Leaving the Farm



When Eric Overton comes to Duke this fall, he will leave behind his mother, father, and younger brother and the dairy farm in Speedwell, Tennessee, that members of his family have worked for seven generations.

Overton’s great-grandfather started the farm in the late 1920s with a herd of Holsteins. Today, the Overtons work only about 200 acres of the original farm. They lease the remaining 1,000 acres to neighbors. His family grows crops such as corn, wheat, and hay, but their prize possessions are the Holsteins, currently numbering around 140. “We actually have a fairly small farm,” he says. “Some commercial farms have thousands of cows at a time.”

Overton says he loves the farm, but he acknowledges that there are drawbacks: “For the past two summers, I’ve had to wake up at four a.m. and work for six hours on the farm. Then I have to milk and feed the heifers until lunch time.” He reasons that a schedule like that “really forces you to learn a sense of responsibility. You always have something to do. You always have to have good time management and motivation and always a good work ethic.”

Three years ago, Overton was nearly killed in a freak accident on the farm. While helping out with a haunted hayride for his church youth group, he lost his bearings and drove into a barbed wire fence. Seven of the barbs went through his neck, tearing out his esophagus and larynx. He has been forced to adjust to speaking through a prosthetic voice box and to breathing through his neck. But he maintains a positive, inspiring outlook. “After all the wonderful doctors I had after the accident, I really want to be a doctor now. I want to stay nearby the farm, so that I can always help out if they need me, but I definitely want to be a doctor.”

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