I laid out the story of the farm from my great-grandparents buying it to my being able to lease it from my parents, but I thought it might be worthwhile to also tell the story of the time between when I quit engineering and when the tornado hit the farm.
After I had left both college and engineering, I packed up my old pickup and headed to the mountains of Colorado (nothing against WY, MT, or ID, but CO was closer) to look for some elk and just drive around thinking.
I had a rough idea about what I wanted to do in my life, but as I drove across OK, KS, CO, NM and TX (gas was cheap back then and I drove all over the place taking the long way to the mountains and back), along the way I saw cattle, antelope, elk, deer, grasslands, and wheat fields, and I came back with a rough plan of what I wanted to do.
At the time, it never really entered my mind that I could or would lease the farm from my grandparents and farm it, but I knew that I wanted to manage some land for both hunting (I had to hunt) and cattle (to make some money).
I'd read the book Pasture Profits with Stocker Cattle by Allan Nation which talked about the stocker operations of Gordon Hazard, and I'd also read a couple of books about whitetail deer management written by Dr. James Kroll.
Gordon Hazard ran a low-input grass-based stocker operation because it was a more profitable way to graze cattle from the weaned calf stage to the feeder steer stage. His stocker operation was based around buying light weight calves and putting 400 lbs. of gain on them by grazing them on grass, minerals, and water.
Dr. Kroll was planting food plots that had combinations of different crops (oats, wheat, rye, clover, etc.) as one of his methods for managing whitetail deer. In other words, he was talking about planting 'cover crop cocktails' long before planting cover crop cocktails became the newest thing in farming.
I had an idea that I could combine those two ways of thinking into one strategy to run a profitable farm/ranch. In addition to grazing native grass pastures, I could also grow winter wheat for the combined opportunities of a grain harvest, some stocker grazing, and food plots for the deer. I also thought that if deer grew better on a food plot with a combination of different plants then cattle should also benefit in the same way from grazing a cover crop cocktail.
Since I didn't have a farm to try any of this out, I started planting garden-sized plots (3000 square feet or so) trying to figure out just how to grow wheat, cover crops, and deer food plots. That morphed into also growing a decent-sized garden because if I was improving the soil fertility with cover crops, I might as well also grow some food on the same plot (which then led to my Terra Preta experiments).
Eventually, through trial and error, I had a pretty good idea about how to grow a decent wheat crop, cover crops (or food plots), and a garden. Scaling my experiences up might be a problem that would need work to overcome, but I had an idea that most of my ideas would work on a farm scale for raising cattle, deer, turkey, wheat, etc..
So, I spent more time hunting on the farm, and observing cattle, grass, and wheat, but I still didn't think I wanted to rent the farm from my grandmother at this point. I was more-or-less self-employed at this time making some money, spending as little as I could, and saving as much as I could while I bided my time.
Then the tornado hit my grandmother's farm.