who loves the fishes. And his father is my stern man now. My brother and I are in business together and we run two boats. One is named The Brienne Lee after my brother’s daughter. The other is The Miss Mary after my youngest daughter. A good lobster boat lasts a lifetime. The Brienne Lee, she’s been rebuilt twice after a fellow hit me six years ago and almost cut me in two. It was one of those days when the fog was real thick. He didn’t see me and I didn’t see him. I was lucky because if he’d been back a foot and a half, it would have killed me. We go out every morning about dawn and generally we’ll haul in roughly 250 traps a day. If the weather’s real bad, you don’t haul at all. I’ve caught blue lobsters, and I’ve caught yellow ones, too. I didn’t catch him, but I once saw a lobster that was half orange and half black. It looked like you’d taken a pencil and drawn a line straight down the middle of him. In the off-season I preach every Sunday at the Church of Christ, from December to the first of May. I’ve been a preacher there for about twenty years. They needed someone to preach, so I started preaching. It’s hard for me to say whether I’m any good or not. But I have been told I have a loud voice. We have a small congregation of about fifty, and everybody knows each other so it’s more like preaching to friends. My wife, my daughters, and the ten grandchildren always come to hear my Sunday sermon. My wife could eat lobster every day of the week. Myself, I’d rather have crabmeat, but I can still enjoy a lobster. I suppose boiling and dipping it in butter is one way, and there’s things a lot worse than a fresh Maine lobster roll, but I like it fried best of all. You boil the lobster and let it cool off and then fry ’em in butter and eat ’em that way. It’s real good. As a matter of fact, that’s what I had for my supper tonight. Owen Beal, lobsters, Milbridge, Maine.
Ed Froehlich I’ve been raising alligators since 1966. I created the first alligator farm ever in Florida, and sold the first alligator meat in the country. You know, there’s people that like dairy farming, there’s cattle people, horse people. I just happen to like the gators. You can’t be an alligator farmer and be successful if you don’t really love ’em—if you don’t really live it, breathe it, and eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I guess I’ve always been an outdoors guy. When I was a young fella I handled a lot of wildlife—snakes, raccoons, foxes, possums, wildcats, otters. But I always thought it would be fun to raise a few alligators.You know, it’s no big deal catching little gators; you just lean over the side of the boat and pick ’em up and put ’em in a sack. But having a place to keep them, that’s the hard part. So when I got into beef cattle, and I was ranching on a few thousand acres of good pasture, I figured I had enough space to give it a try. I dug a small pond behind my house and fenced it in and started bringing in some small gators—just a couple feet long. I raised them up till they outgrew the first pond, and then I fenced in another bigger one. I wound up digging four or five more one- and two-acre ponds as the gators increased in size and number. An alligator grows about a foot a year when they’re living outdoors. I’ve grown some up to fourteen feet. Back then it wasn’t legal to hunt, sell, or breed alligators; they were protected in this country. But I had this idea that if I just kept growing ’em, eventually I’d have so many that the Game and Fish Commission was just gonna have to let me do something with them. So for about the next ten years that’s what I did. Eventually, I was hatching 1,000 to 1,200 a year out of my breeding stock. Now, at around that time, complaints started flooding in all over the state from people who were running into alligators close to their homes—in their swimming pools, yards, and carports. So a trappers association was organized and these fellows were sent out to capture them. They were allowed to skin whatever they caught but they couldn’t use the meat. I got a call from the Game and Fish people asking if I had any gators I wanted to skin. And I said, “Yeah, I have about 200.” So they sent me the tags and I skinned ’em. But I didn’t throw the meat away. I put the tail meat in packages and froze it. Well, a fellow called me from the Marina Bay Restaurant down in Fort Lauderdale. He’d heard that I had alligators and he wanted to know if I had any meat. And I said, “I have some meat, but I can’t sell it.” After a lot of wrangling, I was finally allowed to sell the meat that I had on hand—that one time, to that one restaurant, and that was it. So the Marina Bay bought all my meat and that started a pretty popular trend. Not too long after, the sale of alligator meat became legal. One thing led to another and we were finally able to survey the state’s lakes and systems that held alligators and, with the help of the Game Commission, to spot and count the nests. We went in there with airboats and helicopters and picked up the wild eggs. We were permitted to take half of whatever we found, and that amounted to about 30,000 eggs a year. Today, we bring the eggs in, hatch ’em, and grow the animals out to processing size, which is about four feet. We package the meat and sell the hides in Europe. We learned that you could control the growth of an alligator by temperature. Normally it takes four years to grow an animal to be about four feet long. But we discovered that if we kept it at a certain temperature from the time it hatched, gave it better housing, more room, and better feed, then we could grow a gator to almost four feet in just one year. There’s no place anymore where it’s not legal to eat alligator meat. It’s a white meat. People always say it tastes like chicken— but it’s better than chicken, closer to a good grade of veal. You season it up however you want to. You can deep-fry it, and when it starts to float to the top, you know it’s ready to come out. I’ve eaten alligator meat my whole life. I’m something of a loner, I guess. I’ve been married three times and I’m not doing it again. I have girlfriends here and there, one or two that I go pretty steady with. I can do what I want to, come and go when I want to. There’s nobody asking me where I’m going or when I’m coming back. And I can watch what I want on TV. I don’t associate a lot with other people, so you might say I’m just an old hermit. 194
Ed Froehlich, alligators, Christmas, Florida.
above: Crosby Allen, livestock, Lander, Wyoming. opposite: Don Kelly, cows and calves, Quinn, South Dakota.
opposite: Tom Holcomb, cattle, Kellyville, Oklahoma. above, clockwise from top left: Harvey Fletcher, dairy, Coventry, New York. Marty Shute, rabbits, Farmville, Virginia. Jack Habetz, crawfish, Crowley, Louisiana. Durwood Baggett, tobacco, Wilmington, North Carolina.
above: Brett Moor, cattle and saddle-making, Sand Springs, Oklahoma. right: Raymond Meyer, cattle, Pleasanton, Texas. following pages: Murray Rudolph (left), cattle, Karnes City, Texas; and David Kraft, row crops, New Braunfels, Texas.
John and Tom Larson JL: Twins run in our family. On my mother’s side, her brother has two sets of twins. TL: And our great-grandfather on our dad’s side was a twin. JL: Best part of being a twin, somebody was always watching my back. TL: Our dad always says, two heads is better than one—even if one is a sheep’s head. JL: When we were in school, he would study for one test, and I would study for another test, and then we’d each just turn around and go back in the room and take the same test for the other twin. So, that way we both got good grades and we only had to study for one test instead of two. TL: Same way with girls. We wanted to know if the other got the right one. JL: We had three sets of twins in our class in high school. TL: See, we weren’t special—just acted like it. JL: There was two sets of girls. . . TL: They wasn’t as good-looking as we were. TL: For fun, when we were kids, John and I would go out with our BB guns in the middle of the night and shine flashlights in the hay barn, and shoot rats. JL: We grew up with guns in our hands. Hunting is a big thing here. TL: We’d yell out “BB gun fight!” and try to shoot each other. I got him in the eye once—that’s why he can see out of the back in the head. Sometimes we’d lay a rifle bullet on a post. We’d shoot at it with BB guns and it would implode when we hit it. One time, the casing flew back and hit John square on the forehead and left a burnt spot in the shape of the bullet. It lasted for about a week—just like a hickey. JL: We’d have milk fights, too. TL: We’d be milking and just turn the teats up and try to squirt each other in the eye. There’s nothing like milk
straight from the teat—unpasteurized, still warm. It’s
there. When we came out after dinner—no more barn!
JL: We didn’t get in any trouble. That was an old hay barn
JL: Yeah, we had a lot of fun going along.
TL: One time, our Uncle Dick was working for my
TL: Our parents were a good Christian family. You lived in
grandfather and he lived in the basement of his house. Well,
the House of God with them.
he smoked. So John and I snuck into the basement and we
JL: We had sixteen-year center pins, you know? That’s when
stole a pack of his cigarettes. We went out into the hay barn
you don’t miss a Sunday at church for sixteen years.
and sat there and smoked ’em. They called us in for dinner,
JL: In our senior year, why, we both got 1967 Mustangs. Mine
and you know little kids, we just put ’em down and left ’em
was yellow with a black top, and Tom’s was a red one. John and Tom Larson, grain and livestock, Mt. Ayr, Iowa.
