Farming with fathers builds bonds
EGG HARBOR CITY — The Sahl family skipped a generation in farm management.
Jeremy took over from his grandfather, Joseph, while his father, John, a pastor at Emmanuel Church in Egg Harbor City, worked and continues to work on it. The farm — a former truck farm that sold produce — is now an 80-acre corn, soybean and you-pick farm with farm animals, pig races, corn mazes, hayrides and more.
Nathan and his siblings help with the farming chores — or at least Andrew, 13, David, 12, and Naomi, 6, do. (Amelia, 8 months, is still too young).
Because Sahl said it’s difficult to make a go of it on a small farm, he drives a school bus and does landscape work for a friend from the local church where he volunteers.
His brother, Jason, pitches in by helping with the mechanic work, he said.
“We do a lot of depending on the Lord for keeping food on the table,” he said.
C.J. Isbell’s dad, Eddie, took time away from farming to help support his growing family when he was young, too, he said. CJ’s grandfather, Joe, in those instances, spent time showing him the ins and outs of farming.
“I did what he told me to, basically,” Isbell said.
“Understanding the back side is sometimes more important,” Eddie Isbell said. “I feel like I’m trying to be more understanding with [CJ’s] concept where I didn’t have that with my father. He was set in his ways, but I love him for that.
“He instilled a strong work ethic and emphasized that farm animals require the proper tending to,” Eddie Isbell said. “If you’re going to do something, do it right,” was his motto.
C.J. Isbell, a third-generation farmer, rebuilt his family farm after his grandfather, Joe, retired and sold all but a small amount of hay-producing acreage.
Isbell then overhauled it, taking it from commodity crops to non-GMO grains, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork and chicken, turkeys and layers and regional sales that extend as far as Washington, D.C.
He is more of the visionary, the one who sees the marketing potential and does the planning and purchasing whereas his father, Eddie, is more cost-conscious, he said.
“He’s my best friend,” said C.J. who, like many farmers, each day works with his dad tending to animals, cultivating crops and baling hay.
“Parents are often separated from their kids, because they’re always working,” Jeremy Sahl, a sixth generation Galloway Township, N.J., farmer, said. “We’re working together.
“It creates stronger bonds. It’s a way of life — a family tradition — and I’m part of it.”
Family farming was so much a part of Kayla Griffith’s life growing up that the 30-year-old returned to the 800-acre Anne Arundel, Md., vegetable and commodity grain farm after she obtained a bachelors degree in biology, a masters in agronomy and got some Ph.D work in agriculture behind her.
“I plan on staying here,” she said. “I love being on the farm with my family. I want my whole life to be like this.”
On Father’s Day, Kayla said she’ll likely enjoy a restaurant meal with her dad, Jeff. The Isbells are planning a picnic alongside a lake that’s located on their farm. Sahl’s son, Nathan, 10, made him a wooden toolbox and said he plans on also helping to give his dad the “peaceful and quiet house for Father’s Day” that he requested.
The generational teaching styles in Kayla Griffith’s family have been similar, she said.
Grandfather Earl, was transitioning to farm supervisor when she was young, a position that allowed him to spend more time with her while dad Jeff took over management.
“Pop would say, ‘Here’s a problem, you’ve got to figure it out,’” she said.
Jeff Griffith, by contrast, “knows and explains things really well,” Kayla said. “He makes sure that I understand what I’m doing first.”
C.J. Isbell and wife, Jessica, try to educate their children, Faith, 12, and Landon, 9, in that manner, teaching them also responsibility and accountability, he said.
The current generation doesn’t farm because their parents pressured them to, they said. They do it because they love it.
The Griffiths, Kayla said, encouraged her and her brother, Jeffrey, 28, “to be whatever we wanted to be.”
Jeffrey became an attorney. Kayla found the outdoors, the farm equipment and the farmers market more appealing.
“It’s very important to me that it continue,” Jeff Griffith noted. “[But] my dad didn’t push me, either. I love farming. It’s the whole of life. To see seeds grow and animals born and grow up — it’s something no farmer would want to see go to waste.”
So far, nobody has to push 10-year-old Nathan Sahl toward a potential farming career.
“My great, great, great — I don’t know how many greats — he started the farm … and I want to take over from my dad, because it’s something that I like,” he said. “You get to ride on the mower. I’ve cultivated a few times, and I weed the strawberries.
“I want to keep the corn maze and the strawberries going,” he said. “I like to have people enjoying the farm. Without farming, there’s no food. And I also want to sell at the market.”
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