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First-generation farmers show it’s not all in the family

Derek and Garret Stewart

Derek and Garret Stewart are central Illinois brothers who started Stewart Family Farms in 2015.

While many farmers today are the sons and daughters of farmers, there are still young people joining the career and lifestyle as first-generation farmers.

Derek and Garret Stewart are central Illinois brothers who had a dream since childhood to farm. Having no family farm or land to work with, it seemed like a pretty tough dream to achieve.

The brothers took the first step when they were given the opportunity to rent a farm from a family at church and buy some equipment from a farmer that was headed towards retirement. They started Stewart Family Farms in 2015 in Eureka in Woodford County, Illinois.

“We feel blessed to have the opportunities we have and humbled by each one,” Derek said.

The brothers have taken on a few family farms that did not have a family successor.

In 2019, Scott Burroughs, a fifth-generation farmer in a family that started farming the Illinois land in 1896, chose the brothers to succeed him. The brothers were looking forward to working with Scott, but he passed away after a battle with cancer in May 2020, and they have carried on his family farm.

They frequently get questions about how it is possible to start from scratch or transition a farm operation to a non-family member, Derek said.

“We want families to know that even if there is not a successor in the family, there may still be a good way to transition their farm operation to a non-relative. It takes planning, flexibility and communication,” Derek said.

Even though they weren’t raised on a farm, Derek said their parents set them up with the right values and the concept of surrounding themselves with good people, which serves them well in farming.

Now with their wives, they are raising children with the same values and with a chance to follow in their footsteps into farming if they so choose.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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