Joel and Becca Ferry are a typical farming family, at first glance. They are raising their family the same way Joel was raised, on the farm. But take take a closer look, and you learn their story is remarkable. Their journey back to the family farm is different than most young farmers because they didn’t know that they wanted to farm, at least not at first.
Joel loved working on the farm and appreciated the dedication and the hard work he learned in his youth, but he had ambition and he thought he knew a lot as he set out to college. He wanted to be a businessman, travel and live what he thought, at the time, as the high life. He met and married Becca, originally from Chicago, at Utah State University and they started living the life Joel had planned.
After graduating with a degree in Economics with a minor in international business and science, Joel was hired by a local bank. “I always enjoyed working on the farm but it wasn’t what I thought I wanted to do long term,” says Joel.
He moved up in the company, he was very successful but as he and his wife started their family Joel’s vision of what he wanted shifted. He started to take his kids to the farm more and more and spent time helping on the farm wherever he could.
Then Joel saw a way to get back on the farm. “We had wetland acres and we were using duck hunting to generate some income for our farm, but not a lot, so I modified how we managed those lands, acquired water rights and applied water to these areas that were considered wasteland areas and made those areas productive,” says Joel.
By seeing an area of the family farm that wasn’t being utilized, Joel was able to bring more value to the farm and make it more productive. He says he knew if he could maximize the potential in wetland grazing the profits would be enough to allow him to come back to the farm fulltime.
“It was multiple years to get permits, acquiring water, building levees, building the habitat for these migrating birds’ needs,” says Joel, “But it allowed us to enhance that side of our business to make it profitable enough for me to come back.”
The road back to the farm was difficult and he used many of the skills he learned in banking to make it happen. Joel spent time developing relationships with state and federal government agencies learning about their water fowl management plans. Convincing government officials that grazing will benefit not only the farmers but also provide better habitat for birds was a also a difficult task but Joel found a way to meet the needs of all parties involved.
City to country
Becca Ferry’s journey into farm life was also long and difficult. Being raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, London, and Chicago she dreamed of being a teacher in inner-city Chicago. When she met Joel, he took her to meet his parents; it was the first time she had ever been on a farm.
As life together progressed she was satisfied with their suburban living just out of Salt Lake City. She was teaching and Joel seemed ready to climb the corporate ladder. As Joel’s goals shifted to farming Becca wasn’t convinced. She felt they had it all, so why mess with a good thing.
As Joel brought home maps and worked to develop wetland grazing, Becca was surprised. “I wanted a husband that worked Monday through Friday 8-5,” says Becca. “I thought I would raise my family in my ideal cul de-sac with plenty of neighbors,” she says.
Becca was completely new to the farming world and as Joel transitioned to part-time at his bank job and spent more time at the farm she wasn’t sure it was for the best. “For a year and half he worked both jobs. And even a third job of talking me into the benefits of farm life,” says Becca. It was difficult to see the benefits right away since Joel traded in an 8-5 for a sixteen-hour workday. They were trying to make it work living in the suburbs and farming in the country. Together they decided to farm full-time and move closer to the family farm.
Go to work
Joel and Becca jumped into farming life with dedication and a determination to do it well. “Since I’ve been back I have seen other opportunities on our farm to improve our production with other land improvements,” says Joel. He has sought and found ways to improve all aspects of the farm.
The Ferries run a cow/calf operation, custom feedlot, and they also grow corn, alfalfa, and wheat along with the wetland improvements Joel developed. They also improved and developed more opportunities for the duck clubs on the farm. “I’ve really focused on a nutrient management plan for my ground so we can maximize our production,” says Joel.
Becca did not just sit back and watch these transitions happen. She has become as voice for agriculture. In 2013 Becca attended Women’s Communications Boot Camp sponsored by American Farm Bureau Federation. The boot camp is a three-day intensive training on how to speak out for agriculture in many different ways.
She also is participating in Ag in the Classroom in her children’s’ schools. “Our dreams have changed,” says Becca, “There is nothing more fulfilling than the honest hard work of being a farmer.”
“The big barrier to most young farmers in the economics of it, there is just not enough money to support the parents and the young family, and provide a retirement for the parents” says Joel. He believes every farm has some potential that can be enhanced to make room for the next generation of farmers.
“We have a good life,” says Becca “It’s not the one I would have imagined for myself, but it is a perfect ending for this city girl and her farm boy.”
- Bailey writes from Liberty, Utah