Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 6-11-12
During the late 1980s my parents bought their first farm – a place near Lyman, Neb. Though they were excited to own their own land, they spent the rest of that decade and the early 90s trying to find a way to actually farm their own place.
Meanwhile, back in Strasburg, Colo., my parents rented a little country house about 15 miles from town. My dad continued the contract pumping business he’d started during his dairy farming days and my mom did his business paperwork and stayed home to take care of my sister, brother and me. They continued to rent the pasture land they’d found a few years earlier and built their cattle herd up from 12 to 20 head.
In 1991, just after my third sibling was born, it worked out for us to move to another rental house about 10 miles south of Strasburg. My grandpa and grandma lived just a mile up the road from it and my grandpa rented and farmed the place the house was on.
By 1993, it was apparent that it wasn’t ever going to work for my folks to move to the place in Nebraska – my dad couldn’t find a decent job there – so my parents decided to sell it and look for another farm.
The selling process took three years, but they finally found an unexpected buyer – a foster family living in downtown Denver. The couple bought the place, pending the sale of their house near Washington Park.
About that time my grandpa decided to retire, and the landowner’s son planned to take over for him and farm the place our rented house sat on. My parents knew that they were going to have to move soon, so they eagerly searched for a new place to live.
They looked at several farms to buy in Nebraska and Kansas. Our favorite (well, the one I actually liked best was near Great Bend because it included a horse with purchase) was a farm near Smith Center, Kansas. The place had a big, beautiful, older two-story house and some crop and grassland. We were all pretty excited about it – so much in fact, my parents wanted to put a contract on it. But, the seller wouldn’t let them put any kind of claim on the place.
The house and most of the land on the Smith Center place sold just two weeks later. We were all bummed about it, but in hindsight it turned out to be a blessing.
It took a few months to find out why so many things hadn’t worked out for my folks, but later that year my dad got an unexpected call from the landowner. Her son no longer wanted to farm the place, so she offered to lease it to my folks.
My parents graciously accepted the completely unexpected offer. And thanks to the sale of the Nebraska place, they had money saved to make a down payment on machinery.
Now it’s been nearly 17 years since my folks started farming the place south of Strasburg. They both acknowledge that they never could have begun or expanded their operation without the help of friends, neighbors and other area farmers who offered them support, help and opportunities to rent land. My folks always wanted to move out of the busy Colorado Front Range area, but looking back, there was no better place for them to get a start.
Today, my parents’ life isn’t ideal – my dad still has to work a full-time job contract pumping oil wells in addition to running the place (he’d love to just farm and ranch) and my mom works full time too – but they are both grateful to get to be people who are living their dream.