Disability Leads Kent Fann Back to the Family Farm
Just when Kent Fann thought he wanted to quit the agriculture business altogether, a life-changing event caused the Sampson County Farm Bureau member to want to return to the family farm as quickly as possible. That was 25 years ago.
Fann suffered a spinal cord injury during a go-kart accident, leaving him without the ability to walk. It was 1985, and veteran farmers remember a tough time for the agriculture industry.
“I needed to spend more time on the farm. I needed to spend more time at the race track. I needed to spend more time with the family. It just seemed like there was no way to do it all,” Fann says.
At the time of his accident, Fann was a spry, newly married 25-year-old working with his father. The Fanns have a long history in agriculture as the elder Fann rented his first field at age 11.
“But after the accident, my priorities were put in place, like it or not,” Fann says. “Those things that seemed important, you realize it was just a game I was playing over there. The important things are family and your faith that sustains you with that family. That’s what got me through the time I was injured.”
Nowadays, Fann navigates his family’s farm in a wheelchair or the pickup truck he calls his office. For many years, he operated tractors and combines with hand controls. But as the operation grew, Fann shifted his responsibilities, using the gift of adaptability—an attribute he counts as one of his most treasured characteristics.
“That’s one thing I always do. If I can’t be efficient, put somebody in there who can. You just make the best with what you do have. If you can’t do it, don’t be scared to ask for help,” Fann says.
Working His Way Back
To see Fann zipping around spacious Fann Farms near Spivey’s Corner in central Sampson County is not at all uncommon. How he arrived at that point took many years.
Fann remembers plans being made for him to return to the farm while he was still in a hospital bed. Before he could think about plowing a field or running a harvester, Fann spent a significant amount of time at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries.
“The thing they taught there was don’t be concerned with what you cannot do; be concerned with what you can do. And do everything you can,” Fann says. “They would make a positive out of anything.”
Fann distinctly remembers one particular incident that radiates within him today. He was still learning how to navigate a wheelchair in the hospital cafeteria and noticed another patient fall. As the staff helped this patient back into his wheelchair, everyone began to cheer. At first, Fann had no idea why. He later learned the cheers came because although the patient was severely paralyzed, the man managed to keep his head from striking the hard floor, training Fann says is crucial for anyone who is paralyzed whether they’re scooting on a sidewalk or next to a barn.
“That was a real eye opener,” Fann says. “I have fallen out of my chair from time to time. That happens. But dwell on what you can do and you’ll achieve and go a lot further.”
Activity On and Off the Farm
Fann Farms raises tobacco, cotton, peanuts and sweet potatoes on about 4,700 acres. Kent Fann and his wife, Terry, are joined by his parents (Kenneth and Virginia Fann), uncle (Keith and Sherry Fann), brother (Bennett and Valerie Fann) and son (Robert and Brittany Fann).
“Each one of our partners has got his area that’s his expertise. That’s one thing we try to do is let each individual take care of certain things. It spreads the load but then each one has got command of his operation,” Fann says.
When he’s not tending the farm or with family, Kent Fann can be found as a speaker with Open Door Ministries, a program with facilities in Magnolia and Clinton that offers six- and 12-week recovery programs from drug and alcohol addictions.
“When you have overcome experiences and hard times, it makes it a little easier to get through the next one,” Fann says. “There are going to be some frustrations in any limitations. An able- bodied person is even going to have limitations.
“It’s been 26 years now,” he adds. “I know what I can and can’t do. When I’m here on the farm, I’m in my element.”