Being environmentally friendly is an important part of today’s family farms. Thanks to advancements in technology, adoption of conservation tillage and other factors, more than 90 percent of U.S. soybeans are grown sustainably. Most South Dakota families may not realize how much farmers focus on making improvements to care for the land and water, while growing healthy food, because it happens behind the scenes.
Think you know the truth about farms and sustainability? Test your knowledge below with five common myths and the truth behind them.
Myth: Farmers are becoming less sustainable.
Au contraire, farmers are becoming more sustainable. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance estimates soybean farmers today are growing nearly 50 percent more soybeans now than just 30 years ago with a third of the water and energy and just under half the land. They’ve also cut greenhouse gas production and soil loss by nearly half.
Myth: Only small, organic farms are sustainable.
When it comes to sustainability, size really doesn’t matter. It’s all about making smart choices for the land and water. For example, the tillage that some organic and conventional farmers do to avoid using pesticides and create a good seedbed can disrupt soil health. Reducing tillage is something family farms of all sizes and practices can do to be more environmentally-friendly.
Myth: GMOs are not sustainable.
GMO seeds allow farmers to grow safe crops that are more resistant to certain pests, diseases and environmental conditions than plants grown from traditional seeds. Because GMO crops are better at defending themselves, farmers can use fewer pesticides. The American Council on Science and Health estimates GMO soybeans have helped reduce pesticide use by 37 percent.
Myth: Pesticides are not sustainable.
Pesticides are used by many farmers, organic and conventional alike. When used responsibly, they help protect crops from devastating pests. South Dakota soybean farmers must be educated and certified to mix and apply pesticides. They also use technology and equipment to ensure they’re using just the right amount to get the job done.
Myth: Sustainability is about choosing the environment over people.
Sustainability is all about making the right environmental choices now so families continue to enjoy safe and healthy food in the future. It’s choosing the environment and people. For South Dakota farmers, families are the key reason to protect the land and water for the future.
So how did your knowledge stack up against the facts? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Continue learning how South Dakota farmers go green by reading this story about a farmer near Colton.
Sustainability is becoming a priority to everyone, especially when it comes to purchasing food. At Jorgensen Land and Cattle and Lazy J Grand Lodge, sustainability is at the forefront of every decision they make.
“Everything we do on each acre of our land is focused on maintaining and advancing soil health,” said Bryan Jorgensen, general partner at Jorgensen Land and Cattle and Lazy J Grand Lodge in Ideal.
Bryan and his brother Greg, his nephew Cody, and son Nick are partners in their family’s Leopold Award-winning 12,000-acre land and 900-head cattle farming operation. When they say they’re focused on soil health, they mean it.
Crops and Cattle
Every aspect of their business is intertwined to bring the best results for the land for years to come. On the crop side of the farm, 100 percent of their 12,000 acres are no till. This means they leave the crop stalks and roots in the soil instead of mulching them into the soil. This practice helps keep the soil in place, and adds to the plant material in the soil, bettering soil health. They plant a rotation of harvestable crops and cover crops. In addition to soybeans, the Jorgensens raise other crops to feed their cattle with including winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, peas, alfalfa, milo, cane sorghum, and corn.
Bryan said all of their crop decisions are based on the feed needs of the cattle. When the feed yard is full, it requires 225,000 pounds of feed per day. Purchasing that feed they need can be extremely expensive, so they choose to grow 90 percent of it. While they plant traditional grain crops like corn and soybeans, they also include a variety of other crops in their feeding rotation to provide a well-rounded diet to their cattle, as well as maintain the health of the soil in which the crops are planted.
“Everything we plant is dual purpose. Corn can be harvested for grain, but we can also chop the crop for silage,” he said. “We plant cover crops to increase organic matter in the soil and to feed our cattle from time to time. When the cattle are out on the land, they replenish the soil through their manure. Everything comes full circle.”
When they’re not managing the land and cattle, the Jorgensen family also operates the Lazy J Grand Lodge, a hunting lodge positioned near their farm offering all-inclusive, four-day hunting trips.
“While visitors stay with us, we feed them, house them and give them the chance to see our farm,” said Bryan. “Most of the people who hunt with us aren’t from the farm, so it gives us an opportunity to tell our farm’s story.”
