Published on Thursday, March 9, 2017
Growing up in agriculture doesn’t guarantee an easy farming career. Rob Sharkey knows this from personal experience. Although he grew up as the fifth generation to farm his family’s land, he’s had his fair share of challenges. But just like the generations before him, he is proud to call Illinois home.
“I've got five older sisters. I'm the youngest and only boy.” Rob explains. “It was always joked about, ‘You know, you're obviously the one going back to the farm.’ I didn't think too much about doing other stuff. Really, I don't know if it was even a choice for me. It was just what I was going to do.”
When he was 16 years old, Rob met his high school sweetheart at a 4-H dance. “I asked Emily dance, she said yes and kissed me in the hog barn that night.” Rob recalls. The couple has been together ever since. After college, they moved into his late grandmother’s house next door to the home farm, and started their lives together.
The house was in rough shape, but the Sharkeys were determined to make a go of it. Over time, they rebuilt almost everything from the foundation up. For a few years, Rob worked for his dad. Even though he grew up driving the John Deere 4020, and was no stranger to hard work, there were plenty of lessons to learn when he returned home.
"We tried raising some hogs on our own and that did not go well. It was 1998 when the hog market crashed. We did not have any money, at all. We sat in front of the banker, and I'll never forget, the guy said, 'You know, you guys are young. You should just file for bankruptcy and hit the reset button.' And it stunned me because that was just never an option. Quitting was never an option. There was a realization that we might not farm, but that was going to have to be the last straw. I mean, this is what I want to do. It's what I've always wanted to do. It's a life I wanted to give my family, so we were going to work through whatever we could to do it. We dug our way out of that hole, which we're very proud of. Lots of help, lots of blessings, and a lot of prayer along the way."
To get through the tough times, the Sharkeys had to think outside the box and diversify. “We started running a buying cooperative out of a house. We had about 70 to 80 area farmers that bought stuff together - fertilizer, chemical, seed, that type of thing. Then we also started the outfitter here.” Rob recalls, looking around the lodge. “Again, we were just trying to make money any way we could. I think in 2001, we had eight separate businesses.”
In 2008, Rob’s dad retired and the operation transitioned to strictly grain farming. Today, Rob juggles the farm along with his successful Shark Farmer podcast and other entrepreneurial pursuits. Emily homeschools the couple’s four children and appreciates the hands-on opportunities they have to learn about life. “Living in the country is fabulous and that's definitely where I wanted to raise the kids. They have room to yell, play, run and explore.” She smiles.
The past 20 years have had lots of ups and plenty of downs for the farm and family. Through it all, the Sharkeys know God has a plan. “Having faith sure helps when you farm.” Rob says. “The Bible is real clear that worrying is not going to get you anywhere and all things are for His glory. It will be alright. You just put it in His hands and move on.”
“There's a sense of pride that comes with farming to me. That's very hard to explain, and I've tried to do it several times. I'm not bashing anybody else, but to me, to produce a crop every year that's going to to feed people, what better cause is there than that? That really gives me a sense of purpose. Hopefully when this and the other parts of my life are done, and I'm being judged, I can feel pretty good about what I've done.”
That’s why Rob and Emily Sharkey farm.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, corn, Illinois farmer, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtip, Shark Farmer, Rob Sharkey, Emily Sharkey