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A beauty and her 'beast': Rita Wooden has love of tractors, farming

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By Becca Owsley

On a small tobacco farm in Eastview, Rita Wooden’s father put her on a tractor when she was 12 years old. Today, at 55, farming is in her blood.

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“There’s never a time when I feel closer to God than when I’m out in the field on a tractor,” she said. Wooden’s favorite tractor is one she calls “the beast.”

She once told her sister-in-law she would never marry a farmer.

“Boy, have I had to eat those words,” Wooden said.

She’s not just a farmer’s wife; she is a woman who farms. Wooden stressed there is a difference. Many farmers’ wives work outside the home. Wooden works on the farm right along side her husband, Steve, at Wooden Farms and has done so since they were married.

Her father-in-law, who died in 2007, was a great encourager to Wooden.

“He had the patience of Job,” she said.

He helped her learn a lot about farming. She remembers making a few mistakes at first but took some advice from her father-in-law.

After one mistake he told her, “If you mess up, don’t keep messing up.”

She later realized the wisdom in his words. Everyone gets off track from time to time, but people don’t seem to remember they don’t have to stay off track. They can get it right, she said.

It’s sometimes difficult to find friends who understand what she’s going through as a woman who farms. She has dear friends, but most don’t do what she does. Many farming women’s groups include landowners or farm wives but not many full-time farmers.

As a farmer, she takes great pride in her role in the world.

Work of a farmer, producing food and other products, touches everyone in the world. They are the backbone of everything, she said.

She hopes to see farmers in the same status of doctors and lawyers someday because, with all they do, they are as important, she said.

Because the farming community is one that helps each other, she likes to do things to support and promote farming. Wooden was involved in the Heartland Festival agriculture village during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans celebration. The exhibit showed how agriculture had changed since that war.

Working on the project showed her how well people work together.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with,” she said.

That project later won a national Farm Bureau award.

She knows farmers are there to help each other when in need. When her father-in-law died, she was at her lowest point and her fellow farmers were there.

“If you have a friend and he’s a farmer, you better count your blessings because you know he’s really a friend,” she said.

Also, people probably would be surprised to find out how educated and talented many farmers are, she said.

Wooden always wanted to go to college, but because of responsibilities at home, she wasn’t able to go when she was younger.

She loved school so much she would cry every time the school bus picked up her younger sisters.

After she married, she went back to school and received a master’s degree in counseling, while still running tractors on the farm. She did not work in that field long. She had it better on the farm, she said.

She started growing pumpkins and mums 15 years ago after finishing her degree. Wooden knows many farms need a sideline sometimes. The weekends are busy with the pumpkins and mums business, but her heart remains out on a tractor, she said.

Even though she puts in 14-hour days and comes in exhausted, if she’s been out on a tractor, she doesn’t feel like she’s been working, Wooden said.

She also has an artistic side. Wooden has loved drawing since she was a child. When she’s waiting on her husband at a sale, she sits in the truck and draws.

She started painting pumpkins she sold and then decided to paint gourds. She designs them freehand and uses a wood-burning tool and leather dies to create art out of the gourds grown on her farm. Her art has been displayed at shows and has won awards.

Wooden would love to create art for a living some day, as long as she could still drive a tractor. 

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

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