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Land of opportunity

The Van Nes family makes dramatic change to pursue an American dream
Story and photos by Hannah Nave Lewis 4/23/2021


Faith, family, farming, and basketball are the backbones of the Van Nes family. From left are Vince, Miriam, Frank, Franklin, Naomi, and Lucas holding the family's dog.
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British basketball doesn’t usually have much to do with American agriculture. Except, that is, in the case of the Van Nes family of Luray, Tenn., and formerly of Southern England.

In 2009, brothers Vince and Lucas Van Nes, 6’11” and 6’10”, respectively, left their family farm in Dorchester, England, to pursue their own hoop dreams in America. They both enrolled at Northfield Mount Hermon School (NMH), a coeducational prep school in Gill, Mass., that is known for both its basketball program and high percentage of international students. In the process, the young men fell in love with America.

“They were so excited about the U.S. and all the opportunities it offered,” recalls their father, Frank. “After much urging from the boys, my wife, Miriam, and I, along with our two younger children, Franklin and Naomi, visited a couple of times. We all got to see some of America and — just like Vince and Lucas — we loved it.”

After stellar careers at NMH, Vince and Lucas moved on to college-level basketball in Connecticut — Vince, at Fairfield University, and Lucas, at Southern Connecticut State University. After a couple of seasons there, Lucas’ ambitions shifted away from athletics and he entered medical school, earning his degree from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. At Fairfield, Vince’s basketball dream abruptly ended with a foot injury.

Exit basketball, enter agriculture.

After graduating from Fairfield, Vince took a part-time job harvesting grain for farmers from Texas to North Dakota and rekindled an interest in agriculture— this time, in America.

“I told my dad that I wanted to be involved in farming again,” says Vince. “He was surprised that I meant in America, not England. And I wanted him and the rest of our family to move over here, too.”

Vince’s passion for agriculture came as no surprise, as the Van Nes family has a long history in farming. Frank was raised on a small dairy farm in the Netherlands, and his family later moved to southern England where they raised crops and operated a dairy and a bed and breakfast.

“With such an established history of farming in England, it was quite a shock when Vince suggested we all move to the U.S.,” says Frank. “It would be a leap of faith. After time and much prayer, we decided to sell our farm in England and go for it.”

Then came a period of exploration as the family scouted potential American locations to establish a new farm. Frank and Vince narrowed the search to the Southeast, looking at property throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, before settling on the 2,000-acre rowcrop farm they now operate in Luray.

The entire Van Nes family now resides in the U.S. Vince and his wife, Makenzie, live on the farm and help run the operation. Lucas and his wife, Nicole — a soon-to-be nurse practitioner — live in New Jersey. Franklin is a senior software engineer and lives in Boston with his wife, Sara, and 6’6” daughter Naomi is still in college and just finished her own basketball career with Mercer University in Georgia.

“As you can imagine, this was a huge adjustment for all of us,” says Frank. “But we’ve made it work. Farming here is different. In Europe, we didn’t have genetically modified crops at all, so we couldn’t spray Roundup or dicamba on any of our crops. And the [Europeans] generally do a lot of tillage before they plant a crop. They plow down to eight inches and then run a tillage tool over it once or twice before planting.”

Having adopted the local no-till practices, Frank and Vince both agree that they enjoy producing crops in an environmentally friendly way. The family spreads soybeans, corn, and winter wheat over their 2,000 rural Henderson, Chester, and Madison County acres. They enjoy working to improve their production with irrigation, cover crops, and yield-mapping, in addition to no-till.

“Air, soil, and water are the three main areas where we’re concerned,” says Frank. “We do our best to maintain all three in good order.”

The Van Neses are members and customers of First Farmers Cooperative and say the Co-op folks were some of their first farming friends in the U.S. The Henderson store was one of their first stops after signing papers on the land.

“We were looking for retailers to work with and help us with our fertilizer, chemicals, and seed,” says Vince. “First Farmers Co-op was really the first one we came to. We met with Mike Clayton and Matt Hearn. They were just really friendly, and got us set up with an account, and all sorted out.”

Vince adds that the future of the farm is a hot topic around the family dinner table. For now, the Van Nes family wants to focus on improving their efficiency and productivity before adding any more acreage.

“Technology changes every year,” says Vince. “We try to stay on top of that and keep ourselves efficient to improve what we already have.”

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