The Byler Family is the 2014 Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year
The recipe for success in this year’s 2014 Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year contained three ingredients; Faith, Family and Friends. That’s how Katie Byler explained it, “We would say a good formula for a fruitful farm is Faith, Family and Friends”. The Byler family farm located on Mountain View Road in Drasco has been selected as Cleburne County’s Farm Family of the Year. Residents in the Drasco area might know the property as the Willie or Joe Defor property. The Byler farm is now eligible for advancement to the District and State Farm Family of the Year awards as the selection of those awards continues. The process will end on December 11, 2014 with Arkansas Farm Family Day celebrated at the Wyndam Riverfront Hotel in Little Rock. Sponsors for the event are; Arkansas Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Services of Western Arkansas, Agheritage Farm Credit Services and Farm Credit Midsouth Associations and Entergy.
The entire Byler family is involved in the farm operation year round starting with Robert and Katie Byler, the parents of Carla, Kendall, Stephanie, Crystal, Shauna and Timmy. Also in the family is son in law Lyndall who married Carla and now have a daughter named Allison. Katie’s parents, known as Grandpa and Grandma Stoltzfus also help on the farm. Family is the second Byler ingredient for success as Katie spoke of (Psalm 90:16, 17: Let Your work appear to Your servants, and Your glory to their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us; Yes establish the work of our hands). But the Byler’s main ingredient for success is their faith. Katie referenced (Psalm 33:12a: Blessed is the Nation (family) whose God is the Lord). “This in an honor to be selected as Farm Family of the Year but this is our lifestyle” said Robert.
The Byler Farm sprawls over 91 acres of gentle rolling hills. Their house sits on the highest knoll for a good view of the entire property. The main crop grown on this farm is strawberries. One acre is designated for production of strawberries and rotated amongst three plots annually. The strawberries are sold out of the Byler Bunch Berries road side shed located just off the highway and next to the strawberry fields. The business was named ‘Byler Bunch Berries’ by friends of the family who put a spin on the name from the old TV show named The Brady Bunch. Friends is the last ingredient to the Byler’s success which Katie said, “We didn’t find our friends; the Lord gave them to us”.
Each Byler bunch is involved in the operation and has a job to do. From prepping the land in the fall to picking and hauling the strawberries to the road side shed for sale in the spring. The hauling of the strawberries falls on the shoulders of Timmy, who is the youngest of the Byler bunch. When I met Timmy on the front porch, he was standing just a tall as his dad. I could tell by their countenance this was a strong farm family who worked hard and had fun together. Then I met the rest of the family and I was right. Each one expressed what they did to contribute to the farm in a loving, humorous way. Crystal for instance likes to be the hostess of the fields, the title of cook sounds better but Crystal helps keep the families thirst quenched and stomachs full while in the field. But titles are not that important to the family, the Byler bunch has a title for their dad, the CEO! This stands for Cheesy Egg Omelet. When the CEO shows up the family gets hungry and Crystal takes the food orders. Carla mentioned Grandma Stoltzfus as the strawberry picker to beat. Grandma Stoltzfus could earn the title as a motivational speaker. The family goals are set in the morning before they go to the field. While in the field Grandma Stoltzfus will challenge everyone to beat the goal they set earlier. The competitive nature comes out in the family as they talk about Grandma Stoltzfus. “Grandma Stoltzfus is built for picking, her back never hurts”, said Carla. Carla is next in line for production, but has her sights on Grandma Stoltzfus’ picking record for one year of 2,900 quarts of strawberries. That equates to 58,000 individual strawberries, twenty strawberries in a quart. They all smiled in proud approval of her work ethic, but not mentioned was their own work ethic.
“We only use fungicide on our strawberries, no other pesticides”, says Robert. Instead of fumigating the soil Robert plants caliente mustard as a natural fumigant and works that back into the soil. He sows ryegrass as a cover crop in the strawberry beds after the harvest and plants sorghum-sudan another year and Cowpeas the next year. We use leaf and petiole analyses to monitor nutritional status and correct deficiencies that may occur. This not only ensures that yield and quality are optimized, but helps protect against applying excess nutrients in the environment”, concluded Robert. The biggest concern for the Byler Bunch production of strawberries is the frost or late freezes during the bloom period on the plants. “One night we burned a bale of hay to try and prevent a freeze. We watch the weather and dew points during bloom”, said Robert.
Other Byler bunch activities on and off the farm include; Kendall working in the family construction business, Crystal and Stephanie teaching school, Crystal, Shauna and Timmy bottle feeding and raising calves as needed, Timmy also feeds the calves and checks on the cows daily with his dad, Robert. Most of these chores are completed before work or school!
Robert and Katie said, “We began raising strawberries to give our children an incentive to work and make money”. The Byler punch is paid by the pound. One year their children decided to pool their money and said they wanted to take a family vacation. So they loaded up their 12 passenger van, hooked up the pop-up camper and completed a tour of Western United States. This year they want to go to Colorado and ride in hot air balloons.
Over the past 10 years since they’ve owned the farm the focus has been on tearing down old rundown buildings and improving fence lines. Improvements to date on the property include a 48x52 hay barn, new fencing and cross fencing.
Besides the strawberry business, the Byler’s run a herd of 33 cattle they sell at auction. The Byler’s grow their vegetables. They have free range laying hens for eating and egg production. They’re raising two pigs for an additional meat source. The pigs will be butchered in early winter then Robert smokes the hams and bacon for future consumption.
Robert owns Topp Notch Builders and is a general contractor with three employees since 2008.
Future endeavors include expanding the produce they grow, adding more fence and cross fencing to rotate cattle and learn more about becoming bee keepers in the near future.
Clubs, church and community involvement include: Cleburne County Cattleman’s Association and help in local kid clubs; Members of the Mid-America Strawberry Growers Association; Members of the Christian Aid Ministries and Regional contact for disaster response services for the past 16 years; and last but not least they’re involved with the monthly quilting group.
Byler’s newspaper ad in The Sun-Times ends with, ‘O taste and see that The Lord is good, blessed is the man that trusteth in Him’.
So stop by the Byler Bunch Berries shed next year located at 1490 Mountain View Road in Drasco and taste and see how good their strawberries are…they pick’em you buy’em.