TL: Well… we don’t have those 1967 Mustangs anymore.
go bad , and I crashed into the back of somebody. Now Tom,
JL: They got crashed.
he just hit a bridge and that was it.
TL: Let’s see now, John was at Maryville, and he was going
TL: It was a pretty good cement embankment bridge. The
with this girl, and her boyfriend came home from the service
car went sideways in the rain with me, and I was bringing it
and didn’t like him, and so he took a twelve-gauge shotgun
back out and it hit the bridge.
and shot it.
JL: Nowadays Tom has an ’04 Corvette, and I’ve got a ’06
JL: I wasn’t in it—he just shot the car. I had a black vinyl
roof on it. He blew that vinyl roof right off. But they paid for
TL: See, we weren’t such bad trouble.
fixing it back up. Then, eventually, I think I had a brake line
JL: Nah, no collateral damage. 205
above: Joel Weber, ranching, Valley Mills, Texas. opposite: Mark Patzke, cattle, Cameron, Texas.
Joe Carrari My wife says I was born under a grapevine, and perhaps I was even conceived under one. I was born in 1934 and raised in Alta Loma, California. (And, by the way, at my age, I don’t buy green bananas anymore!) We were very poor. I started working at age five harvesting grapes. I have planted over six thousand acres of vines in my lifetime. If there ever was a Johnny Appleseed in the wine business, it’s got to be me. My parents were both Italian and my given name is Ferruccio. But since most people couldn’t spell it, pronounce it, or write it, I took on the name Joe, which was my middle name. Some people refer to me as Joseph. But Joe’s good enough. Joe is me. I’m not pretentious. I’m easygoing and a straight shooter. By eighteen I was working full-time with my father in the vineyards. We were leasing land and growing and shipping grapes to markets all over the United States for home winemaking. I managed his vineyards until 1964. Then I took my family—my four children and my wife—and went down to Argentina. (And, by the way, do you know why we had four children? We didn’t want five!) We were going to make our fortune in Argentina. It took us about a year to lose everything we had. I came back in 1965 and went to work in Napa, California, and became the vineyard manager for Paul Masson in 1968. In ’72 I started my own business developing vineyards for other people, and that brought me to Santa Barbara County. When I started planting my vineyards here in the seventies, we planted a lot of red grapes, and then the market went sour on us. So I had it made into wine by the wineries I’d previously sold to. By 1984, I ended up with 300,000 gallons in storage. And I figured I got to do something with it even if it’s wrong! So I applied for the label called, of all things, “Dago Red.” And the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms approved it! Do you know where the word ‘dago’ comes from? That’s another name they call the Italians. It came from Columbus’s oldest son Diego, who was one of the first viceroys of the West Indies, and the natives there could not pronounce the name Diego—it came out “Dago.” Well, I was selling my Dago Red up in Boston and the Italians there got very irate about it. I’d won a gold medal at the Orange County Wine Festival with that wine, so I had the medal printed on stickers and they stuck ’em on the word Dago and it just became “Gold Medal Red.” Sold the hell out of it! When you find yourself in a corner, you find a way out or you die, one of the two. At that time I could see the wine industry had nothing but room to grow. We were consuming a little over three or four quarts per capita, while in Europe the Italians and the French were drinking twenty-nine gallons per capita. I figured: we just got to educate these people. So I stayed in the wine business. Turned out to be a good decision. I worked from birth until sixty-five, starting with nothing, and I ended up with 3,600 acres. This ranch covers six square miles. I pinch myself every morning when I get up to say, is this really true? Four hundred acres of farmland and the rest is cattle land—rolling hills with grass on it—and I lease it all out. Now I just kick back and enjoy life. These are the good ol’ days. When people say how lucky I am, I tell them, you know, the harder I worked the more luck I had. At one point in the eighties I was one and a half million dollars in debt, but I sold off a piece of property, took care of my bills, and moved on. I never did the same thing in the same spot for the same people—that’s what made it interesting. I feel very fortunate in life. You know, the American dream is still alive if you are willing to work. Joe Carrari, grapes, Los Alamos, California.
Volker Eisele I came here from Germany in the sixties to attend UC Berkeley, and that’s where I met my wife, Liesel. To be precise, we met at her mother’s house just by chance, because my roommate was dating a cousin of hers—these funny accidents that change our lives. Liesel was born in Berlin but she grew up in Berkeley. Both our children learned to speak German first, at home. My son flunked kindergarten because his vocabulary in English was “insufficient.” It’s hilarious. Until then, I’d never heard of such a thing. When the children were still very small, we had a weekend place in Napa Valley and we loved the area. We wanted to see whether we could live all the time in the country, so we tried it out for a while and we liked it. When we found this ranch in 1974, we made the move. The property had been in grapes since the 1850s, but it was in pretty bad shape. In real estate terms, you would say it was a “fixer-upper.” My mother thought I was nuts. Neither of us had any background in farming. Our families were lawyers, doctors, professors—bourgeois professionals. I grew up in a big city as a man of books and literature, of reading and speaking, nothing to do with my hands. The only things we knew about growing grapes were theoretical. But I was a quick study. Perhaps if we had known how difficult it would be, we might not have had the courage. But it’s the same thing with having children, no? The idea was to grow and sell grapes to the wineries at first. But the ultimate ambition was always to make our own wine. None of us anticipated at the time that Napa would find itself on the world map of wine so quickly. The total economic impact of our wine industry today approaches 10 billion dollars annually. It’s a staggering number. Normally, agriculture doesn’t have the economic power to lure people. Potatoes and sugar beets are not very romantic, even if they make money. But the idea of having your name on a bottle of wine, that is better than having the second Ferrari. The grape economy is something very special, and whether it’s sustainable remains to be seen. One of the biggest issues is that we have multi national corporations taking a huge financial interest here, and what they all say is, “If the farming fails, we have the real estate.” What I keep telling anyone who will listen, is that when you’re in farming, you need to devote at least one third of your energy to politics to survive. Especially here in California, with this enormous population pressure on the land. I’ve been very active in local politics for the past thirty-six years. My proudest achievement is something called Measure J, which essentially takes away the right of the County Supervisors to re-designate agricultural land to other uses without a prior vote of the people. Another important victory in ’94 was establishing a minimum lot size of 160 acres for about 75 percent of our county, to fend off development, and it’s actually not enough. The idea that we allow residential development on agricultural land is ridiculous. This is the only country in the Western world where you can just go buy yourself a wheat field and drop a house on it. In 1991, we finally began producing our first commercial wines. Today, we sell a white Bordeaux blend that is perfection with Blue Point oysters on the half shell; a Cabernet Sauvignon; and a red wine blend that is Cabernet and Merlot and Cabernet Franc. And in ’09, we’ll be releasing a luxury Cabernet, which will be $125. It’s not just a marketing trick. If I were to look you deep in the eyes, and have you taste it, you would be absolutely floored.
right: Volker and Liesel Eisele, grapes and wine, Napa Valley, California. following pages: The Jefferson Family, leafy greens, Castroville, California.
these pages: Bruce Wright (right) with his father, Bill, wheat, barley, and sunflowers, Bozeman, Montana.
Bruce Wright Did you ever see a movie called A River Runs Through It? Well, that’s the house my wife Gwen and I live in. I grew up on this farm and I work with my father now. He says he’s retired, but it’s hard to tell by looking. He’s still out there driving the combines and the tractors all the time. Our main crops are wheat and barley, but we’re always trying different things in different fields, and we rotate the crops every year. It keeps things interesting and it’s better for the soil. Because if you keep switching stuff, then pests and diseases can’t really get a foothold. We’ve also got some ground that we’re converting to organic across the road from an organic goat dairy. They need some more pasture for the goats, and since it was hay ground before, it’s an easy transition to organic for us. It’s something new to try, and if it works out well, we’ll probably do more of it. I know a lot of progressive farmers around the state, and last summer I was invited on this trip to Germany to review some environmental projects as a farmer advisor for Environmental Defense. They do incentives over there for renewable energy. The scope of what they’re working on is just tremendous. Every dairy farm has a methane digester to convert solid cow waste into methane to generate their own electricity. So they’re basically turning manure into energy. We’re now working on a project here with a new oil seed that’s like canola, called Camelina. We’ll be able to crush that oil seed here and convert the oil into bio-diesel, which we can then use to run everything on the farm. It will cost us about $7,500 to put the whole thing in place, but it will save us $20,000 a year. It’s kind of a little complex to do it, but with the prices of fuel going the way they are, we feel it’s worth it. We’re also exploring other new things: We’re building a processing facility in Belgrade to make some specialty high-protein oats into oatmeal and oat flour. We identified a developing market for people with gluten intolerance who can’t eat oats. It’s not really the oats that bother them, it’s that the oats have all gone through facilities that process wheat and barley and other things that have gluten. So we are very careful to plant them in really clean fields, and the facility that we run them through has never had gluten. We’re calling our oats Proatina. I’m pretty much an optimist, so I really enjoy the work I get to do, and I feel blessed in that way. We just passed our final health department inspection at the processing plant ten days ago, so it’s ready to go. And the oats are developing as we speak. So that’s all in place. And now we just wait, and it will grow as it grows. following pages: Glenn Taylor, ranching, Kelly, Wyoming.
above: Ricky Harrell, cattle, Hennepin, Oklahoma. opposite: Dave Vigil, apples, Nambe, New Mexico.
