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April 16, 2013
On the Family Farm

Young Grantsville couple has taken on unique career with 400 acres of farmland 

The words of Paul Harvey combined with still photographs of rural America provided many Super Bowl XLVII viewers with a quiet moment of contemplation in February.

For two minutes the role of farmer was remembered, celebrated and honored by citizens across the country. But for Derek Black, 26, of Grantsville, those two minutes encapsulated the reason he and his wife, Jordan Chaney Black, also 26, have chosen farming as their career and lifestyle.

A farming career is often a natural choice for the children of farming families, but neither Derek nor Jordan belong to families who have farmed for generations. Instead, they were adopted into the farming lifestyle, and chose to stay because of the people, the values and the challenge of farming.

In fact, both Derek and Jordan often refer to the great people they have met in the agriculture industry — people who are honest and hard working and value the lifestyle that comes with farming. This lifestyle is one Derek and Jordan hope to offer their 18-month old son, Cooper, and future children.

Although Derek was not born into a farming family, his farming experiences began at the age of 6 when his mother married Kirk Matthews and they moved to the Matthews family home in Grantsville. Derek worked on the farm as a child and began moving pipe for his uncle in the seventh grade. He also spent his childhood learning what it takes to be a farmer from the Matthews brothers, hoping for a similar lifestyle and future as a farmer himself.

In high school, Derek continued to work on the farm, but recognized that education was important to his future as a farmer. After high school graduation, he moved to Logan to pursue a degree in agriculture and business at Utah State University. Fall and winter found him in Logan learning the academic and business end of farming. Back in Grantsville each summer, Derek was able to put that knowledge to practice, combining education and experience to develop the skills he needed to make farming a career.

After four years at USU, Derek received his bachelor’s degree and was ready to make his dream of farming a reality.

Although Derek spent most of his life preparing to be a farmer, Jordan did not grow up familiar with the rigors and lifestyle of farming. Instead, she lived in Stansbury Park and played sports during high school. The limited farming experience she had came from Future Farmers of America classes and dating Derek.

However, after six years of dating, Jordan was familiar with Derek’s passion and work hours and felt prepared for her role as a farmer’s wife. The first year of farming was not what she expected. Adjusting to life on a farm was rockier than she had anticipated.

“I think the most important thing I learned that first year is that farming is a big commitment,” Jordan said. “But I wanted the lifestyle.”

Derek agreed that an important part of their decision to farm was based on the life they would have and be able to offer to their children.

“Living and working on the farm was a great thing for me, and I want my own kids to have the same kind of experience,” he said.

Both Jordan and Derek want to provide their family with a safe, outdoor haven where they can learn about responsibility, physical labor, working together and working hard. They want a place where their children can get into “good trouble” and spend their days busy outside, instead of busy with a world of electronic devices. They believe they can provide this kind of environment by owning and operating a family farm.

After four years of hard work and lots of learning, that dream is starting to feel more like reality every day. But what exactly does a typical day on the Black family farm look like?

“There is no such thing as a typical day on the farm,” he said.

Each day can be completely different than the previous one, requiring skills of flexibility and innovation that can stretch the most experienced of farmers too far.

Generally, though, Derek’s day begins at 5 a.m. or as soon as it is light enough outside to see well enough to move pipe on his 400 acres of hay fields. After three to four hours of moving pipe and irrigating, Derek then spends the next several hours doing tractor work. About 12 hours after his day started, he is back moving pipe and irrigating until dark.

Sometimes his day ends when it gets dark, but oftentimes it extends well into the night and even into the next day if he is baling hay. During high season, Derek said he will sometimes go two or three days with little sleep.

“There is always a lot to be done, and never enough daylight to do it,” he said.

During these busy days, Jordan works to keep Derek going by bringing him food, offering moral support, and encouraging him to get some rest. She also helps shuffle equipment from one piece of farmland to the next. Before Cooper was born, she spent more time in the fields helping Derek move pipe.

Long days, and nights are only one of the hurdles a farmer faces. However, Derek lists the challenge and creativity of farming as one of the reasons he chooses to farm.

“I believe farming to be an art,” he said. “It takes a lot of years to learn how to do it well.”

Derek recognizes that the same challenge and creativity he relishes also leads to a lot of the stress a farmer faces. That stress comes from inconsistent income and working hours, expensive equipment, hard physical labor and lack of sleep. Jordan also added danger to the list.

Derek works with heavy, dangerous equipment, often in the dark and with little sleep. These circumstances can lead to disaster, a thought never far from both Jordan and Derek’s minds. However, after a neighboring farmer had a serious accident last spring, Derek is more cautious and diligent about getting more sleep.

“The lack of sleep combined with stress can create a really dangerous situation,” he said. “I am much more careful now.”

Another challenge the Blacks face as farmers is the weather. For most people, the unpredictability of the weather is annoying at the least and dangerous at the most, but few rely on weather patterns the way a farmer does.

“No matter what the weather is like, a farmer complains about it,” he said. “Too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet.”

Over the years, Derek has developed a skill for predicting weather. He relies on a combination of local TV news and Internet sites as well as his own experience to predict weather patterns. Farmers who are older and more experienced often come to Derek for advice on the weather because of the skill he has developed.

“After so many years of working outside, you are able to pick up patterns and understand what a shift in winds or drop in temperature means,” he said.

The weather creates a universal and timeless challenge for all farmers, including Derek and Jordan. But they also face local and modern challenges by choosing to farm in Grantsville.

When it comes to their future in farming, the Blacks are unsure about where it might lead. They are currently farming more than 400 acres on several different plots throughout the city, but there is very little room for expansion in Grantsville due to several factors.

First, land is too expensive to purchase for farming. Instead, it is sold for much higher profits to developers for housing. This in turn creates another problem for local farmers: a lack of water shares.

“We all receive our water from the same source, and there is only so much to go around,” he said. “Homes and yards use a lot more water than a farm does so water shares are becoming more scarce.”

Despite these challenges, or maybe because of them, the Blacks are in the farming business for the long haul. They both credit the Matthews family for adopting them into a farming family.

“I am so grateful to the Matthews that I have a life where I’m able to be at home with my son and know that Derek is right outside,” Jordan said.

Derek also recognizes the influence the Matthews family has had on him for most of his life.

“The Matthews family has always treated me like I am one of them,” he said.

Even though Derek’s mother and Kirk Matthews are no longer married, he remains close to the Matthews family. He is also quick to add that his biological family, the Blacks, are very supportive of his choice to farm and are grateful that the Matthews family has made it possible.

Jordan’s family was skeptical at first about the Blacks choosing to run a family farm.

“They love it now,” Jordan said. “They like to visit the farm and help out sometimes.”

One way the Blacks are expressing their gratitude is by paying it forward. They are both very involved in the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, acting as co-chairs for Tooele County. Through this program, they are helping to pave the way for future farmers and give and receive support for current young farmers as well. As they work to help create language and policy for Tooele County farmers, they are creating their own farming legacy that they can pass to their children.

That legacy of family and farming led Paul Harvey to begin his famous speech with these words: “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”

That speech means a lot to the Blacks, because for them, it validates their choice to farm.

“This commercial gave me hope that there are people and businesses that recognize that family farms matter,” Derek said. “It gave me hope that someone gets us.”

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