September 4 – 7, 2017
The vegetables in your share today got to you via a carefully choreographed series of planning, planting, cultivating, harvesting and packing activities. The person at the start of all of that is John Bell. John lives on the farm with his wife, Melissa, and their three children. The son of Cecil and Kay Bell, John grew up at Elmwood Stock Farm and has been part of farming activities since he was old enough to be part of farming activities. Today, he plans and manages the vegetable field work and the pigs, and together with Cecil, he oversees the cattle.
Q: Why do you want to farm?
John: The personal challenges and rewards. I like to work for myself and reap the consequences of my actions and decisions every day, both good and bad. I want to be self-employed, and I love working with animals and dirt.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on the farm?
John: I like animals and equipment. A lot of farmers lean one way or the other—toward crops or livestock. I get along with both of them pretty well. I still think it’s the most sustainable and healthiest way to farm, having crops and livestock on the same land.
Q: You have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in economics and marketing with an animal science minor, and you have a masters in international economics. How has this education served you in farming?
John: Commodity agriculture is greatly driven by international markets and the international economy. Even cattle prices in Kentucky are affected by international trade agreements and events happening in India, Japan or Central Africa. I don’t do commodity agriculture, so the marketing degree probably applies more than the economics degree. Though I guess I’m not doing the marketing now, either! Regardless, the critical thinking and analysis skills you learn, the act of going to college no matter what I studied, was valuable.
Q: Why did you decide to return to farming after college?
John: I sort of never left. Even when I went to college, I was still farming part-time. The biggest decision for me came when I was deciding to go to UK versus other nice but expensive schools. The question was, Did I want to take on a big debt and ask Cecil to hang on to the farm because I may or may not go back? If I knew I wasn’t going to farm, I probably would’ve gone away to school.
Q: What’s your favorite time of year?
John: I love spring. The hope and optimism of planting, birth, all of the opportunities in front of you. The winter hibernation allows you to start over again with warming weather and longer days. The energy is higher. I like the birth of plants and animals, the repeated excitement of seeing—even after all these years—if it’s a boy calf or a girl calf or how the transplants that we set out yesterday are doing today.
Q: What’s your favorite farm meal?
John: What comes to mind first is an entirely from-the-farm BLT. Now that we have bacon, it’s 100%. I can probably list five things, though. Steak, potatoes and salad would be on that list.
Q: What’s your favorite vegetable to grow?
John: Squash, tomatoes, kale and lettuce. I know that’s not one favorite. And then there’s sweet corn. Everyone loves sweet corn.
Q: What are some vegetables you’re trying to improve on?
John: I’d like to have more consistent success with Brussels sprouts. I’m enjoying getting better at carrots. I’m also trying to do more leafy greens and arugula winter salad mixes for year-round markets.
Q: What’s one behind-the-scenes view you’d like CSA members to have?
John: I’d like people to appreciate how chaotic farming can be. After all these years and all these weeks of putting together CSA shares, every week still has exceptions. There’s always a change in packing or delivery—something is always different.
Q: What else do you want CSA members to know about you and Elmwood?
John: There are pros and cons with raising a family on a farm. Both having grown up on a farm and now raising my family here, I think the pros outweigh the cons. The opportunities for creative thinking and imagination and the opportunities to learn responsibility and for learning the hard way are here.
Also, I’ve always admired farmers who are still farming until the day they die. I love to see a farmer turn 80 years old and go to a farm auction to buy equipment or buy a farm. I admire their dedication and commitment to the lifestyle. – Lisa Munniksma
In Your Share
Sweet Dumpling Squash