Everyone has a story to tell, and once in awhile you meet someone who carries that story with such reverence that it serves as a simmering pot in which the foundation to reach a goal grows stronger with each passing year.
I recently met a young man who has the drive and passion to own his own successful farm. The seed was planted long before he was born, and the story is a very interesting one, very much worth sharing.
Randy, a Farm and Dairy reader, shared with me the story of his ancestor who founded Metz, W.Va. This long-ago grandfather sold the last 160 acres of land in 1936 after a dispute the prior year over who was taking care of the church grounds, and who cut down some diseased trees.
This ancestor had given the land for the church, and as the dispute grew, their cattle were poisoned, and that was enough to send the family packing. They located a dairy farm, 157 acres in Bentleyville, Pa., and was purchased, as Randy says, for the amazing sum of $8,000.
Eventually, Randy’s grandfather ended up with this farm, building a Cape Cod home there in the late ’40s.
“My grandmother candled eggs, plucked chickens, fed the cows,” he says, and Randy has kept the wooden crates holding the family glass milk bottles that were sold along the route in Charleroi.
His grandfather was busy building a huge development and construction business, employing over 100 employees, holding millions of dollars of assets, including several strip mines. The farm then laid idle.
Randy’s father, while still quite young, began showing an interest in keeping the farm alive, so equipment and cattle were bought and they put the farm back to work.
Pictures Randy holds dear include one of his grandmother standing beside a Polled Hereford bull that won state grand champion.
“The farm became a landmark along I-70, as the highway cut through in 1953. They built four-board whitewashed fences all around, had the old hay barn straightened and painted, built a new silo, new chicken house… everything was post card perfect.”
Randy’s grandfather learned of organic farming long before it was spoken of as it is today. He began to transform the farm to organic with massive amounts of chicken manure, which started a revolution at the farm. Too young to have experienced any of this, Randy says other people remember, not fondly, and comment on it to this day.
Hard times came in 1981 with the steel and coal industry dying in Pittsburgh, as did new home construction. Family strife pushed the auction of business equipment, and the farm was again idled.
Randy’s grandfather began recovering from this turn of events and wanted to get back to organic farming. He purchased a new Deutz Dx160 and laid big plans. Then, he suffered a stroke.
By this time, Randy was 8 years old and just loved to see things grow. His grandfather gave him a worn-out John Deere 214 garden tractor to pull at the county fair.
“I soon found out it could have a little rototiller on the back of it for my garden, then I could be just like Pap and till the land. I think this is the moment I really became a farmer. Its poor old engine was so worn out. Dad helped me take it apart and we rebuilt it that winter….my first experience with engines.”
By 1994, Randy was 15 and wild horses couldn’t keep him away from farming. Along with his dad and 11-year-old brother, they started to pull the Deutz tractors out of the barn and get them going again.
The 6006 and the 130-06 were the oldest, being ’73 and ’74 models, and the new DX 160 and the mower and baler. The baler was brand new and had never seen the light of day, pushed to the back of the barn for three years, and Randy couldn’t wait to see it work.
“The first time I took it out, I remember it wasn’t set up right and it made about a 7-foot-long bale!”
(Next week: Part II: “I don’t think Mom slept well that summer.”)