October 2006
Featured Articles

Gena Boswell Followed her Heart to the Farm

  Pike County farmer Gena Boswell appreciates the values and work ethic farming teaches her children and the opportunity it gives her to spend time with them. Her children Seth, Rhett, Emily and John Paul, love to be with their mom as she works the fields and tends the cows but most of all, they are proud to say, “Our mom’s a farmer.”
by Jaine Treadwell

Gena Boswell knew there would be days like this. She knew there would be times when Mother Nature would sull like a stubborn ol’ bull and withhold life-giving rains from the fields.

She knew all of that. She understood all of that. Yet, she cast her lot on the fields and put her faith in God that there would be more good times than bad.

Boswell stooped and pulled goobers from the ground, shook them and gently turned them in her hands.  Not bad, but certainly not the bumper crop she had hoped for.

“This will not be the year that saves the farm,” Boswell said with a sad smile. “Maybe next year.”

Boswell walked from the field with her youngest son, John Paul, wrapped around her waist. Five-year-old Emily tagged behind, suddenly stopping and falling to the ground on a bed of peanut “hay.” Little John Paul joined her. Boswell laughed and pulled them both up and they hugged her and she walked from the field in that fashion.

“They are the reasons,” Boswell said. “My children are the reasons that I’m here on the farm. I would rather be raising them on the farm than anywhere else.

“I love loading my children in the pickup and surveying the long rows of crops. I appreciate the values and the work ethic that farming teaches them. I appreciate the opportunity it gives me to spend time with them. I’m blessed to be able to do this. I’m blessed to be a farmer.”

Gena Boswell said the peanuts may look like she has a good crop of hay but they didn’t pollinate well. The pegs burned off during the critical months when rain was needed.  
With her corn dried up in the field, no hay in the barn for winter feeding and peanuts and cotton crops that might not make enough to even make ends meet, Boswell hasn’t lost heart. She’s not alone in struggling through a bad year. She is a member of a fraternity whose fervent belief is “Next year will be a better year.”

“Not many things are worse than a farmer planting and waiting to see the results that never come,” Boswell said. “Farmers have always had hopes, prayers, goals and dreams. Years like this make us more aware of how mentally and emotionally strong we have to be.”

Boswell draws her strength from the love of the land and from the desire to raise her four children with a strong work ethic and a love and appreciation of the world God has so richly blessed them with.

At a glance, one would never guess that Boswell is a farmer. Tall, lean, blond and suntanned, she looks more like a young professional who spends weekends at the beach or skiing mountain slopes.

A second look would reveal slightly callused hands and a set jaw that is an indication of her inner strength.
Other than being far removed from the stereotypical farmer in looks, Boswell’s background is not in farming. She didn’t grow up on a farm and she didn’t inherit farmland or the means to start a farming operation on her own.

Her love of the land comes from her grandparents who were farmers. She spent many happy hours on their farm but she didn’t realize that, while there, somehow, someway, farming got in her blood.

“I couldn’t get it out, not even if I wanted to,” Boswell said, laughing. Boswell was working a desk job when, one day, she realized that sitting behind a desk was not the plan that God had for her life.

“It was not my desire either,” she said. “I had been around farming all of my life and I realized that it was a part of me. I had not realized until then just how much a part of me it was. So, I made up my mind to go into farming. I knew I was taking a chance, a big chance. But, if you’re not willing to take a chance then you’ll not ever achieve your dreams.

“I guess you could say that I listened to my heart instead of my head.”

In 1997, Boswell walked away from a weekly paycheck and into a world of uncertainty.  “I started with absolutely nothing,” she said. “I didn’t have any land. I didn’t have a tractor. I didn’t have a cow or even a chicken. All I had was a dream.”

With a lot of hard work, determination, sweat, tears and all the grit she could muster, Boswell realized her dream. She is now at the point that she can call herself a true-to-life farmer.

“I’ve had a lot of people behind me, supporting and encouraging me,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done without the friends and neighbors who have guided me along and I certainly don’t know what I would have done without the Farmers Co-ops in Elba and Goshen.

“Jimmy Tillis in Elba has been wonderful. He hooked me up with my Farm Plan account and made sure I got the best interest rates. He’s got good prices. He even sent cotton scouts out to look at my crops.

“Mike Thomas at Goshen has been just as helpful. The Goshen Farmers Co-op is conveniently located and Mike has been available to answer any questions that I have. He’s helped me to know when to do and how to do. I just don’t know what I would have done without the Farmers Co-ops, in the good years and the bad.”

This year, the year of the drought, Boswell is farming 650 acres of peanuts and 650 acres of cotton, 109 acres of corn and 50 acres of hay fields. She also has 90 of the “prettiest cows you’ve ever seen.”

On the side, she planted white peas, purple hulls and butterbeans.

“I can do just about anything that needs to be done on the farm,” she said. “I’ve tried to learn everything that I can. I want to be able to depend on me.”

Boswell has centralized her farming operation in Pike County and farms land from Glenwood to Good Hope. But she takes special pride in ownership of 290 acres.

“That’s my collateral. Now, I’ve got something to borrow against,” she said, laughing. “For a long time I didn’t.”

Boswell’s farm loan is $300,000 and that would be scary for a single mom with four children, but not for a farmer with four kids.

“That’s what we have to do to stay on the farm and I want to stay on the farm,” she said. “Farming means taking chances. That’s the way we survive. I’ll do whatever I have to do to stay on the farm. And, that probably means diversifying. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Southern Country Farms and Southern Country Cattle adds Southern Country Poultry to its operation.”

Boswell climbed in her big John Deere. Emily climbed in next to her.

“Farming is what I love,” she said as she reached to close the door. “It’s in my blood, cultivating and fertilizing the soil and my soul. I farm because it’s my calling.”

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.