How to grow a family farming operation
Acre by acre, over two decades, Nolin RECC consumer-members Ryan and Misty Bivens realized their farming dream.
Both grew up around agriculture—Ryan in Spencer County and Misty on a tobacco and cattle farm in Garrard County. As a teenager, Ryan earned money by helping nearby farmers, planting his desire to own a farm.
The traditional entry into Kentucky agriculture normally comes when parents bequeath land to their children. The problem for Ryan and Misty was that their parents didn’t own land in LaRue County, where they settled in 2001, to pass along.
“I kept hearing that you couldn’t farm if you didn’t inherit land or marry into it,” Ryan says. But that long-held belief slammed head-on into Ryan’s lifelong mantra: “Don’t ever give up.”
“People have to work hard and struggle sometimes,” he says of achieving goals.
After college, Ryan spent time trying to find his way into production agriculture. “I was going to farm,” he says. Misty was teaching high school agriculture and serving as an FFA advisor, shaping the next generation of farmers—a goal they both shared.
The first door opened with a simple newspaper ad he placed: “Ambitious young farmer looking for a start.” They rented 500 acres in 2002 and in 2003 bought their first tract of farmland, 75 acres, even though it meant traveling 80 miles between each site.
“We’ve been buying (and leasing) ever since,” Ryan says, “We built a first-generation farming operation from the ground up.”
In 2012, the Kentucky Farm Bureau named them Outstanding Young Farm Family, and Misty was honored as Kentucky Agriculture Teacher of the Year in 2020.
Ryan says he is proud to tell people how his corn contributes to the state’s signature bourbon, or how the wheat and soybeans they grow are a staple in so many foods. Their two boys, Cyrus, 15, and Avery, 12, want to farm when they are older.
The family now operates as Fresh Start Farms on about 10,000 acres, of which they own 1,240 and hold 88 leases on the rest.
“Each landlord has needs and wants, and you have to listen and try to fulfill those,” Ryan says. “It’s that way with plants, too. There is not a one-size formula for either.”
DEBRA GIBSON ISAACS writes about how co-op members and staff contribute to their communities.