Family's farm a labor of love

Gib Mathers/The Powell Tribune via AP Andrea Earhart, left; AndreaÕs daughter, Hadley; and Larry Earhart stand at their farm south of Powell, Wyo., on March 17.

Three generations pitch in on 450 acres of ranch, farmland

By GIB MATHERS

The Powell Tribune via AP

POWELL, Wyo. -- For more than 80 years, the Earhart farm has been in the agriculture business, emphasizing a family history of raising crops and cattle.

"My grandfather (Jess Earhart) moved his family here from Nebraska in 1929," said Larry Earhart, standing on his farm in the Willwood area.

On 450 acres of irrigated and some leased river bottom land, the Earharts raise registered Angus cattle, mostly for breeding stock to sell. They also grow dry beans and feed for their cattle, he said.

Angus cows loll in a corral and the air is redolent of fresh hay and manure. Family farming is alive and well in the United States, even if a very small percentage of the land is under the plow or the hoof of domestic stock. Less than 2 percent of the population works in agriculture. Of that, 97 percent of the farms and ranches are owned by individuals, partners or families.

And 90 percent of that 97 percent is owned by multigenerational families, Earhart said.

The Earhart place is a model of multiple generations carrying on the family tradition, as are many farms in the Powell area. Andrea Earhart-Cooper, one of Sharon and Larry Earhart's two daughters, works the farm, too. Another daughter, Erica Henry, lives in Billings.

"I expect it to continue," Larry Earhart. "It will be family farms."

"It's a labor-intensive way of life," said Earhart-Cooper, looking like a cowgirl with her Western belt buckle and jeans, but with a dash of polish reflective of her day job as an attorney.

Earhart might seem the quintessential farmer with an easy smile, dusty cowboy hat and self-effacing air, but he is educated and knows how to raise cows and crops.

"It's not a 40-hour work week," he said.

Right now the cows are calving, as evidenced by newborn calves tottering about on wobbly legs or suckling their mothers. Earhart-Cooper developed a work ethic at a very young age. She learned financial management and responsibility, she said. She had her first 4-H cow at age 8. When she was 15 or 16, she took a cow to the National Junior Heifer Show in Des Moines, Iowa.

Holden, Earhart-Cooper's little boy, is going on 5 and is definitely following in the family footsteps. When Holden was just a toddler, Earhart-Cooper was already loading him in a pack on her back to tend cows. To get Holden potty-trained, a unique carrot was dangled. If he was successful, they promised Holden he could ride in the combine. It worked like a charm.

"And that was all the training he needed," Earhart-Cooper said.

Holden has a penchant for tractors, trucks and the farm and has become something of an ag expert, Earhart said.

"I love it," Holden said, exuberantly circling his mom.

It seems like a partnership between Earhart and his daughter. A powerful bond forged from the land they cultivate. He has spent his life building the farm and being a good steward of the land. He said if he can pass on those values during the grandkids' formative years, he is confident it will remain productive. And, it's a safe bet that soon Holden won't be riding in the combine, he'll be running it.

Four-legged, expectant mothers stand in the corral. One wanders away from the collective, as though searching for a sequestered place to give birth. Like expectant relatives at a maternity ward, Earhart and Earhart-Cooper watch the cows and discuss who will deliver tonight. All seems well in this golden moment of barnyard beauty and tranquility.

"It's very productive (land)," Earhart said. "I chose my parents well," he added, jokingly, of his folks, Rowland and Minnie.

Earhart-Cooper, on the other hand, gets serious.

"I feel even more fortunate because I was adopted," she said. "I really got the good end of the deal."

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