Their hunting business is in the Golden Triangle area of South Dakota, making it the premiere spot for hunting wild birds like pheasants. To maintain the wild bird population on their grounds, they plant roughly 700 acres of food plots with crops in the bird’s natural diet.
“For us, it’s not about farming or hunting for the business. We don’t make our plans around the bottom line,” Bryan said. “We try and look at the land as a resource we take care of, make better and give back to the next generation.”
Just like the Jorgensen family, Hungry for Truth aims to connect consumers with South Dakota farmers to create an open dialogue about food and farming. Check out how other small businesses and organizations, like Kirsten from the Carrot Seed Kitchen in Brookings, connect customers to the farms supplying her store.
It’s harvest time in South Dakota, and our favorite pint-sized crop reporter is back to give us the scoop on what’s happening on the Horter family farm near Andover. An important part of harvesting the crop is transporting it from the field to the local elevator. Today, Dane and John are on location at the elevator waiting in line to sell the soybeans that will become food for animals in South Dakota and around the world. Read about the journey.
Dane is in the driver’s seat sharing a recap of the growing season, how harvest going, what keeps them busy in the winter and brightening our day with a joke. Hint: Watch to the end if you want a chuckle.
We will check back with Dane when he gets out in the combine. In the meantime, you can learn more about how the season started with this crop report from planting season.
Harvest is when farmers and gardeners alike enjoy the results of their labor. We checked in with our dynamic gardening/farming duo Ken and Vonda Schulte from Geddes to find out how their crops and garden produce fared. They also talked about harvest plans and Vonda shared a tip on how to make preserving garden-fresh produce a snap.
Q: What was the growing season like on your farm?
Vonda: This year, things started off slow. After planting, it didn’t rain for a long time. The ground was hard and most of the seeds didn’t germinate. I had to replant. We had rain in August, so the weeds popped up. My garden looks like a jungle right now. Every year is different. It can be frustrating, but I try to learn from it and do something different next year. Mother Nature is always in control.
Ken: It was very hot and dry in June and July, which slowed corn pollination and kernel growth. When rains came in August, it helped our soybean plants form and fill pods, so they look good now. Overall crop growth is behind so we’ll start harvest a little later than usual.
Q: What types of pests did you experience and how did you manage them?
Vonda: Squash beetles. They’re nasty. They burrow into the plant, kill it and move to the next variety. I don’t like to use pesticides unless necessary, so next year I’ll plant my squash in a raised bed with different soil. That should keep them from coming back.
Ken: Kochia (weed) was a big problem in our fields. We sprayed pesticides, but the dry weather means they didn’t work well. Grasshoppers were also an issue, but I just sprayed the border around the affected fields with some insecticide. My sprayer is equipped with technology that keeps me from overlapping pesticide applications. I only like to spray when necessary so the technology helps a lot.
Q: When do you harvest crops and how long will it take? Does anyone help you?
Vonda: I plant and harvest fruits and vegetables all the time. Lettuce, radishes and spinach like cool temperatures and only take six weeks to grow. I pick those in May, then plant a second round in September. Next up are potatoes, string beans and broccoli in the middle of the summer. Then it’s peppers, tomatoes and celery in early fall. Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes are last. They like a freeze; it makes them sugary. Onions, herbs, beets and carrots can be harvested throughout the season.
I harvest everything myself, but our daughters and grandchildren love to pick and eat foods right out of the garden, so I guess they help too.
Ken: My brother-in-law and neighbor help me. Typically, harvest begins during the first week in October. If the weather cooperates and we don’t have to repair any equipment, we finish in 30 days.
Q: How do you prep your garden and fields for winter?
Vonda: I clean it up by pulling all the plants out. Then I amend or improve the soil and cover with peat moss and leaves. In the spring, it’s ready for me to dig in. I don’t till up the soil; tilling just makes weeds.
Ken: After combining, we apply herbicides to control weeds. We don’t till our soil, which helps manage erosion and protect it during the winter. Then we clean up the equipment, park it in storage and go hunting. That’s our incentive for being safe and efficient in the field.
Q: Do you have any tips for preserving all that fresh produce?
Vonda: Keeping it simple is the key. People make canning a big deal and try to pack too much into a day or weekend. I keep a small tote of canning supplies ready to go in the kitchen and just pull it out throughout the summer when I have time. You’ll be surprised how quickly a little bit adds up.
