There are some people who are so enthusiastic about what they do for a living that they spread their excitement to those around them. Such are Mike and Kendra Graham of Farmington who are spending their lives telling others about the vital importance of agriculture to our state, nation and world.
Mike said he met and fell in love with Kendra Kollmeyer while both were attending Farmington High School.
“We were high school sweethearts,” he admits.
After the couple got married they moved to the Kollmeyer family farm, located just outside Farmington, on Highway OO.
“The farm’s been around since 1896,” Kendra Graham said. “We actually rent the homeplace where my great-grandpa started a dairy farm on the original 70 acres he owned, and we’ve been there every since. It’s a Century Farm.”
Century Farms are those recognized for having been owned by the same family for 100 or more years. Since Missouri began the program in 1976, more than 8,000 century farms have been recognized.
Mike is a long-time agriculture teacher at Fredericktown High School where he leads the FFA program and Kendra works for University of Missouri Extension in St. Francois County.
The Grahams are raising two sons on the farm — Garrett, 15, and Gaven, 12. Both boys, along with their parents, have always been involved in local agriculture. Not only do Garrett and Gaven work on the farm, but they have also been involved in 4-H and, once in high school, Future Farmers of America (FFA).
Mike admitted that agriculture has always been in his blood.
“My interest was always in agriculture,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do something related to the ag field. Whenever I was in high school, my ag teacher was my dad. In my senior year I was his TA (teacher’s assistant) in a shop class. I can remember that after about the first semester, he came to me and said, ‘You know, you really need to think hard about being an ag teacher.’
“I remember telling him, ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ve got the patience of Job. You showed this kid the exact same thing six times today in the shop. Did you realize you did that?’ I said, ‘No.’ My dad told me, ‘Well, that’s the prerequisite for being a good teacher — that you’ve got to have patience.’
“I always thought real highly of my dad and his opinions, so I didn’t really give it a second thought when I went to the University of Missouri. My degree was going to be ag education. This will be my 19th year at Fredericktown and I’ve been teaching 20 years in the state of Missouri.”
While Mike felt a calling to teaching agriculture, Kendra said she was always drawn to animal science.
“I knew before high school that I wanted to go that direction,” she said. “I held onto that path when I went to the University of Missouri and this Extension career path just kinda’ fell into my lap. I was getting my master’s degree and my graduate student instructor told me about Extension. I actually ended up graduating six months early, so I could apply for the job.”
In her job with Extension, Kendra is intensely involved with all the exhibits and judging going on this week at the St. Francois County Fairgrounds, just off U.S. 67 behind Hefner’s Furniture. She believes it’s the involvement of young people at the fair that shows the importance of agriculture in the county.
“People who come out to the fair get to see the kids are participating and working hard on their projects and demonstrate a lot of responsibility,” she said. “We also get to showcase agriculture, which in some ways feels like it’s dying because people are more unaware of it. These kids being involved really gives me hope in our future for agriculture and shows people that aren’t involved hands-on in the agriculture field what it is like.
“The kids really take on a great deal of responsibility raising an animal. Not only do they care for their animal and learn by doing their project, they’re also involved in community activities through 4-H. They also learn good social skills and good public speaking skills, so it makes them a very well-rounded person and prepares them to be a very productive member of society.”
Both Madison County and St. Francois County have recently been designated as “Agri-Ready” counties. Mike believes this provides a number of benefits for everybody who lives there — whether they have chosen agriculture as a career or not.
“There’s two things about the Agri-Ready designation,” he said. “One is the awareness for people that they can see the county commission and local officials understand and appreciate that agriculture is our number one economic stimulus in Madison County, St. Francois County, the state of Missouri and in the United States itself. There’s not another business that is more important to our economy than agriculture. Anybody who comes into those counties see the signs recognizing its Agri-Ready designation and that the county recognizes that agriculture is important.
“From an educational standpoint, what I truly appreciate about the Missouri Farmers Care Association’s Agri-Ready program is that it has curriculum designed to target fourth grade elementary school children about where food comes from. It’s estimated that close to 27 percent of the United States population are not aware of the fact that their food is grown or that it is raised. Most people think it just comes from a grocery store. If we can bring awareness to the fact that people have to actually grow plants, or they have to feed animals in order to get a protein source, it’s going to be a benefit for agriculture in the long run.
“As people get farther and farther removed from the farm themselves, they become less aware of how important agriculture is. I always tell kids, ‘Don’t ever cuss a farmer with your mouth full. You should appreciate the fact that there’s a handful of people — less than 2 percent of the population in the United States — feed all of us. We really rely on that 1.25 percent that farm and raise animals for everyone to live on. In a nutshell, the Agri-Ready designation is going to help us to promote that curriculum to fourth graders and hopefully the FFA chapters can pick a handful of students that can go into the fourth grade and educate those students on where their food comes from.”