Matt Pauly has traveled the world – he’s lived in New York, Paris and South Korea – but he’s still a farm boy at heart.
Ask him about growing up in tiny Denton, Kan., population less than 200. You’ll hear about mending fences in the summer. He’ll talk about harvest-time picnics in the fields – roast beef, mashed potatoes, a big thermos of iced tea, delivered by his grandmother. And of course, there’s his eight-man football career at his tiny 1A high school (2000 Kansas State Champions.)
One sign that you have strong farm roots is when your rural road is named for your family.
I met Steve Quandt on Quandt Road, north of Grand Island, Neb., on the farm that used to belong to his grandfather. It’s the place he remembers spending days as a kid, from morning to night, helping milk cows, work the fields and repair machinery.
He followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, building his own farming operation. But that path was suddenly interrupted nearly six years ago.
Danelle Myer owns a small vegetable farm and like many other small farmers, she’s passionate about the kind of operation she wants to grow: a small, local business.
Myer’s farm just outside Logan, Iowa, sits in the middle of true farm country. Thousands of acres of row crops make up the landscape. Her vegetable farm is almost out of place, even though Myer is a native – she grew up on her family’s conventional farm, a quarter-acre of which she has turned into One Farm.
I met Nate Pike working on a story back in 2012. When I dropped back by his ranch 30 miles south of Dodge City, Kan., this summer, he took me on a bumpy pickup ride to see a spring called St. Jacob’s Well and we got to talking about the former owner of some of his ranchland.
Pike has been out on his ranch for a while and he told me the former owner started ranching in western Kansas before 1900.
“He was a fine old gentleman and one of the toughest old men I ever knew,” Pike told me, his gravelly voice carrying over the pickup truck’s rambles.
As a child, Robert Harris Jr. worked the cotton fields of southeastern Missouri’s bootheel. Like many sharecroppers’ children, he fled that life. Now, four decades later, the harvest is calling him again, this time to grow food for the needy in a bunch of community gardens in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
I met with Robert in a garden just outside a food pantry that distributes his produce. We poked through the lush patch of vegetables, full of plump yellow squash and green cucumbers. Soft-spoken and humble, Harris said he had a connection to plants from an early age.
More than once while I was listening to Paul Horel's stories about farm life in Iowa, I felt like I was at a family reunion. With his glasses and balding head, mild Midwestern accent, and talk about plowing and politics, he could easily have been my uncle.
After all, Horel says his childhood was pretty typical for a kid growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s: he did chores in the morning and evening, spent long summer days playing in the fields, and attended a small country school. When he got older, he raised livestock for 4-H and helped his dad and brothers with the farming.
Amy Konishi says when her obituary is written it’ll read, “All she knew was work.”
It’ll be a fitting tribute given the 87-year-old’s work ethic. As a young girl she toiled in her family’s onion and cantaloupe and dry bean fields outside Rocky Ford, Colo. Then she moved to selling produce at her husband’s roadside shed along the highway. In the 1950s she opened her own hair salon and she’s been putting in hours ever since.
Trent Johnson didn’t grow up on a farm, but he was always enamored with the cowboy lifestyle.
He sure looks the part now. I visited him in his custom cowboy hat shop in Greeley, Colo. In a sleek black cowboy hat and blue western shirt, Johnson delivers the modern cowboy aesthetic.
During college he hung out with the urban cowboy crowd, which included concerts for country idols like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. The city kid, who’d spent part of his childhood on a ski team, decided he needed a change.
Jackie Dougan Jackson keeps a pretty thorough log of her life. The 85-year-old retired college professor lives in Springfield, Ill., and has lived there for more than 40 years. However, she has devoted a lot of time to her first 22 years, when she lived on a family farm near Beloit, Wisc.
Rhonda McClure seems to approach farming with a homesteader’s resourcefulness, but she adds her own modern flair.
McClure and her husband Don sell fleece and home spun yarn across the country. But Rhonda is also a quilter and fiber artist who uses the wool in her own creations.
McClure often has gone a different direction than the rest of the flock. In the 1970s she was one of just a handful of women attending ag classes at the University of Nebraska. Today, the small McClure sheep farm is an uncommon neighbor to corn and soybean fields.