Raising the Next Crop: A Dad in Ag - American Farmland Trust

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Raising the Next Crop: a Dad in Ag

Photos by Rachel Colburn

I joined American Farmland Trust in October of 2022 as the Midwest Conservation Agronomist. I already had been working in the industry for 15 years. When I’m asked about why I became an agronomist and enjoy working with farmers, I’ll say things like, “I want to help farmers be good stewards of the land” or “Improving soil health helps them be more profitable and secure on the farm.” What I don’t say is, ‘Giving virtual and in-person presentations and soil health science demonstrations!’ Like most people, public speaking is outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve taken on the challenge with a healthy mix of tenacity and relaxation. That tenacity is how I found myself volunteering to give a soil health lesson and demonstration to a group of over twenty 6-12-year-olds!

Typically I’m presenting to farmers and other professionals who are at least moderately familiar with agriculture, but I know I can adapt and get the message across to a room full of kids. After all, I have worked in the Ag industry for over 15 years, and I have a professional certification that says I know stuff! In addition, I remember a quote a former farmer colleague once shared that puts this and all the other challenges in perspective.

The full story starts back in the summer of 2017. On the doorstep of parenthood, my wife, Rachel, and I had been married for just under 2 years. It was the height of heat and pressure of the crop scouting season and I was working 12-16 hour days. Rachel was busy as an emergency department nurse and juggling baby doctor appointments an hour from home. Expecting our first child in just a few weeks, our life was busy and getting busier! With so many farms and farmers relying on my services it was important to hand off responsibilities and ensure all customers would be managed and questions answered while I was away.

We welcomed our first daughter into the world on a Monday morning in late June. Rachel and I were falling in love all over again, but now in love with our baby girl. All my worries about work seemed to vanish, at least for the first week. Then it was back to the field for this brand-new dad who hadn’t had much sleep!

At the end of that catch-up week, I pulled into the farm shop of one of my most ‘detail-oriented’ farmers to discuss the findings from his fields. I was nervous to hear how the intern managed in my absence, but he welcomed me back with a good-natured ribbing about looking tired and even congratulated me on becoming a father. He then asked the classic “any pictures” question, and I did what any proud new father would do and I pulled out my smartphone. He smiled at the handful of pictures and then said something that I will never forget. “I’ve been farming for over 40 years, and I’ve hauled a lot of memorable crops off these fields, and I want you to remember something – always take the time for your kids because they are the most important crop you will ever raise.” That quote would stick with me.

Now back to 2024, Rachel and I now have two daughters and a son. We made the decision that Rachel would leave the workforce to stay home, and together we would homeschool.  Rachel has done a wonderful job prioritizing their education and introducing them to all sorts of topics and learning curriculums. Even finding a local homeschool co-op group to allow time for additional shared learning and social interaction. Arriving back home from a co-op day was when Rachel told me the group was always looking for volunteers for lessons, and I heard myself agreeing, “Of course, happy to help,” knowing what was at stake.

“They are the most important crop you will ever raise.”

Photos by Rachel Colburn

I hoped the answer would be soil health demos. Most in agriculture and conservation have seen rainfall simulators, slake tests, slump tests, and CO2 respiration tests, and they can be interesting, impactful, and eye-opening. But to these kids, would I be fun like Bill Nye the Science Guy or just a Science Bore? Regardless, I was hoping that maybe I could light a spark in some of these kids to take an interest in agriculture and maybe even pursue it as a career or lifestyle.

As I performed these demonstrations and talked about the science of what they were seeing, I saw the kid’s worldview expand to under their feet. Instantly they became a field of curious sprouts, hands in the air and asking questions. I did my best to answer all of them, and as I looked around the room, my eyes landed on my oldest, who will be 7 this year. She was beaming, smiling at me ear to ear. The best kind of smile a parent can get, smiling in a way that said that she was proud of her dad. Proud that he was there to teach her and her friends about what he does for a living, how the soil works, and why.

That was a proud and memorable moment for me. Maybe she will pursue agriculture as she grows, maybe she will become an engineer or a pilot. Who knows? But one thing I do know is that she will remember that I took the time and I was there to teach that day.

So Dads, take the time for your kids. Teach them about the world, about what you do, and what you know. Play that game of Candyland, throw a ball in the yard, take them camping, hunting, or heck, you could even give a presentation for their class at school! Remember that you are the soil, the foundation from which they will grow. Your time and effort are the nutrients they need. Nurture them, challenge them, cultivate them, steward them, and love them. After all, they are the most important crop we will ever raise!!

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About the Author
Torey Colburn

Midwest Conservation Agronomist


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