07 May Meet Jenna
“So, is this your crew?” a man recently asked my dad. The two had been discussing our family business when I, my three sisters and my mom arrived on scene. My dad looked around at us five girls, smiled and replied, “Yep, this is my crew.”
We might not be your typical custom harvesting crew but that’s what we are—Zeorian Custom Harvesting. My name is Jenna Zeorian and I’m the 21-year-old daughter of custom combiners. I’ve spent every summer, since I was 2, on the road following the wheat harvest, and continue to do so today.
In the next couple of weeks I’ll be busy packing my things and preparing to head south for another summer of adventure. And this year, I’m taking you with me. I will be one of a two correspondents for High Plains Journal/Midwest Ag Journal’s All Aboard Wheat Harvest. This is a new print and online collaboration that will track the progress of custom harvesting crews like my family’s from Texas to Montana.
I’m looking forward to sharing a glimpse of my life as a member of a custom harvesting crew, especially since ours is completely family-run. My parents own and operate one combine and, therefore, do not hire any additional help. It’s just my parents, me, and my sisters. Needless to say, we operate a little differently from other, larger crews.
We typically leave our home in Manley, Neb., around the middle to end of May and are back by late August. This year, you’ll find us traveling north from western Oklahoma to western Kansas into eastern Colorado and finally to eastern Montana.
My parents, Jim and Tracy, both work in the field. My mom typically drives the combine and Dad drives truck, but it depends on the day and location.
So what does this leave me to do? I like to call it the “behind the scenes” work. I cook and deliver meals to the field, do the laundry and dishes, run errands, and take care of my two little sisters, Taylor (14) and Callie (11). I also help move equipment from field to field, go on parts runs, pull the combine header on moving days, and just generally try to help in the field whenever I can.
In case you’re keeping track, I’ve only mentioned four of the five girls. That’s because my older sister, Jamie, doesn’t make the harvest run anymore because of work. She would give anything to be able to go again, though, and we still claim her as part of the crew since, well, she is still part of the family!
Now that May has rolled around, a lot of my friends and family are surprised to hear that I’ll be leaving for harvest again this summer. But the fact is, my parents still need me and I still enjoy going. Actually, I love going. To me, there’s nothing better than being out on the road, going new places and meeting new people.
Custom harvesting is a lot of work—there’s no doubt about that—but there’s more to it than the work. Like my mom always says, custom harvesting isn’t just an occupation; it’s a way of life. And it’s the only way of life that I’ve ever known.
My mom’s grandfather started the custom harvesting business in the early 1950s. Her dad soon joined in and it became a father/son operation. In 1975, a young man joined the crew as a hired man. Years later, he and my mom were married. My parents bought a combine and started their own harvesting business in 1982. Together, my family has been in the business for nearly 60 years.
As a fourth-generation custom harvester, it’s basically in my genes to feel the need to head south when the weather warms and the wheat begins to turn. I get anxious to trade in my nine-month life as a college student, coffee shop barista, and “regular” person for my three-month life as a custom harvester.
I’m looking forward to sharing this part of my life with you, as I travel across the Midwest this summer. I hope you’ll get to know me and my family, gain a better understanding of the life we live and the way our crew runs, and be able to experience the ups and downs of custom harvesting through my eyes. I think it’s going to be a great journey.
Jenna Zeorian can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. All Aboard 2009 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.