Thurow Farms: Obstacles make this farming family’s bond stronger.

March 20, 2015
From left: Greg, Chris, Bob and Trent.

From left: Greg, Chris, Bob and Trent.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

RIVERTON TWP. — Most people know that farmers raise the food that feeds us. But, farming is much more than just that, at least it is here in Mason County. It’s about a community of people who take care of each other.

The Thurow family experienced that sense of community last fall, when a grain bin collapsed on Chris Thurow, breaking multiple bones in his body.

It was the evening of October 26. Chris, 46, had been filling a grain bin of soybeans, and had climbed up the 35 foot bin to check the capacity, when it collapsed. His father, Bob, had happened to look outside his house to the barnyard and questioned why the auger was still running. That’s when he found Chris buried beneath the steel rubble. Chris had been buried in the soy beans for 45 minutes until the first emergency responder, Brock Cameron of Riverton Twp. Fire Department, arrived. Cameron and Bob started removing the steel with the help of a tractor.

Neighbors started showing up to help along with other responders from Riverton Twp. Fire Dept. and Life EMS.

Chris was transported by ambulance to Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital and then was transferred by helicopter to Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. He had suffered broken bones in his arm, knee and pelvis. He was in the critical care unit for a week and then spent two weeks at Mary Free Bed Hospital. He continues to be in physical therapy three days a week.

“You really find out how important this community is when something like Chris’ accident happens,” Chris’ brother, Greg, said. “People came from all over, beginning that evening, to help us out. They’re still helping us out.”

“That’s really what farming is about,” Chris added. “It’s about our neighbors and our family. Everybody coming together and reaching a common goal. This is why we do this.”

In addition to Chris’ accident, the family was also facing another challenge. Their mother, Deedra, had just started cancer treatments at the time of the accident.

Farming is also about tradition, heritage and family. The Thurow farm is certainly an example of all three.

The farm was started on 40 acres in the late 1890s by William and Minnie Thurow.

“This original 40 acres really only has 5 acres that are tillable,” family patriarch, Bob, said. “I guess back then you just needed enough to survive.”

Eventually, William bought another 40 acres on the north side of Chauvez Road, across from the original plot.

“Grandpa started what was called a house route,” Bob said. “He would deliver eggs and produce to homes in the area. That’s how they made their living. My dad then took it over in the early 40s.”

Ranold and Gen Thurow were the next to farm the land. Bob said his parents never expanded the farm beyond the acreage the previous generation had raised.

“I never could really figure out why they didn’t buy more property,” he said. “Actually, as you look around the neighborhood, all the farms remained rather small. But, it really came down to the Great Depression. The farmers were hesitant to expand their farms and many just couldn’t afford to do it.”

Though he grew up on the farm, Bob reluctantly got into the agriculture business.

“After I graduated from Mason County Central in 1960, I went to Central Michigan University. I thought I was going to be a football star. That lasted one year.”

While Bob was in his teens, his father became ill, meaning the children of the family needed to help more on the farm. Bob’s dad suffered a stroke in 1964 and passed away two years later. At 24-years-old, Bob took over the farm.

He and Deedra then raised their three children, Chris, Greg and Jill, on the farm. Deedra spent most of her career as a teacher but also was active in the earlier years selling eggs and produce. The farm itself has grown from its original 40 acres to 1,600 acres now.

Like their father, the children each looked at alternatives to staying on the family farm. Chris, who graduated from MCC in 1987, went to Ferris State University and then transferred to Michigan State University, ultimately majoring in agriculture. He was the first to come back to the farm, in 1992.

Greg graduated from MCC in 1988 and went to West Shore Community College. He began his working career at the Stokely canning plant in Scottville and then worked for Oomen Brothers Farms, before partnering with Chris in 2002.

Jill graduated from MCC in 1990. After receiving her degree from CMU, she has built a career in sales and marketing in Grand Rapids, but comes back to Mason County often.

Chris and his wife, Stephanie, have five children: Trent, 18; Brooke, 16; Tyler, 10; Hannah, 8 and Isabella, 4. Stephanie is a registered nurse but currently spends her time raising their children. Greg and his wife, Nadene, have two children: Braylin, 9, and Bryce, 7. Nadene is a teacher at Shelby Public Schools. Jill has two children, Zack May, 17 and Allison May, 16.

Tragedy can often change lives and careers. Just as Bob stepped into the farm after his father died, Chris’ oldest son, Trent, 18, has stepped into an active role in the farm after his father’s accident.

“Trent gets up, milks the cows, then goes to West Shore. He comes back in the afternoon and works the rest of the day,” Greg said. “He’s really stepped up to the plate. Before the accident, he didn’t really show much of an interest in being part of the farm.”

Each brother has their role in the farm, officially known as Thurow Farms, Inc.

Chris manages much of the paperwork and oversees the livestock, which is a mixture of beef and dairy cattle. He also handles the farm chemicals.

Greg is the crop person and the mechanic.

“Chris is very serious and Greg is the laid back one, but both, are very hard workers and I’m very proud of them, their wives and their children.” sister Jill said. “Dad, always has his say on the farm.  He made the farm what is today. However, the government is enforcing regulations, which requires a lot of big decisions my brothers need to make. ” Bob retired in 2004 but manages to be part of the daily operation.

Bob also takes on the duties of the unofficial social director, as was witnessed on the day of my visit. Walking into the office, I was greeted by several men who were sitting around the room, eating cookies and drinking coffee. The “Big Bob” bull sessions are frequent occurrences on the Thurow farm and includes tall tales of subjects like deer hunting, softball and of course, the weather. Just another part of what makes farming special.