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My Farm Roots: Room To Roam

Abby Wendle
Harvest Public Media
19-year-old Mitchell Matthew grew up helping on his family's Illinois farm. Here, he stands in front of a greenhouse bursting with tomato plants.

The Matthew family farm, M&M&m Farms, outside of La Harpe, Illinois, looks different from the farms surrounding it. It’s not filled with neat rows of soybeans or lines of corn that’s over-my-head high in late July. The Matthew’s place is a bit more disorganized and far more diverse.

“A lot of people grow corn or beans,” Mitchell Matthew tells me as we take an afternoon stroll around his parent’s hilltop property. “Here, we grow everything. Everything you can think of.”

  Mitchell points out peach trees, apple trees, cherry trees, and blueberry bushes. Greenhouses filled with tomatoes are nestled into fields of sunflowers, sweet corn, and popcorn, and there are beds of zucchinis, peppers, onions, leeks, green and yellow beans, and squash.

Despite helping his folks plant, raise and harvest so much produce, Mitchell, 19, says he doesn’t eat much of it. Unless you count his burger trimmings.

“I like to eat a lot of hamburgers,” he says with a sly smile. “I put some onions in my hamburgers.”

Mitchell, who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, grew up selling produce with his mom at area farmers markets and helping his dad care for the hogs they used to raise. He remembers feeding the animals and taking them to get butchered. It was his job to spray hog manure on the vegetable beds for a boost of nutrients.

“My dad taught me a lot about farming,” he says. “He kind of made me who I am. When I start a job, I want to finish a job. Like, I don’t stop.”

Mitchell graduated from high school this year and is full of dreams for his future. He plans to grow his lawn care business, work part-time stocking shelves in a big box store in town, and continue helping his parents with the farm. He loves working with machinery, too, like generators and big lawn mowers, so he might enroll in a trade school in a few years.

Mitchell’s dad, Mark, credits his son’s strong work ethic to growing up in a small, rural community.

“I just feel like he would have been lost growing up in a city,” Mark says. “Out in the country, you’ve just got room to move around.”

Share your story: What is it like to be farm kid? Share your Farm Roots story here.

Click here to see more My Farm Roots stories.

Abby Wendle joined Harvest Public Media in September of 2014, and reports from Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Ill. She came to Harvest from Tulsa, Okla., where she produced radio for This Land Press. That included partnerships with public radio programs The Story, State of the Re:Union, and The CBC’s Day 6. Her work has earned awards from The Third Coast International Audio Festival, KCRW's Radio Race, The Missouri Review and The National Association of Black Journalists. She has worked as an assistant producer for The Takeaway and interned at Radiolab. Abby has a bachelor's degree in Liberal Studies from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., and a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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