Making a Global Impact at the Local Level: How Willet Family Farm is Shaping the Future

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Show Notes

Jeremy Willet

Summary

On this episode of the Farm Credit AgVocates podcast, Jenny Kreisher interviews Jeremy Willet, musician-turned-agriculturalist and owner/operator of Willet Family Farm in Westminster, Maryland. While Jeremy was touring the world with his band, he found inspiration on a trip to Africa, leading him to partner with ChildFund International to help them tell their story and garner involvement at the local level. Today, Willet Family Farm offers guests truly unique outdoor experiences, and fosters an environment of inclusivity. We hope his story inspires you as much as it did us!

 

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Transcript

Jenny Kreisher:

Welcome back to the Farm Credit AgVocates podcast. I’m your host, Jenny Kreisher, Director of Communications at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. Today’s guest is Jeremy Willet, owner and operator of Willet Family Farm in Westminster, Maryland. I had the pleasure of hearing Jeremy share his story at an event a few weeks ago and I grabbed him immediately after, knowing all of you would enjoy hearing it as much as I did. And I hope it inspires you like it did me.

Jeremy is a former musician turned farmer. I don’t want to say too much about his back story because he is definitely one of the best story tellers I’ve heard.  He runs a very cool operation here in Carroll County, offering folks the opportunity to come out and get a truly immersive camping and agricultural experience.

The logo of Willet Family Farm is a windmill and it is not just because they have one, which they do, but it stands for something that harnesses power for a specific purpose. Which is exactly how Jeremy and his wife, Kathleen, view their farm. They hope to harness the power of the outdoors to benefit every guest that stops by for a visit. Are you inspired yet? Let’s go ahead and get started.   

Jenny Kreisher:

Welcome to the podcast Jeremy, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Jeremy Willet:

Thank you. Good to be here.

Jenny Kreisher:

I appreciate you coming out here to your beautiful property and talking to you. So before you became an agriculturalist, you actually had a really interesting career. I would love for you to tell our audience a little bit about your background and your journey to the farm.

Jeremy's Journey to the Farm

Jeremy Willet:

I grew up on the outskirts of this farm and that's what really brought me back. But when I grew up, I went through community college right here in Carroll County. And then right after that, I began my career as a musician and jumped into the music industry. It was always my dream to tour the world playing music and inspiring people.

So that's what I did. I traveled to 14 different countries and 48 of the 50 states, writing music with my brothers and performing live. And through that experience actually led to an overseas trip to Ethiopia, Africa and that was really early on in our career. It really ended up shaping what our band was about.

Our band was just our last name Willet and we would play anywhere from like youth group basements, to clubs late at night, to then major festivals that we were able to play on like some side stages and stuff. Right? So we had this broad experience, but when we went to Ethiopia, that experience was in a community of children that had been orphaned from HIV/Aids and it was over 1,000 children that lived there.

I had never been outside of the U.S. ever and I had traveled to a couple of states prior to this trip, but I had never seen poverty to this degree at all. It really rocked me, it was one of these things where I wasn't comfortable going back to my hometown and just living life as if I hadn't seen this or something, and I knew that I couldn't stay quiet about it. So it was just in our nature to start telling people their stories. So we really made a commitment as a band that we would continue writing music and performing. But we were also going to use that platform, even though it was small, we were going to use that platform to speak up for these children.

So what we did is we got photos of the kids that live there, we learned their names and we had like a little bio about them, a couple of sentences about their lives. One at a time, we would tell their stories and then share our firsthand experience of being in that illage. We went to city to city and we just asked people in the crowd to sponsor these children. Different than adoption, they weren't asking to bring the child here or anything. We wanted to actually have that child grow up in their community with their parents or caregivers and become leaders in their own community. So one at a time, families all over the U.S. said, “Okay, I'll sponsor that boy, I'll sponsor this girl.”

They would give a monthly donation to the organization, and then that money was used for things like clean water wells, sustainable agriculture, education, health and child protection to prevent from human trafficking. So we did this for two years and the organization called us after two years and said, “Hey, we just wanted to let you know that you guys found sponsors for all 1000 children that live there.”

Jenny Kreisher:

Oh my Gosh.

Jeremy Willet:

We were blown away. You know what I mean?

Jenny Kreisher:

Wow.

