An inside account: The Johnsons

An inside account: The Johnsons

Jerry and Cindy pass the reins to their sons

By David Blanchette

There are a few things that are important in Jerry Johnson’s life. “To me, there are three things: faith, family and farming. That’s my life,” Jerry said. “I can’t imagine doing 50 years of anything else.”

Those last 50 years for Johnson have been spent farming, almost all of them with his wife of 46 years, Cindy, on the family’s 1,200-acre grain farm between Alexander and Franklin in Morgan County.

Johnson’s father put him on a little Oliver 77 tractor when he was seven years old, and Jerry Johnson started farming for a living in the spring of 1973. He and his wife officially retired this year. Now their sons — Adam, Brad and Kevin — run the farm and the two help out when needed.

“Even after 50 years I enjoy being out here on the farm, out in the field working the ground, planting the seed, watching it grow, harvesting it … it has always given me a really good feeling. Cindy calls the farm my happy place,” Johnson said.

Cindy Johnsons also treasures the years she and her husband have spent on their farm, and it has given her many fond memories. Besides their three sons, they have two daughters — Emily Howse of Bloomington and Kelly Siedentop of South Carolina — along with 12 grandchildren.

“My favorite part was how great it was to raise our family here,” Cindy Johnson said. “When the kids were little, we had a fence that went around the yard, and Jerry or his dad would pull up to that fence and our kids would all run out, get on the fence and get in the truck. There was a great family dynamic that you just can’t get everywhere.

“We were spoiled because the first 20 years we farmed we had cattle and hogs and we butchered our own meat, so our kids grew up on steak. We always had sweet corn, green beans, potatoes and tomatoes. We ate well and it saved us on the grocery bill with five kids.”

Jerry Johnson grew up on the family farm, attended Routt Catholic High School, went to college for two years and then began his farming career. He first met his now wife at Routt — he was a senior and she was a freshman — but they didn’t “click” until both went to a Springfield discotheque in 1975 with separate groups of friends. Johnson sold his motorcycle, used the money to buy her a diamond ring, and they were married in 1977.

“When we first got married and I started having children, I wasn’t a farmhand; I was the meal train and moved some equipment around,” Cindy Johnson said. “About ten years ago, they put me on a tractor and I drive a tractor now. I complain about it but I do like it.”

Jerry Johnson realized that moving to the farm was a big adjustment for his wife: “She was a city girl that I brought to the farm, and to this day she still asks me, ‘What time are you gonna be home for supper?’ And it’s always the same old answer — either when I get done with the field or I get tired. There’s no specific time.”

The Johnson farm has grown from 400 acres when Jerry and Cindy Johnson were married to 1,200 acres now. They started with a four-row corn planter and the farm currently uses a 16-row planter, and technology has made it easier to drive tractors and combines in the field.

“Farming has become less physical and more stressful over the past 50 years, but crop insurance has made it a lot easier to sleep at night,” Johnson said. “For years we would just spend that money and put that crop out there with no guarantee of anything. Now we can buy crop insurance to protect us.”

Cindy Johnson got a taste of the hard farming life almost from day one: “We came home from our honeymoon and the crops were on the ground, we had a bad wind storm. There are also long hours in the field in the spring and fall.”

One thing has remained constant, however, and that’s the desire their children have to help Mom and Dad on the farm. The parents returned the favor by attending as many of their children’s sporting events as possible, regardless of the season.

“I went to college to be a teacher and a coach because I love athletics, that’s my hobby,” Jerry Johnson said. “I was able to do that with my own kids, I coached them until they got into junior high. We always tried to go to our kids’ games.”

The five children always made sure that their parents knew how much they appreciated growing up as a family on the farm.

Cindy Johnson recalled, “One of the boys gave me the biggest compliment, he said ‘Mom, the one thing you taught me was unconditional love. … You know you did something right when that comes back. I feel like we’ve worked hard but they make us proud.”

The Johnsons feel fortunate to have farmed the best soil in the world and their square, flat fields have been easy to work. Jerry and Cindy Johnson have done their best to be good stewards of the land, and have learned a lot by working the ground for five decades.

“Timeliness in farming is very important. The good Lord only gives you so much time to get your crop in and to get it out,” Jerry Johnson said. “Listen to a lot of people who have experience, try to learn and take advantage of luck. Luck has a lot to do with farming.”

He continued, “My grandfather always told my dad, in farming what you learn one year will make a fool out of you the next year. My dad told me the same thing and I’ve passed that on, because that’s what happens, Mother Nature is still in charge.”

Even though Jerry and Cindy Johnson are officially retired, they can often be found helping their three sons with whatever needs to be done on the farm. Their son Brad will soon build a house on the farm to raise what will hopefully be the next generation of Johnson family farmers.

“I can’t imagine trying to raise a family in a city,” Jerry Johnson concluded. “We have been incredibly blessed out here.”

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