Kenny Haines and his son, Ben, have been farming organically since 1987. According to Ben, this makes them “the weird people down the road.”
The father-son team say the way they farm is the right thing to do. The transition, however, was a big initial step for Kenny. The North Carolina native graduated college with a degree in agriculture, leading to a career managing farms as large as 6,500 acres in Delaware. He traveled frequently to California to buy massive farm equipment, utilizing a farming method that required heavy use of chemical inputs and monoculture fields.
This didn’t sit well with his wife, Wanda, a registered nurse. As he told a documentary team for The Wheat Movie, “She used to tell me I was going to kill myself, and everyone else with these pesticides.”
But it got him thinking. By the 1990s, he took the bold move of incorporating organic grains into his work. He was met by much critique in his rural North Carolina community, where big agriculture reigns. Yet he persevered, and now runs 350 acres with his son, Ben. Looking Back Farm in Belvidere, North Carolina is the Haines’s answer to moving away from the current agricultural structure, one that makes it difficult to be innovative.
In 2011, with support from a RAFI grant, Ken and Ben created a mobile organic feed mill that supplies local livestock farms with bagged organic corn and wheat feed. It is the first source of organic feed in his region. Through this community endeavor, they are demonstrating the viability of organic agriculture.
Kenny also grows an important wheat breed called TAM 303, developed by Dr. David Marshall at the US Department of Agriculture. This further supports Marshall’s work in using traditional breeding practices to develop wheat varieties ideal for high yields in North Carolina’s climate. (Full disclosure: Kenny is the father of RAFI BOPS program director Kelli Dale. The photo to the left was taken by Ben today. It’s Kenny in RAFI’s organic soybean test plots at Looking Back Farm!)
Ben thinks farmers who treat the Earth with respect and gratitude should be honored within society just as much as any sports hero.
“I think there’s something wrong in the world when you see basketball players and football players getting paid millions of dollars,” he says in the video below. “But you’ve got firefighters, policemen and farmers not getting paid what they should.”
Amen to that. Thank you, Kenny and Ben, for braving the uncertainty and coming out as true mentors to a slew of organic wheat farmers throughout the country!
To nominate your favorite farmer or food hero for RAFI’s 30 Days of Thanks, click here.
Follow along every day at rafiusa.org/30daysofthanks