Joni's Journey Grows New Roots Returning to the Family Farm

Mar 15, 2019  | 6 min  | Ep4430

One Iowa family got a home that was new to them as they switched residences in 2018. They made the move from concrete streets to dirt roads in an effort to help make a transition with the family farm.

As John Torpy explains in our Cover Story, the hand-off has had challenging moments. Producer contact torpy@iptv.org

In the Spring of 2018, Joni Embree-Meinders returned to this place which she called home nearly two decades ago. At the request of her grandfather, John Young, Embree-Meinders brought her family farm back to the Young Farm and got right to work…hitting the ground running...with a big smile on her face.
Joni Embree-Meinders, Young and Son Farms:”My heart is--this is home. And I'm surprised at how, how hard that hit me, right? There are so many things unsettled here. But this is definitely home for my heart.”

In mid-June of 2018, wheat harvest was underway when Joni, Zach, Lucy and Colby moved back to the small central Kansas town of 874. Corn and soybeans followed closely thereafter while the planter patiently waited to put next year's winter wheat crop in the ground.
Young Farms endured its share of dealing with Murphy’s Law as things that could go wrong…did. Mechanical problems plagued the operation during harvest. A long summer drought slowed the growth of their dryland crops. When rain finally arrived, it fell until just days before the start of harvest. The storms delivered all of Burrton’s annual rainfall in just 30 days. Embree-Meinders took all the problems in stride and embraced the steep learning curve.
Joni Embree-Meinders, Young and Son Farms: ”There's so much to learn. I've kind of put myself in his submersion program with everything. I read absolutely everything I possibly can. Everything that Grandpa tells me to look at or the guys that he listens to a read their articles and things like that. I've tried to get--read everything I can get my hands on. Some of it makes sense. Some of it doesn't.  But I figure if I just submerge myself in information at some point, I'll have a conversation with somebody that's going to make it all click. You know?”

Embree-Meinders continues to tap her grandfather’s knowledgebase. She relies on his years of experience to help navigate issues both on and off the farm.
John Young, Young and Son Farms: ” I didn't know we were going to become involved in a trade War, which is making it more difficult. There's going to be problems you know in any business. I don't care what what you're in, what you’re in. You know, a person that is able to meet those challenges, and as she is able to do it and she's interested in it. and that's something it's really hard to find today. But she's doing a great job and and she likes it. You have to like it.”

Joni Embree-Meinders, Young and Sons Farms: ”And I think, whenever you care about something, truly care about it. It makes it very very easy to to learn or submerge yourself in or get involved and things like that. And this is--I've got a lot of personal drive and my "whys" are huge for this operation. And so it makes it makes it fun and easy. I'm interested I want I want to learn more.”

Joni and Zach Meinders drive to move back to the farm was fueled by a longing for their children to have the same chances they had growing up on the farm. 
Lucy and Colby have settled into the Burrton Unified School District which has a smaller student body than the one they were used to in Des Moines, Iowa. But what the school in Burrton lacks in population, it makes up for in countless opportunities.
Lucy Embree, Burrton, Kansas: ”I've learned that it's easier to make friends here. If someone comes in everyone's accepted here because I mean it's just such a small school that everyone knows everyone.

Colby Embree, Burrton, Kansas:”I think that when somebody comes then they're like hey! And they just welcome.”

Joan Simoneau, Superintendent, Burrton Unified School District: ”Kids here, first of all are not going to fall through the cracks. We're gonna know all, you know we're going to know all about them very quickly.  And, kids in Burrton, if you're standing upright and can take a good breath, can play basketball, football, volley ball, run cross-country. Be the president of their class, be part of the K club, Shake Hands Association for Youth, and do FCCLA, 4H, you name it./A lot of opportunity for kids here.”

Dwindling populations are a common thread throughout rural America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Burrton, Kansas has lost of six percent of its population since 2000, making Joni’s journey back to the family farm a unique move in rural America.

Joni Embree-Meinders, Young Farms: ”You know it's been really it's been nice because I don't get welcome home or welcome to Kansas or anything like that. What I get is..."we are so glad you're here." And I get a lot of--it's far more appreciative then just a welcome back. The fact that we're coming back to continue something that's been set for a long time it is I think appreciated in a community.

For Embree-Meinders, every day is a good one. Despite any hurdles the day may bring, she notes that with every sunset, she has no regrets about her family’s move to rural America.
Joni Embree-Meinders, Young and Sons Farms: ” There's going to be hurdles, there's going to be stumbling blocks, there's going to be people that let you down there's going to be all of that and it's all going to be okay. At the end of the day, when I get ready for bed, I am so content. My heart is so happy here.”

Joni Embree-Meinders: ”I'm closer to my grandpa now than I have been my whole life and he's an amazing man. And I'm really honored to get to learn from him in this setting.”

For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy

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