Jim Taber We’re real dry out here right now. Normal rain for a year
and stick up for ’em and take the bunch on. You know, if he
is about, oh, probably twelve-and-a-half inches. And we’re
has to, he can throw a good left hook, but there’s a little bit of
at a half-inch so far this year. You know, just along the river
a real sensitive soul in there.
bottom, when it’s green, it’s green, but years like this it can get pretty scary. So I’m just hoping for a rainstorm to show up.
play both roles. And just making sure they’re getting a good
My ancestors came out here in 1911. And I guess we were
education and on the right track. With my job being on the
dumb enough to stay this long! Our place is probably around
ranch, and having my parents here, Dusty and Dalton were
nine, ten thousand acres. My dad still ranches with me. He’ll
never in daycare. They have always been with my folks or
be sixty-nine this June and kind of acts like he’s my age. I’m
with me. I think that’s made a lot of difference.
thirty-six and you won’t find very many guys my age doing
I’ve been on my own with them for about eight years.
this anymore. I think the average is fifty-eight for a farmer or
My wife just kind of got itchy feet. Dusty was three or four,
rancher. There’s not a lot of money in agriculture. You really
and Dalton was—well, real little. I potty trained him and all
gotta love what you do and where you live.
that good stuff. I figured it out as I went. It was a shock, but I
Our town consists of about twenty-five people. We have a
always planned to be real involved in my kids’ lives and their
post office, a little store, a café, and a grade school where my
growing up. And I’m sure I didn’t do a lot of things the way
kids go. It’s kindergarten through sixth grade. We’re down to
the book says. I guess we’ll find out how well I did in about
seven students this year. My daughter Dusty is the oldest one
in the school. Next year she’ll bus to Harlo for seventh grade,
They still see their mother every other weekend. We met
sixteen miles away. When she goes into Harlo, there will be
in high school. She was two or three years younger, and when
twenty-five kids in that class. That’s considered pretty big.
she graduated we got married right away. So, I don’t know,
In Montana, ranch kids all start riding pretty early. By
maybe for her that was part of it. She went down to Billings,
the time Dusty was four, she was riding by herself. My son
about eighty miles away. And so when we did the court and
Dalton’s ten and I’ll send him off in the tractor now for a
everything, my plan was to get the kids and I just dug in my
couple of miles and show up a few minutes later. If something
feet. And actually, with that lifestyle, it didn’t make much
ever goes wrong, he knows what to do. I worry about letting
sense for her to have them down there in the first place.
them age too fast. But we also do a lot of kid things. We’re
Divorce is a hard thing because we got two kids, and
outside, hands-on, playing around. We do a little camping, a
we’re gonna have to deal with each other for the rest of our
little hunting. I’m still a kid too.
lives. The thing I get upset about is, we’ve gone through a lot
Dusty will be twelve in June, and being a single parent,
of different things where I got to sit down with the kids, you
and especially being a male, it can be difficult. But I think
know, and explain what the next little speed bump is all about.
our bond is pretty good. I make a special effort not to make
I’m tired of having to deal with the consequences of choices
her mother hen of the house. I’m no chef, but I can cook the
that I didn’t make. That’s the hard part. But kids are pretty
basics. Me and Betty Crocker are pretty close. Dusty’s got a
resilient. I hate to admit that, because the one thing that really
little tomboy in her. Maybe I’m too old-fashioned, but seems
bothers me is I never envisioned that my kids wouldn’t sleep
like that’s not a bad thing. I have to be honest, it will be a little
in their own beds every night. And they can take it, but why
different when she starts dating. We’ll just stumble our way
should they have to? We’ve just made it work, I guess. You
through it, probably like every family does. But I got a lot of
know, there was no plan, nothing set in stone. It’s just been
trust in her, just because of what we’ve been through.
about being flexible, doing what we had to do at that time.
Dusty is more like me—a little bit hot tempered. Dalton’s
The hardest part of raising them alone is just trying to
I do get lonely sometimes, especially on a weekend when
more even, it takes him longer to get to his boil, you know?
the kids are gone in the summertime. So I work ten times
He’s got a real kind heart in him. He’s still rough and tumble,
harder to keep myself busy. I can’t say that I haven’t thought
but he kind of really looks through his heart to other people.
about dating. I would like to find a partner some day. But
Somebody’s always on the outside at school, and he’ll go over
I’m pretty goal-oriented and so darn stubborn that, I guess
for this time in my life, my main goal has been to get my
like, Oh God, we got to do another calf check. But then, it seems
kids raised as best as I can. I think about it a little bit more
like every year there’s a little bird that will nest nearby. And
now just because Dusty and Dalton are getting a little older.
he’s got a little song he sings, and you’ll hear that bird and
But my lifestyle is pretty solitary, just being so remote. I
you’ll think, yeah, we made it one more time. We’d never
could drive into Harlo to sit my butt on a bar stool, and
think of selling. For me that would be damn near like cutting
every once in a while I’ll stagger in there, but I guess you
my arm off. Especially land that my grandpa and great-
kind of just get used to it this way. I don’t talk about my
grandparents made a go of it on.
feelings and such very much. I keep a lot of things to myself.
If this drought continues into the summer, we’ll have to
To be honest, that would be one thing that I would be
make some tough choices. We’ll drag our feet down to the
looking for in a partner, somebody that can kind of draw
last possible second. It kind of comes down to weather. If you
that out of me. I guess I’d have to say my ideal woman
get the moisture, you can do a lot of different things. If you
would also be a lot more educated than I am, so that she can
don’t, you got to start selling off some cattle. This country
teach me some things.
is real funny too. If we were to get a good rain—and a good
Ranching in Montana is still more of the old lifestyle way.
rain would be like an inch and a half or two inches—and stay
You can try to manage it and play the numbers all you want
cool a little bit, it would turn right around in just a week’s
to, but in the end you gotta do the work. There are lots of
time. So, you’re always thinking in the back of your head, if
times in the real early morning where it’s cold out and you’re
you can just hang on for a few more days…
above: Jim Taber, cattle, Shawmut, Montana. following pages: Jim with his children, Dalton and Dusty.
â€œEvery year we get one year older but the workload stays the same.â€?
preceding pages: Bobby Lucas, cattle, Dubois, Wyoming. opposite: Cam Gossett, apples, Wilmington, Illinois. above: George Smith, cattle and hay, Catlettsburg, Kentucky.
above: Elmer Hanson with his son, Robert, horses and cattle, White Sulphur Springs, Montana. opposite: Louis Oliver, cattle, San Lorenzo, New Mexico.
