When a vehicle crash left Evan Criswell paralyzed from the navel down, he didn't let it keep him from his lifelong dream of farming.
The 26-year-old continues to contribute to his family farming operation's crop-growing and livestock-raising responsibilities. He also maintains local agricultural leadership roles.
Criswell works for Haselby Farms, a family outfit now in its fifth generation near Royal Center, Ind. Spanning multiple locations, the operation grows corn and soybeans while raising cattle and hogs. Criswell said they farrow 30 to 45 sows and have about 30 head of cattle.
"Ever since I was probably in kindergarten, any time they asked me what I wanted to do, I said, 'farmer,'" Criswell said.
His grandfather, Wayne Haselby, remembers Criswell's introduction to agriculture beginning even earlier than that.
"His first year and a half — he went anywhere I went," Haselby said. "I babysat for him. I had an infant seat that fastened into the tractor, so he pretty much grew up on the farm."
In March 2013, on his way home from feeding cows, Criswell's pickup truck slid off the snowy county road he was driving on and flipped. Criswell suffered a burst fracture to his spine, severely bruising his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the navel down.
He recalled being in the hospital for about a month and then having to return for a surgery that kept him out of commission for about four more months.
"Then I've slowly moved my way back up to normal," Criswell said. "I just wanted to get back into it, so where there's a will, there's a way."
He has a lift on the back of his pickup truck that he can get into from his wheelchair. Then using a remote around his neck, he can raise himself into the cabs of the tractors in Haselby Farms' fleet. Criswell said only one of the tractors had to be adapted by equipping it with a hand clutch and that none of the others require feet to operate.
Between land Haselby Farms owns and custom farms, this year's acreage spread north from Royal Center to past Ind. 10, Criswell said.
"We had a big spread and it took a lot of time and effort," he added.
They start field operations in the beginning of April and finish spreading fertilizer and planting in the beginning of June, Criswell said. Then it's time to spray for weeds and insects.
"We seem to spend all summer in a sprayer," he said.
Most of Haselby Farms' livestock is for show purposes, Criswell said. Last year, they bred and sold the reserve gilt at a national show in Louisville, Kentucky, which Criswell called "maybe a once-in-a-lifetime achievement."
On top of his farming duties, Criswell sells seed and soil samples and serves as president of the Pulaski County Farm Bureau as well. He also chairs the Beef Committee, serves on the Swine Committee and is in charge of vendors for the Pulaski County Fair.
"Most of my days start at 4:30 a.m. and it's nothing to end at 11 to midnight, somewhere in there," he said.
He's not sure what drives him to pursue success in farming day after day.
"I don't know," he said. "I just am."
His advice to young farmers starting out or thinking about beginning a life in agriculture is to be aware of the substantial financial investment that's required.
"The only way you can become a millionaire is if you start out with a billion," Criswell said, rousing a big laugh from Haselby.
Information from: Pharos-Tribune, http://www.pharostribune.com