One young Crawford County couple share both their passion for farming and the work duties on their 600-acre farm.
Chosen as the Crawford County Farm Family of the Year, Sean and Stephanie Brister raise cattle and grow row crops on their farm in Alma.
But Sean Brister will be the first to admit that it is Stephanie Brister who manages the cattle.
"She runs the cattle and I run the row crop…and she’s doing a little better than I am right now," Sean Brister said with laugh.
Arkansas’ Farm Family of the Year Program, sponsored by the Arkansas Farm Bureau, was created to recognize outstanding farm families throughout the state.
District judges Eric Branscun with Farm Credit and Matt Jackson with Farm Bureau met with the Bristers Monday.
"We don’t expect anything. We were shocked that they even nominated us because we’re so young," Stephanie Brister said.
Sean and Stephanie Brister make a powerful team, both growing up and being educated in agriculture.
Sean Brister grew up on a soybean and cotton farm in eastern Arkansas and went on to get a bachelor’s in agronomy and a master’s in agriculture law. Besides operating the farm, he also works as attorney for several of the smaller cities in the county.
Stephanie Brister was raised on a stocker-feeder cattle operation in Crawford County, and received bachelor’s degrees in both animal science and agriculture business, and a master’s in agriculture economics.
"I grew up working cattle and riding horses," Stephanie Brister said. "That’s all I wanted to do my whole life."
Having a farm has been the dream of both Bristers since they were dating, Stephanie Brister said. The couple are in their mid-30s and have been married 12 years now. Their sons Ross, 8, and Wyatt, 6, also are very involved in helping out around the farm.
Ross was more than eager to answer any questions the judges had Monday about the farm, and seemed to know as much as his dad about the daily workings.
"He’s big enough to put to work now," Sean Brister said.
The boys have grown up riding tractors, feeding and doctoring cattle, and working on farm equipment, and the Bristers feel one of the best things they can give their children is life growing up on a farm, they said.
While the couple does a lot of the work themselves, both their parents help out throughout the year. They also have Doug Cameron, a recently hired farm hand.
"I love the fact that you guys are both involved and your kids are involved, and you’re not blowing money," Jackson told the couple Monday.
Sean and Stephanie Brister are careful about the money they spend on the farm, purchasing used equipment when they can and adding fencing as needed.
The couple purchased their home and 13.5 acres in Alma in 2006, starting with just 15 head of cattle. By spending conservatively, the Bristers were able to add another 500 acres in 2011.
Now the couple own 600 acres and rent another 76, grow 400 acres of soybeans and up to 200 acres of wheat, and own 168 cattle - though they often run between 200 and 400, Stephanie said.
Last November, the Bristers also had a successful first year with a pumpkin patch and corn maze, which they plan to expand this fall, they said.
Known previously as the Wofford Farm, the Brister’s farm is perfect for agri-tourism. A more than 100-year-old pecan grove provides a perfect place for shade and picnicking, and Sean Brister said the farm used to be the location of a stagecoach stop.
"There’s a lot of history on this farm," Sean Brister said.
Some of the world’s oldest artifacts, Neanderthal thumb scrapers more than 100,000 years old, have been found on the property, as well as Native American artifacts, Sean Brister said.
"People have lived on this creek and farm as long as people have lived in North America," Sean Brister said.
Besides expanding the corn maze, the couple also have plans to expand the farm, adding more cattle or crops depending on the economic climate, Sean Brister said.
"Our goal would be to have the farm completely sustainable, and I could pare back on my attorney work," Sean Brister said.
While the couple are still learning how to work both crops and cattle, they have adopted new farming techniques such as grazing their cattle on wheat, something no other farm in the area is doing, Stephanie Brister said.
And at least one district judge seemed to be impressed.
"I absolutely love that you guys started from scratch and you’re doing things with your cattle and wheat that no one in the state of Arkansas is doing right now," Jackson said.
The Bristers are being judged against other families for the title of Northeast Regional Farm Family, with the state winner being announced in December.