Farm Family of the Year: Stones earn county, district honors
By Haley Schichtl
Farming is truly a family affair for the Stone clan of Berryville. Mark Stone and his wife, Leah, started their farm 28 years ago and it has grown along with their family.
The Stones recently were named the Northwest Arkansas District Farm Family of the Year, after winning Carroll County honors earlier this year. Now, the Stone family is in the running for the state Farm Family title, which will be announced Dec. 10.
Mark and Leah Stone and their three children, Garrett, Landon and Marlea raise 196 cows, 10 bulls and 80,000 chickens on 960 acres in Berryville. The family is one of Tyson’s top 10 growers.
Mark Stone said the families in the competition are judged on their farming practices and their story.
“My dad was a hunter and we never did have a farm, but it was a dream of mine,” said Mark, a native of Dardanelle who moved to Berryville in January 1991 and began working as a night shift supervisor at Berryville’s Tyson plant after graduating from Arkansas Tech University. “When we came up here we started with 40 acres of leased ground and 18 head of cattle and just grew from there.”
The family has now run its farm for 28 years. Besides running the farm, Mark also is the owner and founder of Nighthawk Custom Firearms and Stone Washed Inc., a company that washes and disinfects poultry houses.
“My job was more behind the scenes,” Leah said. “I’ve helped around the yard, too, but I’ve kept their clothes clean and bellies full.”
Garrett Stone manages the cattle farm and helps the chicken farm managers, Johnny Palmer and Brett Britton.
“I’m in charge of the cattle mainly, but I do help them around those farms,” Garrett said. “It includes fencing, fixing — I’m really hands-on, so it’s a good position for me.”
Garrett is also working on his own business of distributing water tanks made from large recycled tires.
“Concrete tanks are expensive, and they could break or crack,” Mark said.
Garrett’s wife, Hannah, works as the director of marketing for Cornerstone Bank.
“She also puts up with me,” Garrett said.
Landon and Marlea Stone are both students at the University of Arkansas. Landon is a senior majoring in business management and Marlea is a junior studying agriculture business.
Marlea also works at Dogwood Canyon and has her own summer business — the Stone Ranch Riding School, teaching horse riding lessons on the family’s farm.
“I start off with the basics... then move them out to the sand arena we have,” Marlea said. “Then we’ll go on trail rides. We have up to two-hour trail rides I’ll take them on.”
Marlea said getting to take the kids out of the arena gives them good experience.
Landon also works as the marketing and social media director at Nighthawk.
Landon said he enjoys farming because there’s always something to do, and he likes to be productive.
“It’s always something different. There’s so many things that go into keeping the place up,” Marlea said. “It’s not like sitting in an office every day.”
Mark said he likes getting to spend so much of his time in nature.
“You get to live a life where you get to enjoy God’s creation,” Mark said. “Every time of year and every time of day is different and special in its own way.”
Mark said that although owning a farm can be tough, especially getting it started, things come together when you are persistent enough.
“I was working another job trying to pay for it because the cattle won’t pay for themselves and the land,” Mark said. “People have trouble getting started. There’s not a lot of money in it, but you build equity in the land.”
Extension agent Olivia Foster said the local farm family committee picks families in the area that have excelled in the farm industry to nominate.
“The district judging looked a little different this year because of the virus, so they were judged strictly on their booklet for the first round of judging,” Foster said.
She said for the state round, the eight district winners are competing against each other.
“Farming is different now than it used to be, and you have to do things differently if you want to try to make a profit,” district conservationist Kristin Whittmore said. “They’ve been really good at working through the USDA programs, through the Extension programs. Garrett took the Young Cattlemen’s Class we offered in the county.”
Whittmore said a farm family should be innovative and have a diversity in what they raise.
Mark Stone said the goal for the farm is to focus on efficiency. Some ways they have done this is by using the tire water tanks, installing electric fencing for intensive grazing, and owning equipment for producing higher quality hay. Intensive grazing reduces the need to spray fertilizer and maintains healthy grass which reduces soil erosion.