Eighty years ago, John Penn’s parents bought their first farm and the family has been farming ever since. John grew up tilling the fields, taking care of livestock, and raising horses.
As John tells it, his family actually got their start with horses when they purchased the original farm from “a fellow from Oklahoma that had horses on it, so we ended up boarding for him. Then he left us with the horses and the bills, which put us in the horse business. This was back around 1935 or so — that’s how our family got into horses.”
John and his wife, Kris, have three grown children, all of whom were raised on this Bourbon County farm while learning the skills as well as the amount of hard work required to keep things running.
John describes his teaching as a mixture of giving the kids chores and the natural osmosis of farm life.
Conserving the way of life, the land
For the Penns, conserving their family farm made sense as a way to ensure their family legacy remained intact. Knowing their farm would be transferring to their children had a lot to do with why Kris and John wanted to conserve it.
John, the oldest son, is studying medicine at the University of Kentucky — although he also owns some mares with his dad, which has brought in a bit of income from a nice runner they bred together.
Their second son, Alex, is taking on more responsibility for the family farm. While Katie, the Penns’ youngest and only daughter, according to her father “likes horses,” and has other interests.
John also stresses that “from a strictly economic standpoint, conservation is an excellent way
to pay for expansion, infrastructure, college education, or anything that your family needs.
“Typically cash flow on a farm is so low relative to investment that you’re often cash poor, but conservation tax incentives really help keep more of the cash you do earn in your own pocket and farm operations.”
In fact, shares John, “when we conserved our land, our tax savings even allowed us to expand our farm by purchasing an additional parcel along North Middleton Road.”
A practical, grounded “let’s make it work” attitude has served the Penn family well over the years.
Now home to some of the best Bluegrass hay in the world, coupled with world-class horses and the gently rolling hills to go with it, the Penns have conserved more than a spectacular farm. They have conserved the love of farming to pass on to the next generation, and as John says, “We’ve never looked back.”
“I hate the thought of growing subdivisions in general. People want to build on places that are already built on, fine. But as a generalization, how are we going to feed ourselves if we cover up all of our best land?”
– John Penn