The Bartaks of Anselmo, Nebraska pride themselves on one thing: growing food, and growing it well. Whether it is growing corn and beans in the summer or looking after cattle in the winter, the Bartak men are always busy with something. They may not be household names nor farming a big media draw, but the Bartaks want to change that. In partnership with Cooperative Producers, Inc. (CPI), the Bartaks recently launched their online web series Growing Season, which provides an intimate look at farming and rural culture. The year-long docudrama follows the everyday adventures of Bartak Brothers, Inc., the company founded by Bruce and Joel Bartak. These days the two brothers leave most of the fieldwork to their sons, who play the main characters in the show.
“I’ve been on the farm for the last eight to nine years,” Zach Bartak told me.
Zach is oldest of Bruce’s sons and is currently foreman on the 18,000-acre farm. The 30-year-old appears on the show along with two of his brothers, Blake and Jeff, and his cousins, Evan and Adam (and, of course, their dads). Evan is the youngest, having just graduated from college in 2012. With this being his second year back on the farm, Evan is adjusting remarkably well to both work and the television crew hovering over his shoulder.
You can watch the entire first episode of Growing Season on CarbonTV by clicking here.
“I’ve been doing it forever. It’s what we do,” Evan said about farming in general.
While at school, Evan studied agricultural economics but he says his mind was always on the farm.
“In grade school when they ask you what you want to do, everybody picks things like astronaut or police officer. I wanted to be a farmer.”
Evan admitted that at the time his choice was neither popular nor cool but by the time he got to high school, he knew it was the path he wanted to take. He also shared with a chuckle that people ask him a lot about why he went to college if he was going to be working on a farm. Evan said that although a degree may not give him an advantage in the fields, he feels better equipped to handle all the other duties that running a farm entails—such as managing finances or talking to crop consultants.
“It was a great experience and it gave me a lot of tools, but now’s the time when I learn how to use those tools,” he said.
It’s no great secret that working on a farm is hard work with few days off. After all, there is always something to be done. This means the Bartak family is constantly working together, whether it be checking in on calves in the freezing early morning or managing prescribed burns. Both Zach and Evan agree that working with family can be trying at times.
“Not everyone sees eye-to-eye all the time,” Zach said.
Everybody seems to have an opinion on just about everything. Butting heads is not uncommon, especially among the Bartak boys. However, Zach and Evan also said that they would have it no other way.
“When you’re family you can have an argument or two and its no big deal,” Zach added.
“Working with family is one reason I do what I do,” Evan confided. “You don’t have to waste much time consulting everybody, you usually know what their opinions are on a certain thing.”
Just like their fathers, the Bartak boys are close. While they might not technically be brothers, Evan shared that they spent so much time together growing up that there isn’t much of a difference. As the oldest, Zach said he tries to make sure everybody gets along and work gets done.
“I suppose when you grow up the oldest you get used to bossing your brothers around. It never really changed I guess,” he continued.
But changes did come when the Bartaks were offered an opportunity to star in a new show that wanted to take a behind-the-scenes look at life on a farm. That meant that the family suddenly found themselves trailed by a camera crew as they went about their business. By now, they are mostly adjusted to life under the lens, but they say it took some doing.
“It took a little bit of getting used to,” Zach explained. “You’re always wondering how you look and how dumb you look at first. Now, you just go about what you do and [the camera crew] is pretty good about not getting in your way. It gets to be like second nature after a while.”
The Bartak’s newfound publicity also meant a lot more interviews for Zach and Evan, much like this one. They’re also taking this in stride, although Evan said that he gets a lot of the same questions. Things like “how is life on a farm?” or “what do you grow?” Both of them seem resigned to the fact that there will be even more interviews if the show becomes a big hit like Duck Dynasty.
“I don’t know if we’re that interesting but if everyone thinks so, hey that’s good,” Zach said, adding that even as a hunter, he didn’t expect duck calls to get that big of a following either.
Zach is often thought of as the family’s biggest deer hunter, something that he modestly plays down by saying all his brothers hunt. Near the end of our talk he regaled me with a tale of him stalking a whitetail buck in his socks—in the middle of December.
“It was muzzleloader season and it wasn’t a huge buck by national standards, but by Nebraska standards it was the biggest buck I‘ve seen,” he said. “All the leaves were on the ground and I was making too much noise crunching them so I guess I gave it a shot in nothing but my socks. I ended up 12 yards away from the deer when I took the shot.”
When asked about his cold and soggy socks, Zach said he didn’t notice much.
“With the adrenaline I didn’t even notice. It wasn’t a freezing day. By the time I walked back to camp I was pretty cold,” he said.
When he’s not hunting or working, Zach takes time out to review episodes of Growing Season. When CPI and the Bartaks first embarked on the show, the goal was to educate farmers about new products that can improve their crops. Now, a large part of the audience will be people who know little about farming or the culture that is behind it.
“I want people to know about the hard work and the hours that all farmers put in. I’m not sure if many people know how much effort goes into the process of making food,” Zach said.
The show takes an educational approach and delves into the Bartaks’ routine chores. For farmers and livestock producers, Growing Season offers a slice-of-life look into an American family. For the rest of us, Growing Season shows what it means to be one of those farmers.
As Evan says, “farming’s a lifestyle.”
Images courtesy CPI/Growing Season