Hungry for Truth’s annual Farm-to-Fork dinner is an opportunity for farmers and South Dakotans to gather around the table, share a meal and engage in conversations about how food is grown and raised. Our 2018 event took place at the Country Apple Orchard near Harrisburg, where more than 180 people came together to talk about topics such as environmental sustainability, pesticide use and food safety.
“The Farm-To-Fork dinner really brings the mission of the Hungry for Truth initiative to life. It’s a great way for us to personally share the truth about how we do things on our farms and honestly address questions or concerns,” said Vermillion farmer Jerry Schmitz. “Despite public perceptions, 98 percent of farms are still family owned in South Dakota, and we’re making more sustainable choices to ensure that tradition continues for generations to come.”
Let’s look at a few highlights from the evening, which included delicious local fare.
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Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
It’s always a pleasure to sit down and open up a conversation about food and farming with South Dakotans and the farmers who grow it. In fact, that’s what Hungry for Truth is all about. True to our mission, we had another wonderful opportunity of connecting, Iowa native and speech pathologist/feeding and language specialist, Andrea Boerigter with soybean farmers, Peggy and Brad Greenway of Mitchell, South Dakota to talk harvest, sustainability, food safety and animal care. They spent a gorgeous Sunday afternoon together filled with good conversation and farm education. Today, Andrea is sharing her perspective of her recent South Dakota farm visit.
This Sunday I was fortunate enough to visit and learn about one of South Dakota’s family owned farms. I was promised an experience of learning about everything that goes into the inner workings of a farm: from the manure being knifed into the field all the way to the meat being butchered. I absolutely got what I was promised, but I got a whole lot more.
The moment Peggy opened her front door and invited me to sit down with her, I entered a world I have not been in since my childhood. She spoke about her husband being in the field with harvest and her daughter bringing him out lunch. She talked about walking through the pig barns and being thankful it has been dry enough to be in the field. I had been part of all of these conversations before. I had heard these words from my grandparents. I also saw the same love and passion for her crops and animals as I had seen in my grandparents’ eyes. Because to be a farmer, you have to love it. It is too hard to do it if you don’t love it.
That part of farming has stayed the same. However, so much of it is different. This is where it gets fuzzy for me. This is where I needed to learn…a lot.
In my childhood, I recall a much smaller combine. The pigs were moved from outdoor cement pads to smaller barns throughout the year to protect them from elements. I recall all of this somewhat – what I mostly remember is when my grandpa let me bring a baby pig into the house and put doll clothes on it. My mother assured me she was never allowed to do such things.
So it was time to ask questions. And let me tell you, if you have questions – Peggy and Brad are the people to ask. They are a wealth of knowledge and so passionate. They speak about not wanting to change anyone’s mind about what they eat, but they want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn about what they do on their farm. I could not agree with them more.
Because I could rant and rave about this amazing day forever, I decide to walk you through each part of the process – just like they did with me.
We started at the house, me asking a million questions, Peggy having a million answers. She spoke about their mission – Sustainability and responsibility. She said “It is responsible for us to grow as much food as we can with as little effect on the land as possible.” She also spoke about how making changes to their farm are not done without great thought. They do not just throw up a hog barn, they use local companies for concrete and equipment, as well as the companies that build the barns. I take so much comfort knowing that people growing my food put this much thought into things like this. It means they are putting even more into my food.
From the house we headed out to the field to get in on some harvest action. I had not been in a combine since I was 5. Holy moley, have those things changed! After talking about the field and the acres and process, Brad invited me to hop on up for a ride. Did you know they have a computer that tells them exactly where to put what?! My grandpa did not have one of these. Different colors on their screen indicate where weak spots in the field are and where they should use less seeds or more seeds. They are able to mark spots that have rocks and even use their technology to decide how much of what kind of fertilizer goes where. Yeah…that is a thing! They have their manure tested to make sure it is at safe levels and then they use certain types of their manure on specific areas of land.
