Published on Saturday, May 6, 2017
The family farm has been part of Derek Helms’ life for about as long as he can remember. As a kid, his grandmother would be waiting in her big Caprice Classic to shuttle him to the farm after school. “School was out by 3:00 and she'd have me here by 3:30 to start milking cows. I was going to come home and learn the responsibility of taking care of the animals and milking the cows and getting the job done.” Derek recalls.
While attending Southern Arkansas University, Derek would commute back and forth, milking for both the college and his family. After graduating in 2005, he started farming full time. Today, he devotes most of his time to the row crops and peach orchard on his family’s farm while working alongside his dad, uncle, cousin and a handful of employees.
Like many people in agriculture, Derek claims to have farming in his blood. “This operation was started by my great grandpa in 1902. A cow has been milked here every day since 1921.” Derek explains, watching cows mosey across the pasture.
He takes pride in what his family’s work does for the community. “I can hold the literal gallon of milk that we produced and say, 'My family did that.' And somebody is going to go home and pour it over their Rice Krispies and enjoy it.” Derek smiles.
Unfortunately, having a family history doesn’t exempt you from the hardships that come with this way of life. Nearly 75 percent of the peach orchard Derek recently planted was devastated by deer. Keeping the cattle comfortable in the heat and humidity of the Deep South is a challenge year after year. Derek recalls a flood on Christmas Day of 2009 that ruined 100,000 bushels of rice he was storing.
But the hard times make Derek thankful for the support of the community around him. When his rice crop was ruined, Mr. Buck, a local teacher and Farm Bureau Board member called him in. “They were having a family dinner.” Derek remembers. “ Mr. Buck sat me down and said, 'How do I help you? Who do I put you in touch with that can help you overcome this?’ He gave me a list of names of people that he knew that might be able to help me. And said, ‘Call these people. And don't give up.' So, here we are today.”
“It's been a challenge. But somebody told me, 'The only time you fail is when you quit trying.' Until somebody makes me quit, we're going to keep trying to get better, to grow, to be more efficient with what we're doing as producers, and to make a living doing what we enjoy."
Derek truly enjoys his job. “To get out here in God's country, God's beauty and work with everything that is here. I enjoy growing things, watching things grow, new life come about. Watching the beauty that right after a rain storm, here we set. The grass is growing. The birds are singing to me. And I get to set out here be part of this. You get a passion for dealing with the cows. A passion for dealing with the land and watching things grow. Watching the little bitty twig of a peach tree grow into this thing that you can carry to the farmers market and people enjoy. Or you can take a gallon of milk and go to the grocery store and say, 'Look, we helped produce this milk.' to the customers there at the grocery store. It's just a passion for providing people with good products. It's a passion for working with the land. It's a whole combination of enjoying the nature and enjoying what I produce, and seeing other people enjoy what I produce.
That’s why Derek Helms farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, corn, dairy, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Peaches, Arkansas, Derek Helms, Arkansas Farm Bureau, crops