Mike Videkovich unloads mineral supplement for his cows.

A Change of Scenery

Mike Videkovich pours a bag of mineral into a feeder and then hollers for the cows. “Giiiiiiieel! C’mere girls,” he bellows as the cows thunder up from the field. When asked what that first word was, Mike grins and shakes his head.

“I have no idea. I just try to imitate my father-in-law’s call for the cows,” he laughs. “I ask a lot of questions, but that’s one I’ve never asked.”

Asking questions has been a way of life for Videkovich ever since 2006 when he joined his father-in-law, Ray Noecker, in working full-time on the Pickaway County farm.

Before that, he was an IT supervisor for the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund and had no agriculture background. As Mike describes it, he married into farming.

“As a kid, my only interaction with farms was driving past them,” said Mike, who grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Centerville at age 12. “All that changed when I traded in a shirt and tie for jeans and a ballcap.”

The decision to switch careers came during a discussion Mike had with his wife, Kim, as they drove away from her family’s grain and Angus beef cattle farm in Ashville. For several years, the couple had been helping out on the farm, which Mike first visited when they were dating during college.

Knowing her husband wasn’t happy with his job, Kim gently suggested he quit and farm with her father. In the past, Mike had worked construction and enjoyed being outside.

“At first I was taken aback. It meant I would have to give up my salary, retirement, vacation, sick time, health care … it was a lot to take in. But I was needing a change from work, and Ray needed an employee so it made sense,” Mike said.

The couple talked it over with Ray and his wife, Donna, who does the farm’s bookkeeping and marketing of the grain. They decided to do a one-year trial to see how things went not only with the financials but relationships.

“Mike and my parents had a really good relationship and we didn’t want to jeopardize it,” said Kim, a human resources manager for the company Bath & Body Works.

On a rainy September day, father-in-law and son-in-law started working together with Ray apologizing for the weather conditions.

“I told (Ray) I’d golfed in worse weather and could manage this,” Mike said. “We were both nervous that day. I never thought it wouldn’t work; it was just trying to get over the nervousness of doing something new.”

Today Mike feels comfortable working around the farm whether it’s helping with harvest, hauling grain to the bin or moving the cows. To this day, he is still amazed by the size of the combine and in awe every time he sees a calf born and wobble up on all four legs for the first time.

“Mike feels what he does every day makes a difference—there are real dollar implications. It feels meaningful for him,” Kim said.

Mike jokes that everything he knows—or doesn’t know—about farming is because of his father-in-law. While he occasionally stumbles over the terminology, sometimes he likes to make up his own colorful descriptions. On this day, Mike calls the tractor that

Ray has just jumped into the “Popemobile,” and that’s exactly what it looks like.

“It’s entertaining at times when he describes things. He looks at things differently than I do,” Ray said of his son-in-law. “He’ll say ‘Why do you do that?’ and I have trouble explaining why. The things I know are because I’ve spent my life here.”

Mike said he now has a deep admiration for what farmers deal with daily.

“Growing up I had a rosy picture of what farming is and now I see what it’s really like,” he said. “It’s amazing how some people think what we’re doing is bad. We always do the best we can to take care of the animals and land.”

Saying he’s got a different perspective than those who grew up in agriculture, he’s become active in Ohio Farm Bureau, currently serving his third year as county president. He’s a graduate of the AgriPOWER Institute, an intensive, year-long leadership training program started by Ohio Farm Bureau that focuses on public policy issues confronting agriculture and the food industry.

“I don’t want to be complaining; I want to be part of the solution,” he said.

Participating in AgriPOWER and lobbying at the state capitol and in Washington, D.C. helped Mike go from listening quietly in the background to leading the conversation with legislators. He got to know his state representative, Steve Stivers, by campaigning with him door to door.

“AgriPOWER gave him some tools to help him be a better advocate. He’s able to see more clearly that as a farmer he can have a voice,” said Kim, noting her husband is similar to her father, who was president of Ohio Farm Bureau 1992-1994.

For Kim, she’s proud the farm continues to be run by family members. Ray’s grandparents A. Ray and Olive Plum started out with 105 acres, and today the family owns or rents 1,300 acres. The hope is to expand the farm enough so the couple’s three young boys have an opportunity to take over some day.

“We’re doing this because when our three little guys are in the tractor, they think it’s pretty cool and fun,” Mike said. “We hope they keep thinking that way in the future and that they want to stay here.”