Along with that computer telling them where to put what, it also measures what is coming up as Brad combines. They know exactly how many bushels they are getting from each area. This allows them to be more specific when they plant again next year. They work with an agronomist to make final decisions on their fields, but without this technology, a lot of resources would be wasted.
Now that we covered how they built their farm, how they plant, grow and harvest their crops, we had one last stop. The hog barn. And I love pigs. I was one happy lady to be ending this amazing day at a hog barn. This was one fancy operation. When we entered the pig barn, we came into a small office. In the office we saw binders, pipes, rules, regulations, and a bunch of buttons (at which point I thanked God my kids weren’t with me to push). To keep the pigs healthy – and happy – they are inside year round. They are not only shielded from the cold, but also from the heat. The barn provides them with heaters, fans, and even misters in the summer. Peggy explained that the books were all records of each health check and walk through. They have a vet monitor their hogs and must keep very specific records for the state. This assures that hogs are being taken care of to the best possible degree.
A few questions I wanted to ask Peggy were about hormones, vaccinations, and antibiotics. She informed me no pig is given hormones, so that wasn’t something anyone needed to be concerned with. (Check that off our list of things to worry about.) Vaccinations are something every animal on her farm gets, and they are very similar to the type we give our children. As for antibiotics, she explained that when hogs become sick, they do treat them. But they only do this when necessary. Peggy stated “Vaccinations are something we do to keep pigs healthy. Antibiotics are different. We do not want to use antibiotics unless we need to. They are expensive and cause a lot of added paper work.” She also went on to explain that when given antibiotics, like all other animals being raised on farms, there is a period of time where the animal has to stay healthy and the antibiotics must leave the animal’s system before being brought to market.
And this ends my tour. I have to say, I learned a lot. I am not only taking away exceptional pieces of information for my own children, but so much for the families I work with as well. I feel prepared to offer suggestions and answer questions about the process of our foods and what the best choices are for the children I provide feeding therapy for. I also encourage any parent – with any questions – to go straight to the source. Farmers are the only people that know how the food is being produced. No one else. So, when in doubt, ask a farmer.
It was so amazing to see everything that has changed in the past 20 some years since I last rode in a combine and played with a baby pig. What was even more amazing was to see that the love a farmer has for their farm hasn’t changed a bit.
About Andrea Boerigter
Andrea Boerigter is a mom, wife, pediatric speech, language, and feeding therapist, owner of Bloom Indoor Play Center, and blogger. Andrea grew up in small town Iowa where she was fortunate to watch her grandfather and uncles farm as well as participate in 4-H showing pigs. She is passionate about helping families bring peace and knowledge to the dinner table through feeding therapy and education. Andrea spends every spare minute she has exploring the world with her children, Hank and Gus. Andrea currently lives in Sioux Falls but takes her children back to that small town Iowa life any opportunity she has.
Peggy and Brad Greenway take pride in finding new ways to grow safe and healthy food for families. Every day and every season, they look to improve their sustainability by reducing, reusing and recycling on their family farm. Over the years, their “start-up” has transformed into an efficient and environmentally friendly business that’s prepared to support future growth.
“Sustainability is so important to us because it’s the only way our farm will succeed. We need to do our best to take care of the land, water and our animals. Now, we’re proud our son is getting more involved with the farm and will help us keep the family tradition going,” said Peggy.
She loves that recycling happens so naturally on farms. They feed their pigs and cows the soybeans, corn and alfalfa they grow in their fields. The animals eat that food for energy to keep them healthy, and then the Greenways use the manure they create to fertilize the soil. Thanks to farm technology and their team of experts, this reducing and reusing process has become a sustainable cycle.
To grow healthy crops, Peggy and Brad spend time with their agronomist each year, reviewing data on digital field maps. He’s an expert in soil and crop health, and provides recommendations on the right amounts of fertilizer to apply and seeds to plant across each acre. If they have issues with weeds or pests, he can also provide them advice on the type and amount of pesticides they should use to ensure their crops are protected and nothing is wasted. They use his insights to set up the precision technology in their manure spreader, planter and other equipment make each pass across the field as efficient as possible.
