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They say 'I do' to farming

0105FFFSNlogo02.jpgThe getaway vehicle outside the church was a John Deere tractor with a sign attached that said, "She thinks my tractor's sexy." Their wedding party went to the hayfield nearest the family farm to take pictures. Jamie Hilaman planned a honeymoon trip to Iowa, where she and her new husband, Chris, toured John Deere Waterloo Works. You might say this couple is in love with farming.

It's certainly not infatuation. They've both wanted to farm since their respective childhoods near Wakeman, Ohio. Right now, they grow soybeans, hay, and corn on about 650 acres, most of which is cash rented or on shares with the landowners. Chris, 30, finds this is a manageable amount to work on his own. But his goal is to eventually farm 1,000 to 1,500 acres.

Fortunately, they have the broad family support, resources, drive, and energy to make their commitment work.

Helping to fulfill a dream

Chris's parents, Lois and Terry Hilaman, both had off-farm careers. Though neither one of them cared to farm, they knew how badly Chris wanted the chance. So when Lois's dad, George Dalton, was ready to retire, Lois and Terry bought his place with 105 acres as a bridge solution. When the time came, Chris could, in turn, buy it from them.

That time is nearly here.

"After both my parents retire and Jamie starts working, we'll begin buying the farm," says Chris.

Terry is already retired from the Ohio Department of Transportation, and Lois has less than two years before she retires.

Jamie, 23, graduates this month with a registered nursing license from Lorain Community College in Elyria. She's worked part time since 2006 as a secretary and lab technician at Amherst Hospital in Amherst, Ohio.

"It's typical that most of the farm income goes back into the farm, so an outside income is critical for personal expenses. We couldn't make it without me working," she says.

Besides the investment in Jamie's education, the young couple has also been able to buy a John Deere 8410 (235-hp.) tractor, a 1991 Peterbilt 379 semi, and a big square baler.

Lois says Chris has worked hard to buy that equipment. "I know he's my son, but I do wish more young people were like Chris and Jamie. They have good values and are well grounded," she says. Lois adds that the two usually attend "weekly get-togethers for extended family members. It helps keep the ties," she says.

Lois, Jamie, and Jamie's mom, Sherri Crawford, all help with farm management, chores, and care of family and friends. Sherri also has a full-time job, but she and Jamie raise a very large vegetable garden and put up the produce.

Jamie's dad, Jerry Crawford, bought his farm when he returned from Vietnam. He and Chris regularly assist one another on each other's farms.

"If I ever need anything, Jerry comes over," says Chris. "My water pump quit at the farm the other day, and Jerry was there working on it until late at night."

When Jamie was 10 years old, she told Jerry she didn't want to go to college; she wanted him to teach her how to farm. "He said he wanted me to go to college, but he agreed to teach me how to farm, too," remembers Jamie.

Chris grew up helping his mom's father, George Dalton. "I was always with him," says Chris. First, Chris walked the quarter mile from home. Then when he was older, he rode over on an ATV. "All I ever wanted to do was farm. When I was in middle school and high school, my mother would write my teachers notes so I could miss classes and work on Grandpa's farm."

Until 10 years ago, George was doing everything on the farm that he'd ever done. Now at age 95, "He still likes to go out and look at the cows and make sure the steers have water if I'm not around," says Chris. George has an electric scooter he takes out, weather permitting. Specially placed ramps help him get around.



Top: Pioneer seed dealer Norm Hanko is a trusted adviser and
family friend. Lower right: Chris draws supplemental income from baling
hay and straw. Lower left: One of the fields Chris farms is 50 miles west.
He makes deliveries up to 70 miles away.

Enthusiasm attracts enthusiasm

Chris and his grandpa know the pull of farming. So it wasn't too surprising one day when Chris was out baling that Zack Jackson, 15, walked across the field and came right up to him on the tractor. "Zack said all he wanted to do was farm. That's when he started working for me," says Chris. (Chris rents some land from Zack's uncle, Dale Jackson).

Jamie says, "Zack is a wonderful help. We like giving him the chance to hone his skills."

At FFA Tractor Day this year, Chris insisted that Zack take the newly purchased John Deere 8410 to the school event.

Chris says he'd like to pick up more land. As in many areas, there is plenty of competition. "It's difficult when money is no object for some renters. It's got to be at a price so I can make money," he says.

He first got into straw to supplement his income through the winter months. In years when fertilizer prices are high, some of his customers prefer to just chop it onto their fields as fertilizer. So he's always looking for more people to buy from.

This will make year two for a hay-raising partnership with some cousins who raise registered Angus. The cousins buy the seed and fertilizer for 80 acres in Fremont, Ohio, and Chris provides all the labor and equipment. Then they split the crop.

"A nice thing about owning my own semi," Chris says, "is that I can trailer the tractor and baler. Plus, it will carry about 57 big square bales at a time, which saves me a lot of trips in a smaller truck."

About 125 of the 650 acres Chris farms are planted to hay. He chisel-plows right before he plants the hay in mid- or late August, after the wheat or spelt is harvested. "Spelt is sold to mills for flour. It looks like wheat and is also used in place of oats. We mix it with molasses and corn for cattle feed," says Chris.

The Hilamans maintain a beef herd of around 18 head, both registered Angus and some Holsteins raised for beef. The herd has grown from a single Angus heifer that Chris purchased at age 13.

Four female calves arrived this spring. "Our bucket calves are doing well," says Jamie. "We're looking at buying a new bull to introduce a new blood line."

Eventually the couple will build on the 105 acres where Grandpa Dalton still lives. Right now they live in a home in Wakeman. "It's a farming town, so many of our friends are farmers," says Jamie.

One good family friend is Pioneer seed dealer Norm Hanko. In fact, the couple met through Hanko. "Jamie and her brother worked for me when they were little," he says. "One day I took them to the Hilaman place because Chris's family was making maple syrup." Jamie was about 8 and Chris was 15.

"I still thought boys had cooties then, so it wasn't love at first sight," laughs Jamie. "But we were aware of one another from then on, and Norm introduced us again at a Pioneer seed meeting."

The future is bright for the young couple. As for her vision, Jamie says, "There is a small field by the road where I would like to build our house. It is my dream that my children can just run out the back door and help their father with the chores."

As for his perspective, Chris says, "I have a small hill picked out in the woods to build on," he says. "I don't want to waste a good field on a house."

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