Faces of Food: Lifeblood of Rural America
Those who farm say the lifestyle is in their blood. Maybe that’s why so many American farms have been operated by the same family for generations. These deep roots anchor their communities. In turn, those communities support their farmers.
The Power of the Bond Between Producers and Small Towns
The most recent episode of the new video series called Faces of Food features Bob and Eric Beckman of Pender, Nebraska. It demonstrates how much farmers mean to local communities, and how those communities come together to support farmers when they’re needed most.
The Beckmans are a multi-generational farm family, and each had to make a choice about whether they would come back to the farm. Bob earned an education degree from the University of Nebraska and taught school for three years. “However, my true love, which I didn’t realize at the time, was out here.”
Bob explains that his dad had health issues, so he started helping him farm. “As time went on, I realized that teaching was great – in the wintertime. But, in the spring and the fall, I wanted to be on the farm.”
Eric, Bob’s son, finished his college degree and also had a choice to make. “I had a couple of job offers and I thought about taking them. But dad came to me and said, ‘It’s up to you, whatever you want to do.’ I said, well, I’ve always wanted to farm. That’s been my goal my whole life.”
Eric’s son is 16 years old, and it will be a few years before he decides his career path. “Now all he thinks about is sports,” says Eric. “But the farming end of it, he talks about it all the time and wants to come back and farm. But he has to love it.”
A Tough Break
About 15 years ago, Bob’s and Eric’s plan for the future of the farm took an unfortunate turn when Eric was involved in an accident with his pickup truck, leaving him confined to a wheelchair.
“The goal was that I was going to retire when Eric came back, or at least step down from the operation to let him manage it and run it,” says Bob. “He was going to do the work, and I was going to do the managing. Well, that role has somewhat changed now because I do the work yet, and Eric does the managing.”
Part of Eric’s role includes selling grain, buying inputs and making decisions on field management. For example, he recently decided to begin grid soil sampling and variable-rate fertilizer applications.
“A soil sample is taken so we know exactly what everything calls for, and they come out and spread it according to what every acre needs,” says Eric. “It’s worked out very well for us. I don’t know if it saves us so much cost-wise, but it puts the fertilizer where it needs it.”
Eric also works with ADM to sell his grain. “They’re really good people to work with. I talk to them probably three, four times a week,” he notes. “You have to have a plan, and ADM has helped us a lot in the marketing end.”
The Community Rallies for the Family
In addition to his management duties, Eric still gets in the cab of the tractor, combine and sprayer, thanks in part to the help of his community.
After the accident, the town came together to support the Beckmans, and some funds raised were used to provide what Eric needed to remain independent.
“I can’t believe how good and how tight this community is, and when people need help, they’re the first ones to respond. I can speak from that firsthand,” Bob shares.
“When my son was injured in his pickup accident, it’s the town that got together and had a fundraiser for him. I don’t know that I can ever repay that – the money and funds and just the goodwill. So small towns are important.”
For Eric, the dollars raised for adaptations to his truck and farm equipment make it possible to do what he loves most.
“That’s the reason why I came back and farmed. To be your own boss. To sit out there in a field every day,” he explains. “I wish everybody could have a chance to have a life like that for a day or two. When you’re up in that cab… it’s just an amazing feeling.”
For the Love of a Small Town
The sunrises and sunsets on the farm are some of the best in the world, says Bob. “I’ve been to several countries. I’ve been to Key West. I think ours are prettier every day.”
“Not everyone can live in the city. I go to Omaha, Nebraska, for example, and I think it’s a great town. But I couldn’t live there. I love small towns,” he adds. “No matter where I go, I’m always glad to come home.”
More American Farm Stories
The men and women who operate farms across this great country have great stories to tell. Of hard work. Challenging conditions. Overcoming obstacles. Family members working together. Over many generations. And hopeful for the future. Take the time to hear their voices.