Featured In This Episode

Erin Holbert, Farmer and Entrepreneur

Guest | Farmer and Entrepreneur

Erin Holbert

Host | Ag Over Easy

Janice Person

Still hungry for more?

We’ve dished up a nice helping of additional information and inspiration from Erin and her business ventures.

- Welcome to Ag Over Easy, the podcast from Channel where you get breakfast with a side of agronomic insight. I'm your host, Janice Person, and today we're having biscuits and gravy with our guest Erin Holbert. Erin's a farmer and small business owner whose personality and perspective on farming has earned her a considerable following across social media. Last year, she started her own ag-inspired clothing company called Heart of the Midwest, which donates a portion of its profits to support farmers with disabilities. Let's jump right in and learn more about Erin's take on Midwestern farm life, and running a business. Hey Erin, it's good to have you here.

- Thanks for having me, Janice.

- So what's an ideal day look like on the farm?

- An ideal day is where nothing goes wrong, which is very few and far between. And honestly, it changes every day. It depends on the weather, it depends on my dad's mood, more heavily on my dad's mood then. But lately, in the harvest, it's pretty much just getting there, servicing everything, making sure everything's fueled up, ready to go, heading to the field as long as everything's dried off, and then pretty much spending the next 12 hours, you know, in the auger cart and combine.

- Yeah, tell me about what you would consider kinda your ag journey. What all have you done? 'Cause you know, watching you on Instagram, you kinda get a feeling of the day-to-day, but like, the rest of Erin's ag journey.

- Yeah, so obviously I grew up on the family farm, in the ag industry, went to Purdue, had a couple of internships there with different ag companies, which led into a full-time job after I graduated. So I was a sales agronomist for Cargill up in Michigan until they sold that business unit, and I was lucky enough to get a job as a seed DSM for a regional seed company and was able to move back home. Did that for several years and just got tired of selling, basically. And so I was lucky enough to come back to the family farm, to work for my dad.

- And so how long have you been back on the farm?

- I've been back on the farm for close to two years now.

- Wow. And during that time, not only have you been farming, it is funny watching you work a grain wagon, girl. I mean, you seem to have a lot of fun on the farm while you're getting work done, but you've also started a business. What led you to that?

- Well, I just decided that I wasn't busy enough and I was getting too much sleep. So I thought, you know what, let's go ahead and start a small business in the middle of harvest. This seems like a great idea. Let's throw that Wi-Fi router and laptop in the tractor of the auger car and let's get it going.

- You know, people who are used to you can't see your facial expressions and stuff right now, but we know how your eyes are rolling around, and some of the faces you're probably making as you're like, "Oh yeah, I'm not busy enough."

- Yeah. I'd actually had the idea, I see all these cute ag shirts for livestock people, you know, the cows with the bandanas, things like that. And I was like, like my dad said, you know, we don't do livestock. And I thought I would like to have a shirt that, that is more suited towards me, along the grain side of things. So I had these shirts actually drawn up for two or three years and I finally was like, you know what, I'm gonna do it. And so I just got a few made, and thought that I would have to give them away as Christmas gifts because no one would buy them, and they sold out within two hours and I was like, oh, we're gonna need to order more and actually make this a legitimate business with the IRS before I go to jail.

- So there may have been a few people that had pent up demand like you had.

- Yes.

- Well, tell me, how did you come up with the idea of Heart of the Midwest? You said that you always wanted t-shirts that kind of reflected your part, but how did you decide to make it a business?

- So, I decided to go ahead and just go all in with the Heart of the Midwest business, obviously with the prices of crops these days, things are not exactly rosy in the ag industry. They're obviously getting better, but last year I was like, you know what, I went from being a DSM for a seed company, who made pretty good money for being not that far out of college, to going back to the family farm, and that was honestly a huge pay cut for me. So I was like, I've got to do something to make a little money on the side, but I was like, if I'm going to be making this money, it's giving me the opportunity to give back. So that's why I decided to go ahead and donate a portion of each sale to AgrAbility.

- That's great. How did you find AgrAbility, and why does it stand out to you?

