My Farm Roots 2014

In Farm Country, Roots Run Deep

In the Midwest, the land influences us every day.

Whether your roots here stretch back decades or days, whether your family homesteaded or you’re a recent immigrant, whether you grew up milking cows or always wanted to, living in farm country has profoundly affected you and your connections to the land help make you who you are.

From Colorado cowboys to Illinois corn growers to Missouri dairymen, the farmers and ranchers of the Midwest spend their days growing, feeding and harvesting an American crop. Tiny organic farmers nurture new businesses, and centuries-old farming communities withstand the tests of time.

So, in the midst of the 21st century, what is farm country? Where do today’s farmers and ranchers come from and what is important to them? What holds farmers to the land and why do those bonds break?

Harvest Public Media wants to understand the story of the Midwest and the people who live here. We want to explore what makes farm country special and we want to learn about the people that built America’s breadbasket and the people who keep it strong. Because when you hail from farm country, roots run deep.

Listen to Americans' stories and memories of rural life by clicking on a My Farm Roots story.

We all have farm country connections and we want to explore what that looks, sounds and feels like. You’ll hear about young professionals relying on life lessons they learned as children visiting their grandparents’ farms and about farmers who just can’t drag themselves away from the land. You’ll hear stories about why the dirt is more than just soil and why these acres are important.

This is the third edition of My Farm Roots. For more My Farm Roots stories, click here.

Share the story of your Farm Roots

We need you.

Do you have a powerful connection to the land? Did you grow up on a farm or do you hope to start a new life on one? Do you know someone with deep, strong ties to the farm? We want to hear the story of your farm roots -- we may even contact you so we can tell your story.

Click here to share your story via the Harvest Network, our Public Insight Network. We read every story and we'll make sure to get back to you. 

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Thousands of miles, and years, away from his upbringing on a Kansas farm during the height of the Great Depression, Wilson O'Connell now lives in the Boston suburbs.
Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Every year on my birthday I know there’s a thin, flat package waiting for me to open. It’s wrapped with neat corner folds and held together perfectly with just three pieces of tape – nothing wasted.

I always knock on the front and hear the crisp, deep thud of a hardcover book. I know it’s a book. And I know who it’s from.

My Farm Roots: Rich With Life

Aug 13, 2014

Farmers are used to waking up with the rooster’s crow. But having grown up a suburban kid, John Curtis was used to a more conventional alarm clock.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Caribbean, he managed a farm for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A long way from his Wisconsin home, he found a love for the most Midwestern job – that of a farmer.

“I loved walking out on the landscape and finding things I could eat,” Curtis said. “I found agriculture to be fascinating.”

Most family vacations are remembered for endless car rides, packed tourist beaches and a string of poorly decorated hotel rooms.

But not former Nebraskan and current Coloradan Kari Williams. Her family vacation memories center on smells of cow manure, adventures on horseback and roosters with bad attitudes on farms in central Nebraska.

In his home in Forest City, Iowa, Riley Lewis has the original warranty deed for his farm, signed by President James Buchanan and issued to one Elias Gilbert, a soldier who served in the War of 1812.

“He moved here, northeast of Forest City, and lived there for one year,” Lewis said, which was the obligation veterans had if they homesteaded. “And then he sold it to Robert Clark, who was the founder of Forest City.”

Emily Robbins is a city girl now.

Well, I’m using that term as a cliché. Robbins, 27, lives in Kansas City and works as an engineer at a large firm. She is part of a profession that is made up of just 14 percent women.

My Farm Roots: Coming Home To Roost

Jul 30, 2014

When they heard Dan Hromas’ truck rolling in, the chickens came strutting. The auburn-feathered Rhode Island Reds stood out, even in the tall, green brome grass of Hromas’ rented 3-acre pasture outside of York, Neb.

The pasture is the center of Hromas’ new farming enterprise. For a little over a year he’s been selling farm eggs to local restaurants, grocery stores, and direct to customers in southeast Nebraska.

Jack and Diane Aaron lived in Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kan., for decades. They loved their neighborhood and it was close to family. But when a friend passed away and left them land on a farm, they decided to take a chance on country living.

While farm life is different, they found it’s anything but quiet.

“Out here we’ve got, just different sounds. We have birds that will wake us up. A cat that likes to wake me up at six because he wants to eat,” Diane Aaron said. “It’s peaceful, but it doesn’t make you crazy,”

As a young man, Elisha Pullen never imagined he would spend his days on the farm.

Growing up near rural Bell City in southeastern Missouri’s “Bootheel” region, Pullen longed to leave the farm and get an education.

“I grew up in the day and time when we had to do a lot of chopping and stuff like that. Hard labor,” Pullen said. “I’m going to college, I’m getting my degree and I’m going to work in the air conditioning.”