On the animal side, the Greenways work closely with swine nutritionist and veterinarian to ensure their pigs stay as healthy as possible. Their feed is specifically formulated to meet the needs of each stage of growth, which means it could change up to 10 times in just six months!
To keep the pigs comfortable every day of the year, the Greenways house them in ventilated barns where they can control important factors like temperature and air quality. Peggy has seen firsthand how keeping pigs happy in climate-controlled barns translates to better efficiency.
“When we moved our pigs inside from our hoop buildings and kept them at a consistent temperature every single day of the year, we noticed it required less feed to get them ready for sale,” explained Peggy. “Looking back at that data now, we’d need to grow 100 more acres of soybeans and 160 more acres of corn if we went back to hoop barns. Better comfort using less land and water is a very measurable sustainability win.”
Those hoop barns aren’t going to waste. They still come in handy during calving. While cattle spend the majority of their lives grazing on open pastures, it’s nice for the babies and mamas to have shelter during birth in the winter months to ensure a strong and healthy start.
As Peggy and Brad continue to look for ways gain efficiencies, being attentive to the needs of crops and animals is something they know won’t change.
“We’re all about reducing waste when we can to make the most of our resources, but there are times when high touch is better than high tech,” stated Peggy. “It’s all about finding a balance so we can continue to grow in the right ways.”
Animal care is top notch in South Dakota. Learn more about ways calving has gone high tech.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
South Dakota farmers may have planted a record soybean crop this year, but the growing season and harvest have been challenging to say the least. Late planting coupled with a dry summer, unusually damaging hail and then rain and snow in October forced local farmers to take advantage of every sunny second in the combine to harvest a projected 277 million bushels of soybeans.
What’s the view from the field? Luckily we know a pint-sized crop reporter who has the 4-1-1 on all the soybean action near Andover. Dane Horter is back – with the help of his dad John – talking about harvest and sharing insights on how planting GMO soybean seeds and cover crops helps their family farm improve sustainability and protect yields.
Plus, we find out how second grade is going, whether or not Dane has a girlfriend and which football team he’s rooting for. Don’t miss out on all of this and a truck high-five!
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
If farming is like football, harvest is a soybean farmer’s championship game. They’ve clocked countless hours planning, preparing and nurturing their plants to provide nutritious food for South Dakota’s families. Now, it’s time to discover the results. Since farmers are always thinking ahead, and looking for ways to improve, it’s also a time for them to evaluate how their strategies worked and make even better plans for next year.
Last fall, we chatted with David and Miriam Iverson as they prepared for harvest on their farm in Brookings County. As combines began rolling this season, we checked back in with the family to see what updates they made and how they’ve paid off.
“We’ve had a really good growing season this year, and overall the crop looks really good,” said David. “When thinking about changes and improvements moving forward, we typically consider factors like the resources that will be needed, harvest costs and balancing the workload.”
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing the right thing for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. That’s why farmers evaluate their practices each season and make adjustments accordingly.
The Iversons made a few changes this year, such as increasing the amount of soybeans they planted and cutting back a bit on corn. They also decided to dabble in a new soybean variety and planted 300 acres of non-GMO high-oleic soybeans for the first time. High-oleic soybeans provide a source of vegetable oil for the food industry that is low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat and trans-fat-free.
Since they’re food-grade soybeans, the high-oleic variety is managed and harvested a little differently. Extra elbow grease is needed to clean out the combine, trucks, grain bins and augers before they’re harvested, and farmers have to use a slightly different crop protection strategy. However, their premium price is worth the extra effort. David said they’ve grown well on his farm so far and he may look to plant more next year.
The Iversons also use tools like soil sampling to determine which crop nutrients they’ll use for the next growing season.
