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Ohio farmer David Brandt, known for internet meme and sustainable farming, dies at 76

Dave on his farm during the soil health campaign video shoot
Dianne Johnson/USDA Photo
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Dave on his farm during the soil health campaign video shoot

David Brandt, 76, of Carroll, Ohio, best known for a viral internet meme from 2018, passed away from injuries from an automobile accident in Urbana, Illinois Saturday.

Ohio's Country Journal and the Ohio Ag Net reported Brandt's death on Sunday.

Brandt gained online notoriety in 2018 when a U.S. Department of Agriculture photo was emblazoned with the words "It ain't much but it's honest work" on Reddit.

But Brandt's legacy will live on in more ways than one, due to his longtime advocacy for sustainable farming practices.

Stan Smith, a program assistant with The Ohio State University's Fairfield County extension office, knew Brandt for 50 years, as he grew up in Canal Winchester and Brandt grew up in Carroll.

"We've been blessed in Fairfield County, and nearby to have a lot of innovative leaders in agriculture and David was one of those. You've got to respect all the effort that he put into advocating for soil conservation," he said.

Farmers, researchers and conservationists from around the world visited his 1,000 acre farm to learn about soil health, cover crops and the benefits of no-till farming.

Brandt bought his farm in the late 1960's, after returning home from serving in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

Smith said he isn't surprised Brandt's work garnered attention and he admired the work Brandt did teaching others about his work.

"Folks from throughout the country actually have attended his field days to look and see what's going on. Anytime you can learn from someone else it's a positive thing," he said.

The meme was created late in Brandt's life, prompted by a Reddit user taking a photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website and putting the phrase "It ain't much but it's honest work" over Brandt's image.

Know Your Meme, a website that explains the origins of internet memes, said it is used widely as a wholesome reaction to a minor good deed or action that someone does. It relates the action to the strong work ethic of a farmer like Brandt.

One example is the photo and phrase below a post that says "When you get less likes on your meme but it is original content."

Smith said Brandt wasn't aware of the meme, but laughed when he was first informed of it.

Ohio's Country Journal and the Ohio Ag Net interviewed Brandt about it two months ago. A teller at a bank informed him he was a meme.

"I was walking down the street, and this couple came out of this restaurant and she says, ‘You’re the meme! Will you let me take a picture of you?’ I just had to laugh, because it was so funny that somebody I didn’t even know had seen it and recognized me," Brandt said in the interview.

Brandt's obituary posted on the Dwayne R. Spence Funeral Home website says he is known as a Christian, farmer, meme and the Godfather of Soil Health.

"David was an excellent steward of the land and taught many about its care worldwide. His larger than life presence will be missed by so many. Your honest work is done David, rest in peace," the obituary said.

Funeral and memorial services are planned for early June. A celebration of life for friends, colleagues, farmers and numerous others who knew Brandt will be held June 3 at Brandt's home.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.