For Lesa Clark, the term family farm is more than just a platitude; it is a way of life.
She comes from a long line of farmers that trace their way through seven generations in McCracken County and beyond. Her father, Louis Elliot, founded his own farm in 1964 in the southwest portion of the county where he grew up. After starting with hogs, chickens, limestone, and various crops, Louis eventually settled into dairy farming. Today, the dairy farm stands as one of the last in our area.
After the loss of her father in January 2011, Lesa is now at the helm of a thriving family business that relies on centuries-old knowledge and experience while adapting and utilizing all the 21st century has to offer.
“I’ve been working on the farm since I was ten,” says Lesa, “and I’ve always loved it. I went to UK after high school, but I came back after I finished in 1982. Even though I’ve been part owner of the business and drove the tractors and milked the cows, I never really had any decision-making responsibilities. I’ve been a girl in a man’s business. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could ask my dad a question about the farm. I was with him practically every day of my life. That is the way it works in a family business. When he died, 83 years of farm experience died with him. He loved his job and his family.
“There are a hundred issues you have to think through, and things change,” adds Lesa. “Our processes are dramatically different than they were even five years ago.” One addition has been Lesa’s husband, Dan, as the farm engineer who added technology such as GPS with auto-steer to the tractors, which improves efficiency in planting corn and soybeans.
The cows even have their own nutritionist. In 2007, the cows gave 35 to 40 pounds of milk a day, and now they peak near 70. “Happy, well-fed cows give more milk,” laughs Lesa.
The farm, now known as LeCows Dairy, even utilizes Facebook and Twitter to share the daily farm life. “Most people are now four generations removed from the farm and do not have any understanding of where food comes from. Sharing our life helps educate people who no longer have access to the farm. It has also been cathartic for me now that my dad is gone. When my mom and dad went to Florida for a couple of months each winter, I would send them pictures and an email of what happened each day. About four or five years ago, I switched over to Facebook because I was getting too many pictures to send over email. So, I started the LeCows page on Facebook and let others view ‘our life on the farm.’ Now I have a following.”
Even though technology and research have changed the face of dairy farming, one thing hasn’t changed, and that is the love for family and community. Lesa’s daughter, Ellie, who works on and is also a co-owner of the farm, admits it’s one of the reasons she gets up at 3:45 every morning. “I do love it so much,” she says. “What else can you do all day where you get to spend time with your family as a perk?”
“Plus,” adds Lesa, “most of our neighbors have been around a long time, and they have become very close friends.”
It was a strong sense of community that brought Lesa to Paducah Bank. “By chance a few months ago I was reading Paducah Bank’s WOW! magazine and noticed a theme throughout. Most of the articles and businesses were family owned and had been passed down from generation to generation. Since we are a family-owned business with that same philosophy, we thought we would check them out. We have already been impressed by their friendliness and the ease in doing business with them.”
And the farm family continues to grow. Ellie and husband Dustin celebrated the arrival of their daughter, Sadie Marie, in the summer of 2012, the first of a new generation of potential farmers.
“Will she want to be a part of the farm?” asks Lesa. “We don’t know, but we are going to give her the opportunity. And as she grows, we will give her the experience of growing up on the farm. She will get to see the miracle of birth as new baby calves are born. She will have the hope for the crops to produce each year. She will get to work on the farm and understand its value. And yes, she will experience loss as cows are sold and die and when crops fail to produce. Each of these life lessons is valuable, and many never get to have them. Successes and even failures are important for a well-rounded life. She is her parent’s hope, her grandparent’s hope, and her great grandparent’s hope for the future.
“We still live by the same philosophy of ‘Faith, Family and Farm.’ Our family and farm have changed, but our faith remains the same. The last thing my dad told me on the day he died was for me to take care of Sara, my mother, keep the farm going, and that he loved me. I am determined to continue his legacy with the support from God, family, community, and people like Paducah Bank.”
You can find Lesa and the rest of the family on the farm under LeCows Dairy on Facebook.