By DOUG GRAVES
URBANA, Ill. — A man famous around the Internet for his ‘Honest work’ meme, was famous locally for other reasons in Fairfield County and throughout Ohio.
David Brandt died last week when he was involved in an automobile accident in Urbana, Illinois. He was transported to the hospital after suffering several serious injuries and later died from the accident. The fatal accident occurred while Brandt was on a seed-selling trip in Urbana. He was 76.
Most people know Brandt from a 2012 viral meme that still is seen on social media today. It reads, “It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.” The photo and the statement were taken at a Natural Resources Conservation Service event on his farm in 2012 and has become a global symbol of traditional values and work ethic.
“David 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.
“Brandt was a ‘godfather of soil health’ and would be remembered for his outgoing spirit, his infectious laugh, and his willingness to help anybody. He was determined to educate farmers about the value of conservation agriculture, and how it would improve soil health.”
Rafiq Islam, a soil and bioenergy program leader at OSU, said he and Brandt were collaborating on a project for the U.N.’s World Food Program at the time Brandt died.
“He motivated academic faculty members like us,” Islam said.
In agricultural circles Brandt was known as a global leader in no-till cover crops and was a soil health guru. The 50-year farming veteran also traveled around the country talking about farming and soil health. He established himself as a leader in the nation’s sustainable farming community.
OSU program assistant Stan Smith knew Brandt for nearly 50 years.
“He spent a lot of time while he was farming advocating for no-till, reduced tillage of the planting process of corn and soybeans and those types of crops,” Smith said. “He was an advocate for using cover crops at times when crops like corn and soybeans weren’t actively growing. He was a very strong proponent of those management practices and worked real hard to make them work, and sharing his knowledge of them with others.”
According to an online biography, Brandt grew up working on his grandfather’s farm. In high school, he milked cows and managed a farrow-to-finish swine operation.
After high school, he served as a Marine in Vietnam. Shortly after returning from the war, his father was killed in a tractor accident. The family was forced to sell the farm, and David and his wife, Kendra, had to start over as tenant farmers.
While other farmers around him were skeptical, Brandt started using cover crops in 1978 as a way to break up soil compaction. Over the years he built up the organic matter on his home farm and stopped using fungicides and insecticides. He significantly reduced the need for fertilizer.
Brandt was a founding partner of Understanding Ag, LLC, an agricultural consulting company, and the non-profit Soil Health Academy. He also served as president of the Ohio No-till Council for 14 years.
Brandt received numerous awards for conservation practices, including the Ohio Conservation Educator Award from the Ohio No-Till Council, Ohio State University South Center’s Supporter of the Year, Ohio Agriculture’s Man of the Year, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award, and Ohio NRCS Soil Conservationist Partnership and State Volunteer Awards.
Brandt led by example, practicing what he preached about soil health at events across the country and welcoming hundreds of people onto his Fairfield County farm for an annual field day. He also operated Walnut Creek Seeds, a cover crop seed business that he ran with his son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
“For all his accomplishments and contributions to the no-till farming community, Brandt wasn’t one to keep secrets,” said Steve Groff, a soil health consultant based in southeast Pennsylvania.
Groff crossed paths with Brandt dozens of times over the years at events across the country and became friends with him.
“He was friendly, very willing and eager to share how to make cover crops and no-till successful,” Groff said. “He took time to answer people’s questions. He as a teacher and educator, but he was willing to learn.”
Brandt was preceded in death by his wife, to whom he was married for 54 years. She died in 2020. Brandt is survived by two children, Jay Brandt and Amy Brock, and six grandchildren.
The Dwayne R. Spence Funeral Home in Winchester, Ohio, is in charge of arrangements. Visitation will be held there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, June 2. A celebration of life will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 3 at David’s home, 6100 Basil Western Rd. Carroll, OH 43112. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in his name to David Brandt Legacy Award/Memorial, C/O NoTill on the Plains, 672 Avenue L, Protection, KS 67127, the Soil Health Academy, 209 South Oak Ridge Drive, Enterprise, AL 36330, St. Judes or Gideons International.