By Ray Balogh
MILFORD — Kip Tom loves August.
The seventh-generation co-owner of Tom Farms south of Milford particularly favors the steady gradual respite from the midsummer swelter and turns his business acumen toward reflecting on the year’s progress and planning for the upcoming harvest.
He also sets his heart toward an annual labor of love: hosting an appreciation dinner to express his gratitude toward those who help make the family mega-farm, established in 1837, a reputable leader in the agriculture industry.
This year’s dinner, held Thursday, Aug. 18, in the farm’s huge storage barn, drew 400 vendors, friends, employees, land partners and their families.
Included as part of the program were seven FFA officers from each of the Warsaw and Wawasee high schools and their respective faculty advisors.
The meal, catered by Dan’s Fish of Huntington, featured breaded fish and pork tenderloin, cole slaw, baked beans, rolls and drinks.
A Grandma’s Pantry soft-serve ice cream truck served up treats at the barn entrance as appetizers and/or dessert.
The family-oriented evening also included a round crib of corn kernels for children to frolic in.
At the end of the evening, several John Deere model tractors were given away in a raffle.
Kassi Rowland spearheaded organizing the dinner and emceed the program; Lance Woodbury opened the event in prayer.
Rowland conducts the public relations and administrates the contracts with the land partners, from whom Tom Farms rents most of the 18,000 acres on which they produce corn and soybeans.
“We have 119 partners at last count,” she said. The partners are located throughout Kosciusko, Elkhart, Marshall, Whitley, Huntington and Noble counties.
Tom greeted the audience with thankfulness and vision. “We want to make sure we do our part in preserving freedom around the world. We really need to embrace we are Americans and the U.S.A. is still the greatest nation in the world.”
Keeping with the event’s tradition of honoring “The Greatest Generation,” attendees 80 and older were invited to go first through the dinner line.
The evening’s guest speaker, Trent Loos, a sixth-generation farmer from central Nebraska, gave a riveting talk about the importance of farming, hard work, expectations of excellence and “the spirit of making the U.S.A. the greatest country to call home.”
Billing himself as “like a cowboy Charles Kuralt,” Loos blended exhortation and encouragement with his encyclopedic knowledge of history and technology related to the farming industry.
He spoke previously at the Tom Farms event and has given talks in 48 states and four continents over the past 22 years.
Loos lamented the current division in America, saying its depth was “rivaled only by 1864.” But he hailed the grit and the spirit of unity of the farmers and ranchers of yesteryear as they worked together to feed a torn nation.
“There is so much history that is not known,” he said, “such as 40% of the cowboys herding cattle across the West were Black and the greatest risk was crossing rivers.
“But men found a way to come together and heal our nation.
“In 1920, we had 2 billion people on this planet and 80% lived in hunger. Today we have just over 8 billion and 20% live in hunger. In 1900 it took 10 acres to feed one person for one year. Today its takes less and one-third of an acre.”
He commended the parents who expect excellence from their children, and impose upon them the obligations of hard work.
“You get what you expect. Without labor, no knowledge or wisdom can accomplish much. You are part of the solution.
“The most important conversations are around your kitchen table. There was a day in our lifetime it was the most important piece of furniture in our house.
“Let’s forget red and blue. What brings the U.S. together is red, white and blue.”
Farmers, he said, “are in the business of improving human life. It is individuals, not institutions, who make the U.S. the greatest place to call home, and God bless the vets who protect us and the farmers who feed us.”
More photos of the event, taken by Ray Balogh: