Fifth-generation North Dakota farmer reflects on dreams of being a pastor while seeding potatoes in June

Thomas Shephard will be featured throughout the growing season from the family farm near Crystal which has been growing potatoes since the 1930s, primarily chipping potatoes.

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Thomas Shephard checks the potato planter on June 6, 2022, in a field near Crystal, North Dakota. Usually, Shephard Farms would have been done with potato planting for weeks by now but had just reached the halfway point when Agweek visited.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
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Editor's note: Katie Pinke will be checking up with Thomas Shephard throughout the growing season as part of our Follow a Farmer series.

CRYSTAL, N.D. — Located a half an hour south of the Canadian border and half an hour to the west of Minnesota, near Crystal, North Dakota, Thomas Shephard grew up with dreams of not farming, but is now in his seventh-year farming at Shephard Farms, returning in 2015.

“For a long time, I thought about being a pastor. You know. the family farm. it’s been in the family so long. I was the only boy, so I kind of knew since I was young that my parents and everyone would want me to keep farming, and I felt that pressure. I didn’t like it, and I kind of just thought, 'I want to do my own thing,'" he said. "But then, when I was gone, when I got to see the world a little more, I realized just how beautiful of a thing we have here back at the farm. And my favorite thing about farming is who I get to do it with; that would be my dad. It’s just a legacy I am honored to be a part of.”

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Thomas Shephard is in his seventh year of full-time farming and a fifth-generation family farmer near Crystal, North Dakota. The farm is located 30 minutes south of the Canadian border and 30 minutes west of Minnesota.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

Shephard, 29, earned a degree in business along with biblical studies in 2015 from the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Shephard family has been growing potatoes since the 1930s, primarily chipping potatoes. He lives with his wife, Samantha and 10-month-old daughter, Selah.


Additionally, on the farm, the Shephard family grows wheat, corn, soybeans and edible beans. But Thomas said “everything revolves around the potato.”

The 2022 planting has drastic changes from recent years.

“We are well into June here and we just hit the halfway point planting potatoes. And usually this time of year we’ve been done for weeks. But we just kind of roll with the punches and do what we can,” said Shephard on June 6, 2022, while overlooking a field across from his parents, Karen and Lyle Shephard’s home farm.

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Shephard Farms has been growing potatoes since the 1930s on their family farm near Crystal, North Dakota. Planting was going strong on June 6, 2022, when Agweek visited.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

“The thing about potatoes is, it really doesn’t have an end date. We just have to get them in, and we’re doing what we can with that," he said. "The forecast looks promising with some warm weather coming. We hope the crops pop out and we just won’t have down time between planting and the next things that come. We’ll be rolling here.”

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Seed potatoes are prepared and ready for planting at Shephard Farms.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

While Shephard’s career path didn’t directly lead to being a pastor, he continues his passion for ministry.

“Farming has provided an opportunity to stay involved with ministry, whether that be volunteering with athletic ministry, or I like to pulpit supply at small churches throughout the area. My occupation allows me to do so," he said.

Agweek plans to return to Shephard Farms when potato fields bloom. While that's usually in early July, it likely will be in mid-July due to this year's late planting. We then will follow Shephard through harvest.

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