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My Farm Roots: Community Counts

Jeremy Bernfeld
Harvest Public Media

Matt Pauly has traveled the world  – he’s lived in New York, Paris, South Korea – but he’s still a farm boy at heart.

Ask him about growing up in tiny Denton, Kan., population less than 200. You’ll hear about mending fences in the summer. He’ll talk about harvest-time picnics in the fields – roast beef, mashed potatoes, a big thermos of iced tea, delivered by his grandmother. And of course, there’s his eight-man football career at his tiny 1A high school (2000 Kansas State Champions.)

After that, maybe, he might talk about graduate school in New York City, where he met his wife. Or maybe studying in Paris. Or working as an architect in Kansas City.

Pauly knew early on that he wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. He was too flighty, too easily distracted, as likely to be drawing and daydreaming as he was to be getting his chores done on time. But it doesn’t sound as if he’d trade his farm country childhood for anything.

He comes from a family of farmers. They’ve been on the land in rural northeast Kansas for five generations. He grew up 300 feet from his grandparents’ farmhouse, the house his father was raised in. At one point, the family farmed 3,000 acres and raised about 800 head of cattle.

Life was never the same, though, after his dad suffered an accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. That was nearly 12 years ago.

“Farming was out of the picture after that,” Pauly said. “I remember later that year, we had a farm sale because we decided to get rid of the cattle on the farm. To see that last truck pull away – it was different. It was hard, but it was easier.”

Easier, because Matt and his brother and sister weren’t coming back to run the farm. And easier, because the community rallied around the family. Pauly still gets choked up remembering how a group of local farmers came out and helped the family finish up some of the farm work while his dad was in the hospital.

“It was just the most amazing sight to see all these farmers come together to help him,” Pauly said. “It was incredible.”

And it’s part of what makes farm country so special to Pauly.

“Little things like that that makes you know that rural areas are pretty – there are some great things about them,” Pauly said. “There’s a community there.”

It’s clear that even after traveling the world, northeast Kansas has left its mark.

This is the thirteenth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

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