30 Days of Farms & Families: The O'Briens

My Generation

Day 24: David and Jennifer O'Brien raise four children on their LeRoy farm and don't take much of anything for granted.

Published on: November 24, 2011

Much like the Elmores, I didn’t get to know David O'Brien very well until he and his wife, Jennifer, joined the Cultivating Master Farmers Class of 2011. Then we became Facebook friends, and he generally cracks me up. Also, he's clearly a fan of The Sandlot, which means we're automatically real-life friends. You're killin' me, Smalls.

David and Jennifer are parents to four small people, Katie, 6; twins John and Maggie, 3; and Julia, 1. Their lives feel a lot like ours, with dolls and John Deere tractors underfoot; meals to be taken to the field; jobs to be done. Jennifer is a school nurse, and full-time taxi driver to the little folks, who primarily like to be taken to the field. I feel her pain. It's funny how that "quick trip to the field" can become an entire production that involves loading everyone in carseats, driving to the field, waiting on combine/semi/tractor, and that winds up sucking up an hour of your day. Then 20 minutes later, the small rider gets tired and you go through it all again to bring them home. But it's worth it, right? Right? Someone, please say right.

Illinois farm family

David and Jennifer farm with his younger brother, Jim, near LeRoy. They raise corn and soybeans and no livestock except the four kids and a Brittany Spaniel. But I don't think that counts.

David has a great response for non-farm critics of agriculture. "I am tempted to ask them what they do for a living and try to tell them how they're doing their job all wrong, because I watched a movie and I'm an expert.

"Half the time I want to laugh, and the other half I want to scream, and I know I can't do either."

This fall, the O'Briens hosted two foreign visitors on their farm, one from Germany and the other from Australia. "Within five minutes both asked about Monsanto. They seemed surprised when I said that they are a great company, whose products do a lot for the environment, produce more by using less, and keep me and my family from having to be exposed to a lot of very toxic chemicals, and the other farmers who pirated seed were, in fact, stealing from me."

And a fun fact about David: he's had a heart transplant. A HEART TRANSPLANT. Talk about being thankful. I was feeling whiny because I have a cold today, but I'm suddenly feeling much better.

Back in 2005, David and Jennifer had been married less than a year and Katie was only three months old, when he found himself waiting for a heart transplant to save his life.  

You can bet that affects his farming philosophy. And probably his philosophy on pretty much everything else, too, but we're just talking farming here today.

"My farming philosophy has always been that I'm only here for a little while to take care of the family farm the best I can for my children. My biggest fear is that I will die before I can pass on a love for the family farm to my children, and they won't see the value in keeping it for future generations."

Perspective. Something to think over on this Thanksgiving Day.

30 Days of Farm & Families
Day 1: The Webels
Day 2: The Mies Family
Day 3: The Thomases
Day 4: The Stewarts
Day 5: The Weavers
Day 6: The Hawkinsons
Day 7: The Kortes
Day 8: The Walters
Day 9: The Schillings
Day 10: The Martins
Day 11: The Pratts
Day 12: The Bowmans
Day 13: The Pollards
Day 14: The Wachtels
Day 15: The Strodes
Day 16: The Buntings
Day 17: The Andras Family
Day 18: The Liefers
Day 19: The Purvis Family
Day 20: The Jones Family
Day 21: The Smith Family
Day 22: The Buhrows
Day 23: The Elmores