Story by Susan Hurt
Photos by Tony Hurt
A t 26 years old, she has already earned many accolades; Miss Trigg County, a college graduate, and most recently, the President’s Award from the Trigg County Chamber of Commerce. The title she is most proud of is being a farmer’s daughter.
Alana Baker, daughter of Stan and Mary Beth Baker, has been bottle feeding calves since she was drinking from a baby bottle herself. She grew up on the family farm, River Bend Farms, appropriately named since the Little River meanders through its lush green pastures.
The farm has been in her father’s family as far back as he can remember. His great-grandfather, Samuel Fox Freeman had the original farm across the river, where his grandfather, Casey Freeman was born.
Casey Freeman bought the current farm in 1937, the year of the great flood. While the family was in the process of moving their belongings by mules and wagons across the river, they had to return to the original homestead until the flood waters receded.
Stan Baker grew up on this farm and so has his daughter Alana, who he lovingly refers to as “Baby.”
The family currently farms 5,000 acres comprised of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay in Cadiz. They have a head of 300 beef cattle, not including calves, and keep 40 replacement heifers on hand as well.
Everyone plays a role on the family farm. Alana, is lovingly referred to as “Baby” and Mary Beth is affectionately called “Al Roker” because she is always watching and reporting on the weather — despite the fact that Alana has four weather apps on her smart phone.
Weather is everything to the farmer, and as they say in the business, “it can make or break you.” This past winter, the family watched helplessly as they lost a large number calves during the ice storm of 2014.
Their artificially inseminated heifers all calved during the worst of the ice storm and there was not enough time to gather the calves from the frozen fields to the warm barn before they succumbed to the frigid temperatures.
“We couldn’t get them to the barn fast enough to get them warm,” Baker said, “It was the saddest thing.”
The Bakers admit they were not always on the cutting edge of technology when it came to farming, but that has since changed.
Baker said they didn’t have GPS, auto steering, row shut offs or swath control, but now every tractor has the new technology. They integrated the new equipment one piece at a time, as needed, to remain in the game because as Stan says, “You have to keep up. The name of the game today is being efficient.”
Mary Beth, CFO of River Bend Farms, recalls the days of using pen and paper to keep all of the farm records; however, today the record keeping is done through a jump drive that captures daily data from the tractor monitors and incorporates the planting, spraying and harvest records all in one location. Baker downloads the information onto the computer and is able to print out maps of the crops yield.
While there are many changes in the farming industry, some things will remain the same for the Bakers, like keeping it all in the family.
Alana, the recently appointed manager of River Bend Farms, admits that she did not have any intentions of farming and was not always passionate about the farming industry. She has no formal education in agriculture — in fact she never joined Future Farmers of America in school; however, she was raised on the family farm and hard work was instilled in her from the beginning.
Stan recalls waking Alana up in the middle of the night on many school nights to help pull calves and how she always willingly ran out the door with her boots in hand. He also jokingly calls her “the official thistle queen of Trigg County” because one of her chores growing up on the farm was to remove the thistles in the fields by hand.
Baker left her small hometown of Cadiz in 2006 as a pre-med student at the University of Louisville. She changed majors along the way and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in history.
She began working for the American Cancer Society in Louisville and was passionate about finding a cure for cancer, which took both of Stan’s parents in 1999. Baker loved her new career and the excitement of the big city of Louisville. She had a very fulfilling life in the River City, but something was missing.
Alana said she woke up one morning and her gut just told her it was time to go home.
“I knew if I wanted to come home and learn from mom and dad and do it right, then I didn’t need to waste a whole lot of time,” Alana said. “I came home to farm.”
Mary Beth added, “When she showed up at the door, I finally knew she was really home.”
Alana and her dad worked in tandem all year, so she could learn the family business first hand.
“I came home to learn from him and just to be with him,” she said. The two have a very close bond and feel fortunate to be working together on the family farm.
Alana said, of the two of them, “We can read each other’s minds; we are practically the same person.”
When she decided to come home and manage the farm, the four full-time employees of River Bend Farms were waiting with open arms, literally, to help unload the moving van.
Mary Beth said, “We don’t consider our guys employees; they are family. We work together and we would do everything in the world for those guys,” which explains why many have never left the farm.
Stan added, “We all work together — you have to work together to make this work.”
As the family prepares for wheat season, they will spend 10-12 hours together each day and know the challenges that can bring.
Alana said, “If you don’t have that family atmosphere, where you’re taking care of each other, it can make a long work day even longer.”
When asked about the future of River Bend Farms, Alana smiled and said, “As long as I can take care of our family and my guys, I’m perfectly happy.”
She now works full-time and has a lot of responsibility riding on her shoulders, but it is obvious she doesn’t carry the weight alone. With the love of her family and support of their employees, they are all in it together.
Mary Beth proudly said as she looked at Alana, “She has been told all of her life that there is nothing she cannot do.”
She is proving that by breaking barriers in the male-dominated farming industry, where fewer women are finding their passion in farming these days.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, of the 2.1 million principal operators in the United States, 288,264 were women), which is a 6 percent decrease since 2007.
“Women have always played a vital role in agriculture,” Alana said, “but they have not been as visible or as eager to accept the credit as a farmer’s wife.”
Many would not have considered themselves farmers in the past either; however, in 2012, 67 percent of second operators were women, of whom 90 percent were the spouse of the principal farm operator, and, like Alana, are proud to say they are farmers.
Alana offered advice for young women exploring careers in agriculture.
“Ag can be a men’s club, but you can’t be scared of that,” she said. “There is some respect to be earned, and you will have a lot to prove. Some people will tell you, you can’t do it, but you can!”
When asked if she could have any career and live anywhere in the world, her reply was simply, “I’m perfectly happy right here. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”