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2012 Workshop in Henderson, Kentucky - Story list

A Hometown Hero

Julia Wall

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Robbie Williams drives home after checking on his leased farmland just outside Hebbardsville. Robbie owns 600 acres of farmland and leases around 5,000 additional acres all over Henderson County. To oversee the land, Robbie does a lot of driving.

The soil in Henderson County has been farmed for generations. The Williams Farm, like many others, is a result of decades of painstaking work, hardship and triumph.

Owner Robbie Williams owns a 600-acre plot of land on which he lives and raises soybeans, wheat, corn and cattle. He and his wife, Liz, have two daughters, Anna, 8, and Caroline, 19. Like many farmers, Robbie doesn't just farm in one place but also leases around 5,000 additional acres from nearly 20 landowners all over the county. He oversees several employees on his leased and owned land and is "constantly solving problems," he says. "It's kind of like playing a chess game."

Although problem solving is a large part of being the boss of an enormous operation, Robbie sees his work as deeply rooted in his family and in himself. "We need to all appreciate everything before us, " he said.  "All the hard stuff was done by the people before us." Robbie is tied to his family's farmland. He farmed some of the same lands he lives on today with both of his grandfathers.

In 2004 the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce named Robbie the "Agriculturist of the Year" for his immense support of the agriculture sector. Although farming is a way of life for Robbie, he also has a passion for land that involves more than just sowing seeds — and caring for more than just his own land.

In December 2011, with the encouragement of state officials, Robbie and five partners — Will Esche; Tommy Dempewolf and his son, Tom; and brothers Scott and Houston Keach — purchased some 650 acres of wetlands located near Henderson's John James Audubon State Park. The six friends pooled their resources to build trails and wheelchair-accessible boardwalks that were designed by Will, who was left a quadriplegic by an accident in 1992 but who nonetheless helped operate construction equipment during the construction effort.

It was part of a vision to have the land acquired by the state of Kentucky and incorporated into Audubon Park. Because of their efforts, the group was recognized by the Henderson Rotary Club with a Hometown Hero Award.

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Robbie Williams passes the cypress trees on the wetland plot he and five friends purchased for the nearby John James Audubon State Park. The cypress trees are home to bald eagles during certain parts of the year. Since December 2011 the six friends have built a handicapped-accessible boardwalk and cleared more than two miles of trails. "A good farmer and a good environmentalist are the same thing," Robbie says.

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A small deer crosses a trail in the John James Audubon Park. Mark Kellen, the manager of the park, says, "Seventy percent of people that come here, come to hike," Kellen said.

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Robbie Williams (from left), Steve Frank and David McLevain chat in the Hebbardsville Store, owned by Jerry Knott. The store is also known as Bryant's Grocery and Carter's Dry Goods & General Store. Robbie doesn't visit the country store every day and doesn't hunt deer. But when he arrives, he finds the same friends there at breakfast.

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At a farm just outside of Zion, Robbie Williams explains to Jeff King how he is leveling the land he plans to lease from Chuck Stagg to farm corn and soybeans. Jeff King is a salesman for Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds, but Robbie knows he comes from a farm family. "I think farming should be based on long-term relationships, not here today and gone tomorrow."

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Henderson County Sheriff Ed Brady, right, chats with farmer Williams on a county road near Zion.

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Williams Farms, owned by Robbie Williams is located along Kentucky 1078 near Zion. Robbie is constantly expanding the structures on the property, and he always has something to do. This farm is where Robbie's great-grandfather, grandfather and father have all lived and farmed.

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Robbie Williams' effort to tie his boots gets interrupted by his playful but pesky pets.

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When Robbie Williams gets home from working on Chuck Stagg's land, his 8-year-old daughter, Anna, is home from school. Anna plays with the family's puppies in the yard in the few minutes that her father has to sit down from his work during the afternoon.

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Robbie Williams listens to his wife, Liz, in their home on a Friday evening. Rain that day pushed back many farm operations, so Robbie was able to have dinner and spend time with his wife and daughter, Anna.

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2012 Workshop in Henderson, Kentucky - Story list