Each year, more than 20,000 Kansas wheat farmers take dramatic risks to grow the wheat that feeds the world. We hope you enjoy learning more about these farmers through our series, the “Faces of Harvest.”
When James Ryan first moved to South Haven nearly 36 years ago, he never expected to stay this long. He was the newly-hired ag teacher at South Haven High School; his wife, Kay, was hired at nearby Arkansas City High School. They planned to work a few years, then move closer to Kay’s folks, who farmed south of Stillwater, Oklahoma.
But agriculture’s Roaring 1970s turned into the Dismal 1980s, and returning to Kay’s family farm just wasn’t feasible. By then, the couple had a daughter, and so decided to continue their teaching careers.
“We couldn’t have landed in a better community,” James says. “The families here are tremendously supportive of the school, and they did everything for me to ensure it would be a success.”
James and Kay bought a farm near town shortly after they started teaching. They gradually expanded their farm operation and now harvest about 400 acres of wheat, put up some hay and run a few head of cattle.
Like it is on many farms, wheat harvest is a big deal to the Ryans. It is a time for family and friends to come together, James says. “My brother-in-law runs the combine, and we have a family friend who also likes to run the combine. My daughter Jennifer and her husband Chris, who live in Pratt, also help us out,” he explains. “We don’t beat it to death. We get the combines ready in the morning, come to the house and eat lunch, and when it’s dark, we quit. It’s fun.”
James retired from teaching three years ago. Many of his former students farm nearby, and they are not only great neighbors, but excellent farmers who are ready to help their former teacher at a moment’s notice. “I don’t know if it is because they remember me as a teacher, but they are there in a minute if I ever need any help,” he says.
After more than three decades in Sumner County, the urge to move back home has waned.
“Kay’s parents still live in Oklahoma,” he says. “But this is home.”