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Shannon Frazier, 49, and his wife's uncle, Rufus Williams, 65, take a break from splitting wood to share a few stories and engage in a spirited debate. Frazier is a local farmer who lives with his wife in Morehead, Kentucky, surrounded by a strong community of family and friends, while working to realize his dream of a thriving farm.

Faith and empathy on the land

story by Dimitri Staszewski

Shannon Frasier is a trunk of man with a corn cob pipe. His wardrobe varies between bib overalls and a shirt with suspenders. On the surface, his life working a small farm outside Morehead might seem stereotyped, and Shannon does have a real appreciation for his simple lifestyle. But his deep faith and empathy give his actions unusual meaning.

On a crisp fall morning, Shannon prepares for winter. After coffee with his wife, Cindy, he laces his sturdy boots, jumps onto his bright orange tractor, and heads out to his young farm to realize his vision for the fertile land. Today he plants cover crop to replenish and protect the soil during the winter. While farming goes back multiple generations in Shannon's family, his farm doesn't escape moments of adversity. Shannon accepts challenges as opportunities to learn. He gets to be a biologist, engineer and marketer all in the same day.

Cindy grew up in Morehead with a priority, as she says, "to do well in school to get out of here and do better."

After living in Asheville for years, though, Shannon and Cindy moved back to Cindy's childhood home to take care of her mother. While returning to what Shannon describes as a "monoculture" has its downsides, living in Morehead he "couldn't ask for a better neighbor or friend . . . Everyone treats each other like family."

Back on the farm, Shannon sees proof of God's existence in a masterfully trained cutting horse or the way cows line up in the same order to be milked each day. Brimming with gratitude Shannon exclaims, "God programmed that horse . . . We're supposed to use this world and to be stewards."

With an introspective sparkle in his eye Shannon describes the pride he feels looking over a field full of healthy plants he grew. At the moment, two rows of late season lettuce and a few sweet potatoes are the only produce still in the ground. Come spring, though, this small patch of land will be full of a bounty Shannon can be proud of.

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Splash, a cat whose owner says is getting over a cold, sits on the kitchen counter as her owner Cindy Frazier, 56, washes dishes. Of the five pets that Cindy and her husband Shannon own, four were previously strays. Splash regained most of her energy by the next day, on the way to a full recovery.

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Remaining rows of late-season lettuce await harvest as Shannon uses a tractor to ready his field for a cover crop. The cover crop will help protect and rejuvinate the soil so Shannon's crops can flourish next spring.

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Cindy untwists a strap on her husband's overalls. "If there's one thing anybody needs to know about me," Shannon says, "I love my wife."

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Shannon and Cindy read the Bible during a weeknight service at Bible Baptist Church in Morehead. Faith and community are central to the couple's lives. "Everyone in Morehead treats each other like family," Shannon says. "If you don't go to the same church, you go to the one down the road."

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Shannon stacks firewood he cut using a gas-powered splitter. He takes pride in each row he stacks, and says when buying wood from him, "you know you're getting a cord." He sells the majority of the wood to a local non-profit that provides programs to support low-income families in Rowan and surrounding counties. It's a win-win for Shannon, who helps the local community while earning income when his farm is not producing in the winter.

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Shannon's tiller cuts through his farm as he prepares soil for a cover crop to protect the soil during winter. While Shannon currently uses a tractor, and it would take significantly longer to use a horse, his dream is to live more simply and work the land with a team of horses.

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Shannon uses a hand-held grain seeder to plant cover crop on a warm fall morning.

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Shannon smokes a corncob pipe between planting a cover crop and splitting wood. "If we had millions of dollars," he says, "we probably wouldn't live more extravagant, we'd live more simple."