Movers & Shakers: Kassi Tom-Rowland of Tom Farms
If you didn’t catch the family name, you might never guess that Kassi Tom-Rowland is helping lead one of the largest, most progressive family farms in the country.
The charming, Midwest-nice mom and wife is filling multiple roles at her family’s well-known operation, Tom Farms, in northern Indiana. When she’s not running the ‘People’ function of the farm, you can find her advocating for agriculture through her work with the Farm Journal Foundation or even her side venture, Tom Farms Thread. And when you ask her, she tells you she’s living a bit of a dream, never thinking she’d return home to work on the family operation.
From chatting about the farm’s challenges with labor to her dad’s (Kip Tom) work with the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture, we dive into all the details of what Kassi and Tom Farms are facing in the ever-changing farm landscape.
Magnetic: Kassi, give us a little bit of an overview of Tom Farms and its history.
Tom Farms was established in 1952 by Everett & Marie Tom. Everett & Marie started with just about 100 acres and some livestock… and today we operate on 18,000 acres in 6 counties!
We’re a multi-generation, family-owned organization firmly planted in the fertile prairies of northern Indiana. Outside of our ordinary farm activities, we are one of the leading suppliers to the Dekalb seed production supply chain and we also operate a commercial grain elevator, CereServ.
Did you always see yourself coming back to the farm to work full-time?
If you would have asked me in high school, I would have never seen myself coming back to the family farm. It just wasn’t in the cards for me then. After high school and some college, I worked a few different jobs in the community. First, I was a local bank and then at Biomet, now Zimmer Biomet, an orthopedic company.
I was traveling a lot with Biomet and knew it was time for a change. My dad, Kip, happened to have a position at the farm to run our then trucking division. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be working with truck drivers, keeping them moving around the lower 48. It kept me close to home to have flexibility with our daughters. I have been back at the farm now for 16 years and now manage all things “People”, such as Land Partner Relationships, Human Resources, Public Relations, Social Media, and whatever else needs to be taken care of.
What did those years off the farm teach you and what do you apply from those experiences today?
Over the course of my career in the corporate world I worked with some amazingly talented people. I soaked up as much as I could from these folks. Working with hundreds of people around the world daily was so valuable. I learned what makes people tick and how teamwork plays a part in our everyday workings.
While working at Biomet, I traveled all over the U.S. and Canada, sometimes alone and other times with groups of colleagues. I feel like while traveling I really learned to be a “people person” because I was working with all sorts of personalities. I am so grateful for my time away from the farm and the network that has developed over the course of my career.
Your family gets a wide view of the industry — policy, markets, trade, etc. What’s the biggest challenge facing agriculture that your team discusses often?
This may just be a loaded question with many answers depending on the day, or even the minute! The largest challenge today, not only for our farm but farmers across the U.S. is labor, and something we spend the most time discussing. Gone are the days of the neighbor kid wanting to run equipment after school or even after graduating or putting in 80 hours a week.
Our culture is changing rapidly and we are consistently pivoting to make things work making sure we have the right person in the right seat. Right now we have 23 full-time teammembers, which includes six H2A Visa holders from South Africa. Next year, all six will return. We are dependent on this program, but would really like to hire American workers, they are just few and far between. This is a challenge we don’t see changing anytime soon
Another challenge would be the continued COVID-19 supply chain issues. From inputs to equipment to even blue shop towels (crazy, we know) we have been able to get everything we need, but not without the stress of knowing when it may arrive or when we can even place an order with pricing. It seems like nearly everything is hard to source right now.
Your dad, Kip, has gotten involved at a global level in agriculture. Tell us a little bit about that and his passion to have an impact beyond the farm?
It seems like dad (Kip) has been engaging on the global level for a long time now. Long before I came back to the farm, we were farming in South America.
His passion is certainly to help feed people as well as teaching folks around the globe to be more productive on their ground. He served as Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture (we called him Ambassadad) under President Trump. During his service, he helped people get the food and education they so desperately needed, all on a global scale. He was serving the most underserved, fragile folks in the world — a tough, but incredibly rewarding experience for him.
He continues his work back home in Indiana, and even still enjoys being in a piece of equipment every now and then. He is certainly a difference-maker, not only to us here at the farm but around the world.
Tell us about your work with the Farm Journal Foundation.
The Farm Journal Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving global food security by sustaining agriculture leadership roles and meeting the vital needs of a growing population. I have served as the Indiana Farm Ambassador for several years now.
Yearly, I make a trip to Washington DC to meet with policymakers. Going to them as a farmer, someone growing the food that is needed around the world, is usually eye-opening and our conversations about continued funding of programs we support are always positive.
You started an offshoot business of the farm – Tom Farms Thread. What does that do and why did you start it?
We have been using social media to share the story of Tom Farms for a long time now to advocate for farmers and educate about the importance of agriculture. [39K followers on Instagram, 22K on Facebook] The farmer’s voice is so very important, so the more farmers that share their story, the better.
I had the idea to start Tom Farms Thread nearly a year ago now and help farmers around the U.S. get started on socials, branding their farm, or creating ideas for public relations. It has been a fun project!
What do you and your family enjoy doing in your free time?
Free time? What free time?! All kidding aside, my husband, Greg, works here at the farm too, and has been for 21 years. We keep busy with our two daughters, Reagan a sophomore at Purdue University (Boiler Up!) and Reese is a junior in high school.
If I am not at the farm, I can be found in my car running kids to activities, school, friends, etc. We enjoy playing euchre, spending time with our family and friends, or just binge-watching a random show on Netflix. I really enjoy traveling and am always willing to plan an adventure.