An ag kind of love
Potential mates want to know:'Are you OK getting dirt under your fingernails?'
By SEAN ELLIS
Cowboy poet and Western humorist Richard Nichols never expected to look for love on a dating website.
A fifth-generation working cowboy from southwest Texas, Nichols learned to clog dance on a wooden box with spurs on, spent time on a ranch with no electricity and broke his neck twice while riding in the rodeo circuit.
"Well, I'm a redneck and I don't believe in that stuff," he said of online dating sites.
But after losing his best friend and wife of 24 years to cancer almost three years ago and being double-dog dared by a friend to give it a try, "I threw down my debit card and said, OK, sign me up," he said.
His friend signed him up for the farmersonly.com website, which, as the name suggests, caters to farmers.
Despite being hesitant to try the website, Nichols, 64, eventually met Carla, 59, who grew up on a farm and manages a fertilizer plant in Kansas.
After talking with her by phone for two weeks, Nichols flew 800 miles to Downs, Kan., to meet Carla, who had been a widow for four years following a 34-year marriage.
Sparks flew and he proposed that first weekend.
They married two months later, and Nichols calls the marriage "the greatest thing since God put a pocket on a shirt."
The couple's story is representative of a growing number of rural couples who have met through farmers-only dating websites and married as a result. More than a dozen websites help match farmers, ranchers, cowboys, cowgirls, horse lovers -- and even English farmers -- on the Internet.
Founded in 2005 with the goal of helping match single farmers, ranchers and other people who share values associated with country living, the farmersonly.com website now has 400,000 registrants from every state, spokesperson Jill Spiekerman said.
The website claims responsibility for about one marriage per week, said Spiekerman, who was raised on a farm in Michigan and lived on a farm in Iowa.
She credits the success of the site with attracting people who have one thing in common: They share the same love of farming and the country lifestyle.
"A lot of people are meeting their special someone ... because of those core agricultural values they share," she said. "I talked to a lady in rural New York who is an equine dentist. Imagine trying to explain that to a gentlemen you met for the first time who doesn't know anything about agriculture. That's tough."
Spiekerman said she has spoken with many successful couples, including a woman from New Mexico who met a man from Kansas through the site and a man from Colorado who met a woman from Texas.
"They each say the same thing: 'We never would have met without this service because we live (several) states away,'" she said.
Besides matching farmers together, the site also has set up farmers with people not actively engaged in agriculture but who grew up on a farm or just love the lifestyle.
That includes Cliff Kinnetz, 53, a grain farmer from Emmetsburg, Iowa, who met Sara, who lived two hours away in Mason City, Iowa. They met four years ago through the website and have been married for 11/2 years.
Sara, 43, grew up on a farm but was no longer involved in agriculture. However, her love of the farming lifestyle drew her to the website and ultimately to Kinnetz, who said they never would have met if not for that shared website.
"It was the only dating website we were both on," he said. "I was on dating websites she wasn't on and she was on websites I wasn't on."
Three years ago, Alana Assam, 30, was living the Silicon Valley lifestyle in California "where everybody has a Bluetooth and an iPhone, at a minimum."
But Assam, who had no agricultural background, longed to live the country lifestyle and grow food.
"In the Bay Area, it's very hard to find somebody with the same kind of goals and outlook I have," she said.
After signing up for farmersonly.com in January 2010, she met Richard, 44, who was raising a variety of crops, nuts, fruit and livestock in Humboldt County in Northern California.
"Once I officially met him and realized he wasn't just some crazy loon out there, we just clicked," said Assam, who left a career in the Bay Area and married Richard in August 2011.
While Kinnetz's biggest complaint about the website is that he met women who lived too far away, others say the site's ability to match people who otherwise never would have met is part of its attraction.
"Never in a million years would I have ever met him," Alana said, while Nichols said, "Had it not been for farmersonly, Carla and I would have never met because we were 800 miles apart."
Farmersonly.com representatives say the site attracts a wide variety of people of different ages and backgrounds, a claim those who use the site confirm.
"There were people younger than me on the site and older than (Richard)," Assam said. "The site doesn't really have any type of age demographics."
"There's a full spectrum of people on the website," Kinnetz said.
While the site caters to farmers, it also attracts people not involved in agriculture who love that lifestyle, Spiekerman said.
"It's not about your growing capacity or how many animals you have," Assam said. "It's 'Do you like being outdoors, growing food and are you OK getting dirt under your fingernails?'"
"It caters to farmers but you don't have to be a farmer," Kinnetz said.