Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Newton County Farmer of the Year (Part II): Perseverance, diversification, and off-farm employment kept senior farmer going

This is the second in a four-part series about the Newton County, Arkansas, farmers who were honored this summer by the county's farm service agencies.  The Senior Farmer of the Year is Paul Martin of Yardelle, which is not even a Census-Designated Place, in the northeastern part of the county.  Martin and his family were honored as Farm Family of the Year 31 years ago, in 1981.  Martin is now 67, and he has been married to his wife Irene for 51 years.

The Newton County Times story about Martin's receipt of this honor is a tale of perseverance.  He reports "starting from scratch" twice, once after he and his wife were married and once after a fire consumed their home.   Like Syble Garrison, the Farm Woman of the Year about whom I wrote a few days ago, the Martins ability to farm has been dependent on off-farm employment.  Specifically, both Garrison's husband and the Martins have worked as school bus drivers to supplement their farm income.  They also held other "public jobs," including pumping gas, working at the Levi Strauss factory in neighboring Harrison.  Martin said he would love to work his farm with his son-in-law, but  "it would be impossible for [the son-in-law] to take up the farm and make a living. ... It's not there."

The Martins currently manage 1300 acres and keep cattle and a Boer goat herd.  Earlier in their farming career, they had 29 sows on 129 acres, while also working an additional 140 acres owned by Martin's family.  They borrowed money from FHA to build a house and barn on the property.  At one time Martin also purchased "haying equipment and went into the business of putting up hay for people and himself."  They "combined fescue seed" and raised milo, which they used to feed their hogs.  "I still think we mixed a better feed than you can buy at the store," Martin said.  He added:
'I always thought I'd love to be a row cropper.' ... That type of farming isn't practical in the Ozarks, but 'I did, anyway.'
At one time the Martins kept 300 bee hives, which he would "rent to farmers to pollinate their huge fields of soybeans."  His wife "traveled far and wide selling cases of jars of honey to roadside stands and markets."

Martin and Irene married when they were aged 16 and 15 respectively.  He later finished high school at Western Grove, and he earned her GED and took some college courses at the community college and at the University of Arkansas.

In an interview with the Newton County Times, Irene called herself a natural born follower to Mr. Martin's undisputed leadership.  Martin "recalled a time that Irene delivered a gooseneck trailer load of pigs to Taneyville, Mo., all by herself.  'She'll do anything.'"  But then he added a caveat:  "I can't get her to run a chainsaw and she doesn't like to operate the dozer."  And that relates to Martin's final comment in the story--that work on the farm is never done, there is always more land to be cleared.

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