This month, we are happy to introduce you to the Whitman family, three generations who farm together in and around Pullman, Washington. Jon and his wife, Carol, Jon’s son, Mike and his wife Gina, and their son, Joel and his wife Kailub all work together, operating J&M WHITMAN FARMS.
The Whitmans: Back L-R: Brenna, Kaylee, Carlee. Front L-R: Mike, Bina, Kailub, Joel, Carol, Jon
Mike and Gina also have two other children, Kim, who is married to Jim, and they have a daughter, Carlee. Kim works in sales and marketing in veterinary medicine research and development. Jim works for another farmer in the area as a mechanic and operator. Mike and Gina’s youngest child is Whitnie, who is a college senior, majoring in Occupational and Recreational Therapy.
Joel and Kailub have two daughters, Brenna and Kaylee. Kailub is a labor and delivery, and neo-natal intensive care nurse. While some of the family has outside jobs, the family’s main focus is farming and the land.
Jon, Mike and Joel operate as J & M WHITMAN FARMS. The men manage the day-to-day work, records and decisions, their wives are part of the business as well. Jon’s wife Carol, helps in the office and does some of the farm’s computer work. Mike’s wife Gina, helps with accounting and records, (she had worked in accounting for 20 years), and runs for parts. She also cares for their grandchildren.
They are unique, even in a community of 3rd and 4th generation farmers. If one includes the little Whitmans, they are now 6th generation farmers. Jon’s great uncle, Harry Johnson, came to Moscow, Idaho (8 miles east of Pullman), graduating from University of Idaho in 1903. He began farming shortly thereafter; in fact, the family has a 1914 photo of Harry harvesting, 100 years ago!
Uncle Harry Harvesting in 1914
J & M Farms Harvesting in 2014
Jon’s father began farming with Uncle Harry in 1937. Jon grew up on the Whitman homeplace, and began farming on his own in 1966. Mike grew up on this farm, and married Gina in 1981. The two of them began farming on their own in 1982. They live in the original farmhouse on Mike’s mother’s family farm near Pullman, which is also 6th generation. Joel, of course, was born and raised on the farm; naturally he helped with all farm chores, especially planting and harvest. He began farming fulltime in 2011.
Now for the Question and Answer portion of our interview:
Why did you become a farmer?
Jon- I always enjoyed what I did on the farm. Even as a child, I would follow the seed-clover planter. I never wanted to do anything else.
Mike- It’s what my grandpa and my dad did, and it was something that I loved to do.
Joel- I agree, it’s what my dad and grandpa did. I wanted to work with them and be a farmer. My wife Kailub also was raised on a farm near Steptoe, and when it was time to begin a family, we wanted to raise our children in the same way that we were raised on the farm.
Tell us about your operation.
Mike – We farm dryland, approximately 2,000 acres in a 3-year rotation – typically winter wheat, then spring wheat or barley, then garbanzos or peas. We stick with crops which grow best in our micro-climate: soft white winter soft white spring wheat, malting and feed barley, garbanzo beans, dry green peas and grass hay. These are crops which perform year in and year out. (Author’s note: the Whitman’s yields are consistently some of the best in the region).
Joel – Every morning, we get together and make our plan for the day. We are all operators, meaning that we are each cross-trained, and can each do each other’s jobs. Joel does the winter fertilizing, Mike will do the fall seeding. During harvest, we all take turns running the combines and the trucks.
Jon – We try to keep smiling, even when things get tense or the days are long. In the winter, we work together on the budget, and work with FSA (the USDA agency which administers farm programs). We make most decisions together.
Mike – We also have a commercial trucking business, called Whitman Enterprises, which we operate together. We started it about 25 years ago, as a winter business. We haul mostly bulk farm commodity (wheat, peas, seed, etc.), and also flatbed; equipment, containerized cargo, things like that.
Jon, Mike and Joel Whitman
Do you use any sustainable practices? Please tell us about them.
Mike – We minimum till* our soil, we recycle all our farm oil and all plastics and iron. The products that we buy (machinery, chemicals, containers) are more environmentally friendly now than in years past, and we expect them to become even more so in the future.
Jon – Our tractors all have computers, which make them more efficient with fuel economy, wear on the equipment and implements. Also, with new technology, it’s possible to make the guidance system guide the tractor.
