To many, the 1800’s are characterized by the men and women of the Gold Rush era moving westward to make a claim, strike gold, and find instant riches. But not all of those who moved westward in the 1800’s had the same intentions or the same destination. Another migration was spurred on by the Homestead Act of 1862, which brought many hopeful farmers to the vast and arid expanse of Western Kansas. These men were seeking a different type of gold that can only be seen in the amber waves of grain rolling across the wind-blown summer horizon of Western Kansas. This gold rush did not bring instant riches. The golden wheat only promised that, if one took care of the land that propelled it upwards toward the sun, a man could feed his family, farm another year, and allow future generations to share in his success. In doing so, these first-generation farmers wrote the prologue to a beautiful anthology that has become the American family farm.
One such anthology began five generations ago when a man by the last name of Holle purchased a one-way train ticket to Western Kansas in 1892. Through his hard work and the wise decisions of subsequent generations of farmers, Orrin and Beth Holle now call the same farm home. Joining them on the original homestead are their children Henry, Eli, Maggie, and Will, who will hopefully become the sixth generation of Holle wheat farmers and cattle ranchers to work the land and cultivate a legacy.
The multi-generational nature of the family farm is no secret to Orrin, and he is always cognizant that there is something more important to nurture than his crops or cattle.
“My dad and grandfather taught me how to farm,” he said. “My dad and I are trying to teach those same lessons to my children. With my kids, I can see the future of the farm right in front of me, and that’s pretty incredible. As a farmer…as a father, I don’t know of any better reward out there than seeing your kids want to go check the cows and do other chores just like dad…I hope they’ll become the sixth generation to farm this land. That’s up to them.”
In the middle of the Holle farming anthology, Beth hopes their wise decisions and good stewardship of the land don’t become an epilogue. They make every decision with future generations in mind.
With her motherly eyes darting across the ripening fields glowing from sunset, Beth mentioned, “We’re not farming for us. We’re farming for our grandkids and our great grandkids…if we don’t make decisions that are best for the land, that won’t happen. We do the best job we know how to do.”
That job. Their aspiration. All of it can be summed up in the mission to “produce something safe and healthy for the hundreds of people that will eat because of this farm.” As if taking the weight of that statement in, Orrin continued. “It’s a very worthwhile and wonderful occupation.”
It’s an occupation the Holle family is proud of. It’s an occupation built upon a farm that is the sum total of a myriad of wise decisions meant to benefit future generations. And as the winter wheat planted by the sweat of the brow borrows color from the summer sun, the Holle family again has found a harvest that was never promised but eagerly hoped for. The Holle family has found gold.
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Scott Stebner is an agricultural photographer specializing in agriculture photography, farm photography, ranch photography, and creating epic images of rural life.