We are celebrating World Soil Day with a story of determination and perseverance.

Tom Abbotts farm was once gouged with gullies. Now its soils sprout new life

“I believe we should make our surroundings better than we found them, that is how I was raised; you are responsible for your surroundings.” – Tom Abbott

Tom Abbott’s journey to healthy soil wasn’t easy.

After serving in the military, Tom was offered an opportunity to farm his mother-in-law’s land in Fulton County. He jumped at the chance because farming is all he ever wanted to do. “I was born for it,” he says.

It was 1974, and the national Farm Crisis of the 80’s was about to start.

During the crisis, farmers could go from smiling in the tractor as the sun rises on their cheeks – to then- staring at the farm’s financials worried about what their next move will be. Even in his attempt to be the best he could be, Tom could not keep up with the small margins the 250 acres was bringing in while the Farm Crisis raged. It simply wasn’t enough to support him and his family.

“We had to sell everything.”

“I could not be the responsible man I was taught to be.” When they closed, “ It was worse than a death in the family.”

But life had to go on. Tom and his family moved to south Florida and he began a new career as an agriculture instructor teaching basic agronomy, conservation, forestry, coaching FFA teams, improving cattle herds, upgrading greenhouses, and leaving the ag programs better than he found them.

Tom would continue to work in the agricultural sector as a research farm manager with USDA-ARS.

As Tom continued as a research farm manager with USDA-ARS, he noticed sustainable production practices were improving and being used more frequently.

The memory of the old farm still haunted him.

Three decades passed before Tom returned to take over operations after his mother-in-law passed away. “I felt like the prodigal son, returning after all these years,” he said. Someone told him that the farm looked like 30 years of bad decisions. “I found the fatted calf was skin and bones. Where were the fence rows, berries, trees and wildlife? Where was the farm I once knew? That’s when I came upon a familiar Burr Oak tree, still there after all those years of me being away from the farm. It’s branches were stretched out, almost like it was welcoming me back with open arms.”

The farm did welcome Tom back. He and his son, his biggest encourager, started honeybees, and began working to reverse the damage done to the bare soil. The work paid off. The soil once gouged with gullies now sprouts new life.

“So here I am, back full circle, back to continue and finish a job I started many years ago. It is the job I have always done, make those things I can touch, those I have control over, better.”

“Improve what is around you, leave to your children what you did not or could not have.”

Tom is an active member in the Alliance Soil Health Caucus and recently shared his journey with farmers across Illinois during our Family-Faith-Farming Series. If you would like to join Tom and a cohort of farmers all over the state, visit our website to learn more about the Soil Health Caucus

Caring for your own health and wellness in this high-stress profession is often overlooked but is just as critical as caring for your business. We know times are increasingly tough right now. If you are or someone you know is struggling with daily stress, depression, anxiety, addiction or other mental health challenges, you are not alone. https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/agr/Pages/Mental-Health-Assistance-for-Farmers-.aspx