“Once everything is harvested, I work with an agronomist to pull soil samples. We do this when we’re ready to rotate crops because the requirements vary for different plants,” explained David. “We send our samples to a lab, and they send back a full nutrient analysis so when a field is changing from soybeans to corn, we know exactly what that corn crop will need in the upcoming year.”
By working with experts to determine specific nutrient needs, David can be efficient with fertilizers and only apply exactly what is needed. Preserving crop and soil health is important for sustainable farming because it supports the longevity of the land, minimizes waste and maintains a healthy environment for future crops to flourish in coming seasons.
“Sustainability to me has a few different legs,” shared David. “One is maintaining soil health. There’s a lot of agronomy that goes into that aspect. There’s also the economic part of it. Improving the soil helps economically, and to be sustainable long term, you have to make decisions that financially benefit the farm.”
David’s family has passed their farm down for four generations and have achieved success through the changing times by implementing new techniques and best practices.
“The biggest aspect in recent years has been adding technology like autosteer and yield mapping,” said David. “That data helps us make better crop decisions and improve parts of the farm that are producing less.”
Today’s technology helps farmers interpret harvest and yield data of past years to grow safe and healthy food in the future. Whether reflecting on this year or planning for the next, harvest is special time for soybean farmers. Find out how another South Dakota farmer plans for the future by reading Matt Bainbridge’s story.
Rodney Elliott started his first dairy farm in Ireland with 20 cows and a big dream. Over time, he added 120 cows to the herd with goals to keep growing, but European grazing systems and government-established quotas stood in his way.
That’s when Rodney, his wife, Dorothy, and their three children looked toward America to realize the family dream.
After a visit to South Dakota and a lot of planning, they sold their farm in Ireland and founded Drumgoon Dairy near Lake Norden. Together, Rodney and Dorothy built high-tech dairy barns to house 1,400 cows and hired a team of dedicated employees to help in the day-to-day work. In the beginning, delegating cow care was difficult because Rodney was used to tending to each cow himself.
“I had to learn to trust other people to do the job,” said Rodney. “And accept the fact that sometimes they’re actually better at doing a job than I am.”
South Dakota dairy farmers like Rodney can manage larger, family-owned dairy farms because of the methods they use. In barns, farmers and employees can watch over each cow, protect them from the elements and feed them custom diets tailored to their needs.
Today, the Elliotts and 45 employees care for more than 4,700 cows each day and work together to grow the alfalfa and corn used to feed them. Rodney and Dorothy’s animal nutritionist helps them develop total mixed rations, which are precise combinations of ingredients designed to fit the needs of each cow. For example, ingredients like soybean meal may be added for extra protein and soybean hulls can be included for additional fiber. On average, South Dakota dairy cows eat 18,000 tons of soybean meal each year.
Farming in a way that is safe for the environment and helps protect soil and water for future generations is a priority for the Elliotts. They care deeply about their community, especially since everyone warmly welcomed them when they moved to the area. Since their dairy barns are newly built, Rodney ensured they comply with EPA standards from the start.
“We try to be good custodians of the land,” explained Rodney. “I treat my farm, not as a right, but as a privilege, and I work every day to keep that privilege.”
The Elliott family has an open-door policy at Drumgoon Dairy and welcomes visitors to stop by and see how a modern dairy is run.
“We are proud of what we do and like to share our story with those who want to learn more about where their food comes from,” said Rodney. “Come and look at the cows yourself. They always answer the questions. If they look content, they’re comfortable.”
Since 1896, David Struck’s family has been farming and caring for their land in Wolsey, South Dakota. Today, three generations of the family work together to grow soybeans, corn and wheat. While their roots run deep in the Beadle County soil, the family has adopted new technology over the years, allowing them to become more efficient and sustainable.
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing what’s best for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations.
David has played an active role in implementing new strategies to farm smarter, faster and more efficiently along the way. His son, Brady, is the fifth generation to be actively involved and brings a fresh perspective to the farm as a recent graduate of Lake Area Technical Institute.
