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Self-reliance keys success

More than 1,000 miles, major mountain ranges, and several rivers separated Ryan and Hope Pjesky as youngsters. Their differences, though, are merely geographic. Their upbringings -- rooted in self-reliance -- mirrored each other.

When Ryan was just a toddler on his family's Goltry, Oklahoma, farm, a neighbor gave him a Holstein steer calf with an injured leg. Ryan fed the steer until he sold it at 1,000 pounds. Ryan used this money to buy two more calves to feed and sell, after which he repeated the cycle many times. At age 12, Ryan rented his first land to grow winter wheat.

"Instead of our dad just having us work for him, he gave my brother and me responsibility at an early age," says Ryan. "We had a checkbook and paid fertilizer and vet supply bills. It taught us the importance of self-reliance, of being responsible."

Hope worked with the sheep flock on her parent's farm near Monterey, Virginia. She also showed horses on a local show circuit. When she wanted to start showing at breed shows, she started working summers for a horse trainer in another part of Virginia.

"My parents didn't know I had applied until after I got the job," says Hope. "I did it on my own."

The couple met at an American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet. They married in 1994 and settled on the Pjesky farm. Ryan's father, Roger, still farms, while his mother, Rita, is a bank vice president. His brother Rex, works off the farm as a professor at West Texas A&M University.

Remember the book The Grapes of Wrath? It chronicled Depression-era Okies who left Oklahoma.

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