ND family helps spread ag knowledge at annual farm weekend

Emily Beal
Forum News Service

CRYSTAL, N.D. — Statistically, today’s Americans are at least three generations removed from the family farm. America’s farming and ranching families only make up 2% of the country’s population, causing a gap in agricultural knowledge to the general public. The Shephard family is on a mission to close the knowledge gap — and have a good time while doing so.

Thomas Shephard moved back to his family’s farm, located in Crystal, ND., following his college career. His family raises corn, soybeans and wheat. Shephard is also a fourth generation potato farmer, his great-grandfather starting the venture in 1930.

“Going to school in the cities made me realize what I had back home was very unique. I started meeting a lot of people that didn’t know what farming was like, and it made we want to show them, ” Shephard said.

Slowly Shephard started inviting his friends out to the farm for a weekend, and he loved seeing them learn about farming as a whole. This eventually led to Shephard Farms holding a farm weekend once a year. During the weekend, people trek from all over to see what it is really like on the farm and to get a taste of what agriculture really is.

Attendees get to see farming equipment, livestock, a crop tour and one year even milked a cow at a local dairy farm. They play farm games, stargaze and even have the opportunity to attend an outdoor church service the Shephards provide for their attendees.

“Everyone that works here is family. Many people that come to the farm turn into good friends,” Shephard said.

Shephard enjoys seeing the attendees learn about the ag industry and is sometimes surprised by what they learn.

“I once had someone ask me ‘what’s that green field over there?’ I had to tell them it was a cornfield. Educating people about farming and seeing them learn makes the experience very rewarding,” Shephard said.

The Shephards decided to still hold their farm weekend in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The weekend was full of social distancing and lots of hand sanitizer. The attendees even slept in distanced tents in the Shephards’ backyard.

The weekend event was capped at 40 attendees this year in order to follow social distancing guidelines, and the Shephards urged those who did not feel well to stay home this year. In addition, if someone had been exposed to COVID-19, they stayed home as well.

The Shephards are happy that this year’s weekend went without a hitch, but the pandemic was never far away.

“We had fun teaching people about modern ag, but COVID was always in the back of our heads,” Shephard said.

The attendees at this year’s farm weekend were also happy that the weekend was not canceled due to the pandemic.

“There has been a lot in the world that has been canceled because of COVID, so these people were really excited about the weekend. I even had a person text me ‘That was the best weekend I’ve had all year.’ That’s why we do it. We do it because we love what we do and we want to share that love with others,” Shephard said.

The Shephard Farms Farm Weekend is a free event for everyone, and they encourage those who do not know much about the ag industry or farming to join them next year.

The Shephard Farms Farm Weekend attendees go on a crop tour during their time at the farm. Courtesy photo
Attendees of the 2020 Shephard Farms Farm Weekend came to Crystal, N.D. to experience agriculture. Courtesy photo