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Area family farm takes wheat growers spotlight

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 19, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Titus Volk (top) smiles from atop a piece of farm equipment as his mother Lisa, father Philip, and brother Thatcher, pose for a photo. Not pictured are Isaac, Abagail and Devin.

A family farm near Rugby took the spotlight last month among American wheat producers when the US Wheat Associates visited the Philip and Lisa Volk family for their video series, “Stories from the Wheat Farm.”

The video, titled “Living with Purpose in North Dakota,” follows the Volks and their five children at harvest time as they drive a combine through fields of ripe hard red spring wheat.

The video is featured on the US Wheat Associates website’s “Our Story” tab. The page shows a map of the United States, with the Volk farm represented as a clickable dot at the center right of North Dakota.

“US Wheat is the national organization that promotes all classes of wheat overseas, following up on sales,” explained Philip Volk, whose family farm sits a few miles east of the Pierce County line near the Benson County community of Knox. “In North Dakota, I’m on the North Dakota Wheat Commission, and they looked for a farm that was at harvest at that time, had a family that they could showcase with hard red spring wheat.”

“So, they came to our farm and went all around the nation to get a class of wheat trying to get a representation, so this film could be shown to customers overseas,” Volk said. “The (video discusses) the idea of sustainability and showing where our crop comes from, so our family was elected by the North Dakota Wheat Commission to represent hard red spring wheat and talk about it.”

“They were here for two and a half days last year and filmed us,” Volk said of the video crew.

Philip Volk’s grandfather, also named Philip, established the farm in its present location in 1942. Volk’s father, Ed, left the farm for a few years to study engineering and work in other parts of the country. Ed Volk met Philip Volk’s mother, Harriet in Alabama.

“My dad and mom came back to farm in 1970 and I was four years old,” Volk said.

Ed Volk later retired and turned the operation over to young Philip Volk and his wife, Lisa.

“Philip’s been farming his entire life,” Lisa Volk said. “He went away to college and came back. I moved here in 1994,” Lisa Volk said.

“Philip and I befriended each other through mutual friends,” Lisa Volk added. “I’m a city girl. I’m from a suburb of Boston, Brockton, Massachusetts. My dad was a mechanical engineer and I don’t know if it came from there, but I was combining before we were even married.”

“I guess if I wanted to see Philip, I’d have to go out in the field, then they put me in the combine,” she noted with a laugh.

Did combining come naturally to Lisa?

“No, I dug the header into the ground a few times,” she laughed.

Philip Volk said he and his father have noticed many changes in farming over the decades. “We’d talk about the threshing crew that grandma and grandpa had,” Volk said. “I was never a part of that, but an open-cab tractor with no fenders is what I learned to drive on and very small grades. Now, we’ve got auto-steer and nozzle control and everything on tractors.”

Volk said his grandfather had “threshed with horses. They had the bundles they brought to the threshing machine and grandpa had a crew and grandma had a cook car, just like you see at the museum.”

Volk recalled a story from his grandfather’s transition from using horses to a tractor. “(Driving the tractor), he extended the steering wheel of the tractor to drive the tractor from the binder, and when the hitch came out and the tractor went away, he was yelling, ‘whoa, whoa!’ like he’d control a team of horses, and the tractor didn’t stop,” Volk said with a laugh. “That was quite a change.”

“Our great-uncle Casmer used to help us on the farm and he was part of that era, with the steam-threshing and to drive a tractor with satellite, that was quite a big change in 50 or 60 years,” Volk said. “I don’t know what we’ll imagine we’ll be 100 years from now. We’re still a very young state as far as when our land started producing a crop compared to Europe and other countries overseas.”

Volk said his family farm grows corn and soybeans as well as wheat this year. They also use cover crops to graze cattle.

Lisa Volk said the next generation in the family will likely stay with farming and the changes that come with it.

“Our oldest is Devin; he’s 23; Abagail is 21. Then, there’s Isaac, he’s 18; Thatcher, he’s 16, then there’s Titus. Titus is seven,” she said.

“Devin, he’s actually working at a farm right now,” she noted. “He went to NDSU to get his degree in ag systems management and two minors, animal science and ag business. My daughter’s a senior at NDSU. She’s going to get a degree in biotechnology. She would like to turn that into something with ag as well. Pretty much all our children are interested in ag.”

Sons Isaac and Thatcher were on hand to help plant winter wheat after an early frost as their parents inspected corn and soybeans drying in fields.

“Tuesday, it was cold in the morning,” said Titus Volk.

“Mother Nature doesn’t warn us,” Lisa Volk smiled, nodding to her son. “She just gives us what she gives us and that’s a part of being farmers. You’ve got to be as prepared as you can.”

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