Road ahead leads to open spaces for Melanie Likes and her family
“Driven” is an especially appropriate word to describe Melanie Likes. Tractors, pickups, six-wheel bobtails, 10-wheel farm trucks, her vintage 1980 Toyota Celica GT Liftback from high school days, or the Trans-Am that she had longed for instead of the Toyota – if it has wheels, she will likely have driven it.
Melanie is the daughter of Ronald and Carol Esplin. She and her husband Rick farm in partnership with her father, her younger brother Blair and his wife Cheryl as Ronald Esplin and Sons, A Partnership. They grow 1,000 acres of Ranger Russet potatoes for processing, and grow wheat and alfalfa in rotation. They farm near Shelley, Idaho, on land that her grandfather, Carolyle Esplin, started farming in 1944, when he relocated his family from Cedar City, Utah.
“We grow Ranger Russets for processing with Lamb Weston and Idahoan,” Melanie said. “These seem to fry better and they are a smooth spud with good gravities. We may also grow Russet Burbanks on occasion, as the market may demand.”
She started driving tractors at age 10, when help was needed setting out hand lines. At age 12, Melanie was a regular, driving potato trucks and bringing in the harvest with her brothers. She started on manual stick shifts, and didn’t have a truck with an automatic transmission until 1996.
“I’ve trained my children and many nieces and nephews to drive trucks in harvest,” Melanie said. “Things have changed so much. As a teenager, I had to crawl in the back of my truck to pull the wooden boards, so the potatoes would fall onto the chain for the truck to unload. Now, it’s motors in self-unloading beds that empty the trucks.
“A lot of the jobs have gotten easier over the years with all the new technology. I also used to pride myself with how well I kept the tractor going straight through the fields, and now, GPS does that for you.”
Melanie is driven in another sense. She’s learned from her family and her experiences how determination, hard work and effort can be thriftily applied to gain financial goals and rewards. Her parents’ example instilled the values she and Rick have passed on to their four children; daughter Jessica and sons Christopher, Derrick and Tehren.
Jessica has a degree in interior design. She and her husband, Josh Harris, work on the farm and are expecting their fourth child in June, the 14th grandchild for Rick and Melanie. Christopher has an associate’s degree in agricultural management from Brigham Young University–Idaho, and also works on the farm. Derrick works part-time on the farm while pursuing a mechanical engineering degree through Idaho State University. Tehren works full-time on the farm while studying stock options trading.
Early on, Melanie demonstrated a strong interest and aptitude in her family’s livelihood. Her father encouraged this, and from an early age, Melanie worked alongside her brothers. She never longed for city life.
“I’ve always wanted to stay here on the farm,” Melanie said. “I’ve always wanted to live in these wide-open spaces, where my neighbors are no nearer than a half-mile down the road, and I’ve wanted this also for my children.
“I can’t imagine living in a town and trying to raise a family there. I love the opportunity the farm provided for our kids to learn how to work and set goals to earn money for things they wanted.”
Tractor and truck work is still Melanie’s favorite task, but she has had to cut back. Her mother, Carol Esplin, who was the manager for the farm office, passed away three-and-a-half years ago. Melanie took over this duty – the farm office is the bedroom she had growing up – and is responsible for bookkeeping, paying the bills and payroll.
“Since my mother loved office work, I really didn’t help her out too much since I’d rather be outside in the fields working,” Melanie said. “But I wish I’d have learned more from her, because hers are big shoes to fill.”
Melanie favors being outside running heavy equipment with her husband and brothers, but she always does her hair and makeup, even for outside work.
“I learned something years ago in a marriage and relationships class I took: As husbands and wives, we should keep up on what initially attracted us to one another,” she said. “So I made it my goal to be dressed and ready by the time I told my husband goodbye for work and my kids goodbye for school. I wanted this to be their lasting image of me as they left for the day.”
The Likes family enjoys travel, and Melanie has visited 16 countries and most of the 50 states. People they meet while traveling are often fascinated to learn that the Likes family are farmers. Because of her appearance, people don’t expect Melanie to be the farmer she claims she is, until they hear her talk about operating machinery and equipment. Then they’re amazed, and learn not to judge on appearances and societal expectations, she said.
Melanie still grinds wheat to make bread each week for her family. “I grew up on my mother’s homemade bread, and I wasn’t ready to start buying bread after I was married,” she said. She and Rick have been married for 35 years.
Only during trips like the family’s annual waterskiing vacation to Lake Powell in southern Utah is bread bought from stores. Melanie will forgo baking bread, or just about anything else, to waterski every chance she gets. She also enjoys photography and playing her flute.
Whether driving big farm trucks in harvest, disking fields for spring planting, keeping farm accounts current or simply being a mother and grandmother in her home or while traveling with family, the word for Melanie Likes is “driven.” Her determination and hard work shows in everything she does.
By David Fairbourn, managing editor