*The "Backbone of Kentucky Agriculture" photo essay series is a passion project I decided to do back in October. There always seems to be coverage of male farmers, and females as the farmer's wife but never just the female farmer. I wanted to change that. This year I will be traveling throughout Kentucky highlighting some of the most resilient, forward thinking, business-minded, and just down right boss ladies who happen to be farmers. I hope you come back monthly to see the next installment. If you have any women you would like to recommend please let me know. I am always looking for more amazing Kentucky women.
Alana and Mary Beth Baker are two very resilient women. Their story is a unique one, full of risk-taking, sorrow, and triumph, and one I will never forget.
It was 60 degrees in January after a hard cold spell and the ground had gone from frozen to a sloppy mess. When I arrived at the farmhouse in Cadiz, Ky the day had already been in motion for sometime. "We meet every morning at 7:30 am, Monday through Friday. We talk about what needs to be done that day and then we each go on our way to get things done. I don't micromanage my guys. They know what needs to happen and they know how to do it. We are a team and we get things done."
River Bend Farm originated with Alana's father's family in the 1930's. Through the years they have expanded from 1,000 acres to the over 4,500 they currently farm. They are a diversified operation with corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, and pasture ground for 300 momma cows.
In 1999, Mary Beth and her husband Stan took over the operation from his mother. Mary Beth "retired" from her town job and came home to manage all of the books for River Bend. "Times have been challenging. But you have to keep on pushing...and make every dollar scream. We simply decided this was what we were meant to do and took it a day at a time. You do this for the love, it isn't for the money."
Then in January 2013, Alana, awoken by a gut feeling in her Louisville apartment, decided to come home to the farm to learn the family business. The excitement of returning home quickly wore off when, at the end of January 2014, they found out her father had a become terminally ill. At that moment, Alana decided to take as much time as she had to learn everything she could.
Stan passed away in September of that year.
Now that the heavy lifting has become Alana's responsibility she made it her goal to continue her father's legacy and leave that legacy to her daughter, Adora and son, Aiden. It hasn't been an easy road. Even as she has had four years of farming under her belt she explained that she is still learning through, "trial by fire." Literally.
In June of 2015, they had a hay barn burn down. They had used a variety of rye that takes longer than grass hay to cure. Looking back on it, they say it was a lesson for the future.
Through the last few years, things continue to change, including the way they manage their beef herd. Fences have been put up, barns have been rearranged, and they learn something new every day.
And it couldn't have happened without the help of her community farmers, "I am also very blessed to have been taken under the wing of many successful farmers in the area after my father passed. I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong in the farming community. I haven’t received special treatment because I’m a woman nor have I been treated differently than any other farmer by my peers. To them, I am just another farmer. With the confidence that they instilled in me, there was never a doubt that we would carry on the River Bend legacy."
If the farm isn't enough Alana is passionate about her community of Trigg County, Ky. She was born and raised here and will never forget how the people invested in her and her growth. So much so she has decided to give back. A few weeks ago Alana decided to throw her hat in the ring for Magistrate. She wants to make this community better for the citizens of Trigg County and make it a place for Aiden and Adora to prosper and have the same kind of support she did as a child.
This Kentucky woman has accomplished so much in her last four years as a farmer, I can't wait to see what she does in the next future with Mary Beth standing right beside her being her biggest cheerleader.