Engelhard family keeps farming tradition alive
UNIONVILLE, Mich. (AP) — The past three years have been a delightful whirlwind for the Nathan and Amy Engelhard family.
In that time, they got married, had two children and still managed to remain active in the community and on their 1,100-acre organic farm in Unionville.
Nathan has had a passion for agriculture since he was a young child growing up on the family farm. However, he questioned whether working in the field was his true calling.
“During 2000 to 2001, it was a hard year for agriculture, let alone our family,” he recalled. “That kind of made me question . is this something I really want to do?”
So he went to college for diesel mechanics after graduating from Valley Lutheran High School of Saginaw in 2008.
He planned to farm on the side while working as a mechanic.
“I realized that the agriculture roots run deeper, maybe, than I thought they did,” he said.
In 2009, he bought a family farm near where he grew up. In 2010, he finished college and came home to farm full-time.
The Huron Daily Tribune reports that that farm will become sesquicentennial next year.
The fifth-generation farmer also has agriculture roots dating back to when his great-great-grandfather established the Engelhard family’s original homestead in 1892.
Nathan and Amy raise their two children — 20-month-old Lawson and newborn Jordana — in the same house that Nathan grew up in.
Nathan’s family started farming organically in 2002.
From 2008 to 2009, the majority of the farm was transitioned to an organic operation.
He described the process of transitioning from conventional to organic farming.
Once it has been three years since the last prohibited input, an organic crop can be harvested.
“Three years after you spray, or you desiccate, or whatever your last prohibited input would be, three years from then, you can harvest an organic crop,” Nathan said.
“We plant two years of a soybean or dry bean (crop). The third year, we’ll plant corn,” he explained. “And then through that year, the three years would be up. So we plant a transitional crop and then harvest an organic crop.”
“It’s not by the crop rotation, it’s by the calendar,” he added.
He described organic farming as “polar opposite” from conventional farming.
“It’s more like what my grandfather grew up doing,” he said. “Obviously, the technology’s a lot different. We’re using GPS. We’re using large equipment that my grandpa never got to use in his career.”
“But it’s still driving a tractor through the field . It’s kind of reminiscent of before genetically modified sugarbeets,” he added.
Organic farmers have to be very timely with mechanical passes to properly cultivate.
“We can’t be two days late with a pass . We’re always trying to stay two days ahead,” Nathan said.
He said it’s not easier or harder than conventional farming — just different.
“I wouldn’t be able to be here today if our farm was a conventional farm,” Nathan said. “There’s just not enough acres ... to supply (enough) jobs.”
“There’s some small guys that are doing it conventionally, and they’re doing a good job. It just all depends on where you’re at financially, and equipment and land, and that sort of thing,” he added.
“The organic versus conventional thing — we do both on our farm. I don’t like the division of agriculture that’s sometimes played out between organic and conventional,” Nathan said.
“This is a Farm Bill year. hopefully we can get a Farm Bill passed. I say hopefully because there’s been years when we haven’t been able to get one passed. And if we divide agriculture, we only become weaker. And that’s not a good thing in my mind,” he added.
Working with Nathan on the farm are a full-time office manager, a full-time farm hand and his father, Dennis.
Amy, a Blissfield native, was involved in 4-H as a child and while growing up, her family had “a few acres.” She also worked as an educator for Michigan State University Extension.
“What makes our marriage pretty strong is, we’re both very passionate about ag, and it shows.” Amy said.
“You have to have that commitment to each other, but you also have to have that commitment to the land and know the heartaches and the stress that come with it,” she added.
Amy described those heartaches as “being completely dependent on the weather.”
“One of the things that really sealed the deal when Nathan and I were dating was the (farm’s) crest: ‘We plant. We harvest. God granteth the increase,’” she said. “We are just the caretakers. We are just laborers. It’s a labor of love, but at the end of the day, God really will provide, and it makes our faith and our family 100 percent our top goal.”
The Engelhards were recently named finalists for the 62nd annual National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Congress, and attended the congress in Sacramento, Califormia.
Nathan is the president of the Tuscola County Farm Bureau, and Amy its communications chair. Amy is also president-elect of the Sebewaing Rotary. Nathan is a trustee on the St. Paul Lutheran Church board.
Information from: Huron Daily Tribune, http://www.michigansthumb.com