A few years back, when FarmHer was just a photo project that lived on social media, I was photographing in southern Iowa and the FarmHer I was with told me about a young woman and her grandmother – FarmHers I just had to meet. So, she gave them a call and they said to come on over. They were harvesting corn at the time.
We pulled up and within minutes I had jumped up in the cab with Taylen Abarr. She was young – not far out of high school – and doing her dream job, farming. That day she was running the tractor with the grain cart while her grandma, Sharon, drove the harvester.
Sharon and Taylen of Routh Farms
I spent most of my time in the cab with Taylen that day as she told me about the farm and how she worked with her grandmother and Big Jim. Big Jim and Sharon had raised Taylen so they were really more her parents than grandparents.
She grew up around the farm with them and this was the life that she loved. I kept track of Taylen, watching from our social media friendship as she branched out into cattle, working with Big Jim to construct a building to house them and increase the herd, while operating the crop side of the farm too.
Then, a few years back I started to see posts from Taylen and Sharon with a really, really ugly word; cancer. Big Jim had cancer. They fought as hard as anybody could, traveling to other states for treatment with increasing regularity. Taylen and other family and friends worked to keep the farm strong throughout those years. Then, in April of 2018, the fight was over and Big Jim passed away, leaving the hearts of Taylen and Sharon smashed to pieces. I watched on social media, feeling heartbroken for them as they worked to pick up the pieces. They got the seed in the ground, but then started making plans to sell off parts of the farm as they had promised Big Jim they would do. They held a farm sale, selling off some of Big Jim’s prized machinery.
A Farm and Lives in Transition
When I knew I would be passing through, not far from their farm I got ahold of the women and asked if they would be willing to share their stories. Taylen warned me that the farm looks much different from the first time I was there – they now just have grazing ground and cattle. I told her that didn’t matter to me. Big Jim taught them how to farm, how to fix things and how to persevere.
While they may not see it in the really tough day-to-day that they are going through now, I could see that he left them with knowledge and confidence to get any job done and their story is an important one. Sometimes, the story doesn’t end the way we planned. Sometimes things get messy and tough. Sometimes the farm falls to pieces along with your heart and you have to figure out how to move forward. While none of this is fun to talk about, it is a reality for not just Taylen and Sharon, but so many other families and their farms.
So, I stopped by the Routh Farms as it sits today, in southern Iowa. There I found the women waiting for me in the massive machine shed, that is sitting a little more empty than it was meant to be. Taylen was getting prepared to move her cattle back up into the building from the pasture they were in and was working on some of the machinery that they have left. As I watched her and Sharon move around the tools and use them with ease, I could see that while Big Jim left a big hole in their world, he also left them with the pieces to put it back together.
We then drove out to the empty cattle building, that would soon be filled. Taylen sat on a wall as she talked and told me about how she and Big Jim had made the plans to build and fill that building with cattle. Despite all that she has lost, looking around, it was easy to see that she has everything she needs. As the wind whipped around the building creating an eerie but comforting sound, I could see that Big Jim is right there alongside her, propping her up. He knew she could do it, and she is.
After a quick trip down to the pasture to put some feed and mineral out for the herd, we headed back up to the machine shed. Taylen had to get going to the town job that she has taken now that they don’t have the crop ground to take care of. She admitted it has been a blessing – getting her off the farm and around people every day, which has helped. I see on social media she has been writing, pouring out her heart about how difficult the loss of both Big Jim and the farm as it was, have been for her.
Taylen and Sharon are strong women. They are the type of women that do what needs to be done. They type that figure out what they need to do to move forward. It’s tough. It’s really, really tough, but they’re going to do it. The path forward may be bittersweet, and not what was what they planned, but they are moving through it with the grit and grace of a FarmHer.