Carl Ray Sellers I was born here in a little place called Fairy on the 15th of October, 1922. I started farming with my dad when I was fourteen. When I finished high school in 1942, I registered for the service and married my high school sweetheart, Charlene. I farmed for one year and made a good crop, so we bought us a car, a radio, and things for our house. Then Uncle Sam called me in 1944, and I had to sell my tractor and tell my new wife goodbye. I didn’t know for sure whether I’d come back or not, and she was expecting our first child. It was very hard. We wrote letters, but back then the post took much longer. So when my daughter was born, I didn’t find out until two months later. We shipped out from New York City, so I left to the sight of the Statue of Liberty. I joined the First Division, “The Big Red One,” and went through Germany and into Czechoslovakia. We were there about three weeks when the war ended. They sent us back to Germany and we trained to go to Japan, but the night before we were set to deploy, they dropped the bomb. The First Division was selected to serve at the trials in Nuremberg. I was assigned to guard Hermann Goering. He was Hitler’s number two, you know. I’d stand behind him during the trial. There were earphones, so I could listen to the testimony. I had to accompany him to and from the showers every night and to meetings with his lawyer. Sometimes, if the lawyer was late, we’d sit and talk. I didn’t approve of what he did, of course, but nothing about that ever came up, and manto-man he seemed all right. He was a very smart guy. You know, he killed himself—he had a capsule embedded in his navel before the war just in case he needed it, and he cut it out and took it. The trial lasted ten months, but I was sent home after nine. The first thing we saw on our boat coming back was the Statue of Liberty. She was a beautiful sight. So, she waved me off and she welcomed me home. Our daughter was about seventeen months old the first time I met her. Oh, boy, it was a great reunion. We’d had more time apart than we’d had together, Charlene and I. When I got home, my daughter would go behind her mother’s legs and peek out at me. Charlene would point to my picture and say, “That’s Daddy.” It took her awhile, but I finally won her over. She’s one of the sweetest girls. When we docked in New York on my way home, I bought her a little stuffed dog. She still has that dog doll in her house. Of course, I had farming on my mind, so I got back to it pretty fast. I bought a new tractor and we bought our first farm in 1947. We had a son there, Jimmy, in 1948. And then, in 1956, another daughter. About 1965, we bought our second farm, and that’s where I still live. We raised cotton, corn, oats, wheat, and maize. When our children all married off, we got us a trailer and did a bunch of traveling. We both enjoyed it. And then, in 2006, December the 7th, my wife passed away. We were married sixty-four years. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be until I lost Charlene. I played basketball, and we met when I fouled out of a game. I went up in the stands and her girlfriend introduced us. We had a date that night, and from then on, we courted. I saw right straight she was what I wanted. And, oh, she was just a sweetheart. Charlene taught me how to cook, so I do all of my cooking now. I taught myself how to bake some, since she passed, and I love to make pies and cobblers and take them to the kids when I go visit. I’ll be eighty-six years old this year and I live alone. Charlene is buried about a mile and half from here. I visit her grave almost every day. I talk to her. I sure do. It’s nice to have her so close. In 1995, I retired, decided I’d farmed long enough. So I leased my land and sold my cows. All I do now is take care of my yard and go see my kids. And they come visit pretty often. When my daughter built her new house, she had a room done for me. They all tease me about blue being my favorite color, and she made me a blue bedroom. They’re good kids. It’s beautiful country here where I live. I’ve got a pretty garden going. I have onions, potatoes, beans, squash, and tomatoes. I feel good, and I eat good. More or less, if I want to do something now, I do it. And if I don’t, I don’t. And I’ve just got a very loving family. There’s six grandkids and eleven great-grandkids so far. It’s really something to think of all that starting with just two people. We always have fun together, and I think that’s the secret to a happy life. I know it is. I’m very content. And I have three beautiful kids who are watching after me. 230
Carl Ray Selllers (left) and friend Benn Arnold Gleason, row crops, Fairy, Texas.
“When you retire, you die.”
opposite: James Ford, tomatoes, Taylorsville, Mississippi. above: Reed “Mike” Allen, ranching, Lander, Wyoming.
Patsy Fribley I met my husband on a ranch where he was a hired hand. He liked horses and I liked horses and we just hit it off. We went on a few hunting trips together before we got engaged. We’d go out all day and stop off on the way back to have dinner somewhere, and then he’d take me home. That’s the Montana version of a date. The best part about living on the ranch is the serenity, the nature—and the hard work. I’m happiest when I’m out doing stuff all the time. And I just love my animals. We have a bunch of dogs, a half-Siamese named Boots, and some chickens—it’s really worth it to get those fresh eggs. Oh man, you can beat them into scrambled eggs and they just puff way up and are so delicious. I’ve been stuck on horses forever. When I was a little girl, I wished for a pony all the time. I’d get up and look out the window every morning to see if my pony was in the yard. Finally, my mom and dad took us to a pony farm and we picked one out. We named him Rex, which means “king,” and that was the first pony I broke. I was five years old, and I’ve had horses ever since. We ranch sheep and they’re just like raising cows, except you get two sources of income: the wool and the lambs. I use two rams to breed forty ewes, but one could more than carry that many— and in one night sometimes! Yep, they’re fast. Sheep are pretty stupid, but very prolific. They’re almost like rabbits. I wish we could retire some day, but we’ll probably just have to keep working. I had breast cancer eight years ago, and being self-employed, we didn’t have any insurance. We lost our entire savings, and we can’t start to put anything away again until the bills have caught up, which is probably never going to happen. I still can’t afford health insurance. I go in for my checkups and I just hope nothing is going wrong. Our daughter Sarah was about nine years old when I got my diagnosis. That was the hardest part. I just knew I had to survive because I wasn’t done teaching my daughter things yet. I was determined that I would finish that job. She’ll be graduating high school next year and she wants to go to college in New York City. She’s very mature and I have confidence in her. It’s such a long, long way, but I know I have to let her go. You know, I faced cancer and won. I barely get scared anymore. It’s sort of like everything in comparison is just not that bad. This is one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, in my opinion. I don’t travel too much. Once in a while I go visit my mom in Iowa. It’s so amazing because usually the night before we leave, the sunset will be breathtaking. It’s like Montana’s saying: “Now, you better be coming back.” 234
Patsy Fribley, sheep, Big Timber, Montana.
“If you’re afraid of hard work, don’t come ’round here.”
opposite: William Kazery, dairy, Jackson, Mississippi. above: Bob Boyd, cattle, Silesia, Montana. following pages: Daryl Caufield, sheep, Shepherd, Montana.
Chuck Dallas I’ve been ranching since day one. The way I was raised, as soon as you were able to do something on the farm, you did it. That’s just how it was. With my family, it’s a several-generation type of deal, livestock mostly. My great-grandfolks had a place here in Montana, and back then you just farmed a little of everything. The way it is now, in modern days, you kind of more or less specialize. When I was growing up, the sheep were more my responsibility. My brother didn’t like ’em. Probably because they were smarter than he was. But I liked ’em. A lot. I just tended to go that way. And once I got out of college and was able to start my own thing, I went with the sheep. Now I have around 250 ewes. My brother stuck with the cows; they were about the same mentality. Sheep are much smarter than cows. I’m not just saying that. There’ve been studies done where they put all these animals in a maze, and the sheep get through a lot quicker than the rest of ’em. We heard about another study this year where they proved that sheep recognize up to fifty different faces. We sell lambs in the fall for meat, and we shear the ewes every year and sell the wool. My wife’s dad was a sheep shearer, so she grew up around sheep. We eat a lot of lamb ourselves. My favorite is fresh chops right on the grill. A little salt and pepper, and that’s it. All three of our daughters got into registered sheep when they were in 4-H in high school. Registered just means you keep track of their pedigrees. Every sheep has an ear tag. At breeding time we have to put one buck with several ewes and keep ’em separate so we know what their whole lineage is. They showed ’em at the fairs, and the national Targhee show. Targhees are a cross between three different white-faced breeds. They were developed in Idaho, actually. The girls won a lot of ribbons and some premium money, and because they did so good at the fairs they were accepted into the ram’s sale, so we’ve been taking bucks down there for ten years now, I suppose. It’s an auction type of thing. It brings in a wide variety of buyers, so you can sell ’em for higher prices than you could just off the farm. All of my daughters paid their own way through college with the money they made off the sheep. I know they’ll all three of ’em end up back on the farm eventually, ’cause they still have their own sheep here. Two-thirds of our total herd belongs to the girls. None of ’em are married yet, but one is engaged. And she’s already told the guy she’s got to come back for the sheep. So that’s understood. I don’t charge the girls to take care of their sheep—but I should! Raising sheep keeps you young. Sheep guys live longer than cow guys. Less stress, I think. I was told a long time ago that sheep think like people. As long as you figure that out, you’ll get along much better with ’em. They know what’s going on. 240
Chuck Dallas, sheep, Wilsall, Montana.
