For most farmers, the decision to be a farmer is a career for life. Some may take a second job or choose to raise livestock or leave the livestock business to just raise crops, but they typically stay in the farming business once they choose that path.
Not Kent Morris of Jacksonville.
Morris grew up on a typical farm raising corn, beans, wheat, cattle and hogs in Morgan and Scott counties. But unlike most farmers, he had a career change in mid-life, trading his tractor for a chef knife.
“I farmed all my life – driving a tractor at 12 years old, helping my dad — and when I was old enough, I took over the family farm,” said Morris.
At age 46, he sold the farm and spent a year caring for his ailing farmer.
Knowing he needed a new career, he set his sights on culinary school.
“When I told my wife, she thought I’d go to Lincoln Land (Community College) or something close,” said Morris. “I wanted to go to Scottsdale to the Arizona Culinary Institute. It’s an exclusive school with only 22 students a session. I was lucky enough to get in. ”
Six months later, he had his chef’s degree, and was ready to follow the next step in his dream.
“I thought I’d get into the restaurant business, but I ended up at Robert’s Seafood (in Springfield) – they had a position for an executive chef to teach people how to cook seafood.”
He spent 9 ½ years there, before recently taking a job as the new seafood manager at Hy-Vee in Springfield.
The transition from farming to seafood was a good one for Morris.
“I missed farming for about 2 hours,” he says. “Seriously, what I miss most about agriculture is the people, but I feel like I’m helping people every day. When I farmed, I loved working outside, setting my own schedule. One of the reasons I chose to go to culinary school was to learn how to cook correctly.”
The decision to go to a culinary school was tough – with two teen-age boys at home – but he looks back and is happy he was able to follow his dream.
“Marsha (his wife) and the kids would fly out to visit – and I’d fly home – but it was tough to make the career change. I graduated with honors and would do it all again. I was at the point in farming where you had to get bigger or get out. And I was having back trouble and could hardly ride in a tractor or combine. For me, getting out of farming was the right decision – I have no regrets.”
In his spare time, you’ll likely find Morris on the golf course, a hobby he admits had a little influence on his decision to attend Scottsdale Culinary Institute.
“I always figured if I didn’t like culinary school, I could at least play golf, and I did while I was in school. It was a really fun time.”