"If you don’t have the commitment to do something, then you might as well not be doing it."
Todd Cassebaum of the Lillian Community knows the importance of commitment. That’s why he’s spent his entire life farming the fertile soil of Baldwin County. But this commitment to the land didn’t start with Todd, and it probably won’t end with him either.
Cassebaum Farm, Inc. is located near the town of Elberta which is known for its German settlers. Todd’s grandfather, August Cassebaum, a native of Germany, relocated to Lillian from Chicago at the coaxing of his brother, Gerhard. Gerhard began working for Bartel’s Vineyard, located just across the highway from what is now the Cassebaum place. After learning the property across the road from the vineyard was for sale, he contacted August and encouraged him to purchase the property.
In 1929, August bought the land, packed his belongings and left the Windy City for the fertile soil of South Alabama. Ten years later, August and his wife, Elizabeth, were the proud parents of a new baby boy, Curtis. Following in the steps of his father, Curtis joined the family farming operation and formed a partnership with his father. The two worked together farming corn, potatoes, soybeans and chickens, but in the mid-70s, August retired. He left the operation to his son and one anxious little boy who didn’t waste any time helping out with the farm duties.
Todd was born to Curtis and his wife, Gerda, shortly before his grandfather retired, but even as a child, his attitude of commitment and his passion for farming were well-served. Before he even graduated from high school, Todd had already gone into business for himself raising sweet corn and selling it from a produce stand on nearby Highway 98.
Todd and his father decided not to form a partnership and, instead, chose to operate as separate entities, but neither hesitated to help the other if a need arose. Todd said this leeway in decision-making allowed him to take over the sweet corn portion of the farm and operate it independently of his father’s business. Even as a high school student, Todd was already successful in his sweet corn production and he eventually expanded his row crop operation to include field corn, soybeans and wheat. After a local FFA chapter expressed a need for pigs to start a pig chain, Todd purchased a bred sow and went into the swine business. He said before long he had pigs everywhere and he and the FFA members showed them in local shows.
But the Casse-baums’ democratic-style farming only went so far when his father told him he "didn’t want any stinky pigs around here," and consequently he sold all of his pigs. However, when Todd graduated from high school, he was anxious to expand his operation and he convinced his father to go back into the swine business. Within three years of his graduation, he built a hog facility and had almost 60 sows and more than 300 finishing pigs, finishing out more than 900 hogs a year. Todd soon got into the grain business so he increased his corn-production acreage to meet his swine-feeding demands.
He continued to open his produce stand each summer and he experienced much success with it; so much success he had to run a number system to meet the demands of his customers. He said he’d post numbers 1 through 200 on a nail at 6 a.m. when he’d head out to harvest the corn and by 8, when he returned to open the stand, there would be no numbers left. Todd had so much success with his stand, it created traffic jams on the highway, and he eventually decided to move the stand across the road, in front of his parent’s home. Although the move was a bit off the beaten path, he’s had loyal customers who recognize the quality of Todd’s produce. One man, Todd noted, has faithfully bought corn at his stand for 30 years.
While Todd was busy raising corn and pigs, two new additions were introduced to the Cassebaum operation. In 1995, he and his wife, Hope, welcomed a baby girl, Kelsey, and just one year later, a baby boy, August, was born. The same year Kelsey was born, Todd and Hope bought a new homeplace which included a pecan orchard, so before long he began selling pecans as well. Todd noted that his mother was already selling pecans, but his new orchard allowed him to help her meet the demands of her customers.
After his children were born, Todd said he discontinued his sweet corn production in an attempt to make more time for his family. Concentrating primarily on his hog operation, Todd soon realized raising swine included year-round responsibilities while corn production was more seasonal and therefore a bit less demanding of his time. With this in mind and with a drop in swine market prices, Todd again decided to discontinue swine production, this time after about 12 years in the business, and to go back into the sweet corn-production business. This gave him more time with his family.
But before long, farming meant family-time because just as Todd began helping his father when he was a child, his children followed suit and began working on the farm as soon as they were old enough to help. Todd’s wife and children are much needed help around the farm, especially during the summer time which is the height of sweet corn season. Hope, Kelsey and August, along with several local children, help run the produce stand, which has grown to include peas, butterbeans, cantaloupes, watermelons, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.
In the winter time, the children help with the farm’s controlled-grazing program. Todd said this is one of Kelsey’s favorite responsibilities because she loves working with the animals. And if there’s any doubt about the children’s work ethic, Todd said Kelsey even fusses at him because he hasn’t finished teaching her how to drive the tractor for field work, a skill Todd said has come naturally for August since he’s been riding with him since he was a toddler. Todd has already given August a piece of land to farm whatever he would like and he said he’s chosen to grown soybeans on it and operate it independently of his father’s business.
Todd said August will make all necessary purchases at the Elberta Farmers Cooperative, a habit he’s learned from his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Todd said he buys every product he can from the Co-op. In fact, he said about 99 percent of the products he grows come from the local store. Todd and his family have been faithful Co-op customers since his grandfather first started the operation. His father was elected to the Board of Directors at the store and even served as president of the Board. In true Cassebaum fashion, Todd followed in his father’s footsteps, accepting a position on the Board six years ago.
This year Todd has planted 260 acres of peanuts, 550 acres of soybeans, 180 acres of wheat and 120 acres of brown top millet, and he has over 200 head of cattle to graze. But Todd doesn’t see farm work as a hassle. Instead he said he works because he loves it and that sometimes it’s as much fun as fishing. The farm has seen many changes over the past 90 years, but there’s one thing that has remained the same—a commitment to family, hard work and the success of Cassebaum Farm, Inc.
"We are committed," he said. "If we’ve got something to do today, we’ll get it done today. We try to never get behind."
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.