The Whitman’s tractors, parked, after preparing the land for fall planting
What are the biggest challenges you face as farmers?
Mike – Environmental issues, weather, world conflict. 95% of what we produce is exported. We’re pretty fortunate in this country to have the abundance and variety of foods that we have.
What are farming’s biggest rewards for you?
Jon – Farming has never been a bore to me, it’s interesting, and every day is different. It’s a great life.
Carol – No matter where we go on our travels, I always want to come home. Now that we’re 6 generations, we have something to pass to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren!
Gina – Farming – it’s what we do everyday. This is not just a job that we go to in the morning and then come home, it’s our whole lives, and we’re tied to this land.
Joel – I like the feeling of being able to say it’s mine, and the pride of my family working together for so long, since the 1800’s. That’s really something, and I know it’s unusual and special.
The 6th Generation. It looks like they will be ready when it is their turn to farm.
Do you participate in any civic or industry organizations?
Jon, Mike, Joel – Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), Pea & Lentil Association, Washington State Grange.
Mike & Gina – 4-H Leaders (25 years), Pullman FFA Association.
Gina – President of Whitman County 4-H Council for 15 years.
Mike – Past Executive President of Junior Livestock Show of Spokane, President of Pullman High School Vo-Ed Advisory Committee, Whitman County Fire Commissioner – Fire District 11, Fireman-EMT – Fire District 11, Board Member – 4 Star Supply (farmer co-op).
Joel – Volunteer Fireman for Whitman Co. Fire Dist. 11.
Are there any faming stories you would like to share?
Jon – When Mike was little, maybe 10 or 11 years old he was on the combine with his grandpa. There were no cabs on the combines in those days. Anyway, there was Grandpa Joe dangling his feet on the platform, and there was Mike driving the combine!
Carol – My first year living on the farm, I bought pea seeds to plant in my garden. Jon saw my pea seeds and said, “We have 400 acres of peas!” Ha Ha! That’s a city girl coming onto the farm.
Mike – I can remember Grandpa, Dad, Mom and I were hauling grain to Johnson (grain elevators about 8 miles south of Pullman). Grandpa got tired driving, and Grandma looked over and saw his right hand out the right window. It was me driving the grain truck! Grandpa got an earful from Grandma when we got home.
Joel – When she was a girl, Kailub’s family had a 7-acre U-pick cornfield. They also had a 10 to 12 acre garden when she was a girl, for the family’s food. They sold the extra produce U-pick. Kailub has a sister and 3 brothers, so it kept them all busy all spring and summer long.
Kailub – It was fun growing up on a farm.
Kailub, Brenna, Kaylee and Joel Whitman
Do you have anything to add which you would like our readers to know?
Gina – At times the media portrays agriculture very poorly. Farmers are businessmen, entrepreneurs, and accountants. They make many huge decisions every day, all the time. I feel fortunate that we get to live the lifestyle we do. Even though it is difficult sometimes, it is a really good life; it’s not easy for anybody to work with their family members like we do in farming. It’s unique and special.
Kailub – That’s a blessing of the job – (if you’ve had too much togetherness) you can find something else to do to get away from each other for a while.
Jon: It’s not always that way in every family. Some families don’t get along, and it (their farm operation) is not successful. We’re together a lot, for both work and play. Even when we’re having fun, we’re talking about farming, and when we’re working we’re planning another camping trip.
Joel – When I was growing up, all through high school, I had friends that picked on the farm kids. Those people now, are envious and interested in what we do! They are the first ones to comment on my facebook photos, and so interested in what I do. In fact, some of those people are now in agri-business. The view toward agriculture has really changed. In the last 10-20 years, there’s more respect for farmers, farming and agriculture.
Kailub – I was raised on a similar type of farm as Joel. Now that I’m married into his family, it’s interesting to me to see the same type of business, but operated so differently than my family farm.
What are your interests when you’re not farming?
Jon and Carol – square dance, Lions, travel with their trailer, Carol likes to make cards.
Mike and Gina-camping, Gina works out & runs races & marathons.
Joel and Kailub-traveling, camping, being with their kids.
Kim and Jim-camping.
Whitnie – school, camping, family, horses.
A hearty THANK YOU to the Whitman Family, for carrying on the 100 year tradition of farming, and for growing healthy and abundant food for us to eat!
*See Direct Seed-No-Till on the Hot Topics page for more details on Minimum ill.