The Millennials: Choosing a life on the farm.

March 26, 2015
John Ehler.

John Ehler.

Editor’s Note: Sustaining a community and keeping it vibrant requires diversity on many levels, especially among age groups. An unintended movement the last few years has been the increased number of millennials who have taken a role in community and business leadership in Mason County. A millennial, also known as Generation Y, is defined as a person who was born from the early ‘80s to the 2000s.. This generation grew up in the digital age and often offers a unique and fresh perspective to leadership.

This is the eighth story in our weekly series on the area’s millennials who are making an impact in our community.

Sponsored by All Access Care of Ludington. Located at 329 N. Jebavy Dr. in Ludington; 231-425-4544;

By Kate Krieger. Senior Correspondent.

HAMLIN TWP – Choosing a career in farming isn’t for those who want to make a fast buck. The hours are long and the work is strenuous, but for John Ehler, 31, he’s been farming almost all his life, so he doesn’t mind the hard work.

“Farming is something I’ve had a passion for since I was a kid,” John says. “My grandparents left farming in 1982 and sold their fields to the Listers. As a kid, I was hanging out in the orchards bothering Art Lister.”

John’s family has a long history in Hamlin Township, owning a lot of property off of North Jebavy Road and also having Ehler Road named after them. His mother, Jane’s family also was into small farming and they owned a small farm in Pentwater, which is currently Jane and her husband, John’s, summer residence. That home has been in the family since around 1895, John stated.

Neither John’s father or mother were interested in farming, probably due to the fact they had been around it during their younger years.

“My dad went into construction,” John says. “I think a lot of kids who grow up knowing how much work farming is, then don’t want to go into farming as adults.”

all_access_sponsorship_100114John graduated from Ludington High School in 2002 and went to Baker College after high school to receive a degree in business with an emphasis in aviation. Receiving his pilot’s license when he was 18, John had an interest in flying and so did his uncle at the time.

“My uncle was really into it,” he says. “He wanted to take lessons and he talked me into it and my dad paid for it.”

Not really having a real outlet for the aviation path, John returned to what he has always had a passion for and got back into the farming business.

“I had started working with Art when I was 16,” John says. “I’ve really been working for him ever since, but I’ve had other jobs as well. It wasn’t until last year when I started working for him full time.”

Working for Lister, John remains busy throughout the year doing all sorts of behind the scenes jobs that most people don’t always think of when they think of farming.

“I do work out in the orchards,” he says. “I trim trees, but I also drive trucks and work on machines when there are breakdowns. You have to like to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t.”

On the flip side, John says because his dad was into construction and he grew up around that, that’s probably why he didn’t choose a path in that direction.

“It’s why I didn’t go into construction, I saw so much of that as a kid,” he says. “I think it’s really why a lot of kids raised in farming don’t go into it.”

Lister’s farm grows cherries, peaches, apples, pears and plums throughout the season. John says his favorite crop is plums.

“I like the plum crop,” he says. “It’s only a couple of days harvest, so you don’t get sick of them. I also like apples because they’re not as much as a rush as the cherries are and a lot of varieties can sick in the trucks overnight without being harmed.”

John says they grow seven to eight different apple varieties that range from the end of summer into the fall season.

Along with his work at Lister’s, John also runs his own small farming business called Ehler Farms, which he started in 2011 on a few acres by his parent’s home on North Jebavy Road.

“I grow small grains,” John says. “Mainly corn and rye. I put the rye in to make a few bucks. It goes mostly to asparagus farmers for a cover crop in the fall. Asparagus grows in sandy soil and they use the rye to cover the ground for windy conditions.”

Running a very small outfit like Ehler Farms, John said it isn’t as practical to sell items very individualized because the profit isn’t really there.

“I try to sell and do things in bulk,” he says. “It’s a lot easier.”

Between full time employment and running his own farm, John puts aside a little extra time for his other passion, which is rebuilding old farm equipment.

“I like farm equipment and I have about eight pieces,” he says. “I had a tractor and I acquired others from all over the state. The rest I pulled out of the orchards, out of the tall grass and I fixed them up. Most of them are from the 50s and 60s.”

Stating that Lister’s and Ehler Farms are some of the last remaining farms in Hamlin Township, John hasn’t lost hope for the smaller family farmer, but he does realize how much more difficult it is for them nowadays running with few employees and very long hours.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” he says. “It’s all based so much on money and the start up cost for a farm is so much. I don’t own any land, so that rug can be pulled out at any time.”

Waking up early and going to bed late, John will continue to work in farming, a passion he’s had since he was a boy.

“During the summer, I’m working at 7 a.m.,” he says. “It all depends on the season, but I’m out there trying to plant all day until I can’t see anymore.”