Christopher Hart almost didn’t tell his wife, Samantha, that they had won the title “Farm Family of the Year.” The Abilene Chamber and the Taylor County AgriLife Extension Service honors a local farmer each year with this award, notifying the recipient in the fall, and presenting the award in the spring.
But Christopher kept the information tucked away to himself, not wanting to brag about the attention. One day he told his wife something else he had forgotten to mention and she said, “Is there anything else you forgot to tell me?”
He said, “Oh yeah, we won this award.”
Sounds like a familiar marriage conversation.
“I don’t need any recognition,” Christopher said, “doing what I do for a living is a reward enough.”
At the same time, he knew his grandpa, Robert Stephan, would’ve been proud. He had also been a farmer, and also won the Taylor County Farm Family award in 2017. Stephan passed away in October.
“My grandpa and I were super close,” Christopher said. “I worked a lot with him, and when I had problems, I asked him.”
Samantha & Christopher Hart met in 2003 in Merkel through Christopher’s cousins. They went to college together in San Angelo, where Christopher studied ag business. He knew he wanted to get into farming somehow, but after graduation, moved to Oklahoma to work in the oil business.
Layoffs and changes in the oil business pushed him back to Abilene to sell insurance and begin farming. He started custom wheat harvesting, bringing different equipment to farms from Texas to Oklahoma.
“We had just started our family, and he didn’t want to be traveling for weeks and months at a time.” Samantha said.
With encouragement from his grandpa, access to farmland, and some loans, he launched his own farm growing wheat and cotton. Today he grows 65% wheat, 35% cotton and has built his business to 8,000 acres, one full-time employee, seasonal employees, lots of farm equipment, and one trusty pickup truck.
“I was very proud of him,” Samantha said. “You’re 36 and there’s so many farmers around. I know it’s a family award but he’s built the whole thing.”
Farming is a tough business to enter for young people, Christopher said. That’s because the cost to get started is so high and the knowledge of how to do it well comes from experience, not a textbook. It took years of trial and error and making often costly mistakes for him to be successful.
“Almost everything I know about farming, I learned from messing up,” Christopher said. “When you mess up on a large scale, you learn expensive lessons. I’m sure I’m not through learning them.”
On a typical day, Christopher is up at 5 a.m. to lift weights or run, then take kids to track practice and school. He then spends the morning in the office, checking on his full-time employee, before going out to run errands or go to various fields. During different times of the year, he can work until midnight running equipment on the crops.
But a lot of the day is spent doing things you wouldn’t expect for a farmer. Managing employees, fertilizer, seeds, and equipment that are double the cost they were a few years ago means spending hours finding ways to not waste a penny.
“There’s so much technology, a lot of math, a lot of numbers,” Christopher said. “You gotta know how to work on things that break down, you can’t wait for a mechanic.”
Samantha spends the days running her online boutique called PinkHart Boutique and chauffeuring their three children to various activities. Ryder is 13, Mason is 11, and Sadie is 7 and they go to Wylie schools.
The boys have helped in the fields before. As the oldest, Ryder has spent the most time out there, learning how to use the equipment, plowing, and driving the pickups.
“They get a lot of skills that other kids don’t get,” Christopher said. “They can look at a mechanical problem, and solve it just by being with me and seeing me solve problems.”
The Hart family received their award at the Taylor County Farm and Ranch Expo in February, 2023.
By Haley Laurence
Photos By Shayli Anne Photography