Farm Family of the Year: McMahans reflect on generations of hard work
By Samantha Jones
Farm Family of the Year isn’t just an award for Josh and Tonya McMahan. It’s a lifestyle for the McMahans, who got their start with help of Josh’s dad and grandpa in 1999.
Josh said his dad, Scott, owns four chicken houses across the road from his family farm, saying he was raised on the farm working on chicken houses. He knew he wanted to be a farmer, Josh said, and his dad and grandpa, Keith, helped make that happen.
“When the opportunity came up, he put in four more houses here for me,” Josh said. “He and Grandpa helped a lot to get the farm going. They deserve this more than I do.”
His dad did all the bulldozer work, Josh said, and his grandpa helped any way he could. When they first began working on the chicken houses, Tonya said, they didn’t have the sophisticated cooling systems they use now.
“Back then, you had to drag hoses to the chicken houses to cool them,” she said. “Right before we got married, it was like 120 degrees every day. Me and him and his dad and grandpa were out there with water hoses just dragging them up and down spraying chickens.”
She continued, “I’d come out of there with feathers in my hair and I thought, ‘I’ll have to get used to this.’ I think that was the test of whether I want to marry him or not.”
The hard work has paid off, Josh said. Today, he and Tonya share the farm with their five children: Trinity, Jacob, Chloe, Lily and Zachary. Josh said they have made improvements to the chicken houses over the years, installing new LED lighting and natural gas.
“Natural gas helped a lot,” Josh said. “We were on propane for years.”
Tonya remembered what the farm was like before the upgrades, saying she and Josh moved onto the property the same year they got married. They started dating in 1995 when she was working at Main Theater, Tonya said, and Josh slipped her a note asking if she wanted to go out with him.
“I still have the sticky note,” Tonya said. “We’ve been together ever since.”
What drew her to the McMahan family, Tonya said, is their dedication to their faith.
“His family actually got me going to church,” Tonya said. “I learned a lot through them.”
They got engaged on Christmas Eve in 1998, Josh said, after he spent the summer cutting cedar logs to save up for an engagement ring.
“We were pretty much babies,” Tonya said. “It’s hard to imagine now that we have kids who are the age we were when we started dating. It’s surreal.”
In addition to running the chicken houses, the family raises cattle and grows produce.
“It’s been great. I’ve got all this help,” Josh said. “We’ve got a few feed pan and feed helpers.”
When each of the kids turn 10, Josh said, their grandparents give them a cow. Jacob, 17, said he likes working with the hay.
“Just right now, we’re finishing that up,” Jacob said. “I enjoy doing that.”
Zachary, 6, said he’s fond of doing the feed pens, and Chloe, 14, said she enjoys taking care of the Basset hounds.
“She’s our basset farmhand,” Tonya said. “She likes taking care of the dogs.”
Lily, 11, said she loves working with the horses.
“They’re tall and they can run fast,” Lily said.
For 19-year-old Trinity, growing up on the farm has been full of life lessons. Trinity said she’s learned a lot from her dad’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“He gets an idea, he’ll research it and he’ll go in and do it,” Trinity said. “He just got bumblebees out there two weeks ago after researching it. It’s really neat, and I love helping him with his ideas.”
Raising kids on the farm, Josh said, has many benefits. He said it’s important for kids to know where their food is coming from.
“A lot of kids don’t realize their food doesn’t just come from the grocery store,” Josh said. “It has to start on a farm somewhere.”
Working on the farm from an early age, Tonya said, has taught everyone in the family about the value of hard work.
“Our kids work for what they have and they appreciate it,” Tonya said. “I feel like too many kids these days don’t know what it’s like to work for what they have. Our kids pay their own phone bills. They pay for their own vehicles.”
She continued, “We want them to learn it’s not all free. Everything comes by hard work, and we want them to appreciate the hard work and know there’s something good that comes from it. I feel like they’ve learned that. They do appreciate everything they have.”
Josh said he’s thankful for everything he and his family have today.
“It’s been a real blessing,” he said. “Everything we have has come from God. We appreciate our kids, our home and our farm. I wouldn’t want it to be any different.”