preceding pages: Darrell and Pam Aldrich with their children, Lane and Bethany, row crops, Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
Brandon Schafer There’ve been Schafers on this land since 1886. Back then it was more diversified farming. But for the last three generations, it’s always been beef and hogs. We focus on genetic superiority and try to make selective matings to capture the opportunity and the benefits that each animal might present in terms of their offspring. There are 40,000 pigs born here each year—that’s more than a hundred a day. But from the standpoint of the industry, we’re actually quite small. And every time a boar fathers a new litter, you have another piece of data to input to determine the accuracy and the productivity improvements that might be generated from that particular animal. Therefore, his progeny may be superior to him—so it becomes a revolving door. When one is good enough, it should create another one that’s even better, so ultimately they’re making their own boot to kick ’em out the door. On the beef side, our focus is obviously what the consumer wants when he goes to a restaurant or to the grocery store. We do a lot of ultrasound on our cows to confirm they have enough intramuscular fat, which ultimately makes for a juicy, tender, and very pleasurable eating experience. My brother Brian manages our cattle and I oversee the pigs. Both of us have degrees in animal science. It was kind of an unwritten rule that the farm did not have a place for us unless we had an education first. I’m thirty-six and that’s twenty years younger than the norm in the Ag arena. It’s a capital-intensive business, and capital at an early age is hard to come by. If my grandpa had said to my dad when he walked away from the farm, “You got to buy me out today,” that would have been impossible. The farm would have ceased to exist. We were one of the first farms in Minnesota to establish ourselves as a family corporation. Now we can transition the farm through stock rather than having to buy physical assets. My grandpa can retain ownership and still continue to draw his dividends every year, just like you would if you bought stock in Pizza Hut. My wife Monica and I met when we were about three years old. We grew up a quarter mile apart and started dating when we were sixteen. She’s a stay-at-home mom, but she also manages our boar stud. She does all our semen collection on Mondays and Thursdays. She’s got fourteen boars to accommodate 1,600 sows. I won’t say it’s her passion but it’s a very good part-time job. Our eldest daughter, Kendrah, is a real animal person. All the kids are very involved in 4H, but Kendrah especially lives to show cattle. She would skip Christmas for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kendrah takes over next. She’d be the seventh generation of our family to farm this land. That’s definitely a piece of our management discussion as we start planning for the future. Where do our children fit in? I only hope I can be as forward thinking for my kids as my father and grandfather were for me. Too many farmers farm with an emotional attachment because it’s a way of life instead of a business. But it comes down to dollars and cents. And when the emotional side can’t keep up with that, the business fails and the lifestyle disappears. I love what I do, but I will never let it control where I go tomorrow. these pages: Brandon and Monica Schafer with their children, Kenny, Max, Kendrah, and Maddie, swine and cattle, Goodhue, Minnesota.
“We keep the sun’s hours.”
Prather and Lillian Slay with their son, Phil, tomatoes, Lafayette, Alabama.
Jim Crane All of us like potatoes, but we get kinda tired of looking at ’em sometimes, that’s for sure. The original home farm was started back in 1961 by my dad and his brother with 100 acres of crops, and this year we are up to 2,500 acres. The biggest difference between now and the early sixties is the technology. Before you ever touch a wrench today on a tractor, the first thing you do is plug your notebook computer in and it tells you what’s wrong with it. We harvest more now in a day than they did in a week, and we’re employing less people to do it. We’re trying out a tractor with GPS steering where the rows are laid out using satellite and the tractor steers itself. Just this past weekend alone, we planted 100 acres of corn. Every peeling we grow on our farm goes to the folks at Frito Lay. You have to deliver quality. Every single load must meet a certain standard or you’ll get it back. We’re only five hours away from the largest potato-chip plant in the world. I get a great deal of pride when I stand there and watch the potatoes from our dirt here in central Maine go into Frito Lay bags that are bought up by families all over the East Coast. We all eat the chips, a lot of ’em. My dream was to be a fighter pilot. I got my pilot’s license when I was eighteen, and man, I was gonna fly fighter jets. But it doesn’t take long to figure out they don’t put C students in $40-million fighter planes. So that kind of changed my plans a little. I still fly today. I have an airplane of my own, an American Champion Scout, and I enjoy that. But I never did get to fly fighters. Both my sons are still in college. One of them has knocked down 4.0s every semester he’s been there. He’s Dean’s List and he’s an honor’s scholar. I think he could get a job in most any agriculture sector in the United States but he wants to come back to Exeter and be a dirt farmer. His brother does, too. In generations and decades past it was pretty common for farms to pass down from fathers to sons. It’s kind of rare today that you see that. It’s pretty neat when you get to go to work every day with your dad and your sons. Part of the reason I do this job is to provide a place for my kids to work. I take offense a lot of times when you hear about how farming today is all part of corporate America. Well, we’re a corporation, but we’re still a family farm, and probably will be forever. 248
Brothers Vernon and NEIL Crane (seated on outside) with their sons, Jim and Steve (seated on inside), potatoes, Exeter, Maine.
clockwise from top left: Clive Haswell, specialty grasses, Honor, Michigan. Elmer Baker, general farming, Kewadin, Michigan. William Chambers, general farming, Bear Lake, Michigan. Al Hyams, cucumbers, Frankfort, Michigan. opposite: Richard â€œCousin Donâ€? Hobson, maple syrup, Clifford, Michigan.
above: Rudy Rozema, potatoes, Exeter, Maine. opposite: Norman Sweider, vegetables, Lakeside, Oregon.
“You can’t fight the weather.”
preceding pages: Robin and Carol Giles, sheep, goats, and cattle, Comfort, Texas. above: Robin Giles. opposite: Bill Goodman, cherries, Kewadin, Michigan.
Cecilia Heiskell I was born and reared here in Pelham. It’s an all-black community. My grandparents were the first folks who settled here. My father’s people came on foot all the way from Tennessee. After the Emancipation Proclamation, they gave them the forty acres and a mule and they migrated to the north side of the creek. It was a thriving area back in those days. Today, we only have thirty-five people living here. But we still have three churches, and we had a beautiful school, but they burned it down when we were integrating—I don’t even like to think about it. My father was what people would call a go-getter. He farmed a few hundred acres of cotton, but all that land is under water now. The Army Corps of Engineers came in and relocated us to make room for the Navarro Mills Lake. We ended up on the west side of the lake. On the other side—where it’s all white—the Corps has built many winding streets and parks. To this day, we can’t even get one good road over here. We’ve gone to the Corps many times, and they’ve promised to come, but they never have. There’s no tension between our two communities. Country people are friendly. It’s the government that’s not doing what they’re supposed to do. And why? We pay as much in taxes as they do. My family’s always believed in education. My mother went to college, and so did I. When I graduated in 1946, I got married and started teaching school. My dad was so excited my husband had some background in agriculture, he didn’t let us rest until we came back to the farm. Our first son was born in 1947 and we had two more after that—I just kept making boys. Now one’s a dentist, one’s a chemical engineer, and one is a lawyer—he was the first black to graduate Baylor Law School. After we integrated, I mostly taught fifth grade. I guess I was blessed because it was a small town and I already knew a lot of the mothers. We were all mothers together. And I just got along with my students wonderfully. Two of my sons were in junior high then, and I made sure they understood who they were. I taught them that our skin color may be different, but our minds are all the same. My dear husband passed away in 1981 and I’m retired now. My sister lives just across the street, and another one lives in my parents’ old place up the road, and my brother’s house is next door. All our kids are gone, doing other things. My grandkids come to visit me, and they always ask for my cornbread. I’ve never seen children eat cornbread like it’s cake. They’ll take a bite and I’ll say, “Are you just going to eat cornbread?” And we all start laughing. Nobody has taken an interest in the farm yet. There is one grandchild who says he’s thinking about coming back. So we’ll just have to see. 260
preceding pages: Ed Kasben, cattle, Cedar, Michigan.
these pages: Cecilia heiskell, hay, Pelham, Texas.
above: Maurice Layton, poultry and cattle, Magee, Mississippi. opposite: Rueben Robinson, citrus, Nocatee, Florida.
