The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio farmer behind viral ‘it’s honest work’ meme dies from car crash
Long before Ohio farmer Dave Brandt achieved Internet fame as part of a meme, he established himself as a leader in the nation’s sustainable farming community.
Brandt, who lived on his farm outside Carroll in Fairfield County, passed away Sunday after sustaining injuries in a traffic crash in Illinois. He was 76.
Brandt was the recipient of numerous awards for his conservation practices, including Ohio Agriculture’s Man of the Year and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award. He also was the former president of the Ohio No-till Council.
In the early 2010s, Brandt’s photograph was used in a widely-shared meme about farming on the social media site Reddit, with the words: “It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.” Users shared the meme with various sub-captions, like “When your teacher asks you why you have submitted only one paper of 20 paper(s),” according to Know Your Meme.
“(Brandt) got a lot of joy after seeing (the meme), and seeing how it exploded all over! He didn’t object to it at all,” said Randall Reeder, a retired Ohio State University associate professor who collaborated with Brandt on agricultural extension for 30 years.
Reeder told The Dispatch that Brandt was a “godfather of soil health” and would be remembered for “his outgoing spirit, his infectious laugh, his willingness to help anybody.”
“He was determined to educate farmers about the value of conservation agriculture, and how it would improve soil health,” Reeder said.
Brandt was a Marine Corps veteran who saw combat in Vietnam before coming home to take over the family farm in the early 1970s, according to an online biography.
As agriculture in the Midwest became increasingly mechanized and chemical-dependent, Brandt took a different approach.
He began “no-till farming” — which involves planting cover crops like hairy vetch or cereal rye, and fostering habitat for invertebrates to promote soil health — in 1971. He was the longest-term, notill farmer in Ohio, according to Understanding Ag, a sustainable farming consulting firm that he helped found.
In addition to corn, soybeans and wheat, Brandt raised pigs and cows — which he let forage outside during winter, rather then putting them up in a barn as most farmers do.
Brandt hosted field days and talks about soil health for farmers and researchers from throughout Ohio and the nation. At the invitation of the French agriculture ministry, Brandt once spent a week touring France and speaking with farmers there about his methods, according to Reeder.
“The biggest challenge is changing the mindset of producers so they understand the soil they are working with,” Brandt wrote in a 2019 blog post. “This challenge is still there, but I continue.”
Reeder said that a private family service for Brandt will be held soon. In the coming weeks and months, Brandt will be memorialized at various field day events and conferences within the sustainable agriculture community, he said.
Peter Gill covers immigration, New American communities and religion for the Dispatch in partnership with Report for America. You can support work like his with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America at:bit.ly/3fnsgaz.