Generations of Harvest

Dorothy Hall and Katie Short are two of the many women in farming across the state. They work hard to raise crops and livestock while raising families and carrying out many other duties. Each represents Arkansas’ farming tradition in her own way.

By KD Reep

 

Dorothy Hall and her grandchildren, Gwinn and Rece. Photo by Rett Peek.

Dorothy Hall and her grandchildren, Gwinn and Rece. Photo by Rett Peek.

Arkansas has a rich farming tradition that is often carried through generations of families. In Central Arkansas, two women are holding true to this timeless tradition as they work the land and raise livestock while they raise families and serve their communities.

Recently, comedian, mother and feminist Amy Poehler and her best friend, producer

Meredith Walker, launched an online community for young girls and the young at heart to help women and girls cultivate their authentic selves. For farmers Dorothy Hall and Katie Short, they’ve followed this advice from the cradle.

Short followed her dreams from California to establish a new farming tradition for her family. Hall and her children and grandchildren are carrying out their family’s farming tradition with hay and cattle farms.

Family of Farmers

If one were to look up “force of nature” in the dictionary, it is quite possible Hall’s photo is beside the definition. Hall, a retired mother and grandmother from Sheridan, is reliving her childhood and her childhood dream.

Today, she and her family own and work two farms—a hay farm in Calmer and a cattle farm in Roland—while she manages seven rental homes and upgrades residential properties for sale. “When I was graduating high school, there were three things women could do for careers—be a secretary, teacher or nurse,” Hall, 66, said. “If it was a different time, I would have been an architect—I love construction and building. And I literally grew up on the farm. I learned to drive in the hayfields before I was barely able to clutch the truck.”

The oldest of five children, Hall was who her father relied on to keep the farm running while he worked in construction. One year, Hall, her three sisters and brother picked, loaded and delivered to Rison and sold three acres of cucumbers to a pickle company. “I was 12 or 13,” Hall said. “I grew up with a lot of responsibility. When I was 9 years old and my sister was 8, we managed 2,500 laying hens.

Before we went to school, we’d feed them and check for eggs. When we came home from school, we’d check them again, gather the eggs, then wash and pack them.”

Hall went on to earn a degree in home economics from the University of Central Arkansas and a master’s degree in home economics with an emphasis in housing from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She worked for more than 30 years for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, becoming the first female associate director for the organization. It was about the time she retired that her father became ill, and she took on caregiving duties for him and other members of her family.

“My son, Jeffrey, who has a degree in agriculture, approached me about taking on my dad’s land as a hay farm,” Hall said. “He wanted to keep it in our family so we started it with not one piece of equipment that held together for the first season. My father was one of the first to sprig his hay meadows with Tifton 44 hay, and we are still cutting it today.”

Hall and her family, which includes her husband, Randy; daughter, Gretchen; and son, Jeffrey, and his family—wife, Kelly, 9-year-old daughter, Gwinn, and 6-year-old son, Rece—work together at the hay farm at Calmer, which raises hybrid Bermuda hay. They square bale this hay and sell it to horse owners. The mixed-grass hay they raise is baled and fed to the cattle in their crossbred herd at Roland. Each person has his or her own job, and one of Hall’s is running the square baler or raking if they are baling round bales.

“That particular piece of equipment has a cab on it and comes with air conditioning,” Hall said, noting that tractors used for raking and picking up the hay are open-station, which means without a cab. “It’s a team effort. We have to be really diligent about keeping an eye on each other to make sure we don’t get too hot, and it is always hot in a hayfield.”

When Hall isn’t on the tractor in the field, she is managing rental homes, overseeing and upgrading a residential property in Little Rock, and coordinating a political action committee, Arkansas Women Vote, which aims to change the dialogue of campaigns and refocus them on the issues that will make a difference for women in the state and across the country. It’s farming, however, where she finds strength and enjoyment. Her grandchildren, Gwinn and Rece, are carrying on the family tradition as they take active roles in all aspects of the farm. Both children show livestock at county fairs and plan to show at the Arkansas State Fair later this month.

