First-Generation Farmers Take On Crops and Livestock
When Wes Kent was a child, he’d roll his metal tractor toys through the dirt and pretend he was a farmer. Not a superhero. Or a cowboy. Or a fireman. A farmer.
“It was my dream,” says Wes. “It’s all I ever wanted to do as a little boy.” With planning, hard work, and good luck, he fulfilled that childhood dream for himself, wife Martha, daughter Isabelle, 10, and son Lee, 7.
They own a beautiful 300-acre slice of the Shenandoah Valley near Weyers Cave, Virginia. Their farm is called Winding River Farms, and the Kents raise dairy and beef cows, and turkeys. They also lease land for grain and hay production.
Embarking on a career in farming without funds or land is challenging, to say the least. Wes grew up in the area; his father was a horse trainer. The Kents “started with nothing,” he remembers. He graduated from college and then went into dairy farm management. He bought his own cows while a manager and started looking for a place of his own to lease. Buying a farm was out of the question. In 2000, Wes found a 180-acre farm, with a dairy barn and poultry house, for sale. He asked the owners if he could lease it. “It never hurts to ask,” he says. They agreed.
The farm flourished. Milk flowed, cattle gained weight, and crops grew. The Kents reinvested their earnings into the farm and were able to purchase it in 2003. They admit good luck was part of the equation.
“Things went well for us,” says Martha.
In Virginia, land placed in a conservation easement produces tax credits, which the owner can use or sell. In 2011, the couple used those credits to buy a second farm of 120 acres.
“We sold our tax credits for 80¢ on the dollar to raise the down payment to go to the bank to purchase the second farm,” says Wes.
24-7 animal care
The care and feeding of livestock sets the agenda every day at Winding River Farms.
First, 110 Holstein cows are milked twice a day. The milk is sold to a dairy co-op and marketed under the Marva Maid brand. Then comes the feeding of the replacement heifers and 75 Angus and Angus-cross beef cows. Wes hopes to grow his beef herd to 100 head in the next few years. The family also raises turkeys on contract.
Enjoying the country life
Winding River Farms employs Wes full time. Martha works in Harrisonburg at The Breeze, the student newspaper at James Madison University. Country living offers the Kent family a lifestyle that is rich and fruitful. Martha tends an impressive vegetable garden and puts up food for the family.
Isabelle participates in 4-H and rides their two horses: a Tennessee walker named Royal and a quarter horse named Cinnamon.
Lee helps out with the turkey chicks when they are small and hangs out with the family dog, a cute little hound mix named Maggie.
The family has a pet pig named Miss Piggy, who wandered onto the farm one day. “She showed up like a stray,” says Wes.
“Once we got to know her, we liked her,” says Martha. “She’s a tame pig. She smiles and wiggles her tail when we feed her.”
Days are long for the family, but when the sun sets and the chores are done, the Kents settle down into their life in the country, which was once only a dream.
By Karen Weir-Jimerson