Browns learn as they go, surprised to become Fulton Farm Family of the Year
It sounded a little impulsive. A couple with good jobs and two children living comfortably at a home in Elizabeth, decide to buy a farm and learn how to be farmers.
But Terry Brown said farming had always been in the back of his mind. "I think the passion for it might go back to when I was a kid. Dad had a small dairy farm and I loved it then."
A property near that small farm, which was owned by a relative, Marvin Harber, kept calling out to him. "Later on, when I met my wife, we would drive by here and think we would like to have this place some day, because the people who owned it were getting up in their years," Brown explained.
And, when the property on Highway 223, next to the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery, became available in 2006, he and his wife, Becky, decided to take the plunge.
To be able to make the purchase, they had to sell 40 of the 141 acres but, as luck would have it, they were able to buy back the 40 acres last November.
"We've had a lot of struggles here, but I've loved it. To me, it's a friend. I can't imagine doing anything else. Of course, we still have to work outside the home to make ends meet, but I wouldn't trade it for anything," Brown said to reporters gathered for the announcement that the Brown family, Terry and Becky, and daughter's Savannah, 17, and Sydney, 13, were the Fulton County Farm Family of the Year.
"It is an honor. I was really shocked when we found out," Becky said of being named Farm Family.
"I'm really humbled by it," Terry added. "There are other families out there working and struggling like we are. We were just chosen this year. I really don't know why."
After hearing the Brown's story, the "why" may be related to the family's obvious enthusiasm for farming, and determination to make sure their work benefits the land and the environment.
According to Terry, the previous owners, the Harbers, were elderly and in poor health and just were not able to care for the property in their last years. It had grown up so bad, it was more of a thicket than a farm.
"We got here just in time. I think in another two years, it would have been unrecoverable," Terry said.
"We have recovered about 80 percent of it, and try to do a little more each year -- dozing, plowing and reseeding."
The Browns say friends, neighbors and local farm agencies, especially the Natural Resource Conservation Service, have been helpful and patient with them, pointing them in the right direction as they have slowly revived a dormant farm. The conservation service has been there to rent them equipment, introduce them to federal programs and bail them out when a new project goes awry.
For example, the episode where the family worked to hook up watering tank systems for their cattle.
"We had to call Rich (Conservation Agency Rich Horner) to come help us with these watering tanks, because we were clueless. We were going about it in the wrong way," Becky laughed. With Horner's help, the tanks were placed and a water supply made available to cattle through the use of water pipes, some large tires and concrete.
The Conservation Service also helped them get cross fencing on their land to allow their cattle to be rotated from a heavily used pasture to one where the grass has had time to recover.
After getting their land back into usable shape, the Browns had to decide what to do with it. They raise a few hogs and have six roosters and 45 laying hens, or "My girls," as Becky calls them. They sell the eggs and trade some to Mennonite friends for milk, butter and strawberries.
But, like most area farmers, cattle has to be in the picture. At the suggestion of friend and ICC Agriculture teacher Wayne Neal, they looked in to raising Gelbvieh (pronounced Gelb-vey) cattle.
"Gelbvieh is German for 'yellow cow,'" Savannah said, showing off her heifer "Olive Oil," who she is training for showing. She also has a stubborn All Star steer which can't be shown until she breaks his habit of "liking to kick."
Terry said Gelbvieh's are excellent mothers with a "meek and mild temperament, a good general purpose cow you can cross with anything and get a better cow." The first six cows and their calves came from a Farm Service Agency Youth Rancher Loan that Savannah took out. The effort to grow their herd hit a set back last year, when the drought burned up their hay crop and they were forced to sell some cattle to cut expenses, as they bought hay for feeding through the winter. While they have only 30 head now, the Browns have plans to grow the herd and make some money through improving the genetics of their cows.
Savannah and Terry plan to seek training and get their Artificial Insemination Certification, and obtain some bulls with good genetics that people will want to use. "Hopefully, we can bring in some good genetics and find a demand for what we have," Terry said. "Once the demand (for their bulls) is there, we think the money will be there also. The bloodline will bring a good price." In the meantime, they are proud they've got the farm to a break-even position.
Speaking of money, the Browns say they are thankful they have good jobs. Jerry has worked at Sealco Manufacturing since 1988. He said the company, which makes metal gaskets for the oil industry, has been very supportive of his farming venture. "Last fall, we had a battle with armyworms, and I had to take off and fight the armyworms and they were very understanding. I'm very thankful and blessed to have that job," Terry said.
Becky works as a paraprofessional at Calico Rock Elementary, providing extra help to students in the fourth to sixth grades, and her children are Calico Rock Students.
The girls are both involved in school activities and FFA, show livestock and serve as Junior Ambassadors at the Fulton County Fair. Savannah, who was chosen to receive the first Fulton County Fair scholarship, is headed to Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia. She intends to become a veterinarian, specializing in working with large animals. Sydney, who will be in the 8th grade, already has her life mapped out -- an undergraduate degree from U of A or Lyon College, law school in Little Rock which will lead to a career as a sports lawyer, preferably in football, specifically the New Orleans Saints. Sydney drew laughter as she outlined her life plan, but was also praised for being so focused at age 13.
As they dream, the girls stay grounded through work on the farm, and training cattle and hogs for show. They admit it is not easy work but, like their father as a child, they love it. "When we did the fencing on the back 40...I drove a few fence posts. I wasn't good about it, but I tried," Sydney said laughing.
Terry praised the girls for dragging and gluing 3,000 feet of water pipe together. "I couldn't be more proud of them. We're proud of our cattle and proud of the farm but, if we've done one thing here, we're raising kids. I just want to raise kids God can be proud of."
The Browns have accomplished at least more thing: they are the Fulton County Farm Family of the Year, after just seven years of farming.
Terry names weather and economics as the two biggest challenges the family faces in working to build a farm. "You have extremely high grain prices right now. I think you grow in struggles more than easy times. Last year, during the drought, we learned how to do things we didn't know how to do. You've got to seek out new ways of doing things when the cards don't fall your way."
Besides the drought, there was that 2009 learning experience.
"Like the ice storm, we were without power for 18 days," Terry said.
"We learned how to do lots of things," Becky added laughing at the bad memories.
"By the end of it, it really wasn't that bad," Terry chimed in.
The family then eagerly took reporters for a tour of the farm they are so proud of, a farm that is blossoming through trial and error, patience and love.