Since buying Brown Farms in Wheeler, Michigan in 1976 from his mother after his father’s death, James “Jim” Brown, 76, and his wife Phyllis, 75, have owned and operated the farm along with two of their four children, Matt and Darren, and a handful of hired workers. They farm cash crops and currently grow sugar beets, cucumbers, corn, soy beans, and black beans.
According to their son, fourth generation farmer Darren, 47, he estimates Brown Farms now owns about 3,500 acres, a far cry from the 40 acres Jim bought in 1976.
Now a full-time worker on the farm, Darren started off as a residential truck driver and hauled propane until the day his daughter Ellie, now 14 years old, was born.
He lives less than five miles away from Brown Farms with Ellie and Barbara, Darren’s wife of 17 years. Barbara is a teacher at Breckenridge High School and the couple have three children, two of which are from Barbara’s previous marriage: Benjamin, 24, and Lindsay, 21, both of which are working in Grand Rapids.
Ellie is a freshman in high school and an avid dancer with a passion for cows. She has shown steers for seven years and the family currently has 10 cows.
She hopes to attend South Dakota State University and work with cows.
“The cows outnumber the people in South Dakota,” Darren jokes.
Darren’s parents Phyllis and Jim still live on the farm and Jim has yet to retire, still running for parts and driving the big tractor, but now taking off days to go golfing once in a while.
Phyllis grew up on a farm held an active role on Brown Farms and after marrying Jim.
“When the boys were little I used to drive tractors once in a while,” she said. “When they got tractors with cabs on them, I would put the kids on the floor on a blanket and they would sleep all afternoon while I drove. Back then, you took meals to the field. You packed the dinner and you took it to the field and all four kids, tried to keep them on a blanket so they could sit there and eat. There used to be more late nights then working, so sometimes that was when they saw their dad. They were in bed by the time he would come home.”
Phyllis said she hopes to see the farm continue and became emotional about the uncertainty that her grandchildren will want to continue the farm.
“What do you do with the farm if your kids don’t want it? Or need it,” Phyllis said. “I think that’s basically what Jim’s worked for, is so that there’s something for them. We weren’t blessed with a lot of grandsons; we only have four. You can’t pick what the kids are going to do. As long as they’re happy, the ground is a good investment.”