From field to heaven: A farm family’s harvest and loss
In the months following the farm accident that claimed the life of Brush, Colo., farmer Jeff Kroskob, his son worked to confirm the details of Kroskob’s multifaceted farming operation and the agreements he had with area farmers, dairies and feedyards.
It wasn’t that Dustin, who has worked alongside his dad for years was unfamiliar, it’s that Jeff Kroskob not only sealed deals with handshakes, he was able to track every acre and every contract in his head. One farmer who had contracted his entire corn crop with Jeff told the younger Dustin that he trusted Jeff emphatically to give him a fair deal. That, Dustin said, says a great deal about the way Jeff ran his business and approached relationships.
Jeff and Wendy Kroskob were high school sweethearts, marrying the summer after graduation. Kroskob was a farmer at heart from the word go, she said, and the two started their life and farm together with very little. They slowly added farm ground, raising sugar beets, beans, hay and corn and eventually began custom farming as they raised their children, Amberly, who passed away as an infant, Alisha, Dustin and Malori.
JW Farms grew to include a hay grinding business and that, Wendy said, is when the business began to really take off with her late husband’s business savvy and farming know-how. Custom haying, trucking and chopping businesses all added to the operation and as the couple’s children grew, they took on more involved roles, eventually running and growing portions of the businesses he established. His parents also played roles in the haying business. Although semi retired at the time, his dad Don purchased a swather and helped run the haying business with his mom, Norma, supporting the family along the way.
Daughter Alisha and her husband, Spike Reynolds, purchased the hay grinding equipment from her father and were entrusted with the business he had built, but not before Spike spent a number of years as an hourly employee for the farm and the grinding business, learning the ropes from Jeff. Daughter Malori did the same with the trucking company and took the business lessons learned there and now operates Double R Embroidery in downtown Fort Morgan. Dustin worked alongside his dad, in addition to his own farming operations, and at 35 is running what is now a substantial farm with a large crew with the support of his wife, Courtney.
Reynolds said her dad’s business lessons were best learned through watching him look for ways to grow or fill needs for services. She said her brother Dustin’s ability to take the lessons he learned at his dad’s side and put them into practice has been impressive. She likens it to taking a completed puzzle and dumping it on the ground and trying to pick it up in one piece.
“He was always there to help him make the decisions or offer guidance so it wasn’t Dustin alone making decisions and taking the leap,” she said. “It shows how much you learn under Dad’s wing when he was able to jump in and head it up.”
Wendy said over the years Jeff would tell her to make note of contracts or deals or agreements “just in case” and she would brush it off, thinking he would be there to run the operation. Moving forward, she said they intend to continue putting relationships above business, but jokingly said that more contracts in writing might be in order since they aren’t able to keep track of the hundreds of details in their heads, as he was able to.
“The amazing thing with the grief and everything just being turned upside down, everything was in place so mom was taken care of and Dustin had the knowledge and everything was in place because of who he was and what he did here,” Alisha said. “We were able to fall apart on our own and internally and do our grieving but nothing else fell apart because of what he had taught us.”
FIRST HARVEST WITHOUT HIM
The first haylage harvest without Jeff wasn’t smooth. Only a few weeks after Jeff passed, Wendy said her world had stopped but as farmers know, the farm couldn’t. Despite their loss, the busy summer moved forward but was complicated by the breakdowns and other frustrations that so often plague harvest. Storm clouds were rolling in as Dustin was working to get equipment back in the field and Wendy said she prayed that they would be able to finish before the rains came. It poured and harvest ground to a stop.
“I texted Dustin the next morning and told him I was so sorry he wasn’t able to finish,” she said. “He told me it was exactly what he needed. He just needed to catch his breath.”
The next day brought a hot, drying wind and when the fields were ready, so were the equipment and trucks. It was a reminder, she said, so familiar to farm families that God’s timing is perfect.
Silage season, Jeff’s favorite and a major portion of the family’s operation, just wrapped up. Starting the choppers and opening the first field without Jeff, Dustin said, was nearly unbearable. Albeit stressful, he said it went as well as any harvest could have. The choppers and trucks all bear vinyl stickers paying homage to Jeff and the crew was all outfitted in vests that read Jeff’s Crew. The couple’s 10 grandchildren, who so often spent time alongside their papa, proudly wore their matching shirts that read Papa’s Crew for a photo in front of an interstate billboard in Jeff’s honor near the family’s home. At any given time, Dustin said one of his children or their cousins were with him, just as his dad had included them on the farm.
“I told the guys from New Holland, ‘you guys are going to take credit for these machines running so well but there’s a whole church praying for us,’” Dustin said. “As much as you put through them and as many moving parts as there are, they just don’t hold together like they did this year. They’re great machines but there’s always some issues and we just didn’t have any.”
The accident, they said, was just that. An accident. Wendy said she takes comfort in knowing that Jeff went straight from field to heaven. Dustin said he knows farmers can certainly lose sight of just how dangerous many of the day-to-day tasks can be, especially during harvest, and encourages people to be both cautious and grateful. ❖
— Gabel is the assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 768-0024.