Don Parker (grandson of Edna Parker) Grandmother just celebrated her 115th birthday. She’s the oldest living person in the world. We mention that to her every now and then, and she’ll say, “Oh, I couldn’t be that old.” Her whole life, she hardly ever saw a doctor. To treat a cold, she made herself home remedies. And her health today, she still doesn’t have to take any prescription medications. She’s never had a drink, never smoked, and never been overweight, but she’s always had bacon and eggs for breakfast, every day of the week. So maybe that’s the secret. She was born in 1893 and she taught school for a year when she was nineteen before she married her husband Earl in 1913 and gave up teaching to become a farm wife. They had chickens, cows, pigs, and a big garden, berry patches, and fruit trees. She really enjoyed canning the vegetables and fruits. I’m sure she loved cooking ’cause she always wanted you to stay and eat— I remember her fried chicken. It was always real greasy and delicious. Earl died young of some heart complications in his fifties and Grandmother never remarried. She’s been widowed for sixtyfive years now. She stayed on her farm till she was 100 years old. My parents finally talked her into coming to live with them after they went to visit one day and found her up on a stepladder cleaning the lights. Grandmother loves to laugh. We always leave smiling when we’ve been to visit her. She’s had a good, long, enjoyable life. If she passed away tomorrow, I don’t think there’d be anything that she felt like she didn’t get to do that she wanted to.
opposite: Edna Parker, general farming, Shelbyville, Indiana. following pages: The Vorthmann Family, grain and livestock, Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Jane Bell (mother of Aaron Bell) Aaron just couldn’t wait to get off the farm and go to college, and then he couldn’t wait to get back. It’s like that saying:The best things to give your children are roots and wings. So Aaron knew where to come home. And he brought the love of his life back with him. We had no expectations. We never said to Aaron, “When you come back to the farm…” So it was a big shock when we got a phone call saying that he and Carly were going to move home and were expecting a baby. I tried to talk them out of it. “Oh, you ought to finish school,” I said, and, “Oh, you’re so close to getting your degree.” Bob came around and just reminded me, “You never tell your child they can’t come home.” Which certainly wasn’t my intent, I just wanted to caution them about how much responsibility there is once you come back. It’s the bane and the blessing of being born in to a 235-year-old farming family. You’re handed this wonderful opportunity, but there’s this fear—what happens if I blow it on my watch? We all know with farming, it’s just very precarious; you’re hanging on by your fingernails, often with the whims of the weather. We once lost fourteen head of cattle in a single strike of lightning. That’s how delicate the balance can be. Aaron and Carly had a beautiful herd of purebred Hereford cows, just fat and healthy, and many moms and yearlings. And then on June 29th, 2005, we had a little microburst here. Picnic tables went flying and it was bolt after bolt of lightning. Aaron was in a tractor in the middle of a field, and he didn’t think he was going to get out alive. We didn’t find the cows for a day. Nobody really did a head count right away. Fourteen were killed by one bolt of lightning. Seven of them were due to calve within a month, so it was really like losing twenty-one. Because of how they were raised, you could go out and rattle a grain bucket and they would all pick their heads up and run up to the fence. So in spite of the fact they were all raised for beef, we knew each one by name. We worked from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon burying them. Just a horrendous day. Your thoughts are reeling with the stench and the fog and the heaviness of the events and the fact that two little girls are there as well, a five-year-old and a three-year-old, because they wanted to see what was going on. And Carly was Aaron Bell and Carly DelSignore with their son, Henry, organic dairy, Edmunds, Maine.
expecting their third child, and we were just in raincoats, and trying to make sense of it, which we never did. It was a horrible feeling of loss and probably a little anger that, of all the thousands of trees, why did it have to be the one the cows were under? They were supposed to be Carly and Aaron’s down payment for the organic dairy herd. A lot of people say, “Well, you had them insured, didn’t you?” But in eastern Maine, do you insure cows from lightning? Whoever heard of such an absurd thing? Of all the 200 years worth of stories about this place, it’s the first time we know of animals dying from lightning. Well, their cows are insured now. So that was one of the saddest days of Tide Mill history. And it’s a reminder that you don’t know what’s coming the next day and you don’t know what nature’s going to bring. But you had to be thankful that none of the houses were hit, and no humans died. You had to be thankful for that. Some weeks later, we were awaiting the birth of one of the cows that survived. I said to Hailey, who was five then, “Come on, let’s go check on them.” We were walking out the pasture gate and Hailey said, “Well, MomMom”—that’s what she calls me—“my cow was going to be the first one to calve. But she died.” “Yes, she did, Hailey.” And you’re thinking of all these things, you know, the teachable moments and what you can say that makes sense—but not say too much because you know that, unless she asked the next question, you’ve already said enough. Of course I couldn’t just shut up, so in order to keep from crying, I said, “Well, you know, she’s gone on to the pasture in the sky.” And she stopped walking, put her hands on her hips, looked right up at me, and said, “No, she didn’t, MomMom, she didn’t go anywhere. She’s up in the big hole that BobBob made on the hill.” Well, then I really was losing it, and I just said, ”Yup, you’re right, Hailey.” These little realists—“Don’t talk to me about gone on to greener pastures. She’s dead up there in a hole, MomMom.” So they’ve seen birth and death and love and struggles and yes, you just want to protect them from the bad things in the world, even the bad things that can happen on a farm. Lightning strikes and droughts and armyworms and the rhythms of nature walk over you sometimes. Nothing’s really safe, as we’ve all experienced with wars and terrorist attacks. But instead of protecting them and insulating and isolating, I guess our goal is to give them the skills to be able to thrive and adapt and handle whatever comes their way. We’re certainly doing our best. 270
Three generations of The Bell Family—Jane and Bob Bell are in the back at right holding their grandson, Henry.
Afterword Pau l
This book began almost four years ago in a small coffee
By the end of the summer I had taken portraits of a couple
shop in northern Michigan, near my family’s cabin in Glen
dozen farmers in and around Glen Arbor. I had no idea at
Arbor, my longtime refuge from the intensity and demands
the time that they would represent the first of 300 farmers I
of my life as a commercial photographer and city-dweller.
would photograph in thirty-five states, leading me to travel
I’d been shooting professionally for fifteen years almost
over 100,000 miles during the next three years. If someone
non-stop and for the first time I was struggling to find the
had told me then that that’s what the project would entail, I’m
creative energy and sense of purpose that had faithfully
sure I wouldn’t have done it. But those pictures had ignited
fueled me throughout my career. I hoped that a lazy summer
something in me, and I just started putting one foot in front
of sunsets on the lake with Suzanne and the kids would be
of the other.
a rural remedy. It’s just a different way of life up there, and
I knew right away that I was stepping into a whole new way
I liked spending time at the local places, like the farmers
of working. After years of shooting with large crews and tons
market or the coffee shop—where I’d always find a group
of expensive equipment, I traveled as lightly as possible from
of guys from the area, farmers mostly, talking about nothing
state to state, farm to farm, most often without an assistant or
and everything, you know, solving the world’s problems
even a tripod. The camera had always been my god—the key
over a cup of coffee. I was up there one morning with my
to unlocking a successful photograph. Now it became just a
friend Doug and I remember looking across the table at this
tool, a means to simply document what was there, and in many
line of weathered, salt-of-the-earth faces, and I just knew,
ways the least important ingredient in the image-making. I’d
in that moment, that I wanted to photograph those faces. I
arrive at each farm and spend as much time as possible getting
have no idea why it hadn’t struck me the hundreds of times
to know the farmer and his family—listening to their stories,
I’d sat there before. But I asked one of them if I could come
walking their land, sitting down together for a meal—before
by the farm and take his picture later that day. And I can
even taking my camera out of the car. “Pre-production” was
still remember looking through the camera and thinking,
no longer about setting up lights and styling the subject; it was
This is the most pure, honest photograph I’ve ever done.
about studying the constellation of wrinkles on each farmer’s face, the way his eyes lit up every time his granddaughter’s name was mentioned, and how his jaw tightened when he recalled the loss of a calf that had to be pulled the night before. By the time I picked up the camera, in many ways the picture had already been taken. I embarked on this project as a photographer in search of artistic evolution, and I found it. But the exquisite and unexpected discovery was of a kinder and gentler world and way of life than any I had known before. The agricultural communities of America are made up of modest, hardworking men and women who prize their families, their land, and their heritage above all else. With every farmer and rancher I met,
Paul Mobley photographing alligator farmer, Ed Froehlich, Christmas, Florida.