Jeremy Willet:

We were an Indie, just doing everything, do it yourself, like driving our own van, printing our own merchandise, designing our own website, all that kind of stuff. Right. Here we had made an impact in a small place in the world that nobody had ever heard of. So the organization offered to fly us back so that we could actually see the difference that was made. So we said yes right away, we wanted to see these kids and stuff.

We went back to a place that in two years had been literally transformed. They now had clean water wells, they had a school that when we were there in 2007, that the kids would have to walk about three miles to get to, which would be a significant part of their day, either way. Right? Now they had a brand new school, a brand new medical facility. A lot of the disease that was in the community had been stopped because of medical interventions and everything.

You just saw this overall hope in the child's faces, they knew that things were starting to change and it was going to be a long haul. It was going to take a while, but they saw that progress is being made. So from that point on, then the rest of our music career would choose another community, go and visit.

That was our big thing. We always wanted to go first before we told the stories and we wanted to make sure we told an accurate story. We wanted to make sure that it was firsthand experience and not just this poverty porn kind of thing, where people were like “That's on the other side of the world, let's exploit this to raise money.” To us, it had to be about real kids and real stories and real impact.

So we would go to a community in Haiti, and then we'd go to Uganda, and then Mozambique. We would meet the kids, come back to tell other stories and get them sponsored. So fast forward 15 years of doing that, we connected with this amazing organization called Child Fund International.

Basically what happened, especially in the Christian music industry, is that a lot of artists decided to use their platform for vulnerable children around the world, so I started to get asked to go on their tours and speak. And so what happened was we would be playing like a show for a hundred kids at a youth group or something as an Indie band, then the next night I'd be flown to an arena show to speak before one of the larger Christian bands performed.

So we got to this point after about two years of doing that dance back and forth, that really collectively as brothers, we recognize, look, this band like, although we love music, we love writing together, we love performing and traveling together, at the end of the day, it's about how do we make the biggest impact? We were recognizing that potentially, our career as a band was coming to an end to make way for us to do even bigger things in the world.

So for me, that meant becoming a public speaker and going out with larger acts, which actually expanded beyond Christian music. It went into the rock world and country music. Then my brother Justin started his own media company, so he now designs all of the campaigns and does all the video editing for a lot of these major campaigns for nonprofits. And then my other brother, Jordan, went on to become a video editor out in California for the same kind of thing.

So interestingly enough, sometimes we were all three working on the same project for the same non-profit, but coming at it from all three different angles, which is kind of cool. So that's what really became my career after music.

Jenny Kreisher:

That is such an interesting story, Jeremy and a very inspirational one. That's incredible. So you ended that journey and now you're back here in Westminster where you grew up. I would love to hear a little bit about the property and the unique story behind that and a little bit of the history here.

Jeremy Willet:

We got to a place where, as I was traveling around the U.S. talking about the projects that we're doing globally, and especially when I would go and visit these communities, a huge emphasis was on meeting hunger needs because there were so many hunger related deaths. So a lot of the programs that we were supporting were sustainable agriculture programs.

I remember flying home, I think it was from Ethiopia one day, and recognizing that when I got home, I was supposed to go tell these stories about how these communities were being equipped with the tools to grow their own food, and therefore not rely on handouts. I just had this conviction that I was flying home, and I had no idea where my food was coming from. That at any moment, I could go into any grocery store and I have access to any type of food that I wanted.

Jenny Kreisher:

Right.

Jeremy Willet:

Not only from America, but from all over the world and I had no idea how to grow a tomato. But yet, I was the one that was going on stage, asking people for money to help other families around the world, do exactly that, grow their own food. So I was like, I need to position myself to better identify with the needs of the poor, and so I want to become more sustainable myself.

So we had moved out of Carroll County because of traveling with the music industry. We were down in Nashville and everything, and I just realized, you know what, there's a huge hole in my life right now. I love what I do, I'm super fulfilled by it. But I lost this sense of place. I really felt that, deeply rooted here on the farm property. We are a collective of 200 acres combined between my brother, cousin, and father. I wanted to come back here to try to buy our farm back.

When I was a teenager, my uncle and aunt were raising their family right here on this farm where we sit right now and I grew up across the field. My uncle passed away really early on, like early forties from cancer. So shortly after that, the farm had to be sold outside of the family. I remember as a teenager saying, “If I'm ever given the opportunity, I want to buy it back.” So that's exactly what we did. We moved back home from Nashville, we waited for a few years and the farm went up for sale and we gave it everything we had.

