Broken window opens path for Addis
BISHOPVILLE, Md. — Growing up in northern Worcester County, Richard Addis Jr. had the telltale qualities of a budding farmer. His huge collection of farm toys took over the family’s living room, he gravitated toward large equipment and the whiff of diesel exhaust. But he didn’t live on farm.
As a kid, the memory of standing in his backyard watching Selbyville, Del., farmer Cliff Parker work ground is forever part of him.
“One day he stopped and let me ride,” Addis said. “From that time on, I was hooked.”
Another pivotal moment for Addis came in high school when he got into a fight on a school bus and broke a window.
To pay for the damage, Addis’ parents asked the driver and farmer, Eugene Magee, if their son could work off the debt on the farm. Magee put Addis to work spreading shavings in his chicken houses and that ultimately led to Addis working for Magee through high school and eventually forming a partnership that has helped them both continue farming today.
“Every bit of it goes back to that broken window,” Magee said. Then he laughed. “He said he’s still paying taxes on that window. Be careful what you break.”
Like a lot of first-generation farmers, Addis’ path to farming has lots of turns. After high school he joined the U.S. Air Force, specializing in electronics and radar systems, but the farm was never too far from his mind.
“Every time I had leave I found myself coming home at springtime to plant and fall to help harvest,” he said.
Six and half years of active duty took him to Korea, where he met his wife Katie, South Carolina and Florida, before returning to Worcester County in 2011 to put down roots.
Working full-time and traveling the state as a radio technician, Addis said he started his farm operation with a field rented from Magee’s parents, then was able to purchase two nearby fields and lease another 100 acres for about 200 acres total, growing corn, soybeans and wheat. At about the same time Addis was getting his own operation going, Magee was coming to a crossroads in his farming career. He had stopped growing chickens a few years earlier and the demands of his school busing contract were increasing, essentially becoming a year-round job.
“I was probably getting ready to stop,” Magee said. “It was coming to the point where I had to make a choice.”
Magee said he had been farming about the same amount of acres as Addis had acquired and neither could justify buying or updating all the equipment to make their operations work separately. The solution was to partner in sharing equipment; Addis has the tillage and planting equipment and Magee has the combine and trucks for harvesting.
“With the two of us, it works out pretty good,” Magee said. “There’s no way I could do it by myself.”
Addis said the different skill sets they both bring have helped their operations. With his experience in radio and electronics, Addis said it’s helped them implement a lot of precision agriculture technology to be more efficient.
Magee brings the mechanical expertise on equipment, along with his decades of farming experience.
“I find us sharing knowledge now,” Addis said. “As I’m working on something, I’m sharing with him what I’m doing and vice versa. It’s just a great give-and-take relationship.”
Addis said his military service in general has been a good foundation for farming as well.
“The discipline and seeing things through, that’s had an impact on how well we’ve done,” he said. “If you’re going to do it, there’s only one way to do it and that’s go all in.”
Addis said any money made in the operation has gone right back into the farm, and some years, he said some of the salary from his full-time job goes into it as well. He added he would like to add some more acres to his operation over time, enough for his three children, Annabelle, Emmitt and Reese, to have an option to farm if they find passion in it like he has.
“If it’s something they want to do, I want to make sure I have enough land that they can work together and have a foundation to work off of,” he said.
Beginning last fall, Addis added another component to his farming life, starting the Shorebilly Farmer YouTube channel. He’s amassed more than 35 videos, 10-20 minutes each that dive into specific aspect of farming and life on the farm. He’s even got Magee to be in a couple of the videos, under the moniker “Majestic Creature.”
Addis said he had come across other farmers regularly posting videos but noticed most were part of large multi-generational farm operations in the Midwest.
Farming six miles from the Atlantic Ocean, near huge population centers and dealing with other unique aspects from weather to regulations, he said a small-scale, first-generation farmer could bring another perspective.
“I felt like the story of the little guy wasn’t being told,” he said. “I felt like we had something interesting to share with people.”
After months of social restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic, Addis grabbed his cell phone and started filming.
“We were going stir crazy with nothing to do and we needed something positive in our lives,” Addis said. “It’s just the day-to-day operation of what needs to be done. It’s kind of off the cuff. If the mood strikes, I pick up the camera.”
The raw video clips then go to Katie who edits and packages the videos for posting online. It may take about six hours to cut clips together, add graphics, music and other effects to get it ready for the web.
“I’ll admit she probably spends more time on it than I do,” Richard said.
Katie Addis said she encouraged Richard to start the channel to educate people as he’s able to break down the complexities of farming into language non-farmers can better understand.
“To me, that’s a really good quality to have and a quality not a lot of people have,” Katie said.
Though the videos haven’t reached “viral” status — a couple have passed 1,000 views — Richard said he has enjoyed the feedback from area farmers and learned a lot from those conversations and been able to engage further with people outside of farming.
“It’s just neat to have that dialogue,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is you never learn it all.”