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Red, White and Blue Days 2018 - Farmer of the Year 07/03/18 (1)

Gary Coffey and his wife, Marylee, right, smile after Gary Coffey was recognized as the 2018 Farmer of the Year during Red, White and Blue Days in Charleston on Tuesday.

CHARLESTON -- Hard work, which goes hand-in-hand with farming, is more like play than anything else for this year's Coles County Farmer of the Year. 

Gary Coffey was named this year's farmer of the year before the Lonestar concert Tuesday. 

Over his lifetime, Coffey, an farmer from Ashmore, said he grew to love not only the farm life but hard work itself.

"I love to work," Coffey said. "In my 30's, maybe even in my 40's, sometimes I would go to bed wishing it was morning so I could go back to work."  

The now 67-year-old farmer started working in the field when he was only 6-years-old helping out his father, Kenneth Coffey, on the family farm. Later on, he would dabble in manufacturing and other labor-intensive jobs, but ultimately, he would always find his way back to farming.

He loved it. For him, it was honest and integrity-filled work

In 1972 when he was 21-years-old, Coffey rented out his first farm from Effie Hunt, which he still farms to this day for her granddaughters, something which he takes pride in. 

Since 1972, Coffey expanded his efforts, and today he farms 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans on rented land as well as his own working 12 to 18 hours a day during planting and harvest.

"Doesn't bother me a bit," Coffey said. "I don't need a lot of sleep." 

Also, Coffey with his wife of 46 years, Marylee Coffey, garden a half-acre of various produce like green beans, sweet potatoes, and sweet corn, which he then gives to the members of his church. 

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"We just love it," Coffey said. "We say, 'Well, we will make it smaller next year.' It will end up being the same if not bigger." 

As the award citation reads, the award sponsored by the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce is meant to go to those farmers who have “contributed to local agriculture, used innovative farming techniques, been willing to help other farmers in farming and civic groups, and participated in community activities outside of agriculture.”

The citation reads that Coffey his active efforts to support local chapters of the Future Farmers of America, a youth farming group. It also notes his time serving on the Soil and Waster Conservation Board and as a past member of the Ashmore Community Club. 

He was also recognized for his efforts at his church, New Life Fellowship in Terre Haute, Ind. He credits all of the work on the farm as well as his work in the community to someone bigger than himself. 

"I give God all of the credit," Coffey said. "All of it."

Coffey said he plans on farming as long as he can shooting turn the reins over to his sons when he is 82, one year before his dad retired.

"I'll give my dad a year," he joked.

Knowing himself, he might go longer, though.

"We'll probably change it to 92 then," he said. "Who knows? I feel really good."

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Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter

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Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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