Canning Tote Supplies
- Jars, cleaned in dishwasher
- Canning lids
- Canning funnel
- Magnetic lid lifter
- Jar lifter
Ready to try your hand at canning? Here’s how to make Vonda’s raspberry jam.
There’s no doubt that many South Dakota families have questions about how their food is grown and raised. They know what it looks like on grocery store shelves, but aren’t necessarily familiar with where it came from and want to know more. Kirsten Gjesdal, owner of Carrot Seed Kitchen, has witnessed the disconnect firsthand when visitors to her store thought an ornamental pepper plant was a carrot plant.
“I received the plant as a gift from a friend, who put a carrot seed card into the plant to honor the name of the store,” she said. “I am shocked to see how many people ask if that is actually how carrots grow.”
The Carrot Seed Connection
Hungry for Truth helps facilitate genuine connections between South Dakotans and farmers who grow our food, and Kirsten also shares that same passion. She opened Carrot Seed Kitchen two years ago to help people in Brookings connect with what they eat through quality kitchenware. She spent the previous two years working as an event planner and was tired of sitting at a desk planning meals for corporate functions.
“I wanted to be involved in the community, working one-on-one with cooks and foodies,” Kirsten explained. “I started off selling cooking items, but always dreamed of expanding one day to include food,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure how to do it.”
Food And Farmers
After introducing the “Follow Your Food” event series to help customers learn more about how local food is grown and raised, she realized just how passionate the people of Brookings were about connecting with the farmers.
“Our pizza night event was a crowd favorite. Everyone made their own pizza and chatted with the farmers about what it takes to grow produce,” Kirsten said. She enjoys learning about what happens on today’s farms and sharing that experience with others in the community.
When she attended our Farm-to-Fork Dinner in June, it was the first time she’d been on a farm with animals. She learned about cow comfort and how they eat a healthy, balanced diet including soybean meal, silage and corn. She also had the opportunity to ask the farmers directly about the processes on their farms.
“It’s so nice to meet the real, actual farmers who raise the animals. They were so open to talking about what they do and why they do it,” said Kirsten. “Many people don’t think about the connection crops like soybeans have with the food we eat. I had no idea South Dakota farmers harvest about 250 million bushels of soybeans each year! Those soybeans go on to feed chickens that lay eggs, cows that give us milk and cheese and of course bacon and pork chops from pigs.”
Expanding the Kitchen
When the opportunity came to buy the space next door and expand Carrot Seed Kitchen to include local foods, she jumped at it. Now the store includes a large area featuring milk, cheeses, butter and ice cream from Stensland Family Farms, as well as local meats and produce from the Dakota Fresh Food Hub.
She’s already planning for further growth to support other small businesses by adding an incubator kitchen and opening it up to entrepreneurs who need extra cooking space and a place to sell their products. Kirsten hopes Carrot Seed Kitchen can help others succeed.
“I needed something I could really be proud of that adds value to my life and the lives of others,” she said. “I’m so lucky. I get to help people connect with their food and learn more about where it comes from through my store.”
Create a farm-to-fork journey in your kitchen by reading these farm stories and making their favorite recipes:
You may be surprised to know that the farmers you see on Hungry for Truth billboards along South Dakota roads aren’t models. They’re real local farmers. Some have farmed their whole lives and others recently discovered a love of the land. All of them are committed to growing safe and healthy food for your family.
We thought we’d take you behind the scenes to learn more about the farms behind those friendly faces and why they’re involved with Hungry for Truth.
Morgan and Jason Kontz
Though she was not a farmer, Morgan met Jason online through farmersonly.com when she was a student at Purdue University in Indiana and he was farming in Colman, South Dakota. After getting to know each other through phone calls and online chats, they finally met in the summer of 2008. Morgan had car trouble on the drive out so she arrived later than expected. Within minutes of meeting Jason for the first time, she also met most of his family at a reunion.
That might’ve scared off some women, but not Morgan. She loved his family and the wide-open spaces for adventure on his farm. Soon, she transferred to South Dakota State University and one year after that first in-person date, they married. Today, they have two children who all work together to grow food on the farm.
“Until I moved to the farm, I had no idea just how much effort goes into making sure the food we grow and the practices we use on the farm are safe,” said Morgan who also blogs about her experiences. “Being involved in Hungry for Truth gives me the opportunity to talk with other moms about how we make safety a top priority for our kids and theirs.”
