When Natalina Sents moved the gold tassel on her graduation cap to become an Iowa State University graduate, she wasn't headed for a full-time job. She was embarking on the journey of a lifetime.
Partnering with Beck's, the largest family-owned retail seed company in the United States, Sents is setting out on the Why I Farm Roadtrip — a year-long, 50 state tour documenting agriculture's diversity and revealing the untold stories of America's farmers.
'Farmers are the backbone of our nation,' said Scott Beck, president of Beck's. 'As agriculture continues to be scrutinized, it's important we tell their story of faith, fortitude and passion. When Natalina approached us with the idea to travel the country interviewing farmers, her dream matched our mission to honor the American farmer. By taking the Why I Farm Movement on the road, we're able to give even more farmers a voice.'
Whether traveling by car, plane or train, Sents will spend approximately one week in each state gathering real stories from real farmers who not only open their homes, but their hearts.
The Why I Farm Roadtrip began on May 15 in Sents' home state of Iowa. Over the past three weeks, she has visited farms in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Sents will be sharing these stories on the Why I Farm social media accounts and blog.
'From the moment I learned about Beck's Why I Farm Movement, I became inspired to tell the story of agriculture,' said Sents, a Columbus Junction, IA. 'With their help, I get to live my dream of traveling the country, interviewing farmers, and chronicling their lives on the Why I Farm Roadtrip.'
Since 2013, Beck's Why I Farm Movement has honored 21 farmers by bringing to life their heartfelt stories through powerful video. Reaching more than 3.8 million people, the Why I Farm Movement has gained fans and followers from across the globe.
Here are excerpts from some of the farmers Sents has interviewed:
Erin Brenneman, Iowa
'I tell people all the time, I run a maternity ward for pigs. Being a mom, I think that you can relate, and kind of feel, more of what the sows need. I was raised in the city, so when I got to the farm I wanted to do everything. I drove tractors, loaded hogs, power-washed, and drove the feed truck,' said Erin Brenneman. 'The farrowing house was probably the last place I went. But immediately, I just fell in love. When I first started doing this, my mother-in- law was in the farrowing house. She was the one that really taught me what to do.'
Barbara Siemen, Michigan
Barbara Siemen didn't grow up in a farming family. She never imagined she'd live on a farm. It wasn't until she met her husband, Darrin, at Michigan State that she was introduced to life in agriculture.
'Through college, we'd come back home on the weekends here to the farm. I'd go out there and milk in the parlor right next to him, I'd ride on the tractor fender, I'd sit on the uncomfortable armrest of the tractor for hours. That's really where it started to blossom as I asked him questions. He was my first teacher. He had a way of explaining things to me that I understood.'
After the first date, she knew Darrin was the one. Right after college, they got married and moved to the farm. 'I couldn't not be part of this. It felt like coming home to me.'
Now, Barbara and Darrin are raising their three children on the farm. Each day, she helps them care for the calves and chickens.
'Teaching the kids responsibility, seeing their love for animals and agriculture grow is really amazing,' Siemen said. 'Really what brought me here was love. A love for the man, a love for the industry, for the community, it's really all about love. This is not the life I had imagined for myself, but once I fell in love with those things, I couldn't live without any of them.'
Jim Rus, Illinois
Jim Rus always knew he wanted to come back as the third generation working on his family's corn and soybean farm in western Illinois.
First though, his dad encouraged him to get a college education and see what it was like in the real world. They planned for Jim to return to the farm after eight or 10 years at an off farm job. All that changed when his dad's cancer came back.
'When he got cancer, I was like, 'Oh my gosh. I have to start learning more,'' Rus said. 'He was 51 and I was 23 when he died. A lot of guys have their dad, grandpa, uncle or cousin farm with them, but I never had that so it was kind of trial and error. Sometimes, if I didn't know what to do, I'd just do it the way Dad always did it. Doing some things for 20 or 30 years, he made it look easy. Other times, you learn by the hard knocks of doing it the wrong way and then you learn quick.'
To follow Beck's Why I Farm Roadtrip, visit www.WhyIFarm.com/blog , www.facebook.com/WhyIFarm, and www.twitter.com/WhyIFarm, as well as @WhyIFarm on Instagram and Snapchat. To submit a story idea, please email WhyIFarm@gmail.com.