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Deserving farm family experiences Extreme Home Makeover

Jan./Feb. 2005 California Country magazine

Extreme Home Makeover helps save a struggling family farm.




Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington shares a poignant moment with Jennifer Elcano and her children Michael, 11, and Ashley, 6, as they look upon their new home for the first time.

Glen and Jennifer Elcano loved working together at their small hay farm south of Bakersfield.

As parents of two they had everything they needed: a loving family and a living doing what they truly loved?farming.

Life on the family's hay farm had been a dream come true until last June when Glen, 32, died in an automobile accident as he returned from delivering hay to another farmer.

"My life was turned upside down because my husband was killed. I lost my best friend that day. He and I spent all day, every day, together. We did 100 percent of the farming together and each day I am reminded of all of those things that we did together," Jennifer Elcano said.

In the months following Glen's death Jennifer and her two children have had little time to grieve the loss of husband and father. They continued the difficult struggle of operating the farm while living in a farmhouse that was more than 100 years old.

The Elcanos' hay business, "GlenJen Farms," had old, unused farm equipment sitting around the farm. The office for the hay business was basically an old desk that shared space with Jennifer Elcano's already cramped bedroom. As for the century-old farmhouse, vines from outside were growing into the inside; windows were painted shut and gaping holes in the walls of some rooms were exposed to the outside.

The Elcanos needed help.

They received it from an unexpected source.

The Kern County 4-H office nominated the Elcano family to appear on ABC's popular television program "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," where families in need are sent on a one-week vacation while their homes are completely rebuilt.

"We nominated the Elcanos because we thought they were a family that could really use some help. She had lost her husband in a traffic accident and was trying to hold onto the custom farming and hay hauling business on her own," said Pam Mouser, Kern County 4-H program representative. "They are a longtime 4-H family and were very deserving. I think it is wonderful that they were selected."

On the morning of Oct. 17 the family was pleasantly disrupted by the sound of program host Ty Pennington, yelling into a bullhorn, "Good morning Elcano family!" This confirmed to the Elcanos that they were selected for the makeover from among five finalist families.

"Family farming isn't easy for anyone, especially a young widow raising two young kids," Pennington said to his team of designers. "Jennifer wants to provide for her family and she wants to give them a future."

"We are here to build the house and save the farm," Pennington said to Jennifer. "The main mission is to save the farm. We just want to make sure that another family farm doesn't go under so we tried to come up with some cool things that will actually help keep this farm running."

Soon after the designers and crew for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" arrived, Jennifer Elcano and her two children, 11-year old Michael and 6-year-old Ashley, were whisked away to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida for a seven-day vacation.

They would return to a new home designed with new furnishings and appliances, and a farm upgraded with a newly planted alfalfa field, a bright red barn stocked with hay, a one-year lease package of farm equipment, new vehicles and many other extras to help the family.


Dining room before.

Hundreds of volunteers from the local community came together to help build the family a new life. Business people, community volunteers and family and friends donated almost all of the materials and labor that went into the Elcano project. The total value of the project is estimated at more than $1 million.

A close friend of the Elcanos, Kern County Farm Bureau member Scott Dewar volunteered to work with ABC to organize the farming aspect of the project.

"Thinking back, the Elcanos were at our house one night before (Glen's accident) and Michael was real quiet and wasn't talking. Then farming was mentioned and he got really talkative because Michael always wanted to farm. This is what made me want to do something to help this farm," Dewar said.

To build a new future for "GlenJen Farms," Dewar and other volunteers worked around the clock to plant 20 acres of alfalfa.

AGCO Corp. donated a one-year lease package of farm equipment that included a tractor, loader, square baler, rotary cutter and other equipment to help the hay operation run smoothly. To support reconstruction of the project, San Joaquin Tractor Co. in Bakersfield, Kings County Equipment in Hanford and Stanislaus Implement & Hardware in Modesto provided additional tractors.

Bakersfield irrigation business Rain for Rent donated pipeline for an extensive irrigation system for the hay field.

"Jennifer is going to create that acreage as a 4-H project for Michael, where he will pay his grandmother rent, pay me to harvest and he will irrigate. It is a pretty neat deal," Dewar said.

A major element to the new farm is the addition of a 6,000-square-foot steel barn that holds the equivalent of 15,000 bales of hay. Klassen Corp., a family-owned architecture and construction firm in Bakersfield, built the barn for the Elcanos and designed it similar to the new house, red with white trim.

More than 34 farmers from the area filled the barn with about 15,000 bales of hay. The Elcanos also received a Ford F-250 super-duty truck and a Ford Freestyle, a sport utility vehicle that was introduced by Ford this year.

The family returned to a new 2,274 square-foot, three-bedroom home plus an office, all built by Sweaney Construction of Bakersfield.


Dining room after.

Features of the home include a greatroom that is open to the kitchen and dining room.

Designed with antiques and farm tools, Jennifer's new office is situated in front of the house with a separate entrance for customers. She has a large desk and counter plus a reception area for visitors.

Since her dream is to be a horse-rider when she grows up, Ashley's room was decorated to fit her cowgirl style and a wooden horse holds her Western saddle.

Michael's room is a 11-year-old boy's dream and an animal lover's paradise with terrariums filled with reptiles, snakes and even a turtle. A special touch is a wooden airplane that ABC's design team took to a local hobby shop to be completed. It was a project started by Michael and his father, which they did not have a chance to complete.

"I love it. Having the airplane in my room makes me feel close to my dad," Michael Elcano said.

The final surprise for the family was a visit from country music star Randy Travis, who performed a concert at a private farm to help raise money for a scholarship fund for the Elcano children.

"I wish my husband could be here to see all of this because he would be very ecstatic to see all of his dreams come true," Jennifer Elcano said. "I miss him very much. I feel very blessed. I can't believe we get to live here and start a new life. This gives us a lot of hope to keep things going for the future."

(Christine Souza is a reporter with the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be reached at (800) 698-FARM or by e-mail at csouza@cfbf.com.)


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