It took literally everything we had to buy it back. We immediately began fixing up everything, the old farmhouse putting on a wraparound porch, new siding, fixing everything up, and the last thing we had to fix up was the woodstove and the chimney. We had a local company come in and do that and it turns out they kind of did a rush job, unfortunately.

So after that summer in the fall, when we started to heat the home with the woodstove, one day I was coming back from a tour. I was flying home and my wife and daughter said they would pick me up from the airport. So she left the home and 45 minutes later, the house exploded from this woodstove that was put in improperly.

It was something like 15 minutes, the whole house had burned down and we lost another building that was next to it. So the 45 minutes it took for us to get from BWI back to our house, we showed up and there was 18 different fire companies just spread throughout the farm, trying to save the barn, this building that we sit in now, the fields and stuff like that.

That was in our first year of owning the farm back and it had already been a place of tragedy for our family before because of losing our uncle so early on, and this farm had been resilient already with a tornado that took off the roof of the barn years before that.

I remember hearing stories about my great-grandfather trying to save the farm through the great depression, for instance, and so every part of me wanted to just run away and forget this nightmare. Just be like, I was trying to do something good, I was trying to restore something that was lost in our family for generations to come. Yet here we are with another tragedy where all of our belongings, a lot of memories in this house, its gone now.

That was my first reaction that lasted for a couple of months, honestly, thankfully with, I'll just be vulnerable, just with counseling, with therapy, with just trying to take a lot of time for us to make a good decision. I recognize that maybe, this is an opportunity to start over. That there's actually still a lot of good here in this place, that it was actually never about the house. The old farmhouse is cool, right? Like hearing the creeks of the boards that my great, great grandfather probably walked across too. That's really neat.

But at the same time, there is my family’s blood, sweat, and tears in this soil where we're hoping to grow food, to feed our family and the next generation of our family and our community around here. Our dream from the beginning was to use this place to inspire good in other people anyway, to bring our world together.

So you may have somebody from Carroll County coming to the farm to visit to buy free range eggs that will learn about sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia and that was something that I wasn't willing to give up. So even though the house was gone, in perspective that was a small loss compared the overall dream that we have.

Carroll County Biz Challenge

Jenny Kreisher:

Talk about taking a tragedy and turning it into something beautiful. That's amazing. Well, pivoting a little bit, 2020 was a huge year for you. We were talking a little bit earlier before we started recording about the Carroll County Biz Challenge that you actually won last year. So I was wondering if you could kind of talk to us a little bit about what made you apply for that contest and how that process works.

Jeremy Willet:

Yes, so we decided to rebuild the home and actually in 2019 we moved back in. So when 2020 rolled around, we were encouraged to apply for the Carroll Biz Challenge, and it's this local challenge where you have to pitch your idea before a panel of judges. I was really amped about it because for me it felt like a comeback, like our community now recognized us as the family that lost their house to a house fire and decided to rebuild.

But now I wanted to shape the narrative of like, we've been through that, but that doesn't define us, here's where we're headed. So I connected with my brother and his media company, we did these drone shots over the farm and we recorded a cool video.

Then we went into the Carroll Biz Challenge and just told our story. We didn't really have a pitch with lots of financial figures and everything. To us, it wasn't about trying to find investors as much as it was to show the investment we were trying to make in our community. It turns out that that really connected with a lot of the viewers and the judges.

It was really great because there was lots of local newspaper press around it and stuff. That was another opportunity for us, of course we had been in the paper with the house fire, but now we were in the paper telling a new story and I think that connected with a lot of people.

Jenny Kreisher:

You were staking your claim to your history and your future so that's a pretty neat.

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Tessie Weant:

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Hipcamp

Jenny Kreisher:

The other honor you had last year is winning Maryland's Best Hipcampsite. So I love this piece of your farm, and I need you to explain for our audience what exactly Hipcamp is, because I've been hearing a lot more about it ever since the first time you and I spoke. So if you could just tell us a little bit about the Hipcamp program and kind of what you all do here. So unique.

Jeremy Willet:

Yeah, we love this so much. So when we bought the farm, our original vision was to be a local farm with a global impact, meaning we wanted to open up our farm to invite other people to come and experience what we were experiencing here. We are surrounded by trees around the perimeter of the farm, we're centrally located in the 200 acre collective of our family.