I was newly astonished, humbled, and deeply inspired by the
So many times when I was traveling, I wished my wife or a
generosity and warmth shown to me. I often felt that I had
friend were with me to experience these moments of grace. But
stepped into a fantasy, where freshly baked pies sat cooling
I needed to do this alone. There’s a truth in these photographs
on kitchen sills, backdoors were never locked, and neighbors
that I believe owes itself to the directness and the simplicity of
relied on each other for as little as a cup of flour and as much
each encounter. It was the real human connections and quiet
as a hand with their summer branding. There was something
initiations of friendship that unlocked the potential for what
about the way every time I’d pull up to a farm and six great
these photographs could be, and opened me up in the process.
dogs would bound out to greet me and someone would call out
Entering into this rural culture, this family of farmers, had
from the house, “C’mon in, the door’s open.” The doors were
revived my own sense of spirit and optimism. Like so many
of us, I doubted the existence of this kind of goodness in the
Time and again I was invited to stay for supper (it’s never
world. You look around at the ways we treat—or mistreat—
dinner, you know) or offered to have my gas tank filled up or
one another, and it’s gotten so out of hand. You want something
given a bed for the night if I needed one. In New Mexico I
you can believe in. You ask yourself, Where have all the good
remember getting ready to leave a farmhouse pretty late in the
people gone? Well, I can tell you. Drive up to any farmhouse in
day, and as I made my good-byes to the farmer and his wife,
this country. You’ll find them. They’re there.
she said, “You know, you’re welcome to stay the night. We
And they’re here. In the pages of this book, you meet
made up a room for you just in case.” And as I turned to thank
hundreds of America’s farmers and ranchers and see them just
her, I saw through an open doorway just beyond where she
the way I did, and just the way they are. I’m no longer standing
stood—a single bed already turned down, and on a little table
in a field of wheat or lying on my belly in a cabbage patch every
next to it was a plate of three cookies and a handwritten note
day, but as I write this from my studio, I am surrounded by
card that read, “Paul.” And I just thought, How can I ever tell
images of many of my farmer friends. And each one has left their
someone about this? They’ll never believe it; they’ll think I made it
lasting mark on me. There’s a warm meal and a bed waiting for
up. But here’s the barely exaggerated truth: I have a story like
me anytime I need it in almost every state in this country. I wish
that for every single farmer in this book.
everyone could know exactly what that feels like.
On the road near Beatrice, Nebraska.
Index of Farmers and Their Families Interviews in bold Aldrich, Bethany, 242–43 Aldrich, Darrell, 242–43 Aldrich, Lane, 242–43 Aldrich, Pam, 242–43 Allen, Crosby, 196 Allen, Reed “Mike”, 233 Anderson, Faye, 72–73 Anderson, Rodney, 72–73, 72 Anderson, Virginia “Little Bit”, 124 Arnusch, Hans, 92 Arnusch, Marc, 92, 93 Baggett, Durwood, 199 Baker, Elmer, 250 Basargin, Daria, 167 Basargin, Ivan, 166, 167 Beal, Owen, 192–93, 193 Bean, Sarah, 76–77, 76 Bean, River, 76–77 Beeler, Cloral “Tiny”, 116 Bell Family, the, 270–71 Bell, Aaron, 268–69, 270–71 Bell, Bob, 270–71 Bell, Henry, 268–269, 270–271 Bell, Jane, 270–71, 270 Bencal, Joann, 162 Bencal, Paul, 162, 163 Birdsey, Fred, 154 Boyd, Bob, 237 Bradley, Chester, 180–81, 180 Briskey, J.D., 150 Brost, Veronica, 26–27 Brost, Wayne, 26–27 Browning, Miracle, 105 Bustos, Don, 84, 85 Carrari, Joe, 208, 209 Caufield, Daryl, 238–39 Chambers, William, 250 Chapel, Jim, 134 Chase, Donald, 146–47 Chase, Glen Lee, 146–47 Cole, Marvin, 6, 49 Colnar, Rebecca, 122 Crane, Jim, 248–49, 248 Crane, Neil, 248–49 Crane, Steve, 248–49 Crane, Vernon, 248–49 Dallas, Chuck, 4, 240, 241 Davis, Roy G., 56–57, 56 Davis, Clarence, 38 Delsignore, Carly, 268–69, 270–71 Dockery, Andrea, 118–19, 119, 120–21 Dockery, Laura, 118–19, 120–21 Dockery, Thad, 118–19, 120–21 Doland, Billy, 136–37, 136–37 Domann, Robert, 90 Efting, Jayce, 275 Efting , Paige, 186 Eisele, Liesel, 210–11 Eisele, Volker, 210–11, 210 Engle, Miriam, 165 Engle, Paul, 165 Ernzen, Bart, 148, 149 Ernzen, Caleb, 148, 149 Ernzen, Donald, 148, 149 Ernzen, Matt, 148, 149 Ernzen, Rick, 148, 149 Feldkamp, Mitch, 52–53 Fisher, Bud, 135 Fitzwater, Scott, 151 Fletcher, Harvey, 199
Flora, Jan, 80–81 Foglesong, Dan, 144–45, 145 Foglesong, Danielle, 144–45 Foglesong, Drew, 144–45 Foglesong, Sharon, 144–45 Ford, James, 232 Fribley, Patsy, 234–35, 234 Fricke, Charles, 94–95 Fricke, Milt, 94–95 Froehlich, Ed, 195, 272, 194 Gabel, Leroy, 102–3, 104 Gabel, Roy, 102–3 Gainey Ranch Crew, the, 22–23 Giles, Carol, 254–55 Giles, Robin, 254–55, 256 Gill, Ralph, 54, 55 Gill Family, the, 54 Gingg, Max, 117 Gleason, Benn Arnold, 231 Goodman, Bill, 257 Gossett, Cam, 226 Habetz, Jack, 199 Halvorson, Bob, 102–3, 106–107 Hansen, Clifford, 170 Hansen, Martha, 170 Hanson, Elmer, 228 Hanson, Robert, 228 Hardy, Brad, 64–65 Hardy, Brett, 64–65 Hardy, Jacob, 64–65 Hardy, Pat, 64–65, 64 Harrell, Ricky, 218 Harris, Dave, 102–3, 110–11, 112, 113 Harris, Rusty, 10 Harvey, Raymond, 60 Haswell, Clive, 250 Heiskell, Cecilia, 260–61, 260 Hemming, Sophia, 86–87 Hobson, Richard “Cousin Don”, 251 Holcomb, Tom, 198 Horton, Brent, 18–19 Horton, Garrett, 18–19 Horton, Shay, 18–19 Horton, Stan, 18–19 Hudson, Terrell, 143 Hughes, Della, 87 Hyams, Al, 250 Ingram, Ben, 142 Ingram, John, 142 Ingram, Robert, 142 Ingram, Thomas, 142 Ingram, Tom, 142 Jackson, Walter, 171, 172, 173 Jefferson, Jay, 276 Jefferson Family, the, 212–13 Justice, DeWayne, 100–1, 100 Kasben, Ed, 258–59 Kazery, William, 236 Kelly, Don, 197 King, Allen, 98–99 King, John, 98–99 Klingman, Allen, 37, 164 Klingman, Margaret, 164 Kraft, David, 202–3 Lacina, Brian, 2–3 Lacina, Trey, 2–3, 66 Larson, John, 204–5, 204–5 Larson, Tom, 204–5, 204–5 Layton, Maurice, 262 Lee, Connor, 30
Lenhart, Craig, 96 Lenhart, Darrell, 96 Lenhart, Edgar, 96 Lenhart, Gerad, 96 Lenhart, Tyler, 96 Lewis, J.E. “Sonny” Jr., 183, 184–85, 184 Lucas, Bobby, 224–25 Mahan, Joe, 102–3, 105 Maley, Charles, 8–9 Maley, Kris, 8–9 Maley, Matthew, 8–9 Manning, Doug, 190–1 Manville, Bill, 52–53 Manville, Brett, 53 Manville, Neil, 52–53 Marchesseault, Jules, 158–59, 158, 160–61 Martin, Alfred, 182 Mazurek, Barbara, 155, 156–57 McDaniel, David, 16–17, 17 McDaniel, Gerald, 16–17 McDaniel, Jeffrey, 16–17 McDaniel, Jonathan, 16–17 McDaniel, Joseph, 16–17 McDaniel, Payson, 16–17 McMahan, Cecil, 186 Meyer, Raymond, 200–1 Moor, Brett, 200 Mosebar, Doug, 22–23, 24–25, 24–25 Mott, Casey, 122 Murphey, Michael Martin, 11–12 Navinskey, Ed, 91 Nelson, Keith, 2–3, 67 O’Brien, Dick, 132–33 O’Brien, John Morgan, 130–31, 132–133 O’Brien, Mick, 132–33 O’Brien, Morgan, 132–33 Oliver, Louis, 229 Paris, Greg, 83 Parker, Don, 264 Parker, Edna, 265 Patzke, Mark, 207 Peterson Family, the, 50–51 Poindexter, Beulah, 176 Rainwater, Charlie, 78 Rainwater, Chris, 79, 80–81 Ridgel, Jessie, 125 Righetti, Craig, 34–35 Righetti, David, 34–35 Righetti, Donald, 34–35 Righetti, Ernie, 32, 33, 34–35 Righetti, Ernie, 36 Righetti, Susan, 34–35 Robinson, Rueben, 263 Rogers, Chelsea, 184–85 Romero, Catarino, 168, 169 Romero, Margarita, 169 Romero, Richard, 168 Ross, Jesse, 47 Ross, Jim, 46, 47 Rozema, Rudy, 252 Rudolph, Murray, 202–3 Ruhlig, Dave, 75 Ruhlig, Rose, 75 Rutt, LaDene, 40–41, 42, 43 Rutt, Larry, 40–41 Saylor, Rick, 123 Saylor, Sherry, 123
