Special Thank you to Charlotte Estes for this story and photograph!
The Bryan and Cindy Phillips Family of Franklin has been honored as the 2013 Izard County Farm Family of the Year. Bryan, Cindy and their two boys, James and Ethan who are fifth-generation farmers on the land first owned and worked by Bryan’s Great Grandfather.
Sixteen-year-old James is active in cross-country, track, shooting sports, archery, working on his pickup truck, and of course, FFA. Ethan, who is 14 enjoys the mechanical aspect of farming, working on the tractors, hydro and other equipment and is looking toward a career in mechanical engineering.
Cindy has nearly completed her fourth year as an Admissions Rep at Ozarka College and is active teaching ladies Bible class at their church home, Melbourne Church of Christ.
Bryan, the heartwood of the family farm, is also a Deacon and teacher.
Together the family continues a good, old-fashioned 75+ plus-year tradition of raising cattle, pearl millet, wheat, hybrid haygrazer and a variety of row crops.
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It is a road well traveled, something over a mile off Hwy. 56, a little less than a mile long, and every time they symbolically walk that mile, it is in shoes that date back to the 1930s.
The rocky dirt single-lane known as Phillips Road has a family history as rich as the soil in the fields that surround it and as vintagely wise as the Mourning Dove who sits like a giant gray puffball on the fence post watching a flock of silly red winged blackbirds as they swarm up at intervals behind the farmer’s tractor. He’s just biding his time until the work is done, then he’ll munch on what’s left behind.
This afternoon Bryan Phillips makes a dusty pass with the baler over the ground his Great Grandfather, Isaac Plumlee worked, the same domain his Grandparents, Cecil and Altha Phillips inherited and the one later handed down to their sons, Hayden and Garland.
Hayden and his bride, Rachel raised two boys in a traditional North Arkansas stone house built on the family farmland and in turn, Bryan brought his wife Cindy, a native Idahoan, to settle in the paternal landscape, 21 years ago this June. Although Cindy admits to being raised a small-town, non-farming girl, she says she loves the country atmosphere and took immediately to the farm wife life. Bryan and Cindy’s boys are fifth-generation stewards of this homestead and grange located between two low-water bridges. the Strawberry River, and the City of Franklin.
“How did I get started farming?” Bryan responded to our first question with a chuckle. “I was born.”
He explained that he worked the farm pretty much all of his life, attending Violet Hill School and later ICC after the district consolidated, leaving only for college, and working a short time “outside” the family business, but always in agriculturally related industries. Included was a short time working for the Soil Conservation District.
“I taught school for a time, as an Ag Instructor at Melbourne High School” he explained. “But I was doing that about halfway right and farming about halfway right so I had to choose and about that time my Uncle Garland was ready to retire, so I decided I needed to help him and I did that.”
“I enjoyed the kids, but I had to make a choice.”
Bryan and the boys put in millet, Haygrazer and some wheat, soy and corn. Bryan explained that the slope of the land and irrigation availability, (they presently have the capability of irrigating approximately 80 acres), limits the amount of land that can be dedicated to row crops. Although planting and harvesting wheat and corn requires specialized equipment not normally necessary in this area of cattle and hay production, Phillips regards diversification and a willingness to change as a key aspect of his business. “The biggest challenge to farming now is probably the new regulations and the changing diet of the people,” said Bryan. “We’ve been asked if we’ll go more to row crops some day. I mean it’s good ground, and it’s productive but if you go to tilling it up it’s going to wash away so you don’t want to do that.”
“You know, you need to protect it for future generations,” he explained. Irrigation is a major concern. “In this area I don’t believe you could drill a well and be able to get near enough water,” he said. “If we weren’t able to use the river and get water, that would be a big game changer as far as growing crops.”
Watering the cattle is another concern. The family recently installed a cattle watering system to alleviate drouth-stressed ponds and dependence on the river to water the stock. “The government programs help out a lot,” acknowledged Bryan.
The family takes 200 to 300 hay rounds, and about 20 acres worth of corn off the property as winter feed for their own angus herd. The river section of the farm provides additional bermuda grass which is square-baled for sale during wetter years when it’s not needed for their own strongly angus influence herd. The family runs a small fertilizer operation as well. Books are still kept the old-fashioned way, something that Bryan’s dad, Hayden tends to.
Back at the family home, located just around the corner from the original farmhouses down Military Road, the four Phillips seem to be perfectly relaxed among all of us: a menagerie of reporters, photographers, judges, cooperative extension agents and USDA personnel. They lounge in the comfortable living room chairs which are a welcome comfort after a rough day in the fields. The kitchen is open – if you need it, can’t find it, just ask… or rummage, like most rural Arkansans, the family welcomes a bustling houseful of family, friends and neighbors; this is a part and art of country life.
Surrounded by the media, he talks 90-miles-a-minute, she, not so much; that is until the focus moves outside to the garden. Cindy handed over the keys to the garden to her boys a few years ago, but it is obvious by the smiles on their faces, this is Mom and Ethan’s place. While her youngest son proudly points out the young plants being nurtured there in the straw, Mom talks of meeting Dad at a church devotional in Springdale while he did a short stint at Tyson Foods after college, and how they were married just six months later. A little hint of dimple shows up in her cheeks as she announces that today (June 12) is their wedding anniversary.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old James, the proud new owner of a shiny new ADL is over in the driveway with Dad, showing off his black pickup truck, the one Bryan handed down to him when he earned his license. Although “earned” is a word rarely used in today’s society, the word is not by any means obsolete in this family – you put out the necessary effort for what you want/you learn, you earn…and you accomplish much. This philosophy shows in these two fine young men who plan on attending college after graduating from Melbourne High School, while at the same time carrying on the family tradition.
One or both of them will likely be sitting where their parents are on some future Farm Family Media Day.
“It’s a good way to raise the boys,” said Cindy. “You know, we may not have everything that everyone else has, but that doesn’t matter.” A farm-father sets a good example for his children. As Cindy puts it, they see that , “He’s a hard-working husband and he loves every day out here.”
All four of the Phillips are very active in their church, attending the Melbourne Church of Christ where Bryan is a deacon and helps teach Bible study. Cindy teaches Bible Class and the boys are active in their youth group, and vacation Bible school helping with the younger children. The family is well-liked by all in the communities that border their property as well as by those in Pocahontas and Jonesboro where they do their farm business.
Although the four are mechanically self-sufficient, a skill Bryan credits his Uncle Garland for instilling in him, the family does a lot of business locally. Deana Taylor of Taylor Feed in Franklin spoke highly of them as did the folks over at the Farm Bureau office.
“They are good honest people, none better in Izard County,” commented Randall Lovelace of White River Trailer in Guion where the Phillips often buy their diesel.
Bill Miller of Williams Equipment in Batesville has this to say, “I’ve known Bryan for a long time, they are good people and hard working folks.”
Outside, James and Ethan who just returned home from the Arkansas State FFA Convention at Camp Couchdale in Hot Springs are anxious to show off the farm grounds, and equipment that they have just recently begun to use on their own. Bryan explained that both had fluffed and raked hay in the past, but this season will be a bit different, both boys are being initiated to full-fledged farming this summer. In the winter the boys help feed the cattle, put out minerals and whatever else is needed. “You want a kitten?” asks Ethan as a wisp of cat tail disappears under the edge of the combine that he and his brother are posing for a picture on.
“Are there times when you want to get out of this business?” is asked of Bryan and his immediate answer is, “No, not really. You know, like I said, I taught school and I worked off and the whole goal was to be able to come back.” Back to an old rock house, a dirt and gravel road, and a family legacy.