Looking back at past documents and hearing stories from our family history, the farm was the place where the family would always gather. The farmhouse, the land where the barn is and everything, this is where people would come together for meals, they would come together after harvest time, they would come together in tragedy even. 

So we were like, “Can we take that same idea and apply it to our community?” So we were approached by Hipcamp early on, they're from the west coast, it's kind of like Airbnb for camping. They were telling us this idea and said, “Would you consider being a host on your farm? All you have to do is designate a portion of your land for a campsite, for RVs or tents, then you choose what you want to provide.”

So we put up a fire pit, we have a porta potty now that guests can use, we provide drinking water, firewood, they can purchase free range eggs or flowers grown on the farm. We connected with other local farmers around here, we have a friend that does CBD honey, for instance. So people can add that to their order. We rent out corn hole sets that we hand build here on the farm.

It's become an amazing experience for us. Typically on a weekend, even through the winter and the snow, we have anywhere from three to four families that will stay with us every single weekend. They just simply rent out the campsite from an app. It all goes through Hipcamps platform.

They take a small percentage to manage all of that for us, which we find it's completely perfect for our situation because they take care of all the backend technical details and we get to host a family. Then, we leave it up to the guests as to how much they want to interact.

Some people come here and they just want to get away, especially during COVID. They wanted a place to escape, kind of suburban areas and urban areas. They just wanted to be able to see the stars nd lay outside and read a book. Other times, a family will come and they want their kids to know where eggs come from. So in the morning, they'll go down to our chickens and they want to help us collect eggs, and they want to help us pull weeds.

And to us, we were like cracking up about this. We were like, hold on, you're paying to help us pull weeds, you know? So that was fascinating to us. But what this has done for us, is it opened up a brand new revenue stream. It's not a ton of money, but it is several thousand dollars a year that has been added to our operating budget.

In which we've been able to then increase our infrastructure on the farm, provide general maintenance that we need to do. Through that, we recognize that this is a need that people in our community actually have because they want to get outside. What we're finding now is, again, through the pandemic, outside activities are at an all-time high and camping being the number one thing that families are searching for. So there is right now a larger demand for camping than there are hosts to accept people.

All the national parks are sold out and so now farm owners that have land should be equipped to rent it out through this platform. As you can imagine as soon as you try something that's a little bit out of the parameters, you come up against regulations and stuff that have been established, sometimes for a very long time.

For Carroll County it’s been over a hundred years that code was written. So we've been actually working very directly with our zoning offices, with our legislators, the county commissioners and now we're even working with state senators that support agritourism as a sector of agriculture to say “Hey, let's loosen some of these restrictions or at least define them because what we're hearing from the state is that agritourism should be promoted.” That farm owners should diversify their income and try new experiences that bring the community together. But sometimes the county regulations don't reflect that. So we want to stay completely compliant and we have up until this point.

At the same time, we're not comfortable with where it is. So, we in Carroll County are regulated to one campsite and one sleeping unit per night. Although prior to understanding all of the code, we had popped up five campsites on our farm and we sold out every single night in the summer. So that's how high the demand is. Once we talked with our zoning officials and kind of learned the rules and everything, we of course pulled that back.

We have one campsite now with one sleeping unit, but what we decided to do was go to all of our friends that have farms because that regulation is per parcel. So our cousin who owns a farm right next door, it's a separate land parcel. He now has a Hipcamp site and they host guests every weekend. We went to our other farmer friends that have a CBD farm and they host every weekend.

What I love about this is it's spreading the money around the county, it's helping support other farm owners. All of these hosts are then telling their guests that are coming from anywhere from Philly, D.C., we had people from Texas come, we've had people from two different countries come, all of these people are being recommended to go support local businesses in Carroll County.

Such as like Brewery Fire, right up the road in Taneytown, or Baugher’s Orchard, go pick your own fruits and stuff like that, if you don't grow it yourself on your farm. So all of this money is pouring into our county from all over the U.S. and sometimes the world that would have never hit this county, if it weren't for Hipcamp. So that's what we've tried to establish here is one; being a place for guests to come.

But secondly, to kind of be that connector piece between farm owners that need additional revenue streams and the guests that really want to find a new experience. We live right in the middle there where we're trying to bring all these pieces together. We just finalized a formal partnership between Maryland Farm Bureau and Hipcamp, it’s a member benefit now.

