Imogene Yarborough with her sons Bo and J.W., Geneva, Florida
Traveling for four years from state to state (35 in all), and farm to farm, Mobley, a commercial photographer and city-dweller, discovered not only a new artistic calling but also a way of life he, like most of us, had no idea existed.
“The exquisite and unexpected discovery was of a kinder and gentler world and way of life than I had known before,” he writes in “American Farmer: The Heart of Our Country” (Welcome Books; November 2008; $50). “The agricultural communities of America are made up of modest, hardworking men and women who prize their families, their land, and their heritage above all else.”
The book is billed by the publishers as the first portrait collection of modern American farmers and ranchers. The portfolio is accompanied by anecdotes and memories in the farmers’ own words — provided in interviews with writer-editor Katrina Fried after Mobley photographed them.
I found the book to be an endless source of wonder and admiration for those who work the land. They may be gentle people but the recurring themes of their lives are hard and difficult work, resilience in the face of frequent setbacks, and deep love for the soil.
Imogene Yarborough summed up this spirit with these words: “We’ve worked very hard. And the people before me, too. We are all stewards of this land.”
And so they are, for not only do they feed us but they manage our hinterland and the sustainability of generations to come.
The book lets the farmers tell their own stories — in their own plain words, yes, but most especially in the great character etched into faces that have endured and triumphed in every season.
Here is a small sampling of the farmers featured in the book (all photos © Paul Mobley, text © Katrina Fried, courtesy Welcome Books.)
“I guess you could say that when I married my husband, I married the bees,” says Alice Wiemers in “American Farmer.”
Near retirement age, the Wiemers have made their principal income as grain and livestock farmers in Hondo, Texas, for the past 58 years. Keeping honeybees has been their hobby.
“Just like all our animals, the bees have management needs,” Wimers says. “We sure do love it. We’ll keep doing it as long as we can.”
It was a real simple life, says Don Bustos (50), who farms 72 kinds of organic products on 3.5 acres near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“I look back on it and I think that I was blessed and I still am. I enjoy what I do. I’m really fortunate. It doesn’t feel like work, it’s like my calling — what I was meant to do — developing this sustainable agricultural practice and sharing that information with my neighbors and friends.”
Thad and Andrea Dockery with their daughter, Laura, ranch cattle in Wyoming. They live in a trailer house about a quarter mile from the house where Andrea lived in as a child, where her parents still live.
“The family property is our winter pasture, but our summer pasture is 80,000 acres of BLM ((Bureau of Land Management) land,” Andrea says in the book.
“I’ve seen many times antelope and the cows drinking from the water tank at the same time. There are feral horses, too. They are all in harmony out there.”
“When I was growing up, the sheep were more my responsibility,” says Chuck Dallas, of Wilsall, Montana. “My brother didn’t like ’em. Probably because they were smarter than he was. But I liked ’em. A lot.”
The entire family is into the family enterprise. His three daughters put themselves through college with the money they made off breeding and showing pedigree sheep.
“Raising sheep keeps you young,” Dallas says in “American Farmer.” “Sheep guys live longer than cow guys. Less stress, I think.”