Schafer, Brandon, 244–45, 245 Schafer, Kendrah, 244–45 Schafer, Kenny, 244–45 Schafer, Maddie, 244–45 Schafer, Max, 244–45 Schafer, Monica, 244–45 Schmidt, Don, 187 Schmitt Family, the, 70–71 Schollenberg, Katie, 126–27 Schollenberg, Shirley, 126–27, 126 Schultz, Elmer Ralph, 48–49 Schwabauer, Charles, 97 Schwabauer, David, 97 Scott, Willard, 7 Sellers, Carl Ray, 230, 231 Sexten, Alvin, 177, 178–79 Shute, Marty, 199 Slay, Lillian, 246 Slay, Phil, 246 Slay, Prather, 246, 247 Smith, Doris Barrett, 174, 175 Smith, George, 227 Sneed, Ray, 13 Stevenson, Ford, 69 Stevenson, Tom, 68, 69 Stockton, James, 102–3, 107 Strand, Herman, 62–63 Strand, Mary Jane, 61, 62–63 Sutton, Keith, 1, 188, 189 Sutton, Tiffany, 188 Sweider, Norman, 253 Taber, Dalton, 222–23 Taber, Dusty, 222–23 Taber, Jim, 220–21, 221, 222–23 Taylor, Glenn, 216–17 te Velde, Ralph, 114–15 Terry, Ed, 97 Terry, Joseph Jr., 97 Terry, Joseph Sr., 97 Teter, James, 102–3, 108, 109 Teter, Kathy, 108 Thom, Robert, 74 Turner, Brooke Ryan, 152, 153 VanThuyne, Amy, 39 VanThuyne, Jules Jr., 39 VanThuyne, Julius, 39 VanThuyne, Margaret, 39 Vaughn, Dave, 128–129 Veazey, Brian, 44 Veazey, Glen, 45 Veliquette, Dean, 88–89 Veliquette, Gene, 88–89, 88 Vigil, Dave, 219 Vondra, Julia, 30–31 Vorthmann Family, the, 266–67 Weber, Joel, 206 Wiemers, Alice, 58, 59 Wood, Bill, 82 Worden, Asa, 29 Worden, Chris, 28, 29 Worden, Eva, 28, 29 Worden, Grant, 29 Wright, Bill, 214–15 Wright, Bruce, 214–15, 215 Yarborough, Bo, 20–21 Yarborough, Imogene, 20–21, 20 Yarborough, J.W., 20–21 York, John, 14–15, 140, 141 York, Josie, 140
For my two beautiful girls, Camden and Paige
Jayce Efting, egg farmer’s son, Washington, Michigan.
There are literally hundreds of people, all over the United States, without whom this book would not have been possible, and my gratitude runs deep and wide.
I offer a special expression of gratitude to the American Farm Bureau Federation and all the Farm Bureau State Representatives—they were truly my guardian angels along this journey. I am forever indebted to every one of them.
I give special thanks to: Walter Farynk—my first mentor, whom I can still hear whispering in my ear, “Good isn’t good enough.” Kevin Fogarty, Peter Tvarkunas, and the entire team at Canon USA—for standing proudly behind this project. Laurie Kratochvil—for her early encouragement and validation. Don Lipton—without whose continued support and generosity this book would simply not be possible. Dave Metz—for recognizing and believing in the potential of this work, long before it was ever a book. The gang at SeventhStreet—Doug Calloway, Mike Campau, and Peter Calloway—for their extraordinary and tireless efforts to make my photographs as beautiful as possible. They define excellence. And to the entire team at Welcome Books for taking American Farmer under their collective wing and making me feel like a cherished artist. I am especially grateful to my publisher, Lena Tabori—who has championed this book from the beginning, and worked fervently on its behalf; my editor, Katrina Fried—for her passion, dedication, and gift with words; and to my designer, Gregory Wakabayashi—whose incomparable talent first led me to Welcome’s door; his brilliant design and artistic vision have elevated this work beyond anything I could have ever hoped for or imagined.
For their guidance, support, friendship, and advice along the way, I would like to thank: Bryan Adams, Leland Bobbe, the Bruley Family, David Chickey, TC Conroy, John Cueter Jr., John “Shrek” Drake, Jim Finnerty, Glenn at Cole Street Studio, Corita Gravitt, Howard Greenberg, Joanna Hurley, Audrey Jonckheer, Peter Kazor, Jonny Kest, Tim Korzep, Myrna Masucci-Kresh, Dan Lawrence, Warren “Curt” Leimbach, Joe Maley, Lessandra MacHamer, Kindred Mahoney, Doug Manning, Dennis Mohritz, Sid and Michelle Monroe, Michael Martin Murphey, Erik Ness, Frank W. Ockenfels 3, Kathi Presutti, Kimberly Reingold, Steven Rimar, Paul Ryan, Orion Samuelson, Willard Scott, Bob Vice, Denise Walton, Madelon Ward, and Laura Wilson. For a lifetime of love and encouragement, I thank my Mom, Dad, Shawn, and Todd. And to my wife Suzanne, my fiercest advocate, strongest supporter, and best friend—thank you for dreaming alongside me these twenty years. I wouldn’t be here without you. Above all, I want to thank the hundreds of farmers and their families who welcomed me onto their porches and into their homes, for allowing me to photograph them and trustingly following my lead when they had no earthly reason to do so. I’ve been humbled and forever changed by their kindness and generosity. Paul Mobley, June 2008
Jay Jefferson, leafy greens, Salinas, California.
Published in 2008 by Welcome Books® An imprint of Welcome Enterprises, Inc. 6 West 18th Street, New York, NY, 10011 (212) 989-3200; fax (212) 989-3205 www.welcomebooks.com Publisher: Lena Tabori Editor: Katrina Fried Editorial Assistants: Desa Philadelphia, Kara Mason, Tricia Cannon
Copyright © 2008 by Welcome Enterprises, Inc. Photographs copyright © 2008 by Paul Mobley Text copyright © 2008 by Katrina Fried Preface copyright © 2008 by Willard Scott Introduction copyright © 2008 by Michael Martin Murphey www.michaelmartinmurphey.com All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Designed by Gregory Wakabayashi Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Photographer’s Note The photographs in this book were made using Canon equipment, primarily the EOS-1Ds Mark III, Mark II, and EOS 5D camera bodies, and a wide variety of Canon lenses such as the EF 135mm f/2L, EF 35mm f/1.4L, EF 70–200mm f/2.8L, and EF 24–105mm f/4L. ProFoto and Lumedyne lights were used for both studio and location photographs, depending on the existing lighting conditions. For information about Paul Mobley and print sales please visit: www.paulmobleystudio.com Image design done in collaboration with the photographer by SeventhStreet www.seventhstreetstudio.com
Mobley, Paul. American farmer : the heart of our country / [Paul Mobley, [editor] Katrina Fried]. p. cm. ISBN 978-1-59962-047-3 (alk. paper) 1. Farmers--United States--Pictorial works. 2. Farm life--United States--Pictorial works. 3. Farmers-United States--Pictorial works. 4. Farms--United States--Pictorial works. I. Fried, Katrina. II. Title. S521.5.A2M63 2008 630.92’273--dc22 2008015547 First Edition 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in China by Toppan Printing Co., (H.K.) Ltd.
When photographer Paul Mobley set out to capture the soul of our country’s farm communities, he encountered an enduring rural culture that r...