Kerkhoven, Minn.; Swift County
38 cows
Family: My husband, Rich, and I have three children. Chastiti, 31, lives here on the farm with us. She is a disabled adult. Madison, 19, is attending college and living at home. Austin, 28, lives in Willmar, Minn.
Tell us about your farm: We own and operate a certified organic cow dairy. We have 160 acres, of which 65 are in permanent pasture with about 80 tillable acres and a 3-acre vineyard. We raise very little row crops. We focus on alfalfa and alfalfa/grass hay for most of the land, with a few acres set aside for test crops, such as the Kernza we planted last year. We moved to the abandoned family farm in 2008, three years after the death of my father-in-law. We tried several things - beef, poultry, goats, etc. - as enterprises before we settled on an organic dairy in 2013. It took us another two years before we had the milking facility and cows, but in January 2015 we did it. Most of our land was already certified organic in 2012, so it made sense to head in the direction of organic milking. Our milk is sold to Organic Valley through NFO. The family works together on the farm. Each of us has a responsibly. Rich is in charge of prepping and clean up the barn, field work, feeding cows and most of the grunt work. Madison is in charge of calf care and heifers until they calve. I milk and manage our cows. We also have a few dairy goats, chickens, Highland beef, miniature horses and llamas.
What's the busiest time of day for you? Mornings are definitely the busiest part of my day. I'm up around 5 a.m. to do prep work in the house before I wake the rest of the family to get ready to head to the barn by 5:45 a.m. I milk cows until 7:10 a.m., then it's back to the house to get our oldest, Chastiti, ready for her day program. Once she's on the van, it's back to the barn to finish up anything else that still needs to be done. Usually, Rich is finishing up.
When you have a spare moment, what do you do? Take a nap.
Tell us about your most memorable experience working on the farm. Working on the farm has many experiences. Not all of them are pleasant and some you don't want to remember. I can't recall just one moment, but some things I love about dairy farming is bringing a new life into this world, working as a family for a common goal, and talking to people about what we do and why we do it organically. Being able to produce a healthy, whole food is a big factor, too.
What have you enjoyed most about dairy farming or your tie to the dairy industry? Learning and educating. There is always something new to learn. I love meeting with consumers and farmers. Learning from farmers and educating the public are so important as there is so much misinformation out there. And I love that I can milk cows in my pajamas. My "girls" don't care if I show up for work with messy hair and pjs.
How do you stay connected with others in the industry? We live in an area dominated by dairy farmers. There are dairy farmers to the north, west and east of us; however, we are one of the smallest and the only certified organic dairy. Our daughter is active in 4-H and FFA, so the county fairs and state fair are very important to us. We work closely with our neighbors to the north. Although, they are not organic, they have over 100 years of dairy experience, and I have learned a lot from them. Our family is also connected via social media and openly shares with others how we got started, how and why we do things the way we do, and rarely turn down the opportunity to give farm and barn tours to those interested. We never turn down an interview. You never know who's going to be inspired by the example you set or the information you're willing to provide.
In your opinion, what's the importance of women in today's dairy industry and how have you seen that change over the years? I think women play a huge role in dairy and probably always have, but no one has really paid attention to it. As most of us are caregivers, it just seems natural that we would also care for the animals in our charge. I know I can pick up on signs of our cows when something is off long before my husband does. I don't know if I'm really qualified to answer this about how a woman's role has changed in the dairy industry, as I really have only been doing this for two years. I grew up in the small town of Danube, Minn., which is a farming community and both my parents grew up on farms. My two uncles were dairymen, and I remember visiting their farms as a child. Those farms operated much like ours does today. At milking time, everyone was in the barn to help. My aunts and cousins helped with all milking chores. To me, it really doesn't seem any different. I see women taking on a more management role. They are running the operation more so than in the past. We've all read our history, where women on the farm were not much more than helpers and/or milk-maids. That surely isn't my role. I help run the dairy.
If you could give a tour of your farm to a prominent woman in today's society, who would it be and why? I turn no one away for a tour. Every person is important, in my opinion. If I had to pick one, I may have already given her a couple of tours. It would be Christa Williamson from the KMS FFA/Ag Department. She's such a good educator (one of the best). I believe she has the ability to influence the future of her students. If someone has an interest in dairy or organic farming, she'll find that individual and make the best of it.
What is the best vacation you've ever taken? It was a two-day Organic Valley-sponsored Farmers In Marketing Ambassador Training workshop, in Red Wing, Minn. Its emphasis was on how to connect more effectively with Organic Valley consumers to tell our farm story. The combination of being away from the farm and learning to be a better farmer-to-consumer advocate was just what I needed to re-energize. I also enjoy the time when I have the farm to myself - just the cows and I. From time to time, Rich and Madison travel to visit family, which leaves me here to run the farm myself. I love it. It's hard work, but so rewarding, that it's worth every minute.
What are words you like to live by? Dare to be different. Don't be normal, especially if normal is defined as the standard from which all else is measured.