So if you're listening to this and are a member of the Farm Bureau, for instance oftentimes they promote Nationwide, then you get like a discount from that. Well, with Hipcamp, if you sign up through the Farm Bureau, they'll actually donate money to the Maryland Farm Bureau on your behalf, and then give you money for signing up through them. So it's kind of a cool bonus structure.

Jenny Kreisher:

That is really cool actually. You mentioned a lot of families coming out and I can definitely see that. Do you also host other groups like youth camps or corporate outings or anything? Do you host kind of different groups like that too?

Jeremy Willet:

We want to, and we have unlimited requests. We get written all the time. The current county codes don't allow us to do that, but I think that will change moving forward.

The Willet Family Farm Experience

Jenny Kreisher:

That's great. Well, what do you feel it is about your farm that attracts people here. You mentioned it's kind of centrally located, it's enough away from cities like Baltimore that you think people kind of get a different perspective, but what do you feel attracts people out here? What is the experience that you hope people have when they are visiting?

Jeremy Willet:

We live in an area that traditionally kind of has a stain on its history, like many rural communities around the U.S. What I mean by that is just of slavery, of discrimination, of racism. When I moved back to Carroll County, I knew this, obviously, I grew up here. What I wasn't okay with, was it staying that way.

In my opinion, what has happened over the years, is that what was once a community driven by farm owners became a popular place for people that lived in the city that wanted to escape that they worked there still, but they didn't want to live there anymore for whatever reason. So they started to come out to the rural communities and they like this idea of living next to a farmer, not having to farm, but they loved all the benefits of it; wide open spaces, open sky, quiet area.

But I think what was rooted in that, if we're honest, is that it really came down to wanting to live near people that looked like them, that believed like them, that maybe politically aligned like them and not wanting to have to interact with diverse populations. So what is happening now is that a lot of those people that moved to this area, that actually aren't even farm owners, have a lot of money and have established power in the communities and want control and for a long time have controlled the county.

In my opinion, this is a turning point. This is a time for farm owners, young farm owners that have world experiences that have shaped them, that have got to know their neighbors from around the U.S. or other countries, that have friends and names and real stories about people that come from a different background, race, religion, immigration status, et cetera, that those stories matter, that those stories are welcomed to our community and they actually make us a better place.

So what I think sets us apart as our farm, is that here I am, as a white male farm owner, again in Carroll County, that seems to be very popular around this area. But the difference being that we have set ourselves up to be an inclusive environment.

At any given time, we have a family that is a Muslim family staying with us on our farm, which we absolutely love. A couple of weeks ago they spoke a different language and we couldn't even communicate verbally, we had to go through Google translate. We've had Hispanic family from down near the border area. We didn't ask about their immigration status, that is none of my business and quite frankly, I don't care. I'm glad they're here and I'm glad that they're experiencing the same thing that we are. We've had gay couples stay, lesbian couples stay, we hosted the Transgender Masculine Group of Baltimore City that came out for a small, 10 people retreat that just wanted to get outside and out of the urban area.

Every single group, family, single person that comes here is accepted the same exact way. What I've found is that is, is kind of rubbing up against some of the walls that people in our county have put up for whatever reason. Some I think know why they're doing it and it's deeply rooted in the way they were brought up. Other people may not even realize that they've been against diversifying our community, but we want to be a change agent here.

Rather than complain about the way that our county has been and currently is, we just decided that we would live it out. So we invite these guests, we open up our farm, we try to be welcoming and inclusive of everybody that comes. I think through that, it's slowly making Carroll County a better place.

Partneting with ChildFund International

Jenny Kreisher:

So not only are you making a huge impact locally, you're doing so continuously at a global level with your partnership with ChildFund. I know part of the proceeds from your farm go back. So if you could kind of explain what that partnership looks like and why that was so important to you when you developed your business strategy.

Jeremy Willet:

Yes, so I continue to travel as a public speaker for Child Fund. I absolutely love it. I have scaled back because I used to travel 250 days a year at these events and then that left very little time on the farm, of course. COVID really taught me a lesson and in that I really loved the land, I loved caring for it. I found a lot of joy there and I really enjoyed teaching what I'm learning to my kids. So our son is eight years old, our daughter is seven years old, they love the farm.

