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A trip down memory lane for Holly and Sierra Enlow is a ride in an old pickup truck along the bumpy dirt roads throughout their 800-acre Hodgenville farm.
A family tradition since 1901, the LaRue County property has been a lifelong refuge for the 20-something Enlow sisters, who remember long days in the fields with dad, playing in the creek and selling pumpkins from their pumpkin patch. Now grown and college educated, the two are hoping to plant their future in the same soil as their roots.
Sierra, 25, graduated in December with a master’s in agriculture economics from the University of Kentucky. She spent five months in Washington D.C. last summer as an intern with the United States Department of Agriculture, focused on economic research and policy. Her background in LaRue County High School’s FFA chapter sparked an interest in speech and debates on Ag related topics, and influenced her desire to be the fourth generation Enlow to pursue a degree from UK’s College of Agriculture. In 2011, Sierra represented Kentucky in the international Cherry Blossom Princess Education and Cultural Exchange program, an annual weeklong opportunity for women ages 19 to 24 to network in D.C. Since 1948, 3,000 young women have participated in the program — which judges on academic achievement, exceptional poise and appearance and interpersonal communication skills — including daughters of presidents, congressmen and senators.
“Agriculture can take you a long way from the farm,” she said about the many doors her pursuits have opened.
Still, her loyalty is to the family farm, where she and her sister help out as often as they can.
Holly, 24, is finishing her own master’s degree in agriculture engineering at UK. There, she’s learning to apply engineering science to agriculture in the form of surveying and land profiling, water and soil management and the development of self-sufficient food processing systems.
“I started out in chemical engineering before I switched to agriculture engineering,” she said. “I realized it just wasn’t my thing. I wanted to be outside and not work in a lab.”
That desire, she added, came from a childhood of working with her hands.
Occupied throughout the years by hogs, sheep, cattle and crops, the farm is now dominated primarily by more than 80 beef cattle and about a dozen goats, which the family refers to as “weed eaters you don’t have to operate.”
Even the homestead has evolved. The farmhouse the Enlows live in has been a 27-year renovation project, including new woodwork, walls and polished floors.
“A lot of things have changed,” said Sierra, “and we’ve changed with it.”
This willingness to adapt has helped keep the farm with the family.
The girls’ parents, Robert and B.J. Enlow, never pushed the farm on their daughters, but are thrilled their interests have led them home.
“Mama always told us not to marry a farmer,” Sierra teased. “So we had to become farmers.”
Despite earlier dreams of continuing a career in D.C., she’s decided home is where her heart is.
“It’s our top priority that the farm doesn’t end up with someone else or developed,” she said.
The land, which boasts one of LaRue County’s highest points at 898 feet, is part owned by Robert and B.J. and part owned by Robert’s parents.
Eventually, Sierra and Holly hope to purchase the property from their parents, which, according to 2012 research from Purdue University, is a feat rarely accomplished.
The research showed that farm children have less than a 10 percent chance of returning to a family operation, for various reasons including poor estate planning, internal feuds and rising land values. Since the USDA proclaims that nearly 90 percent of the nation’s food comes from family farms, such a steep decline is troubling.
“Agriculture is an industry that feeds and clothes the world and it’s important to have people that are advocates of it,” Sierra said.
She and Holly are making it their life’s work to be defenders of the industry.
“We defend agriculture,” she said. “It gets such a bad rap from everybody, but without it no one would be here.”
The detachment most of the country has with farming and the food they eat is something Sierra wants to eliminate.
“I want to be the voice for farmers,” she said. Focused more on researching and agriculture policy, Sierra’s goal is to connect the public with the hands-on work that people like her sister are doing.
Both of the women say their background on a farm is a rarity in agriculture-related careers. In her major, Sierra explained, most of the students had no farm background, especially the international students, which she said make up a large portion of UK’s College of Agriculture.
For them, “it’s a culture shock to see how food’s produced and where it comes from,” she said.
Even the U.S. Senate, she added, has only one member, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mon.), who is a working farmer. According to data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, of the more than 313 million people living in the United States, less than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation — and only 2 percent actually live on farms.
That lack of representation is what drives the women.
By growing up or working on a family farm, there’s a respect gained for food and animals that many don’t understand.
“These animals are treated well, and we formed a relationship with them,” Sierra said. “But we knew that the end goal was to go to market.”
“It definitely gives you a different perspective for where things come from,” Holly said.