Published on Monday, July 20, 2015
They are real people with real families, real challenges and real feelings. They care for a baby calf with the same nurture they provide a new son or daughter. They love the land as if it’s a part of them. And they talk to God because they know he’ll be there no matter what.
They are criticized for doing what they love. Misunderstood, scrutinized and bullied because of myths and lies. Even persecuted by those they feed.
But they rise above the animosity. Because to them, farming is a livelihood. A responsibility. A culture rooted with heritage. And it’s an honor. An honor only bestowed to those who can withstand the heartache of losing an entire crop when the wrath of Mother Nature strikes.
They…are the American farmer.
And their story can’t be told enough.
Where it all began
For the past three years, the Why I Farm Movement has brought to life the stories of 19 farmers. Their stories are personal, heartfelt and have resonated with thousands, even gaining fans and followers from across the globe.
If you just started following the movement, let me start from the beginning. In 2013, Beck’s launched Why I Farm as a way to honor the American farmer. What we didn’t realize is that our campaign would turn into a movement, giving farmers a voice. And a way to tell their story.
What’s my role in the Why I Farm movement? You can call me your tour guide. My name is Ashley Fischer and as I mentioned in my very first blog post on July 31, 2013, I work for the largest family-owned, retail seed company in the United States – Beck’s. And I love my job. Don’t believe me? You can read about it here, here and here.
The American farmer made me who I am. Growing up in central Indiana, the American farmer is my father, brother, grandfather and uncle. And while some say it’s the house that built them, for me, it was the farm.
I have the privilege of taking you behind the movement, where I share my personal experience with each farm family. Their stories are real. Their emotions are real. And their love for farming is out of this world real.
But this year the stories are bolder, more profound, and dive deep into the life of an American farmer. Told through the eyes of those that love them most, their stories are filled with passion, faith and fortitude. Because to them, being an American farmer isn’t about a job. It’s about the life they live. And the life they give to others.
Giving a Voice to Agriculture – Frank Doll, Pocahontas, IL
I first learned of Frank Doll, a dairy farmer from southern Illinois, through one of Beck’s seed advisors, Jon Zeeb. To him, Frank isn’t just a customer, he’s a great friend. After talking about Frank for 10 minutes, I knew he was the perfect candidate. Passionate about being a farmer. Committed to his community. A love for his family that is unbreakable.
It didn’t take long for Frank to agree to be part of the Why I Farm movement. The same day I learned about Frank, was the same day I called him to schedule the video shoot. During my discussions with Frank, he knew we would be interviewing family and friends, as well as spending time filming him “on the job.” But he didn’t know that we had a secret.
With multiple interviews planned over three days, we left in the early morning on May 4. Four of us packed into a pickup truck and set out to travel several hours, pulling a trailer full of camera gear, lights, a golf cart, and lots of supplies.
That's me. Mentally preparing to pull a huge trailer all the way to Illinois.
Our first interview was with a young man who credits his passion for agriculture to Frank. We traveled to Eureka College in Eureka, IL to meet Derrick Dunn, a former football player of Frank’s and summer employee on the dairy farm. Thankfully, Derrick was a good sport and weathered the rain with us. Just as much as we wanted to learn more about Frank, Derrick wanted to share his story.
“Frank really sparked my interest in agriculture because I didn’t come from a farm background, but I really found something that I didn’t know I would enjoy.” ~ Derrick Dunn
After our interview with Derrick, we quickly packed up to head south to Greenville, IL. Our next interview was with one of Frank’s good friends and head football coach at Greenville High School – Todd Cantrill. We were running late. Then I got the trailer in a bad spot. It took me 10 minutes to get backed up and turned around. Even though I’m a farm girl, I still have a heck of a time backing a trailer. When we finally arrived, we continued to learn more about Frank.
The overall theme - he’s hard working, compassionate, always has a positive attitude, loves his family, and loves his farm. We hadn’t even met him, and yet, we felt as though were already knew him.
By the time we landed at Doll Dairy Inc., it was after 5:00 p.m. It had already been a long day, but we had even more to do.
Me, Joel, Shawn and Zach introducing ourselves to the ladies.
As the guys unloaded gear, I set out to find our leading man. I walked down the long gravel driveway to the front of the milking parlor. Just before I rounded the corner, Frank appeared from the building. Dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and boots, you could tell Frank had already put in a full day’s work. He was hesitant to shake my hand – not because he was being rude, but they were covered in dirt. I didn’t care. I threw my hand out there and shook his hand just like anyone else.
We had two goals for the evening – scout the farm for our video shoot with Frank and talk with his wife and two boys. Just like we learned from our first two interviews, Frank is an easy going guy. He gave us free rein to explore the farm.
While we waited for his family, we toured the landscape. Dotted with a new milking parlor, barns, pastures, grain bins, and most of all dairy cattle, the guys had plenty of ideas for different shots. When we started setting up, a man in his 70s walked across the driveway to the house on the hill. Wearing jeans, a t-shirt and muck boots, you could tell Frank wasn’t the only one putting in a full day’s work.
