Overcoming Obstacles: Noel and Rachel Welch’s Journey Thus Far
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
By Caleb Hicks
In January 2018, Noel Welch was eight credit hours away from completing his master’s degree in agronomy from Auburn University. By month’s end, he had decided he’d rather be a full-time farmer.
This, from a guy who grew up in a non-farming family from Chelsea, just south of Birmingham.
“I knew I was going to farm one day,” Noel, now 27, said. “Most people who farm come from a line of farmers who have history, land and equipment. I started from total scratch.”
After a single visit to a friend’s poultry operation in Barbour County, Noel knew it was meant to be, so he left the master’s program and set his sights on poultry.
“I had never been around chickens or a poultry farm, but when I saw how everything worked — how they’re raised and fed and the business structure — I told myself, I’m going to find a way to do this,” he said.
First things first: buying land for a farm. He looked at several existing farms that were on the market in Barbour and Pike counties and had more than a few deals fall through, but then, he hit the jackpot when the Barbour County farmer he’d been working for since leaving Auburn offered to sell him acreage in the Pike County town of Banks.
That was in November 2018. When the growing season of 2019 rolled around, he planted 800 acres and started building two mega poultry houses.
“I had no idea what God had in His plan when I moved down here,” Noel said, “but it all fell together in only a way God could make it work.”
Meanwhile, about the same time Noel sealed the deal on his land, the young lady who would become his wife was in nursing school at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. Fall semester 2018 was rocking right along for Eufaula native Rachel when life threw her a curveball.
“I first started having some vision problems and a few headaches, and my friends and I would try to self-diagnosis me,” she said. “I came home to visit in late January (2019), and the pain became debilitating. I knew something was wrong. In less than a week, I had had an MRI and surgery to remove the lime-sized tumor.
“I was very optimistic about the whole situation,” she said. “I knew God was on my side. I’ve been cancer free and done with treatments for almost two years. When Noel came into my life, I know God had a hand in that, too.”
The two met at church, started dating in September 2019 and got married in November 2020. She now helps Noel on the farm, mainly by walking the chicken houses. She also helps market her family’s beef jerky business.
“When Noel and I were dating, he asked me how I felt about cotton and chickens,” the 29-year-old said. “I told him, well, I like clothes, and I like to eat, so it sounds like a good deal to me.”
Both she and Noel have overcome major challenges to get where they are and see farming as not only a privilege, but a lifestyle.
“It means hard work and livelihood to me,” Rachel said. “Farming feeds Alabama and the world, and I see it as a way to keep life moving forward. I’m blessed to have been introduced to it.”
“It’s an honor and a God-given desire to be in the ag industry and to want to produce the food we eat,” Noel said. “It comes with as many sacrifices as it does rewards. There’s a lot of hard and frustrating things to work around and work through if you want it bad enough. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not for everyone.”