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4th Annual Favorite Farmer Winner

Donald Dufner is the winner of the Favorite Farmer contest! His daughter nominated him. Teresa took so much time and poured so much love into her nomination that I wanted to share it. I actually grew up a few miles away from Donald and his family. He is known as the John Deere man as he collects them, builds them, fixes them and uses them for farming. You can guarantee that we will have lots of John Deeres in his photo shoot!

Here is the letter his daughter wrote:

Where does one begin to describe your favorite 84-year old farmer who will still oftentimes “run” to work?  His run takes him from the farmhouse to his workshop with the family dog. 

I’d like to nominate my dad, Donald Dufner, from rural Buxton ND, who has made a wonderful life with his bride, Sylvia, of 55 1/2 years on the very farm his parents established in 1934.

This farmer taught my three siblings and I the value of hard work.  The value of getting up at dawn and working well into the dark of night to get the job done.  There were days growing up where I didn’t understand why I was under the hot sun on an open tractor…all day long.  But as an adult, I now know those days then taught me how to persevere through when things get tough or uncomfortable.  Working sun-up to sun-down and then some, there would also be times when things didn’t go as planned.  I remember occasionally, I’d bruise my finger or run into something while working and his response would be “awww, just rub some dirt on it”.  Later in life, this statement has proven to me that while things may sting or burn along the way, you keep going and trudge through, because eventually it does get better.

Over the years, Donald and his wife farmed as much as 3,000 acres of various oats, grains, and edible beans.  One year it was popcorn. The thrill for us kids was watching it pop on the hot stove.  And let’s not forget alfalfa hay.  This crop requires diligence of perfection in order to sell quality alfalfa hay for horse feed.  There were at least three cuttings per summer making small square bales.  I remember Friday and Saturday nights when my high school friends were out at the movies, we were in the hay field loading the truck and trailer under the moonlight because it needed be baled just before the dew set in.   

And when he wasn’t in the field working, he was milking cows twice a day, every day, for 365 days of the year.  This provided all the dairy for our family and then some.  Along with chickens, my dad also had a way of sprinkling in a pet sheep or goat as presents.  Even if my mom said no, somehow one would always seem to show up.  And just this last summer, he convinced her it would be a good idea to adopt 24 goats so they could graze in the pasture.  This proved quite entertaining for him because people would stop by just to see him feed his new pets.  There were even a few times they had snuck out of the fence with one adventure, my dad rescuing them 15 miles away.

Alongside his farming, he also built a large collection of 2-cylinder John Deere tractors.  On the farm, there was a tractor for every job, EVERY SINGLE job.  While other farmers were upgrading to bigger and better 4-wheel drive cab tractors, he would sit in the field all day under the sunshine on his old 2-cylinder.  This proved quite thrifty for him in many ways, but most importantly he could fix the tractor himself whenever something broke.  As the years went on, if there wasn’t a tractor that fit his farming needs, he would just build it himself.  Spending his days going around and around, he would just design it in his head.  Outdoing his neighbors, he finally made his own 6-wheel drive workhorse that could make it almost 20 hours in the field without re-fueling.  He connected three of the largest 2-cylinder tractors together creating the “830 Special”.  And it even had a cab!   Neighbors would see him testing out new pieces of equipment and ask Sylvia, “Now what’s Donny up to?”  She would just laugh as she began to describe his latest invention.

Our weekends during the summer were filled traveling throughout the Red River Valley and Canada watching him tractor pull.  He started out with antique tractors and when he decided to enter the modified sector, he just designed and built two of his very own, The Green Goat and The Diggin’ Deere. He has 57 years of trophies and bragging rights of why John Deere is simply the best.

When you’re 84, you also get to play whenever you want.  This fall he organized a plowing bee on one of his fields where folks could bring their own tractor and plow to re-live an older time of life.   At one point, there were 13 different plows moving the dirt.  On another occasion one Sunday afternoon, he hosted a group of my friends who had never been to a “real” farm.  He was in his glory showing them his prize tractors and teaching them how to start a tractor manually by hand turning the fly-wheel.  Anyone who wanted to take the tractor for a drive, could spend as much time as they wanted navigating around the yard.

My dad will farm forever as the word, retirement, is not in his vocabulary.  You will find him out in the field helping my two brothers who farm, restoring old tractors, and still throwing hay bales with the best of them.  He loves to teach others his tricks of the trade and currently has two grandsons crop sharing some of his land. 

It’s the off season for farming right now but his work never ends in his shop as he’s busy planning for next year, fixing up tractors, and organizing or selling antique John Deere parts.  He also loves to spend time with his new shop kitten, Tiger.  Some days though, there might be more play than work but that that’s OK because he has earned it.

What do others say about this favorite farmer of mine?  His good friend and neighbor writes:  “There are moments in life when you meet people that truly intrigue you. Don Dufner is one of those men you will meet in your life that immediately makes you curious about “his story”. From my time with Don, over the past 10 years, I have come to know a man who values his family, loves his profession and hobbies, and never turns away from a little work. It amazes me when you learn about his God given gifts and life experiences. Don is creative, approachable, and genuinely someone to call a friend. The world needs more men like Don.” His face may be worn from the sun and hands leathered, oftentimes still stained with dirt but he truly represents the American farmer.   He has taught my brothers and I the value of hard work, the perseverance to finish a job, and the dedication to make things happen, even when things become difficult.  These are just a few of the many reasons why he is and always will be, my favorite farmer.

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        melissa@melissadalephotography.com