Only 1 percent of the Midwest population live on farms, according to PBS.com. Mariah Jo Miller, Mark Keck and Terry Robertson are members of that 1 percent.
First-year student Miller is from Hinton, Iowa and has always lived on a farm, where her family raises animals and crops.
“We have horses, goats, cattle and poultry. We also grow alfalfa and corn,” Miller said.
The whole family helps out on the farm.
“My dad, mom, sister and myself all work together on the farm. We don’t have any hired hands,” Miller said.
Miller goes home every other weekend and helps out on the farm.
“I have to help on the farm. I also go to chicken shows some weekends,” she said. “I won Poultry Queen at the Iowa State Fair this past summer for showing a really great chicken.”
Miller spends more time with the animals than in the fields, where one of Miller’s jobs includes riding the horses to check on the cows.
“We don’t raise horses for riding, otherwise,” Miller said. “I just use them to move the cows out to the other corn fields.”
Though there has been a drought this past planting season, Miller said their crops were not affected by it.
The weather, however, did affect Miller’s animals.
“We had to take the cows out of the pasture sooner; they were in the neighbors’ fields eating corn stalks,” Miller said. “Ten percent of our chickens died also due to the weather.”
The Millers raise their animals to be shown at fairs and competitions.
“If the animals don’t live up to show quality, then I eat them,” Miller said. “I ate Oscar my steer that I showed at the Plymouth country fair.”
Miller said harvest is a difficult job, but she misses her farm while at school.
“There is a lot of work and we are always out late in the fields.”
First-year student Mark Keck is from Plainview, Neb. For him, farming is a family business.
“My dad and brothers walk corn and bean fields for farmers for the family business, Keck Crop Consulting,” Keck said. “As a family we farm beans and corn on our 500 acres. My grandpa helps harvests our crops with his combine.”
Keck goes home twice a month to help out.
For the Kecks, the weather did affect their past harvest. The drought sped up the Keck’s harvest by drying out their crops.
“The dry crop allowed farmers to harvest quickly and not wait for it to dry like they would have if there had been more rain,” he said. “We were done five weeks ahead of schedule. My grandpa, who has been farming for 50 years, has never harvested so quickly. My dad, who has farmed for 30 years, says it was record timing. Our irrigated crop yielded 10 percent more bushel above the normal average, while the dry-land crop yielded 40-90 percent below normal.”
Keck said harvesting today is easier than in the past.
“Harvest used to be a tougher job, but with advanced technology, it has become easier,” he said. “Today, time management is the toughest part.”
Terry Robertson is a communication studies professor at USD. He is also a farmer.
“I farm about 25 acres near Meckling, S.D.,” Robertson said. “We raise chickens, pigs and calves. We also have a large vegetable garden and an apple orchard.”
The year’s past weather hurt Robertson’s crop, reducing it to at least half the normal size.
“We had no apples due to early warmth, then the frost,” he said.
As both a farmer and a teacher, Robertson said his two jobs are actually similar.
“One of the scientific works that impacted me the most over the years was the research contained in a work entitled ‘Limits to Growth,’” Robertson said. “Both what I do in the farm and in the classroom is born out of a desire to help develop an ethic of a sustainable lifestyle. I believe in self-sufficiency and sustainability and think growing your own food is one of the best ways to at least attempt to do that.”
Robertson is a localvore: someone who is dedicated to eating food grown and locally produced.
“I attempt to only buy food and other products that are grown or made locally,” he said. “Over the past decade our family has completed a 100 mile diet for a year, as well as growing between 70 and 80 percent of what we consume in a year. Ultimately, education is key to self-sufficiency and sustainability.”
Robertson said he continues to balance teaching and farming.
“I love both farming and teaching and feel I have been called to do both,” Robertson said.
Robertson said he enjoys most things about farming.
“Animals can be difficult, but rewarding,” he said. “There is no better feeling than sitting down to a meal that was completely produced on your own place.”