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Archive for Sunday, June 28, 1998

FAMILY FARMS FADING, BUT NOT YET GONE

June 28, 1998

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The Pendleton family works together on all aspects of their farm.

Farms are still growing families around Lawrence.

``The family farm is still viable,'' Gary Keeler, the agriculture extension agent with Douglas County Extension Service, said. ``That's about all we have in Douglas County.''

At Pendleton Country Market, 1446 East 1850 Road, three generations of Pendletons were working last week. John Pendleton was getting ready to take out his combine to harvest wheat. His father, Al Pendleton, was in the grain truck, ready to haul the harvest. John's wife, Karen, was working in the market, arranging cut flowers for a customer. Liz, his oldest daughter, was doing the laundry in the farm house.

``There's really a lot going on now,'' John Pendleton said.

Farming as a family

John says he has worked on the farm all his life.

``I drove the hay truck before I could even reach the pedals,'' John said. ``As long as you were in the fields going in circles, you were all right.''

He received a bachelor's degree in animal science at Kansas State University, but decided halfway through college he wanted to go back to the farm.

Before he returned, his father asked him if he really wanted to be a farmer.

``My Dad said `If you don't enjoy farming as much as I do, maybe you shouldn't do it for the rest of your life,''' John said.

He has two brothers; both live out of state.

``I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have them back,'' John said.

John and his father work together, though Al is ``retired.''

``We talk constantly,'' he said. They use cell phones to keep in touch in the fields.

``Al is still doing most of the planting of corn,'' Karen said. ``That has to be done in April and May.'' April and May, she said, is the busiest time of year for their asparagus crop.

The Pendleton family made a big move a year and a half ago, Karen said. They switched houses.

``If you've ever moved, you know it's a lot better to move into a house no one is living in,'' she said. ``It's a huge step.''

John's family moved into the farmstead; his parents moved into the house on the edge of town.

``That gets my parents away from the hectic asparagus season, when we have a lot of employees,'' John said. ``It gets us living in the middle of things.''

Even though the family works together, they don't have much time together, John said.

``We have very few evenings we all sit down to dinner,'' he said.

Full-time farmers

Karen left a job at Kansas University several years ago to work on the farm with John.

``There's just not many people even our own age on the farm,'' Karen said. ``We're young for full-time farmers.''

They're also in a minority. Most families have another source of income.

``In Douglas County, a lot of farm families have other part-time or full-time jobs,'' Keeler said. ``The trend is that way because farming is not a high yield business.''

According to a 1994 Department of Agriculture report, almost half of farming households' income came from outside sources.

Farmers, Keeler said, are proud people. Two percent of the population feeds the rest of the nation. People think, he said, that farming is profitable.

``Well, in some years it is and in some years it isn't,'' he said.

``People refer to farming as a lifestyle. It's something you are 24 hours a day,'' John said.

Diversifying

In the large barn that serves as the market's store front, John's wife Karen, their oldest daughter Liz, 13, and two helpers gathered up cut flowers to deliver to the set of a movie, ``The Morning After the Miracle,'' being filmed a mile away. A newborn trio of kittens could be heard screeching for their mother, a wild barn cat. The concrete block that used to be the farm's feedlot is now a parking lot.

``The only livestock we have on the place it the barn cats,'' John said.

The Pendleton's farm no longer just grows wheat, soy beans and corn. They have halved their acreage, from over 1,000 to little more that 500 acres. They grow asparagus, garden flowers, tomatoes and bedding plants. They still raise the more traditional Kansas crops. Diversifying their crops, however, has made them more secure.

The market in the old barn sells crafts, dried flowers, blue corn chips and garden vegetables. It is open in the mornings. The Pendletons also have pick-your-own flowers and pick-your-own asparagus. Three days a week, they take flowers and produce to the farmers market in Lawrence.

``In this area,'' Keeler said, ``we are seeing more people trying to get into the so-called truck farming, or garden vegetables.'' There is a market for the vegetables, he said, and it gives farmers an variety of crops, not all dependent on the same factor. A July hail storm may wipe out wheat, but won't hurt vegetables.

Next generation

The Pendleton's children help out at the farm, too.

``At the market, they're very involved,'' Karen said.

Margaret, 10, helps out with the Tuesday-Thursday farmers market in Lawrence along with a part-time college student. After a few weeks of going to market with Margaret, the helper told Karen that Margaret really didn't need any help. She could do it by herself.

``I said `I know, but she can't drive,''' Karen said.

``She can do the numbers in her head better than I can,'' John said.

Liz helps with the flower business and works at the market on Saturdays. Will, 7, rides with his father in the combine, though sometimes he falls asleep.

John isn't sure any of his children will want to farm.

``I hope I give them the opportunity to be involved if they want to be,'' he said. He also doesn't want them to be pressured into it.

``I tell my 4-H kids to get a job and work off the farm for 2 years to see what's out there,'' Keeler said. Taking over a farm can mean taking on thousands of dollars of debt, up to a half a million dollars. It isn't for everyone, he said.

For right now, the Pendletons still work as a family. The girls help tie up flowers to dry. Even seven-year-old Will helps out.

``He feeds the cats,'' John said.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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