They joined our family through international adoption. Our son is black from Ghana, our daughter's brown from Ethiopia. I'm recognizing that for the first time, if we set ourselves up right that eventually they will be the farm owners of Willet Family Farm, that's been in our family for over a hundred years and they will be the first non-white owners of this farm.

When you look across, not just Carroll County, not just Maryland, but even most of the United States, there's a huge disproportion in land ownership of people of color, the BIPOC community, et cetera. Here’s a tangible way, it just so happens that our kids are nonwhite and they may have the opportunity to be the owners of the farm. So through all of this, we do give a portion of our income through the farm, back to ChildFund, but then a huge component of what we do is that we try to educate people that come here about global needs.

So as little kids are helping us collect eggs in the morning, we're helping them understand the value of protein in a diet, and then telling some stories about small children in Kenya that we met. We show them a picture of Alice, who is our sponsor child that we do as a family. We talk about how her life was before we started sponsoring her, how ChildFund intervened and where she is now We actually get like tangible letters from them and we're able to show our guests that are here.

We try to host annual events like Christmas around the world, where we show our community what it's like for a family in Ethiopia, for instance, to go and gather water. We will bring out a camel, for instance, that people love to visit. We are trying to use our local farm to provide experiences that kind of broaden people's worldview and we do all of that through ChildFund.

The Future of Willett Family Farm

Jenny Kreisher:

So what is the future of Willett Family Farm to you? What kind of plans do you guys have for the future and where do you hope to see this business go?

Jeremy Willet:

We want to be a change maker, that's really what it comes down to. We want to bring the world together and that takes various shapes and forms every single year. We continue to navigate current restrictions for instance, how can you use a barn that's been here since the 1800s as a gathering space versus just for storing hay, for instance, and trying to navigate that language has been difficult.

But I think the more that we understand agritourism role in agriculture in general, the better that would become. But even through all of that, we really want to position ourselves to be concerned about other farm owners in Maryland. Because the other thing that COVID showed us all was that we are too reliant on systems that can easily break down. We've gotten away from knowing where our food is coming from, who's growing it and how it's grown.

One of the first things that sold out when the pandemic hit was seeds. Everybody, no matter what kind of land or where they lived, or how much land they had, they wanted to be able to grow their own food because they were scared. I think that a return to that land, return to getting your hands dirty, to learning a trade that can be passed down to your son and daughter. I think that's super valuable.

At the same time, I want to make sure that we don't look so far inward, that we forget about people that were never even invited to the table. We can always talk about like the quality of our food and do we use chemicals or don’t we, is it organic, is it free range, et cetera.

But then you look at across the United States and across the world, and you realize that a large percentage of our population doesn't even have access to that food nor have they ever been invited to participate in the growing of it. So I don't know what that looks like yet for us.

I know that we've continued to try to invite diverse populations and communities, especially marginalized ones adults with disabilities, communities in urban areas down in Baltimore city, communities in the LGBTQ community, how do we embrace people that don't look like us, that don't believe the same things that we do, that don't have the same kind of backgrounds, but how do we encourage them to participate and value their input and basically communicate to them that you matter.

We want you here in our community and that your input is not only wanted, but it's needed. I think that is what will shape everything and that's what we're trying to do here. I don't think we're ever going to be known for the type of tomatoes that we grow. That would be cool. But I hope at the end of the day, that people knew that our farm was the farm that always had the gate open at the end of the lane, that it was never closed to anybody.

What Jeremy Wishes People Knew About Ag

Jenny Kreisher:

Well I think you're off to a great start. I see a very bright future for your family here. What is something that you wish that people knew about the Ag industry? What do you think is a common misconception that you would like people to know?

Jeremy Willet:

I think a lot of people, especially now in the Ag industry, are people that are very well-educated, that have done a lot of research and that continue to be hard workers, people that wake up early and go to bed late at night, because there's so much work to do on a farm.

But I think for a while there was a stereotype that you were a farmer because you didn't know anything else, or you could barely make it through school so you just went back to the farm or something like that.

Now I see myself and a lot of other friends that had professional careers that were willing to walk away from it either altogether or reduce the amount of time that we were spending on our other career to return back to the farm. Not because it was easy, gosh no, that's not the answer at all, but because it was valuable.

I think that's why if people understood that how much time, not only goes into the hard labor, but also the research, the learning, the administrative role of agriculture and farming, I think people would have a deeper appreciation for it. Then they wouldn't be so upset that they had to spend more than a $1.75 for a carton of eggs.

