Mary Bea Gooden, who farms in Woodside, Del., takes after her parents.
“Mom and Dad were ‘goers.’ Mom’s mom was a goer. It’s in our blood,” she said. Gooden herself has been going strong since she was a child.
Her parents, Olin and Bea Gooden, started farming in Woodside and purchased the next farm up. Gooden, who took back her maiden name after a divorce, has taken care of one farm since her parents passed away; her brother farms the other.
Gooden definitely takes after her father, whom she called “Mr. Farm Bureau.” Olin was president of the Kent County Farm Bureau; Bea was secretary/treasurer, as well as Delaware Farm Bureau Women’s Committee Chair at one time, and State Women’s Chair in the Grange.
Gooden herself is Kent County Farm Bureau director, State Board director, Executive Board director and state Farm Bureau Women’s Committee Chair. “Farm Bureau has been my life and Mom and Dad’s life forever,” she said.
She went to the first Women’s Committee meeting after she was named chair directly after a day on a tractor, still full of grease, she admitted. Some of the ladies were surprised.
In high school, her father had been captain of the football team; her mother had played basketball and was second in her class.
Gooden outdid them both. She played five sports in high school: field hockey, basketball, track, tennis and softball. For many years she was captain of the softball and hockey teams. She was all-conference hockey player. “I had a blown-out knee in high school, but I still played,” she said.
With so many sports and membership in activities such as the Latin Club, she earned enough points to get a school letter.
Her father told her once, “Don’t you follow. You lead. Get up and go. Drive yourself to go.”
“Dad was one of three or four people who started the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association. He started the Caesar Rodney Ruritan. He was on the conservation committee. The list goes on and on,” Gooden said.
“Mom was trustee of Woodside United Methodist for years. We were big in church,” she added. “She also was secretary to the head of education; she quit when she got pregnant, then helped Dad on the farm. We had nary a penny to pinch between our fingers growing up, but we made it,” Gooden recalled her mother saying.
Her mother told the story of when Hurricane Hazel came through in October 1954. “The farm I live on had a 30-acre field on the east side of the house,” Gooden recounts. “It was planted in corn which was almost ready to pick. After the storm came through, all 30 acres of corn was lying on the ground. My parents picked it up by bushel baskets.”
Gooden recalls times way back when her mother would take her along when she drove empty grain wagons to her father while he was combining. They would take him lunch.
“Dad would get off the combine. In the back of the truck was a 50-gallon diesel fuel tank. While Dad ate lunch, I would crank fuel into the combine. I was barely big enough to crank. When he finished his lunch, he’d crank the rest. Then we’d leave two empty wagons and hitch two full ones to the truck to drive back. We’d take them to the grain bin and unload them. Those are good memories,” she said. “When you start early, kids learn early. If you teach them while they are young, it’s in their blood.”
Gooden raised peppers for money in high school. She was president of the FFA in her sophomore and junior years and a state officer for two years. She won trips to the National FFA Convention and was an alternate delegate. Then she had to let go of all the clubs she was in so she could be student council president of the whole school her senior year. She was a state FFA officer for two years. She appreciates the opportunities FFA offered for leadership.
She was in 4-H. She said she won so many sewing contests that she made herself move on to something else — deer hunting.
The “going” continued after high school. Gooden explained, “I just have a constant list to see what can I get into next. It makes life fun. I like helping other people.”
She married — in a wedding dress she had made herself — and had three children. Gooden said of her husband, “He knew when we married I was a farm girl.”
There have been a variety of animals on Gooden’s farm. “We had cows when I was married. For a while, I helped other farmers milk cows and did machinery work, working ground.”
When the children — Karen, David and Doug — were old enough to handle a calf, she bought three little Hereford calves which they raised and showed at the fair. They also had dairy cows, sheep, hogs and horses at the fair.
“Back when the old barns were there, we slept in the barns,” Gooden said. “In the years when the kids were little, I did the clipping.”
After her divorce, she found herself raising three children almost single-handedly. She was fortunate to have both her mom and dad behind her then, she said. “I really thank them for helping all of us along.”
When she started out farming on her own, Gooden had a custom round hay baling business. She baled and wrapped the bales in plastic to look like giant white marshmallows, serving a 30-mile radius from her home. The children were older then, into things like Little League, and her mother was still alive.
She bought a baler and a bale wrapper. “I went everywhere with those. Wherever anyone needed help with hay, when the phone rang, I went. I did a lot of baling and wrapping for 10 to 12 years. I came off the road when I inherited the farm.”
Her mom was gone when Gooden was involved in the first of two bad accidents. Healing took a long time and therapy was difficult, but “you laugh out loud and you go on,” Gooden said. “I taught my kids by being a model: work, rehab, and go on. Every day is a new day. Always work. It’s fun.
“I love to work. A lot of people don’t like working, but I do.”
Gooden was back in the fields before she was fully healed. She couldn’t shift because of an injured shoulder, so David drove the tractor. “I just rode with him to be out on the grounds, away from four walls,” she said.
“Every day I get up is a blessing. I see my three kids and my grandson. I do what I like to do: agriculture. The best thing is to be out on the tractor farming the ground.”
Gooden will help a friend or neighbor any time there is a need. She works ground, mows, hauls liquid manure… “whatever needs to be done, that’s how I go.”
She helped David set up his chicken houses and helps others, too. She helps move dairy heifers and even goes to a ranch in Virginia where she’s been helping process beef cattle for 15 or 20 years. “If they’re short of workers, they call me. If I’m not busy, I go.”
All three of her children help when they can. They bring hay into barns by the tractor trailer load.
“I can do it, but they’re old enough,” she said.
“David is 35. He loves to plant, so I let him plant. I have machinery and he has machinery. We share.”
This year Gooden baled between 2,000 and 3,000 bales. She expects to bale 5,000 or more next year. She also grows soybeans and has grown corn but finds the inputs expensive and the prices not good. She is going to try grain sorghum.
“Last year it rained so much my hay — alfalfa orchardgrass — hadn’t been harvested. It kept raining. I was watching the weather hourly. I saw three dry days coming. I told David, ‘Get hitched to your discbine. We’re cutting.’”
Doug, her youngest, helped her hitch her discbine and they got the crop in.
Karen, the oldest, has a full-time job but “she’s my hunting and fishing buddy,” Gooden said. “She has a jon boat. We fish between hay seasons. We are fishing unless we are watching Braxton.”
Braxton is her 2-year-old grandson, son of David and Wendy Sherwood. Like his mother and grandparents, David is “into” agriculture. He leases three poultry houses, raises cattle, crops and hay, and hauls livestock and machinery for people. His off-farm job is at a butcher shop, cutting meat and waiting on customers.
Doug is also into show horses — quarter horses, appaloosas and minis. He has national world champions among his minis. “He is well known for showmanship,” Gooden said. “He’s the man to beat when competing in horses.”
Gooden likewise has several world and national champion miniature horses. She qualified for world championships twice, competing up and down the East Coast. Gooden and her son haul minis everywhere — to shows in New York, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. They help haul to Texas and Oklahoma with the trucks and trailers of a trainer of miniature horses.
Gooden has been president of the Eastern Shore Western Horse Show Association for two years.
“It’s been a good, crazy life,” Gooden said. Barring unforeseen circumstances, she plans to go on living that life just as hard, crazy though it may be. “I’m far from being done. I’ll probably still be going, with my kids trying to keep me from the tractor, when I’m 80.”