He was curious. Curious about our equipment. Curious about our work. And curious what we had planned for him. For the next 20 minutes, I had a wonderful conversation with Frank’s dad, Homer. We talked planting, the farm, and Frank. He was nervous for his interview the next day, but I assured him, he’d be a rock star.
Just before the sun began to set, Frank’s wife, Pam and his two boys arrived. For the next hour, we laughed, cried and listened as his loved ones told stories of the man they admire most. But it was Pam’s comment that really defined the man behind the farm.
Frank loves to watch his boys play sports, whether its baseball or football, he’s there. Either on the sidelines or helping coach. As Pam talked, tears began to form in her eyes. She said when Frank is his dad’s age, the boys he’s helped coach, they will remember Frank. It’s a powerful statement. And a testament to the man she calls her husband.
We left the farm that evening knowing we were capturing a beautiful story.
The next morning we had two interviews left – Frank’s parents. While the guys setup the equipment, Homer and Judy gave me a tour of their home. Filled with family heirlooms and antiques, I was honored to learn more about them and the farm they built.
Before the interview, Homer insisted on being interviewed with Judy. He said he was nervous. But when it came time for his interview, he knocked it out of the park. I’m pretty sure he was pulling my leg the whole time. He captivated each of us with every story he told and every word he spoke. We all agreed. If he wanted another career, he could be a professional voiceover.
Judy is sweet as pie. When she talked of her family, you could hear the love in her voice. During her interview, it wasn’t learning about Frank growing up on the farm I enjoyed the most, but hearing how she and Homer met. They met in high school, but neither one of them liked each other. If you ask me, they were both playing hard to get.
Even though we completed all the interviews, our work was only half done. Our leading man was up next.
Be Ready for Change
The interviews were just one part of the Why I Farm shoot. We still had to capture Frank “on the job.” While we always have a plan for each shoot, challenges arise, new ideas are born and a great project is produced.
And that is exactly how our evening went.
Frank was busy all day. The last thing we wanted to do was interrupt his work. But we had to get him in the field, planting with the sunset in the background. We had to have the “Why I Farm” feel. Being an easy-going guy, he had no problem letting us follow him around in the field.
Filming Frank in the field was the easy part, it was our next idea that was a bit more challenging. Since Frank is so passionate about helping his boys in their sports, we wanted to capture those moments. A last minute idea from the guys led to one of the coolest night shoots I’ve ever seen. With the tractor lights illuminating Frank’s front yard, he tossed a baseball back and forth to his boys. It’s not every day you get to play baseball at 10:00 p.m.
When we got in the truck to head back to the hotel, we relived every moment from the evening. We relived every challenge and how we overcame every obstacle. The evening was perfect.
With one shoot left, we prayed for a perfect sunrise. After capturing Frank in the field, it was now time to film him in the part of the farm that means most to him – running a dairy operation.
We were at the farm by 5:30, boots on, and cameras ready. We followed Frank for the next two hours – out in the pasture, bringing the cows into the milking parlor, feeding the ladies, and picking up a newborn calf.
Our first Why I Farm video shoot in year three was over. But there was still a secret we hadn’t told Frank.
We still needed to interview him. We just didn’t want to do it until the end of May. Because we had a plan.
Not only did we want to interview Frank, we wanted to show him the Why I Farm video for Doll Dairy Inc. He just didn’t know that.
We had devised a plan. Maybe even a slight fib. But the reveal, it was totally worth it. I strongly encourage you to watch Frank's Why I Farm video. It's emotional, inspirational and a tearjerker. So grab a tissue and hit play.
And, if you want to hear more about Frank, visit www.WhyIFarm.com to listen to interviews with his family and friends.
Author: Ashley Fischer
Categories: Why I Farm
Tags: whyifarm.com, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Why I Farm Behind the Movement, Frank Doll, Dairy Farmer, Dolls Dairy, Inc. Voice of agriculture, giving a voice to agriculture, agvocate
Marketing Communications Manager at Beck's.
Donn S. Miller « firstname.lastname@example.org »
8/13/2015 1:51 PM
I am not a farmer. Nevertheless, farmers are a category of humanity for whom I have the greatest respect and gratitude. If U.S. farmers were to spread out around the globe, I shall bet that within a couple of years there would not be a single hungry person anywhere -- except perhaps fashion models -- so great is the skill and professionalism of the U.S. farmer.
One day I was bicycling past the smaller of my village's (Tamms, Illinois) two parks. For some reason, it was crowded with people, and I did not know why. I buttonholed someone who was headed into the park and asked him what was going on.
"Illinois Farm Bureau picnic," he said. "Are you involved in agriculture?" I didn't even have to think about my answer, which was, "I sure am involved in agriculture: I eat!" Bless the farmers -- all of them.