John and Dane Horter
John and Dane Horter are a father/son duo who enjoy growing food for South Dakota families near Andover. Dane may be young, but he already knows and loves the ins and outs of farm life. He feeds cows and helps during calving. He rides along in the tractor during planting and in the combine during harvest. He’s even become a budding newscaster, giving crop reports from the field, sharing what he’s learned about the safety of GMO seeds, the latest farm technology and how to care for animals from his dad.
It may seem like a lot of responsibility, but that’s part of being the sixth generation to continue the family legacy. Learning from the past and improving practices for the future are important for feeding their friends and neighbors.
“Hungry for Truth is a way for me to share our farm story,” said John. “Farming today looks much different than when my grandpa farmed, and it’s going to change even more by the time Dane grows up. We want South Dakotans to know how food is grown and raised, and that we make choices every day to become more sustainable so all of our families have a bright future.”
Monica and Mike McCranie
Monica McCranie is another city gal who moved from Denver, Colorado to South Dakota to build a life on the farm with her husband Mike. For more than 30 years, they’ve worked side by side in Claremont to grow soybeans, corn and raise two sons. They are also well-traveled and love learning about agricultural practices in different parts of the world. All this experience translates into confidence in the grocery store when Monica selects foods to feed their family. Understanding labels is key.
“As a consumer and a mom, I understand how confusing it is to look at a label and understand what it does and doesn’t mean,” Monica said. “What is important to know is that, no matter what the label says, whether that food was grown conventionally or organically, whether it’s a GMO or not, it has the same nutritional value.”
Monica and Mike believe there’s a lot of great information to share about food labels and what they mean to help moms make the right choices for their families. Hungry for Truth is one way they can reach across the table and have those conversations.
Get to know more about the farmers who grow and raise your food by reading these stories. Or if you have a question for any of our farmers, let us know.
If one thing is true about South Dakotans, we love making memories outside with our families. One of our favorite places to visit in the fall is the Country Apple Orchard in Harrisburg. Kevin Kroger, general manager, knows exactly what that’s like since he’s been working at the orchard with his own family for 12 years.
“All of my eight children pitch in, even my youngest,” said Kevin. Kevin’s stepfather and grandmother are the primary owners, making it a true family affair.
“The first year was a little sticky, but every year it gets easier,” he said. “We learn more and get better. We know we are investing in success with 100 acres of prime South Dakota farmland.”
Running a farming business has been a trial-and-error process. Kevin’s family felt that firsthand when they began maintaining their trees. “We were hit with a hard frost right off the bat. It was hardly the optimal season to start with an orchard,” he chuckled. “We almost went without enough apples that season. Now we can’t grow enough of them!”
That’s great news for Americans everywhere, who eat an average of 55 pounds of apples annually. In addition to pruning their 4,500 trees, the Country Apple Orchard sprays their apples with linseed oil before they blossom to ensure a plentiful harvest of healthy apples for families to pick and enjoy.
“No one likes biting into an apple with insects in it,” Kevin said. “Like other farmers, we only spray pesticides when the apples need it.”
While the Kroger family doesn’t have a typical South Dakota farming background, Kevin did walk beans as a child. That means walking through soybean fields and picking weeds for Sioux Falls area farmers. It’s a chore many seasoned farmers remember, but is no longer needed on most farms thanks to technology.
“I was exposed to hard work in the older days of farming, and I didn’t think I wanted anything to do with it,” Kevin said. “Now, with technology, it’s so much easier and much more enjoyable.”
Today’s farmers use different types of technology, including GPS, drones and computer-generated soil maps to grow healthy food more efficiently. Over the past 30 years, soybean farmers grew 46 percent more soybeans using 35 percent less energy thanks to technology and more sustainable farm practices.
Being more efficient means farm families might have a little extra time to enjoy an afternoon at the Country Apple Orchard. Kevin and family pack weekdays with school field trips and weekends with festivals. Even Santa takes a break from his work at the North Pole to stop by and say hi before the busy holiday season.
“In today’s world, it can be really hard to slow things down,” he said. “Here, families go on wagon rides, pick apples and pumpkins, and enjoy delicious local foods. Slowing down to take in the outdoors makes family time more memorable.”
Cooking together is another way to create memorable moments. Try out one of these recipes with your family this fall.