Heart and Soul: The Fuel that Runs a Farm

What Is a farm? The answer seems simple enough—a place where food is grown. But talk to Nate Parks, co-owner of Silverthorn Farm, and he’ll give you a deeper perspective. “We’re a farm,” he says, “but what does that mean? It means we have greenhouse production, seedling production, field production, a crew, a processing facility where we’re washing and packing, a distribution company with trucks, bookkeeping and sales, so many little pieces.”

If a farm is such a complex organism, it begs another question: what is a farmer? Perhaps it is a calling.

Nate comes from generations of farmers; as a kid he was sure he’d be a farmer too. But the family farm was sold the summer before his senior year of high school and he had to change paths—for a while. For several years he worked in construction as a home builder. But the desire to farm was still there. “Even when I was a young man in my twenties, building house, every year it was “how many houses can we build so I can buy a farm,” he says. “Yeah, that was my whole reason behind building houses. One of those days I was going to buy a farm.”

Each sunrise is a new start for a farmer. According to Nate, each day begins “with a cup of coffee and a walk, to take stock of everything.” He says, “When you’re dealing with 6 different greenhouses and a packing shed with 4 different walk-in coolers, a tool shed and shop and equipment, cattle in the field, 2-1/2 miles of 6-inch irrigation lines and so on, you have to check everything and see where the fire is. So every morning it starts with a walk, no matter what time of year it is. I’ve got to take stock before everyone gets here so I can give out the day’s firing orders.”

But he also notes, “It’s my favorite time of the day, for sure. It’s quiet. I don’t have anyone pulling at me. Most of my day is spent trying to stay a step ahead of however many crew members may be around at any given moment, so that walk is my peace and solace time.”

Farming requires the ability to MacGyver just about any challenge that comes along. “I grew up on a very diversified small farm where we fixed everything that had a problem,” says Nate, “so my childhood was that way, and when I was 20 years old I started a construction company and built houses. I’ve always taught myself, that’s just kind of how it’s always been.” Equipment maintenance is a good example. “One of our biggest costs is ongoing repairs and maintenance. I’ve had to get better at mechanics. With the number of motors around here, whether it’s trucks or box trucks or tractors, keeping those running is one of my biggest challenges.”

Nate is quick to point out that working the farm is a team effort. His wife and co-owner of the farm, Emily, is integral to managing the day-to-day demands of the farm. His hardworking crew is devoted; many have worked at Silverthorn for years. One of his employees has a talent for mechanics, working on equipment in the field and in the shop.

When asked if he considers himself a mentor to his employees, Nate says, “I don’t know if I’m a mentor as much as I am a coach and we’re a team.” He continues, “It takes a lot to get this done. I have to be the one who’s picking us up and pushing us through and keeping us on a path.”

Nate sees the farm as having a larger role too. “As I get older and further along my path, my passion lies in trying to push some of this knowledge forward. When I was growing up around agriculture and FFA in the middle of Indiana, I never once heard of not only organic production but vegetable production in general, and I can guarantee it’s still not talked about today.”

He hopes his children will, one day, carry on the mission of Silverthorn. “I’m taking the course that I’m going to make this farm the most incredible place to live and work and be and make it so hard to leave that if they do leave it will be the right decision.”

He goes on. “The more you learn the more you understand you don’t know anything. You pick up a handful of that soil, and you look at the life going on there…we’re pretty small with the pretty giant job of making sure we take care of that in a correct way. If I want future generations of the Parks family to be in agriculture like every generation before me has been, we’ve got to take care of that stuff.”

In everything he sells, there’s a message Nate wants to share with his customers. “There’s a helluva lot of heart and soul in it.” Farming is hard work, but in Nate’s experience that is one of the best things about it. “You always get asked about it and you’re not supposed to talk about how hard it is, how much work. But yeah, it is and you know what? I wouldn’t do a damn thing different. It’s the most incredible job a guy could ever have. I love it. I love hard work. I just feel honored to be able to do it and make a living.”

About the Author:
Lorrie Wehr is a freelance writer, blog contributor and Silverthorn Farm member