In the enormous expanse that is America, it's easy to forget what goes on outside of the big cities. But, oddly enough, that's where most of America resides. Even if we're not tied to the land, many of us have relatives or ancestors who were. That's why photographer Paul Mobley set out on his rural adventure: to put faces to the men and women who help nourish this country.
Doug Manning stands on his apple and sweetgrass farm in Empire, Mich., a village with a population of 378 in 2000.
Walter Jackson is 104 years old. He grows citrus in Vero Beach, Fla. Mobley says that during the project he asked anyone over 100 about the key to long life. Jackson looked to the sky and said something like, "The dear Lord has been good to me."
"There's a story behind each parcel of this ground," says Keith Nelson (left), posing with his son-in-law, Brian Lacina, and grandson, Trey Lacina, on their cattle farm in Crawford, Texas.
Don Bustos is an organic vegetable farmer in Espanola, N.M. "It's about having enough to eat and to grow and not abusing it because you realize you have to use that land for future generations."
Stan Horton (left) stands with his sons, Garrett, Shay and Brent on their alfalfa farm near Riverton, Wyo.
Alice Wiemers cultivates grain, and raises livestock and bees in Hondo, Texas. "We sweeten our beverages with honey, and I do some baking with it," she says. "No ma'am, we never get sick of it."
Mary Jane Strand and her son, Herman, gaze across their land. They raise cows, calves and sheep in Casper, Wyo.
Crosby Allen raises livestock in Lander, Wyo.
Thad and Andrea Dockery, cattle ranchers in Jeffrey City, Wyo., stand with their daughter, Laura. "We love our land and the way of life," says Andrea.
Dave Harris, cattle rancher in Crane, Mont., farms "for the peace of mind and the satisfaction and what God gives you back from the earth — the serenity... and the lack of conflict."
James Teter is a horse breeder and livestock rancher in Huntley, Mont.
"I've been ranching since day one," says Chuck Dallas, a sheep farmer in Wilsall, Mont. "The way I was raised, as soon as you were able to do something on the farm, you did it." He adds: "Raising sheep keeps you young. Sheep guys live longer than cow guys."
Imogene Yarborough with her sons, Bo and J.W., raise cattle in Geneva, Fla. The Yarborough farm has been in the family for five generations. "Right now," says Imogene, "if you are in the cow business, you either married it or inherited it — because of the price it takes to buy land and cattle, and to get set up. The value of the dollar is just not there. It takes so much more to live now."
Jules Marchesseault raises cattle in Dillon, Mont. "It's been a struggle," he says. "We came from the basement up."
Brooke Ryan Turner raises cows, kids and crops in Clarinda, Iowa. "I'm a cowboy poet," he says. "I've been singing since I was a little bitty tyke on the tractor."
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Mobley traveled over 100,000 miles to capture these portraits, and editor Katrina Fried collected the corresponding first-person narratives from the farmers. The result is the first series of modern American farmers ever published, with 200 images supplemented by Fried's oral history.
From cattle ranchers in Montana to orange growers in Florida, American Farmer: The Heart of Our Country catalogs the current landscape of American farming. These individuals exude such simple reverence for both the land and an endangered lifestyle; in turn, Mobley shows real reverence for his subjects. "Visit after visit, Mobley came to know the independent farmer's spirit from both behind the lens and across the dinner table." Take a look at the men and women he encountered, at faces of the people we often take for granted.