Published on Saturday, June 24, 2017
Katherine Wise grew up on a farm in Mississippi that’s been in the family for more than 90 years. As a young teenager, she didn’t appreciate the history surrounding her. In fact, she tried every excuse she could think of to get out of helping her brother with produce in the summer. But to her, and her family’s surprise, she’s now back on the farm, managing more and more of the operation each year.
Today the Wise family raises produce, including tomatoes and sweet corn. They also host thousands of visitors who enjoy their corn maze and pumpkin patch each fall. But just like Katherine, the farm has changed a lot over the years.
When Katherine’s grandfather bought the land from his father in 1926, he grew U-pick peas and other produce, which he sold at the general store he owned. Stanley, Katherine’s father, also took a turn farming. But like many farms through the 80s, the Wise farm struggled.
After the farm crisis hit, Stanley went to work as a county agent for Mississippi State Extension Service. In that role, he was able to take Katherine and her older brother, Stan, on a lot of ‘educational adventures’, learning about agriculture across the country. Through his connections in extension, Stanley began hearing about the value of agritourism.
In 2003, he decided to give it a try and planted a corn maze of his own. “My grandaddy was still alive then, and he said, 'There's nobody in the world that's going to pay you any amount of money to walk around in a corn field. They're just not.'” Katherine recalls.
“Granddaddy used to play dominos up in the community center and the old men were laughing at Dad planting a field of corn so late. They said, 'Oh my gosh, why would he even do that?' And granddaddy was too embarrassed to tell them that it wasn't for sale to eat. He wouldn't tell them anything.” She laughs.
The corn maze was a success. For a while, Stanley partnered with his siblings, but eventually they were ready to retire. Katherine was working as an office manager when her dad came to her with a surprising question.
“He asked me, did I want to come home and see if we can't grow it, like make it a real deal. Like make it make money instead of just playing. Did I want to try that?' At first I was like, 'I didn't like farming. Why did you ask me?'” Katherine laughs.
But as she thought about it, the idea grew on her. She remembers thinking, “’You know, I would like to move closer to home.’ I always remember working with my dad and my granddaddy and my brother every summer. Back then I hated it, but you look back on the memories, and that's why you're so close. And so I thought, ‘I really want that for my kids. I want them to work with their granddaddy. You don't have to get babysitters for them, they work right beside you.’”
Now it’s been four years since Katherine jumped into her new role as a farmer. Although it took them a while to figure out what a business partner relationship looked like compared to a father, daughter relationship, Katherine cherishes the time she gets to spend with her dad. “He's really the best.” She beams.
Stanley’s love for the farm is infectious. “The thing is, my dad, when he's working with you, he's singing, he's talking, he's telling stories. He's so happy when he's out there. You can't help it, you're just happy too.”
Clearly, the feeling is mutual. “To get to spend four years, basically with my daughter just down the road, and being here on the farm every day, for a man my age, there's no dollar amount you can put on that. It's a treasure. It's a real treasure.” Stanley says as he and Katherine mend a fence together.
It’s hard for Katherine to sum up all she’s learned in her short farming career because her dad has always been a great teacher. “My dad has taught me everything I know about life.” She smiles.
“I've learned that he makes things look easy, but they're not. I have to learn the hard way. I wasn't very patient, but I've learned a lot of patience. I've learned to do things the right way the first time instead of having to go back and do it later. Instead of trying to do it quickly or cheaply, it's better to just do it the right way the first time. And I've learned a whole lot about growing vegetables and plants, but also about people and the community.”
Katherine is a lot more introverted than her father, but she’s thankful for his encouragement to get out of her comfort zone. “Through selling these vegetables and stuff, I've connected a lot with the community, which I wouldn't otherwise do. And people, I might not know their face, but they know exactly who I am and they're thankful for what we do. And that feels really good.” She explains.
Now she’s proud to be connected to the community, educate them, feed them, and give them the opportunity to make memories like she did growing up. Katherine knows as a farmer, people are depending on her. “If I didn’t do it, my dad wouldn't be able to do what he likes, my children wouldn't get the same experience that I want them to have, and the community would lose because since my granddaddy's time, they've bought vegetables from this farm.”
To Katherine, even when times are tough, those are things worth fighting for. “I farm to continue a family tradition. To fill a part of a link of a chain in history.”
That’s why Katherine Wise farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Why I Farm, Becks Hybrids, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Becks Blog, Stanley Wise, Katherine Wise, agritouism, sweet corn, tomatoes, Mississippi