This harmonica-wielding hobby farmer is more Ozarks than many natives

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Doyle Yoder and his goats

Morning comes early for Doyle Yoder. He’s got a group of six special girls waiting for him, and being late just won’t do. The girls – named Dakotaare, Dusty, Gwendolyn, Shobra, Stormy and Oprah – eagerly anticipate his arrival in those wee hours, just as they do each afternoon.

These girls, however, aren’t people. They’re Doyle’s milk goats.“To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than to look out and see the goats on the hill eating and content,” says Doyle as he scans the field behind his barn, a playground filled with leaves, lush vegetation and arching hills for the goats to explore.

The goats aren’t his only agricultural endeavor. There are chickens out in the coop and a 5,000 square foot garden – bursting at the seams with home-grown beauty – to tend. Donkeys named Ginger and Cinnamon stand guard nearby, keeping coyotes and critters away. And in the far and few between minutes of downtime, Doyle can be found blowing away on one of his trusty harmonicas.

It would seem like Doyle fits in well around these parts. And he does. But Doyle isn’t from Southwest Missouri, or even from the Midwest for that matter. He’s from Delaware.

“I laugh and tell people I’m an Ozarker by choice,” says Doyle. “I don’t necessarily do things the way the Ozark people do, but I love the way they do it.”

“I laugh and tell people I’m an Ozarker by choice,” says Doyle. “I don’t necessarily do things the way the Ozark people do, but I love the way they do it.”

He and his wife, Mary, had their first introduction to the region around 25 years ago. They came to town to drop off their eldest child off for classes at what was then Evangel College, prompting a classic case of love at first sight.“(I thought), boy, if God ever opens a door, this is where I’d love to retire,’” says Doyle. “(We) just literally fell in love with the area, the people we met.” In 1995, the couple got the opportunity to move, so they packed up and moved to Springfield. City life was too much for Doyle, so about a year later they relocated to their Christian County farm where they’ve been ever since.

A retired electrical worker, Doyle began dabbling in agricultural pursuits because of health reasons. “Basically, we wanted to raise our own food,” Doyle recounts. “We wanted to know where it came from. We wanted to make sure that it was good and healthy.” To further that aim, the couple put in a garden. Next came the chickens, which were followed about seven years ago by the goats. All in all, the couple’s aim has been successful – Doyle estimates that today, they produce between 65 and 70 percent of everything they eat.

But the couple doesn’t keep all that goodness to themselves. They have a regular clientele who comes out to the farm seeking milk, eggs and produce when it’s available. “The rewarding part of what we do out here is the customers who come here and the relationship we build with them,” says Doyle.

It’s taken a lot of hard work and trial-and-error to get the farm to where it is today. Doyle recounts the first year with goats, when he nearly lost half the herd. Good moments – like when he found the first egg –thankfully stand out just as strongly. “I’d gone out and found this one egg, brought it in and showed it to our granddaughters,” says Doyle of that first find, and asked the girls how much they thought it cost. The time and money invested in the farm shot the price of that egg up a little higher than you’d typically find in a store, unless it was King Midas’ personal shop. “I said,‘this thing cost us about $6,000,’” Doyle recalls with a laugh.

Despite his love of the Ozarks, there are three things that Doyle says have been difficult to adjust to. Ticks and chiggers are the first two, and any Ozarks farmer worth his salt will be able to guess the third.“Rocks,” Doyle replies adamantly. “That was the other thing. I told my brother, you know, we harvest rocks every year before we plant a garden.”

That hard harvest ultimately yields a gift of a garden that keeps on giving. Walking through its rows, Doyle rattles off the grocery list of produce that will soon grace the couple’s dinner table. “These are red beets and cabbage and squash and carrots and sweet corn,” says Doyle, moving on to sweet potatoes, garlic, three different types of potatoes, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and asparagus, the latter of which is one of Doyle’s breakfast favorites. “I like to chop this up and eat it with scrambled eggs,” he says as he snaps off some of the ripest sprouts.

Strawberries grow in the couple’s flowerbeds, and there’s a small orchard with fruit trees out back. Watermelons and cantaloupe will perch atop a bed of straw in late summertime. Dill grows nearby, string beans will soon show and then there are the peas and popcorn at the back. Last but not least, there is the special type of bean Doyle brought along from out East called the Dr. Martin. “They are a very, very large green lima bean that are just delicious,” he says. “Not like your butter beans and the beans you get around here. Last year, we had a bumper crop. It’s an open-pollination, or a heritage bean, so we can save the seeds year after year.”

But hobby farming wasn’t the only thing that Doyle picked up after moving west. A harmonica was another one. Yet after 15 years of serious study, Doyle is still modest about his abilities. “I’m a hack,” he says. “I’m probably the world’s worst instructor because I don’t know what I’m doing half the time.”

Despite this modesty, Doyle has become very proficient in his craft. He’s performed regularly at Galloway Station, and does weddings and special events from time to time. But during milking season, he typically limits his performances to the Oldfield Opry, where he’s been a regular performer for the past decade. “I never dreamed that I would ever be playing in a place like (the Oldfield Opry),” says Doyle. “That still chokes me up when I think about that they allowed me to sit in there and play.”

There’s more to playing a harmonica than simply blowing, drawing and bending, to use the technical terms. Yet according to Doyle, unless one knows what to do with a harmonica, it isn’t the most exciting musical option out there. “Played by itself, (a harmonica is) very boring,” says Doyle.“It’s a one or two note instrument.”

That fact doesn’t keep from the things from selling like hotcakes. A little known fact, according to Doyle, is that the harmonica is probably the number one musical instrument ever sold. But it’s not because a vast number of people own them – it’s because a select few have a huge share in the market. “You have to have at least 13 of them to get the full scale,” says Doyle.

But that’s really just the beginning. “I carry with me probably about 45 or 50 in my box,” says Doyle. This is because in addition to being in different keys, harmonicas can also be tuned in variations such as Irish or country. On these versions, the sequence of notes is different. This is where muscle memory is key.“My mind knows,” says Doyle of the notes’ order. “You know, it came to me so easy that way. That I could pick up a harmonica and pretty much start playing.”

Some pieces can be played on harmonicas that aren’t in the stated key, so it’s a constant test of ear to decide which one to use. “If you watch me close, you’ll notice that I play a little on one harmonica and then switch to another,” says Doyle. “That’s what I’m doing – I’m trying to find which one lays the best.”

Of course, just as with the farming, a lot of practice was necessary to get Doyle where he is today. And to find the time, he’s gotten a bit creative. “I do my most playing, believe it or not, driving,” says Doyle.“I can play with one hand, you know, and of course the law would say I’m playing distracted. But I have a belief that I’m actually a better driver when I’m playing because I’m really alert to what’s going on.”