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An Love Connection

Editor's Note:

Ed Winkle passed away

peacefully on April 3, 2015. The interviews for this story were conducted in February 2015.

LuAnn Winkle was working in a Soil and Water Conservation District office in Erie County, New York in 1999 when she got a question from a farmer who wanted to implement some soil conservation measures on his farm. She took to the Internet for some initial answers.

"I started searching -- I don't think I Googled it, because it wasn't even around -- and looking for some expert advice on no-till conservation," Winkle, who now works as a consultant and farms near Martinsville in southern Ohio. Her search results kept yielding a common name: Ed Winkle. Ed had just been awarded the Zeneca National No-Till Innovator Award. He was something of a rock star in no-till circles at the time. So, LuAnn reached out to him for professional guidance she could pass along to the farmer who had sought her advice.

"His name started popping up everywhere," says LuAnn, whose screen name in the community has long been "Soilbabe." "Through, I made the connection with him and after corresponding over technical matters, it turned out we'd both been single parents for a while."

What started out as a professional exchange of ideas to help out a fellow farmer ended up something dramatically different.

"When we met, I was sitting on the tailgate of my Dakota and she pulled up in a shiny blue Ford Expedition and I saw her license plate. It was SOILH20!" Ed said. "I knew I met my destiny!"

After many trips to visit LuAnn -- a 420-mile, 1-way trip from southern Ohio to western New York -- and countless conversations, both on the web and face-to-face, Ed and LuAnn got engaged and later married in June 2001.

"Reverend Fred Shaw had me bring water to our wedding and LuAnn bring soil (for Mother Earth) and he mixed them together during the ceremony and said they cannot be separated!"

LuAnn joined Ed's crop consulting business, HyMark Consulting, and has worked as a watershed manager and educator in southwestern Ohio, and the two would go on to buy a farm together in 2004.

The connection to -- and interactions with other farmers around the nation altogether -- didn't end when the new couple started their life together; a simple question Ed asked his new bride yielded something that today would be considered the physical equivalent of an online social network.

"When we got ready to decide where to go to on our honeymoon, I had already been drawn into his group of Internet farming friends. When Ed asked where I wanted to go, I said I wanted to go buy a popup pickup camper and take a big drive around the country. Our 3-week honeymoon was spent driving from farm to farm around the country, visiting all the farmers he'd gotten to know on the site," LuAnn says. "We would hook the camper up to power in somebody's shop or grain bin. They would post on that we had been there and say where we were going next. People would say 'Hey, stop by here! We have visited farms everywhere from here to Washington and Oregon. We've been on multiple farms in all 50 states. One of [Ed's] Internet connections even led to us being able to go to New Zealand twice."

Added Ed: "Everyone called her Soil Babe and she used that as her name on your website."

Years later, Ed and LuAnn were standing in the elevator at the National No-till Conference. When the elevator door opened, who stood there as they stepped out? A familiar face who had approached LuAnn years before in Erie County, New York.

"I saw that farmer. We had a good laugh," she says.

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