Back in what seems like another lifetime, I taught vocational agriculture for four years, three at Whiteland High School, in 1978 to 1981. Through camps and contests, I met Chris Jeffries, a young, wiry go-getter who was putting Martinsville FFA on the map. Dormant for many years, the chapter started winning contests and placing well in overall state chapter rankings. You remember someone like that.
So it didn't take too long for the two of us to strike up a conversation when I visited him at his seed business near Washington Courthouse, Ohio, last week. He and Dan Fox, an Ohio native, started Seed Consultants twenty years ago. Today, they sell about 120,000 units of corn, plus soybeans and other products, annually.
I was there to learn how they pulled of starting a company and succeeding when mergers and contraction were the name of the game everywhere else. You can read about that story, fascinating as it is, in upcoming Web and magazine stories. I was more taken with seeing how down-to-earth, hardworking and honest these two partners seemed to be, and in sharing a few memories we both shared.
As it turned out, teaching agriculture and coaching FFA teams at the same time in the same district in Indiana, District 8 in central Indiana, weren't the only things we had in common. Chris grew up in Wayne County and was an FFA member. I grew up in Johnson County, but I was also an FFA member. More intriguing than that, at one time Chris milked cows for a neighbor. His neighbor just happened to be Quentin Williamson, the legendary soil conservation campaigner in Wayne County. Now retried, Quentin's son continues the farm. Ironically, another son is an ag teacher. His son teaches in a program with Don Sturgeon at Hagerstown High School.
Guess what? I also worked for a farmer and milked cows and did general chores for him from my senior year in high school through my junior year in college. It was a big deal when I got a raise from $1 to $1.25 per hour! That's the truth, but in all fairness, this was 40 years ago, and fast-food restaurants were just opening up. Before then, it was often hard for kids to find any job. I milked cows at home before that, but my parents thought I needed to help start laying away some college money. Fortunately tuition for a full year was only $700 per year. Today it's over $8,000 for the same education. Try doing that at $1.25 per hour.
The coincidences aren't over quite yet. Fox also grew up on a small farm. And, yes, he also worked for a neighbor - milking cows!
Sometimes the world isn't as big as we think!