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BROTHERS IN FARMS: Brainard boys living their best lives in agriculture
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BROTHERS IN FARMS: Brainard boys living their best lives in agriculture

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When COVID-19 sent kids across the nation home in March, Justin and Jason Bongers seized the opportunity to undertake farm improvement projects.

But that’s just like them, according to their mother, Sandy Bongers.

The Bongers live on a farm just west of Brainard, a town of 330 located in Butler County. The boys’ father, Jerry Bongers, cares for cattle and raises corn, soybeans, wheat and hay to feed them. Sandy teaches family and consumer science at East Butler High School. Meanwhile, Justin, 14, and Jason, 12, are both in middle school at East Butler. They don’t have a PlayStation, an X-Box or a family computer, and the TV in the Bongers’ residence only gets about 15 channels.

“Weather and the news,” Sandy laughed, leaning against her kitchen counter one evening in late July.

When the boys aren’t in school or at basketball or cross country practice, there’s not much else to do but stay outside and be productive. And on a farm, there’s always work to be done.

Since the pandemic moved school online in the spring, Justin and Jason have fixed up a Jon boat and a hay bale trailer, grown a pumpkin patch and vegetable garden, tended to their chicken coup, started a goldfish-selling business and still found time to help their dad on the farm and bring a pen of three broilers to compete in 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) events at the Butler County Fair.

Justin also spent six weeks of the summer roguing to make some money. He already has some ideas about how to spend it, too – he’s thinking he might buy a few cows for him and his brother to start raising.

“I’ll be 14 in August and it’s something to play around with, maybe. If you don’t like it, you end up selling them. If you like it, maybe you grow a little bigger or keep it small,” Justin said.

Sandy said she admires her sons’ initiative.

“When you’re 13-years-old and you’re thinking of investing in some cows, I think that’s kind of impressive,” Sandy said. “It’s like, ‘Well, I’m going to be 14. What am I doing? I should have cows.’”

Justin only shrugged.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.

The boys are keenly aware of the issues facing farmers today and into the future.

“It’s becoming harder and harder if someone wants to farm that’s never had farming in their family. It’s hard for them to get started,” Jason said.

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“First of all you need land, and then you have to have the expensive machinery to farm it,” Justin added.

“It’s not like you just decide to farm,” Jason finished.

Like most farmers, the Bongers boys are developing an eye for the long view.

For example, Sandy said, many people are putting up chicken houses in the area. Although Justin and Jason won’t graduate high school for several more years, they are already thinking about what that means for them.

Demand is high right now, Justin said, but that may change.

“In five years you’ll know how that went – who stuck with it, the condition of those houses, was it worth that investment,” Sandy said.

The boys have a lot of admiration for farming – and especially for their dad.

“I love helping my dad and making him happy. That’s one of my favorite things,” Justin said.

Otherwise, Justin said his favorite farm jobs are working cattle and making an electric fence to keep them contained.

“I like when you work cattle and you get to the pasture and you just open it and they just all walk out into the green grass,” Jason said, smiling.

They don’t know, yet, if they will go into farming like their dad. But, they said, the skills they’re acquiring now will carry over into whatever profession they pursue. A strong work ethic will certainly serve them well no matter what they decide to do.

“I will be anxious to see if they want to farm - if they want to do something different. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. There’s no pressure here from Jerry and me. It’s whatever they want to do,” Sandy said.

For now, at least, Justin and Jason do take a lot of pride in farming.

“Making no money and yet feeding the world. Why we do it, no idea. But we do it. Somebody has to,” Justin said.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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