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“You can’t do it.” “You can’t do it.”

Nicholas Hardesty heard the voices of doubt for years, and even he acknowledged it would be hard. Hardesty wanted to be a farmer, but he had no land and no equipment. His chosen vocation had beaten many adults with more assets. Hardesty was just 14.

In 2007, Hardesty received the American Star Farmer award from the Future Farmers of America, the first Kentuckian to ever win FFA’s top national award in its 80-year history. Hardesty had not only become a farmer, he had been recognized as one of the best.

But it’s the story in between that sets Hardesty apart.

Hardesty grew up on a farm until two droughts forced his father to sell it when Hardesty was just 8. By then, farming was in young Hardesty’s blood.

At 14, the high school student rented land and grew three acres of tobacco. He and his father Gene set, cut, and hung every plant in the afternoons and evenings after Hardesty finished school and baseball practice. His grandmother helped strip it.

The operation grew from there. Hardesty rented land, and FFA advisor Darryl Matherly helped guide him. When he needed a piece of equipment, Hardesty bartered, trading work on the owner’s farm for use of the equipment.

He made decisions based on reality rather than desire.

“I always enjoyed raising pigs,” he says, “but it was kind of a hobby and it was costing too much money. The market was flooded. Raising cattle is where my heart is, but tobacco is what pays the bills, so I am looking to grow more tobacco. You have to do what pays the bills.”

He also went a step farther than required, keeping the rented land clean, mowed, and maintained.

Today, he encourages others to go into farming. Why?

“I love seeing the miracle of a newborn baby calf,” he says. “I love watching things change all year long. You are never doing the same thing or looking at the same thing. I am out there with what God gave to us. I am one of the people who get to use it and look at it every day.”

Lives near: Brandenburg in Meade County

Age: 22

Wants to be known as: “A good farmer who takes care of the land that was given to us.”

Words to live by: “You can’t be afraid to ask others for help.”

Ultimate goal: His own farm and 200-300 head of cattle.

Currently: Rents 300 acres for 70 cow/calf pairs, 15 acres of tobacco, and four greenhouses. The greenhouses hold about 120 acres’ worth of tobacco plants. He sells 105 acres’ worth and plants the rest himself. Has three seasonal employees.

How he got there: Gradual increases in land and production each year.

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