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Passing on farm skills
“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

“We’ve never looked back.”

Eighty years ago, John Penn’s parents bought their first farm on Russell Cave Road, in Lexington, and the family has been farming ever since. John grew up tilling the fields, taking care of livestock, and raising horses.

Horses have been part of the family legacy – not necessary by choice initially. As John tells it, his family actually got their start with horses when they purchased the original farm “and they had a fellow from Oklahoma that had horses on it, so they ended up boarding for him. Then he left them with the horses and the bills, which put them 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 the 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 their land. 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, if you have the income, or plan to have the income, then conservation is an excellent way to pay for expansion, infrastructure – or college education, or anything that your family needs. Typically cash flow on a farm is so poor relative to investment that you’re always cash poor, so it really helps that end of things.” 

In fact, when they conserved their land, their tax savings even allowed Kris and John to expand their farm by purchasing an additional parcel along North Middleton Road.

It’s that practical, grounded, “let’s make it work” attitude that has served the Penn family so 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 and have passed it on to the next generation, right here in the Bluegrass, and as John says, "We've never looked back."

Passing on farm skills