Editor's note: This is the first of five "Thank a Farmer" stories that will be published on Sundays today and the next four weeks to celebrate local farmers.
A lot can change in six generations. Just ask Bill and Roma Chism.
Decades ago, Bill talked his father into buying a tractor. Up until then, horses were doing the heavy lifting on the family farm. That’s a far cry from the close-cabbed tractors that fill their shop today.
Now, their grandkids are running the show along with their son, Kent.
“I think it’s nice to have someone in the family that can take over, and that’s a good feeling to know that it’s going to stay in the family. And we’re happy for all of their success and their dreams, because farming is a good life,” said Roma.
Josh and Beth Boxell are the sixth generation in the family to be involved in the farm’s operation. Josh noted that, while they’re all still pretty young, his kids are picking up on some of the basic points of farming, too.
“I mean, they’ll notice things about the weather, and they’re starting to make the connection on how that affects the crops. They make connections a lot quicker than you’d think they would,” he said.
Time will tell if his kids – Hunter, 7, Lilly, 5, and Oliver, 3 – take to farming and become the next generation to own and manage the property in northern Howard County. That’s a choice each one will have to make for themselves, said Roma – but farming is a nice option to have on the table, she says.
As for Josh, there was certainly a time when farming wasn’t on the radar. His grandfather was a farmer, and he did some work for a farm in high school, he said, but when he went off to college, his plan was to pursue a different career. But when presented with the option to join his wife’s family’s farm, he couldn’t pass it up.
Working with family has its benefits, like the close proximity to loved ones. But, Josh said, it can present unique challenges. A difference in opinion on how the farm should operate can affect the way the family functions as well, he said. Openness and a willingness to work together become all the more important.
On an even larger scale, the agricultural industry finds itself in uncertain financial waters. Close attention must be paid on commodity prices and budgets, said Josh.
But then, change is constant. The land itself can attest, and it’s served many uses and seen the farm go from one product to another.
Bill said it was a dairy farm back during the Great Depression, and they even delivered milk along routes in Galveston and Kokomo. The property was at various times home to beef cattle, hogs, chickens, peacocks, llamas and goats. There was once a 5-acre apple orchard on the land, but Bill said it wasn’t well suited for the land.
These days – as it has been for some time – the farm focuses almost entirely on corn and soybeans.
That was a slow transition – from livestock to crops – that Bill and Roma remember making over the span of about 10 to 15 years. They enjoyed the animals, said Bill, but they were able to find better profit in the crops.
“We know there’s going to be changes, and it’s just nice to see someone who cares,” said Roma, referencing the current generation of farmers.
“Josh and his family enjoy it, and they just do a great job,” Bill added.
And when expressing those thoughts, each seemed to recognize and value the ongoing family legacy. While change is constant, the time-tested advice Bill and Roma lend is often key. Josh said Bill and Roma are frequently used as a resource, and come to the table when it’s time to make large financial decisions.
Josh says it’s also interesting to chart the farm’s growth. From horses pulling plows to air-conditioned tractor cabs; from a small dairy to what Josh described as an average-sized operation.
And at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like seeing the rewards of a season’s hard work come to fruition.
“It’s always rewarding to bring in the harvest,” said Beth. “It’s fun to see the hard work pay off.”
Josh concurs, adding how watching their kids learn a little something new year after year adds another layer of meaning.
“To have that direct tie between seeing all your hard work pay off while you’re doing harvest. And then, I think it’s great to be able to have the direct tie with [the kids], so every year when we’re doing things, I’m able to see them grow in their interest and grow in their knowledge, too.
“So, it’s really rewarding to see that next generation building up their knowledge base, and having an appreciation for where their food comes from,” he said.