Jenny Kreisher:

Exactly. We talked a lot about your journey prior to coming back to the farm. So thinking back to those years when you were out touring, and maybe when you just found your mission and your purpose out in Africa, what advice would you give to a younger Jeremy now looking back?

Jeremy Willet:

Oh my gosh, that's such a deep question. I would say that I would try to tell my younger self, not to forget my roots, to continue to value this place. For whatever reason I was born here and grew up around a family that was willing to do the hard work that it took to keep the farm in the family. That also at the same time, I remember hearing lots of stories about neighbors that would come down the lane that were going through a hard time.

The very first thing that like my great grandmother would do, would invite them to sit down and eat with them. It was the same kind of idea, like it didn't matter where you had been, we're all on a journey, it didn't matter just come and sit with us, come eat with us. We had a neighbor I had never met that was interested in boarding their horse here. He asked if he could stop by and meet me in person, of course.

He came by and I said, “Do you want to see the stalls where your horse might stay, if you choose to board here?” And he said, “No, I don't even need to see that.” And I was like, “Well, don't you want to see?” And he's like, “Nope, I just already trust you. I grew up hearing stories about your great great-grandfather that walked three miles across this field.”

He pointed to the field we were talking about. And he said. “He would walk three miles back to our farm because we had fallen on hard times and we couldn't hire anybody, but there was a lot of work to do to save the farm. It was your great-great-grandfather that walked across, daily to put in a few hours, even while owning his own farm, to make sure that we didn't lose our farm. If you come from that line, then I trust you with my horse.”

That's a super small example, but to me, that is what our county was built on and I don't want to ever lose that. So when I went on tour, when I was flying from country to country, when I was living out of a tour bus and an airplane, I had lost my sense of place. The moment that I returned back here, I just felt a huge sense of relief and I wished that I would have caught that earlier.

I'm thankful for the journey, always. I don't look back, but I wish that I would have caught that earlier, because I think it would have saved me a couple hours in therapy.

Jenny Kreisher:

Oh, that's really special. So we're going to share like your website and your Facebook page and all of that in the show notes. But if one of our listeners immediately now, is inspired to come out and book a trip here with you guys, where can they go to find you and do that?

Jeremy Willet:

They can go to Willetfamilyfarm.com. They can also email me anytime. Jeremy@Willettfamilyfarm.com.

Camping: This or That

Jenny Kreisher:

Before we get to our final question, I do want to play one fun round of camping, this or that.

Jeremy Willet:

Let's go.

Jenny Kreisher:

Alright. Let's do this. So bonfire or swimming hole?

Jeremy Willet:

Bonfire.

Jenny Kreisher:

I agree with that one. Hiking or trail riding?

Jeremy Willet:

Hiking.

Jenny Kreisher:

Okay. Do you hike around here?

Jeremy Willet:

I do a lot. I love horses, I have a lot of respect for them, and so trail riding we’ll see.

Jenny Kreisher:

Best time to camp, is it spring or fall?

Jeremy Willet:

I love both honestly, but I love the spring. I absolutely love it coming out of the cold season into the warm.

Jenny Kreisher:

That's true. That's true. Alright, two more. Birdwatching or fishing?

Jeremy Willet:

So I'm trying to get into fishing and it's kind of frustrating because I get everything tangled up. So I know nothing about birds, but birdwatching sounds awesome right now because you literally have to do nothing, so birdwatching for me.

Jenny Kreisher:

Gotcha. Food over a fire, do you prefer hotdogs or s’mores?

Jeremy Willet:

I'm going hot dogs.

What do You Advocate for in Ag?

Jenny Kreisher:

Really? Alright. I was going to vote s’mores, but you got me there. Final question. This is the last one that we ask everyone. What is it that you advocate for in agriculture?

Jeremy Willet:

Mine is that agritourism is a sector of agriculture as a whole and the sooner we embrace that, the sooner we bring our communities together.

Jenny Kreisher:

I love that. Thank you so much for your time, Jeremy. This was so much fun. Everyone who's listening, I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I have.

Please rate, review, subscribe, and share with a friend. You can head over to mafc.com/podcast to get the podcast notes and subscribe to email alerts and of course at any time, please shoot us an email at podcast@mafc.com. Thanks everyone and we'll see you next time.