The Miller family of DeKalb County has been honored as Indiana’s Farm Family of the Year.
The family was recognized Saturday during the Indiana Farm Bureau state convention in Fort Wayne. The award, given by Beck’s Hybrids and Indiana AgriNews each year, honors an outstanding Hoosier family for its farming efforts and community involvement.
The award was presented to Jim Miller and his wife, Diana; son Tom and his wife, Kate, and their child, Micah; daughter Suzi and her husband, Ed Spahr, and their children, Will, Zach and Katy; son Patrick and his wife, Christy, and their children, Austin and Colton; and son Matthew and his wife, Tierni, and their children, Parker, Anja, Owen and Ruby.
Miller Family Farms grows corn, soybeans and wheat north of Waterloo, where the family’s ancestors began farming in 1871.
Tom Miller represents the family’s fifth generation on the farm. He said his eye is on the next generation.
“That’s my No. 1 goal is life is to make this farm better for them. Just as my ancestors did for me,” he said.
“Our ancestors accomplished much, which has allowed us to expand our farm base and improve on their dedication and hard work,” Jim Miller said.
“We keep trying to improve the soil, improve our farming practices,” Jim Miller added. “and hopefully I’ve taught Tom this, and he will pass it on to his son: We’re here for a very short time, and it’s my responsibility, whether I rent the ground or own the ground, to leave it in better shape than I received it. It’s our way of life.”
Jim Miller said he was pleasantly surprised and humbled to be honored as the Farm Family of the Year.
In the family’s business structure, Jim and Diana own J&D Family Farms, and Tom and Kate own TK Family Farms. The farm machinery is owned by J&D Family Farms Machinery, and the trucks and grain trailers are owned by Miller Family Farms Trucking.
“Each separate entity is one segment of a total farming operation,” Jim Miller explained. “Each person provides their expertise to the farming operation. That makes for a great working environment and a very successful farm.”
Tom Miller also operates a seed business, Pinnacle Seed, which is a Beck’s Hybrids dealership.
Jim and Tom Miller work together daily with one full-time employee, Drew Freed, and several part-time employees during peak seasons.
The father and son each have their own land.
“I’ve always felt it is important for the next generation to reap the rewards of our hard work by owning their own farmland. This is a lesson I learned from my father, and I believe it is a lesson well learned by my son,” Jim Miller said. “Even though Tom and I, along with our wives, each have our own farm land, we do everything necessary to make sure all the acres of the two operations are done on time.”
Tom is a “top-notch” business partner and negotiates all of the machinery purchases, Jim Miller said.
Tom founded a separate company to manufacture and sell snowplows. The plows also can be used in dairy and beef operations as a way to clean out free-stall cattle barns.
“I’ve been able to achieve the American dream with that company,” Tom Miller said. “We sold that company to a major snowplow manufacturer a year ago in January.”
Diana Miller provides her expertise as the bookkeeper for all of the family’s business enterprises, including the trucking company, all the farm entities, and the seed business. She spent nearly 30 years as a Farm Service Agency employee doing various jobs, including serving as a county reviewer traveling throughout the state of Indiana. She ended her career as the FSA county executive director of Allen County.
Kate Miller works as a nurse at a local hospital and provides additional help on her days off by providing meals to all working hands during the planting and harvesting seasons.
Suzi Spahr works for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and manages the Indiana Grown buy-local program.
Through Spahr’s work for former Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Department of Agriculture, the family has hosted many guests, including state legislators, on the farm to provide them an opportunity to learn about agriculture and to tell Miller Family Farms’ story.
“The experiences and unending questions from our visitors is a testament to how effective this program is,” Jim Miller said. “If only one state representative understands agriculture better, then agriculture as a whole will have one more ally in the Statehouse.”
Also in the family’s community involvement, Jim Miller serves on the DeKalb County Farm Bureau board of directors and as its legislative liaison. He is president of the DeKalb Central Foundation and is a member of the DeKalb High School ag advisory board, DeKalb County Extension board of directors and Smithfield Township board of trustees.
Jim Miller previously was president of the DeKalb Central s board and a member of the Indiana School Board Association, a member of the DeKalb County Plan Commission, a board member for DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District and adult leader for Smithfield Township 4-H.
Jim Miller said he is especially proud of volunteering for DeKalb County HOPE, or Helping Our Pupils Exceed. He has been on the board of directors for eight years and, for five years, spent an hour a week at a school to mentor a child.
Diana Miller is a member of the Sweet Adelines quartet and performs at local retirement homes. She also has been a church organist for more than 50 years.
The Miller family has provided a $500 scholarship to a graduating senior at DeKalb High School for the past 22 years. The family also provides money for the township’s 4-H livestock auction purchases each year.
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