Friday, July 20, 2012

Farm Women Fridays: Unexpected Farmer

Our Farm Woman this week, Ashley Bonk, never really expected to be farming. “My father tilled about 2500 acres, and still does, but I never really had much involvement with the farm other than growing up around it.” I sat down with Ashley and her two daughters recently to talk about her family’s farm operation.

I’ve been lucky enough to know Ashley since we were in high school. We even roomed together one year at the University of Delaware, where Ashley was pursuing a teaching degree. Ashley married her husband, Brandon, in 2008. At that time, Brandon had been farming on his own for about a year. Ashley quickly fell into the farming business. At first, she just helped out with little things when she wasn’t teaching at a local elementary school. When her second daughter was born last year, she decided to leave the teaching profession and be a full-time mom and farm wife. She says, “the best part of farming for me is really being able to work with Brandon and be with my girls.”

“I do all the paperwork and book-keeping, and whatever else Brandon needs me to do,” she says. Most days in the summer she can be found checking on irrigation systems or helping to move from one field to the next. She describes herself as a “typical farm wife,” responsible for the odds and ends of farming, from transportation to providing meals during the harvest season.

Ashley says that one of the biggest misconceptions about farming is the time it takes to do a good job. “I never really understood what a huge time commitment farming was until I actually did it,” she tells me. When it’s time to plant or harvest or till, it has to be done right away. Farming is certainly a time-sensitive industry.

The Bonks till 2500 acres in central Delaware. Most of their land is irrigated, which is certainly a blessing during this year’s drought. They are grain farmers – growing corn, wheat, and soybeans. This year, they’ve also had the opportunity to grow some potatoes with another local farmer. Ashley has been helping to “grade” the potatoes – determining the quality of the crop once it’s harvested.

“The potatoes have been really interesting,” says Ashley. “I like the idea that we’re growing something that people are eating directly, verses our grains, which are mostly going to the chicken industry as feed.” Going to the Delaware State Fair this weekend? You might be sampling some of the Bonks’ potatoes – a local vendor has purchased some of their potatoes to use for French fries in their concession stand.

“We’re always trying to do the best job we can, and trying to improve,” she tells me. They strive to stay current with technology and science. They have even gotten involved with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension research projects in some of their fields. The family was also recently featured as part of local television station WBOC’s “Honoring Delmarva Farmers” segment. You can see that clip here.

Wanting to learn more about the industry she found herself in, Ashley signed up for Annie’s Project, a program targeting farm women to help them understand the business of farming and make decisions for their family farm. “I really enjoyed the program,” she says. “Not just the information, but getting to meet other farm women and making connections within this industry.” She learned how to get involved on both her farm and in the farming community, and came away with many new resources, contacts, and a greater appreciation for the work her family is doing.

“I remember always being surprised as a teacher that most children really didn’t know much about their food. That’s something I’d like to get back into someday – teaching kids about farming and agriculture.” The combo certainly fits well into Ashley’s areas of expertise.

“I want people to think about the families that are behind the food they are eating, and remember that it’s mostly family farms, not ‘factories’.”

Farm Women Fridays is a series of interviews that will run through the summer of 2012. If you have any questions (for me or the other women), please leave them in the comments or tweet me @carabecca! You can see all the Farm Women Fridays posts here.

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