Love flourishes as couple revives ag kinship

A typical level of wheat harvest stress hovered over the Jacobson farm crew on a hot June night in 2021.

Topping that was a personal matter for young Chance Jacobson, Hope, Kansas, whose thoughts wandered to his gal pal, Emma Bathurst of Abilene. They’d met through mutual friends at church.

Chance’s paternal grandfather, Roy Jacobson, must’ve noticed something was troubling the lad, and offered some time off from their summer campaign.

“He made me quit cutting wheat that night, so I could go on a date with Emma,” Chance said. “He told me ‘We have enough help. You need to go see the young lady. Women are more important than wheat.’”

He did just that, and as it turned out, Chance and Emma fell in love. The couple with similar backgrounds enjoyed a nine-month courtship that blossomed, led them closer to home, and back to the farming lifestyle both adore.

Just over a year after the harvest hiatus, the 20-somethings were married; one more of many steps in the blessed lives of Chance and Emma Jacobson.

“We give all the glory to God. He did this for us,” Chance said. “We’re just overwhelmed.”

After some wrangling with some fortunate fate, the couple are wonderfully embroiled in agricultural careers, in Dickinson and Marion counties.

“A lot has happened,” said Emma Jacobson, 22, the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Centre High School, a 25-mile commute from their digs in southern Dickinson County.

“I went from single in college (Kansas State University) to dating in college,” she said. “Another big transition was leaving Manhattan and moving to Hillsboro (both in Kansas) for student teaching, which was really cool.”

Luck surfaced again when an ag teaching, FFA advising position opened up at Centre High, and it came with a recommendation from K-State Professor of Agricultural Education Gaea Hock. She has connections with Centre High School.

As it turned out later, the career move melded well.

“I had no idea at the time I would be here,” Emma said. “I didn’t have a ring on my finger yet, and there were not many jobs open or available.”

During that span, Chance graduated Hope High School in 2019 after passing a number of college level courses. He entered Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas, as a sophomore, completing an associates’ degree in wind energy technology.

“I wanted to farm, but I knew with my dad and grandpa farming, there wasn’t room for a third man. I knew I’d have to find something else to do to get started,” he said.

Enel Green Power was building the Diamond Vista Wind Farm near home and Chance found his job. After graduation in 2020, he started work there as a wind technician who troubleshoots and maintains turbines.

“I was able to get a job right out of college, 14 miles from where I grew up,” he said. “I was climbing 300 feet up the ladders, up to four times a day.”

Then came a slow return to farming, first landing a part-time job for a local woman, Bobbie Pray, who owned a farm and ranch. Chance took care of mowing and maintenance.

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“We always rented grass and pastures from her family, then she decided to donate the entire farm to The Nature Conservancy,” he said.

TNC, a nonprofit, gave the Jacobsons first chance to farm all of the land. Chance also split time working for the nonprofit, the wind farm, and the family farm.

“I worked three jobs for a year and a half,” Chance said. “I’m either not afraid of hard work, or I’m a glutton for punishment.”

College training was a step toward coming home, said Mike Jacobson, Chance’s father.

“I knew in the back of my mind that it was the point of finding a job close to here, and he’d come back. He told us a long time ago that one way or another, he was going to farm. It’s always been his dream,” Mike said. “It happened sooner than we thought.”

Taking a knee and popping the much-anticipated question wasn’t far away.

“Chance was planning on it, but was just being sneaky,” Emma said. “We were very serious.”

Sadly, Grandpa Roy didn’t get to witness the July 30 nuptials.

“I showed him the ring on the night before I proposed, but he passed away (in May) before the wedding,” Chance said. “Grandpa was special. We saw him every day. It was a big loss.”

Emma accepted the teaching job in April and completed her K-State degree in May.

“I have a passion for agriculture and a love of teaching,” she said, “but it’s not an easy career to teach.”

While the new Mrs. Jacobson is on the front lines of teaching and instilling agricultural interest in youngsters at Centre High, her father figures she’ll be a perfect fit on the Jacobson farm.

The first born of six, “Emma always liked helping out, raising chickens and being in 4-H,” said Jeff Bathurst, who farms north of Abilene in the Talmage area.