- Yeah, so AgrAbility was actually the philanthropy of my Sigma Alpha chapter. Most of the money that we raised went to them. They have a headquarters at Purdue, which was kind of cool. And also, there are some local people that have benefited from it, people who have lost a leg, or something along those lines, where they came in and they built lifts up to their tractors and combines. And I know how much that helped both that individual person, and the rest of the people on that farm. Interesting how much of a difference something so little can make. It just really got me because obviously, farming runs in my blood, in the ag industry, and just being able to help people continue to do what they love.

- Is there a special sense of pride for the Midwest?

- Yes, I love the Midwest. I've been all around the world, I did a semester abroad, I've been blessed and lucky enough to have gone to a lot of the states in the United States, and I just think that the Midwest is something special and I think it's extra special because people always forget about it. You know, you think about East Coast and West Coast, but you never really care about those flyover states, and I just think there's so much overlooked.

- Do you have a chance to talk to very many people from the Coast about the Midwest by your social channels or something?

- Yeah, actually I seem to have hit more of those people on YouTube. I just started a YouTube channel about six weeks ago, and before that, most of my viewership was in the Midwest or in other ag communities in different countries. But with YouTube, I feel like I've hit a much larger audience, including those people on the coast and in areas that normally wouldn't think about agriculture.

- So do your friends and others locally pay attention to what you're doing online?

- They do, but mostly just to make fun of me.

- So, how else do you connect with folks locally?

- Yeah, so I honestly feel that our farming community is pretty close knit. We would do anything for a neighbor, you know, if someone's combine burns up, or they get sick, we're there. And I feel like that's not, it's not like that in every area.

- Yeah, yeah, so do you ever actually see Heart of the Midwest t-shirts in the wild, like around your town or anything?

- Yes, it's so exciting. I think I was most excited at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville last February. That was the first time I saw someone who, you know, I didn't grow up with, or who wasn't a family member, wearing my shirts.

- Yeah.

- I saw several people, and I was that girl, like I was fangirling. I literally ran across the aisle and about tackled this woman. And I was like, "oh my goodness, you are wearing my shirt. Thank you so much." And actually, we became good friends and I went to visit them this summer, so I'm glad she didn't think I was too much of a creep.

- Do you have other fun stories with some folks who've bought it? I know you get Instagram stories and photos from people a good bit of the time. Have you had any that stand out?

- I think the one that has stood out the most, actually was at the National Farm Machinery Show as well. I had a high school girl, she was there with her FFA, come up to me and just, she just wanted a picture with me, which was the sweetest thing in the entire world. And I was completely blown away and she didn't really stay to talk much. She kind of ran away and then she messaged me later on Instagram to tell me how much she looked up to me. And that's when it kind of clicked that I was like, "Oh, oh no, people are looking at me as a role model." Like, I gotta really step up to the plate here.

- Yeah. What's your advice for somebody like that girl who was so excited to meet you at Farm Machinery Show?

- I would say just go for it. I mean, definitely do your research and make sure that you're doing it with a, with a well-thought-out plan and strategy, but just go for it. I wish I would have started Heart of the Midwest three years before, when I first had the idea for it. And then I would have been three years ahead of where I am right now, and who knows where I could be.

- So where would you like to be in another three years?

- That is a very good question. Hopefully I can continue to grow the little Heart of the Midwest community that I seem to somehow have, and continue to meet people in real life and just take advantage of all the connections.

- I love it. It seems to me like you, with the farming and with the side gig, it's kinda like biscuits and gravy. You've got a main course, but you also got that sweet sauce on the side.

- Yes, and it's also a huge mess.

- I love it. Life with Erin, a huge mess, like biscuits and gravy. Thanks, Erin. We appreciate your joining us and talking about what you're doing with your business.

- Of course, anything for you, Janice.

- Erin made a few points that really stick with me. Her business has proved that there is no time like the present. There's never going to be a perfect time to step outside your comfort zone, so just go for it, and don't underestimate your own creativity. If you truly believe something's a good idea, there may be a whole group of people out there who think so too. And finally, Erin reminds us how important it is, in the ag business, to help our neighbors. What starts as a side hustle can turn into an opportunity to support others in need. That's a wrap for this episode of Ag Over Easy, the Channel podcast where you get breakfast served with a side of agronomic insights. Be sure to subscribe at Ag Over Easy wherever you listen to podcasts, or at agovereasy.com.

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