Monday, Sept 21 started routinely for my wife and myself as we motored from the Country Inn in Ankeny, Iowa enroute to a welcome six-day mini-break in Lake Of The Ozarks, Missouri. It’s 9 a.m., blue skies, 61 degree temps. We stretched our hands upward and thankfully expressed, “All is well with the Lord”. And away we motored to the fabled hills, valleys and waters of Lake of the Ozarks.
However, stops along the way are necessary … and usually rewarding for curiosity seekers like we two highway travelers. Just outside Carrolton, Mo, my sharp-eyed bride noted a billboard reading “River’s Bottom Brewery” sporting both great beer and tasty pizza. Just like that we both hungered for a taste of each. Peanut Butter Bacon Jelly was a pizza choice. It was delicious. Equally tasty was their freshly-brewed beer.
Sitting off to my right was a guy with what appeared to me to be artificial limbs. I asked if I might chat with him for a few minutes before we continued on our way and he agreed. His name is Greg Flick, he lives in Tina, Mo., he’s 57 years old and he farms.
And now the rest of the story:
I somewhat gasped, “You can’t farm … you don’t have any arms and it looks to me like only one leg.” He smiled back to me, “Oh, I do a lot of farming … been at it for a long time too.”
I continued, “Now you tell me you were born this way, virtually without your arms and legs. How did you have the ambition and fortitude to get on with your life despite these obvious limitations?”
Greg responded, “Early in my life my parents told me if I wanted to make something of my life I had to get out and work for it. So that’s what I’ve always done.”
Now I was really intrigued. “Can you really do everything or how much help do you need?” He casually admitted, “Oh I need a little help now and then. Hooking up equipment is easier if you have another person to assist.”
That means Greg drives his tractor, runs his combine and pretty much all the other tasks of farming. Which prompted this obvious question from me, “How many times did you hurt yourself because you couldn’t get out of the way?” This amazing response: “Never! I ain’t saying I haven’t gotten banged up a bit because bumps and bruises do happen in this farming work.”
All this and you are a corn, soybean and hay-making farmer? “Yeah, we used to do a lot of hay work but we’re out of livestock now. We used to raise a lot of cattle. Back in those days quite a few hogs too.”
I countered, “How in hell could you do cattle and calf rearing work?”
Greg perhaps backed off just a bit saying, “I was the feeder calf man … not much bending and lifting in that work. And working with the hogs … well, some things I best not say on your recording device. But there’s really not a whole lot that I cannot do.”
And you want to keep on farming? “Yes, I’m young enough and still like farming.”
So I countered, “But Greg, quite a few guys are now quitting because they aren’t make any money. How about you?”
He calmly responded, “Well, it’s been tough the last three years between the weather, crop prices and some other blips here and there; but I bought the farm at the right time because I had some equity and have managed to keep it together.”
And this year, what yields for you? We’re looking at record yields in my part of Minnesota. “The ground I farm will average between 150 and 180-bushel corn. On these hills, soybeans in the mid-40s are about the best I can do.”
So you make up for it with smarter marketing? “Not so … when I locked in my corn this year I got the lowest price of the season; soybeans the same way. I’m about $1 off on both crops right now. I was concerned when prices were bobbing around last spring, thinking I better lock something in right then. Corn was a little over $3 and beans a little over $8 so that’s what I did. Nope, not complaining because I’m still above break-even on my production costs”.
Greg, now this very pointed question: Is it important Donald Trump get reelected as President?
With zero hesitation, “Too me, Yes,” said Greg Flick. “What we’re going through with China needed to be done. We’ll get through this crunch in farming too. I’m sorry, but there’s farmers around here paying $200 cash rent that’s not worth $60. Farming is competitive … I’ve known that even before striking out by myself. I have no precision farming capabilities. Scale tickets tell me the story of what my crops are doing. It’s nice to have the technologies for precision farming I suspect. But scale tickets are my barometer.”
I couldn’t resist another question: What’s the color of your equipment, red or green? Mostly orange, he responded saying, “Allis Chalmers is what I grew up running. And as my Dad reminded me, “If it ain’t broke, don’t go about changing it. First tractor I ever run was a D-14 Allis; now I’m running a WD and it’s okay too!
“In the late ‘70s we bought an International 186 Hydrostat. Years later we traded for a 7040 Allis power shift. The only modification I added was a lift to help me get in and out of the cabs. The combine I’ve been running is a New Holland; before that it was Gleaners. This year we’re getting a newer International because the New Holland now has over 5,000 hours.”
But my curiosity persisted. Were you born without arm and legs?
He answered, “On the left side, from the hip down I have a prosthesis; also on the right side, just below the knee.”
To his female companion at the table, I couldn’t resist….‘Is this guy even good at dancing?’ She responded, “I’ve never seen him dance.” To which Greg chuckled, “I used to be.”
I persisted again. “Greg, you have a helluva spirit. How do you stay healthy? Do you eat regularly and drink regularly?” He responded, “No, I don’t eat healthy all the time. When you’re in the field you just grab something and go. If you drive by a local service station you grab a sticky bar and a bottle of water while going down the road.”
And how much help do you receive from your farming associates? “My local elevator is very good about spraying and fertilizing my fields. For the acres I run, they can do it when I’m just thinking about it. My 300 acres are small. My Dad is 89 and he still helps me some.”
So one more question … Did your Dad discourage you from wanting to farm? “No, he never discouraged me from farming.”
Well then, Greg, how many of your neighbors told you, ‘You’re crazy’? Again his easy response, “None, because I was born and raised around all of these people. I went to the same school for 12 years, so they simply accepted me the way I was … no fussing about this or that. Any assist I needed, they were there. Nope, I wasn’t a good student. I was bored with school. I hated school so thinking about a college didn’t even enter my thinking.”
You’re 57 now, so when are you going to retire from farming? “When I have too,” was his forthright comment, adding, “my own body will let me know. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s I drove a truck in the winter to make ends meet. I hauled livestock all over the Midwest. Then in the early 1990’s I had my own small trucking company. But I got out of that because I got tired of having to put up with my employees. Come this next March I will have 20 years as a volunteer for our Tina Fire Department.”
I couldn’t resist one more question: Do you make public appearances about your life experiences? “NO!” was his quick answer. And why not I persisted? “I’m just not a public speaker. I was an instructor for MU Fire School for a short time. I did alright I was told, but I’m not an expert at teaching.”
Dick Hagen is the staff writer emeritus of The Land. He may be reached at email@example.com.