“She’s always been here to drive tractor and swathers, and she planted a lot of acres over the years,” he said. “My hope was she would find somebody who would want to come back and farm.”

Education is also in Emma’s DNA. Her mom, Charity Bathurst, teaches journalism at Abilene High School, and Jeff is a longtime member of the Abilene School Board.

“Emma has so much to offer. She probably knows how to run machinery as good as me. She’s spent a lot of time in the cab,” Chance said. “She’s great at other stuff at school. She’s good at everything she does.”

Emma can cook, too.

“I’ve put on a solid 5 to 10 pounds,” said Chance, 21. “I think I’m pretty decent, but it’s not on her level. I do make her breakfast sometimes.”

Chance and Emma’s wedding and reception were staged at Kansas Beach Hospitality & Events on a farmstead in western Saline County, where Emma’s maternal grandparents, Bernice and the late John Omli, raised a family.

The complex is now owned by farmers Joe and Geena Kejr, Emma’s great uncle and aunt. Their farming operation is spread throughout much of Saline County.

Chance and Emma live in a house on The Nature Conservancy land, eight miles from the Jacobsons’ 1,500-acre dryland farm along with a 200-head cow/calf ranch operation.

His grandma, Lynn Jacobson—who provides harvest meals—lives within a mile of there. Also on the team are Chance’s mom, Annette Jacobson, a registered nurse who works full-time at Salina Surgical Hospital, and occasionally at Salina Regional Health Center.

Chance’s brother Colton, 16, a junior at Hope High School, is being recruited for eventual partnership.

“We’re trying to expand so Colton can come join us,” Chance said.

His uncle, Kent Jacobson, and cousin, Gannon Jacobson, 14, help with wheat harvest and hay season during summer months.

“It’s truly a family affair,” Chance said.

He returned to full-time farming to fill the void from the loss of his grandpa.

“My dad needed the help,” Chance said, so he gave notice at the wind farm. That era ended Oct. 7.

Another injection of youth was welcomed to the family farm, said Mike Jacobson, who first described his son’s contribution with one word.

“Energy. He’s really sharp and everything he reads he retains. I told Chance he should have been a doctor,” Mike said. “He’s coming in with some new ideas and wants to try different things.”

Having the young couple close by is exciting, he said.

“We’re pretty proud of both of them,” Mike Jacobson said.

More has been added to the resume.

Chance has also been named farm manager of The Nature Conservancy Terrace Lane Farm, working for Heidi Mehl, director of water and agriculture programs.

TNC will use 40 acres for an “experimental piece,” practicing regenerative agriculture.

“We are going to try and plant cover crops and grazing cattle on in-between each cash crop,” Chance said.

Mixed in with the rotation, he will follow five soil health principles:

1. Armoring the soil by keeping it covered;

2. Minimizing soil disturbance;

3. Diversifying crop rotations and planting different varieties of cover crops;

4. Having a continual living root in the soil at all times of the year; and

5. Integrating livestock on the land, utilizing phosphorous and nitrogen from the cattle.

No-till is the farming practice used by the Jacobsons, and they “hit three of the five” soil principles, Chance said, while aiming to include the other two.

“We already run cattle on stalks, and we’re going to plant wheat as a cover crop this winter,” he said. “We’re kinda learning too, at this point, seeing how this experiment works out. It’s a whole different way of thinking.”

On top of farming his own ground, Chance aims to enhance agriculture.

“I’m trying to show other people there are better ways to farm, to no-till, and plant cover crops. If you take care of the soil, it will take care of you,” he said. “I’m trying to help other farmers make more money.”

The Jacobsons delved into soybean harvest in late October, with Chance at the controls of a combine he recently purchased, complete with some modern conveniences.

Meanwhile, Emma Jacobson is trying to remember to sign her new last name and is prepping to take 14 Centre High School FFA members to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the national convention, with Jon Meyer, her teaching partner.

She agrees there is a fairy-tale factor in the past couple of years.

“Farming isn’t super glamorous with the drought, but it’s something where the more you do it, the more you love it,” she said. “We’re just thrilled to get to do this and share our passion for agriculture.”

Tim Unruh can be reached at [email protected].