“I love the changing of the seasons,” Hall said. “I like how nature puts all things in perspective. It is a wonderful lifestyle, and it teaches children responsibility and helps them understand the cycle of life. I believe Gwinn and Rece are benefiting from the farming experience. At the end of every day, you see what you have accomplished.

“One time when I was in college, I had an instructor tell me she thought I ought to consider something other than pursuing a degree. I told her, ‘I didn’t expect this to be easy, and I’m here to stay.’ It’s how I’ve approached my entire life—be persistent, work hard and get the job done.”

California Girl Turned Farm Girl

“I knew from the earliest time I wanted to be a farmer,” Katie Short said. “Even when I was a little, little girl, I knew I wanted to grow things.” Sitting in Short’s sunny kitchen as her daughters, 6-year-old Honey and 4-year-old Magnolia, munch on a breakfast of cinnamon toast and fresh-squeezed milk, one can see just how rich it is to remain true to a personal calling.

 

Katie Short and her daughters, Magnolia and Honey. Photo by Rett Peek.

Katie Short and her daughters, Magnolia and Honey. Photo by Rett Peek.

Short, her husband, Travis, and their daughters work Farm Girl Meats, a farm in Perry County that raises Animal Welfare Approved pork, chicken and beef. According to Short, Farm Girl Meats works on the premise that the best tasting, most nutritious foods are farmed with a light hand.

“Our animals are bred and raised in the most natural of settings, on wholesome diets, and in tune with their given instincts,” Short, 30, said. “There is a distinct difference in the flavor and nutrition of a hog raised in its most natural setting, surrounded by its piglets, in community with other hogs, and one that is raised in a corporate environment.”

According to the Arkansas Agriculture Department, there are almost 20,000 women in Arkansas who pursue agriculture as a career. Short, a native of Berkeley, California, focuses on organic, sustainable agriculture on her farm, which, according to Arkansas Farm Bureau, provides an excellent market for producers to receive a premium for their production, which will cost more to produce.

“For me, I wanted to make the connection between my food, culture and self to the land,” Short said. “I left college when I was 19 because I knew I needed to have my hands in the dirt. My mom learned about Heifer International on a trip through Arkansas and told me that if I was serious about farming, I should consider the program Heifer has at the ranch in Perryville. I worked there for two years, and it showed me what was possible.”

After those two years, Short began her own operation with a small flock of sheep. She went back to college, attending Arkansas Tech University and earning a degree in animal science and agricultural business. She and her husband, who also was a volunteer at Heifer Ranch, leased some land from the nonprofit, which they still maintain. After purchasing 30 acres in Perry County, Short added pigs, goats and dairy cows, eventually expanding further into meat chickens and ducks.

Today, Farm Girl Meats focuses on pork, chicken, eggs and milk for sale through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); online farmers markets in Conway and Little Rock; grocery stores and restaurants including Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Butcher & Public, South on Main, The Root Cafe and Boulevard Bread Co.; its own store, which is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1388 Highway 60 East in Houston on Wednesdays; and online at farmgirlfood.com.

Short’s day begins at sunrise (or before, depending on the time of year), and typical farm work—like feeding pigs, milking cows, checking on chickens—extends to packing orders, coordinating deliveries, recordkeeping and keeping her blog and website up-to-date. That’s in addition to housework and other chores.

The Shorts also home-school their children. Honey joined 4-H for the first time this year and showed her pony, Sweet Pea, at the Perry County Fair last month, where she won grand champion in her class. Both of Short’s daughters help out with feeding animals and learning all they can about life on the farm.

“Now, my focus is to raise my children like I raise the animals,” Short said. “There is something intrinsic in treating a living being—child, animal, plant or otherwise—in the best possible way. It affects the entire being, and it shows in the outcome. I only have this one chance to raise these girls right, and I will take much care in doing it well.”