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My Farm Roots: Smells Like Home

Luke Runyon
KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Most family vacations are remembered for endless car rides, packed tourist beaches and a string of poorly decorated hotel rooms.

But not former Nebraskan and current Coloradan Kari Williams. Her family vacation memories center on smells of cow manure, adventures on horseback and roosters with bad attitudes on farms in central Nebraska.

“My parents, both of them grew up on their family farms, one in Lexington (Nebraska), one in Elwood. And my dad was a teacher so we spent a lot time in the summer out there,” Williams said. “A lot of times when we were headed out to the farm it was for a holiday or for summer vacation.”

Though she grew up in Grand Island, Neb., Williams still has those quintessential farm memories. She and her pack of cousins explored the landscape, jumping on hay bales, climbing trees, running into electric fences.

“We were like a little swarm of bees,” Williams said. “There were ten of us on either side of the family. I remember that frenetic energy.”

She has taken those memories and those experiences with her throughout her career. She currently works in Denver as development director for Farm Aid, or “those Willie Nelson farm concerts,” as Williams notes with a smile.

“There was a year when I was just a little rugrat when we received the Farm Family of the Year award in Gosper County, Nebraska. There was a lot of pride in that,” Williams said. “We had had the farm for, at that point, for 125 years -- now it’s 150. Thinking about our history there and growing up there and where our roots were.”

Those farm vacations in Nebraska faded off as Williams and her cousins grew up and spread across the country. She still holds on to that nostalgia though, stopping to check out cattle on her trips throughout Colorado farm country, or taking friends to a Denver-area goat farm.

“The smell of the farm is something that would probably turn a lot of people off if they weren’t used to it. But the smell of cow manure, that smells like home to me, I love that,” Williams said.

The fate of her family’s farms in Nebraska right now is uncertain. The farmers currently running the operations, Williams’ uncles, are getting close to retirement. None of her cousins are clamoring to take over. The family is just starting to have the difficult conversations about inheritance and transition.

So far, it’s looking like they’ll sell the land to another farm family in the region, Williams said. Soon that land may not be available for future farm vacations.

“I’m trying to get spiritually sound with that,” Williams said. “We’re all just stewards of the land for a period of time.”

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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