“We do more in an hour than my grandpa did in a season, and we do more in a day than my dad did in a season when he started farming,” said David. “It’s almost hard to fathom, looking back and seeing how far farming has come.”
For example, GPS technology completely changed the game for the Strucks, allowing them to farm with precision. Flat rate application of pesticides and fertilizers is a thing of the past on this farm. Instead, they tailor how much they apply as they move throughout their fields to make sure they use the exact amount needed. GPS technology has also saved them time and labor.
“We used to have two guys constantly circling the farm in pick-ups to monitor irrigation systems and look for anything that could be wrong,” said David. “Now, with GPS, we can monitor them from the office.”
The Struck family also plants cover crops to protect their land. This emerging trend allows farmers to manage nutrients and weeds by planting crops like rye, barley or even radishes and turnips, to capture nutrients and moisture, and to keep the soil in place.
The Strucks also use no-till farming, which means they don’t disrupt the soil by plowing between plantings. Instead, they leave the stalks and roots where they are after harvest, and the leftover organic matter sticks around to enrich the soil and help retain moisture. Capturing as much water as possible is important to the Strucks since they farm in a dry region.
Speaking of moisture, they even use special irrigation technology called drop nozzles to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. In fact, their evaporation rate is less than a third of what it was 30 years ago.
These strategies may not have been used by David’s great-grandpa when the farm was established, but by embracing change and innovation, the family has grown safe and healthy crops for more than 120 years.
“There’s a perception that we’re running big corporate farms out here, that don’t care about the environment or about people, but that’s very untrue,” said David. “There are some big farms, but they’re still family farms with multiple generations involved in every one of them.”
In South Dakota, 98 percent of farms are family owned, and over 2,500 of those have been in the same family for more than a century. While the Strucks have expanded their farm throughout the years, it has always remained a family affair.
“We’re very family oriented out here,” said David. “Are we big? Yes. It’s different than it was 100 years ago, but we’re still family farms, not giant, faceless corporations.”
Butterflies are more than eye candy. Along with bees, these gorgeous insects play a crucial role in our food system, pollinating roughly 35 percent of the world’s food. That’s why Jamie Johnson decided to plant a pollinator-friendly garden on her family’s fourth-generation soybean, corn and wheat farm near Frankfort.
“Our two oldest daughters study rangeland plants and entomology for 4H, so I thought it would be fun to have our own little area to study outside our door,” Jamie said. “The plants along the barn are native prairie plants that serve as food and home to the native pollinators in our area. Some plants are host plants, which means they provide a home for the insect to lay eggs and for caterpillars to eat as they grow. Others provide nectar for adult insects to forage.”
The garden includes black-eyed Susan, milkweed, prairie drop seed grass, little bluestem grass, golden Alexander, gray headed coneflower, meadow blazing star and New England aster.
“I also have zinnias planted throughout the farmyard and in my garden, a definite butterfly favorite. It is an easy annual flower that’s very low maintenance,” Jamie explained.
She also pays attention to their other needs. During times of drought, creeks and rivers get low and stagnant, which makes it difficult for pollinators to get the water they need. She keeps a small dish of clean water near the plants so that bees and butterflies can quench their thirst when they visit the garden.
Protecting the land and insects in the natural environment is a priority for many farm families like the Johnsons. Bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects pollinate crops, helping them grow and reproduce. According to research from Iowa State University, soybeans may experience an 18 percent in yield boost when exposed to honey bees and native pollinators.
Responsible pesticide use is a crucial part of protecting pollinators. The Johnsons use precision technology in their sprayer to prevent pesticides from drifting off the crop field and onto nearby ditches, prairieland and shelter beds where pollinators live and forage. By planting GMOs or using soil-applied insecticides, they can target the insects and weeds that damage their crops without harming beneficial insects.
“As farmers, we know that having a healthy population of good insects helps keep the harmful bug population in control,” stated Jamie. “We also know it’s important to keep diversity in the prairieland, not only for wildlife, but also to keep the soil healthy. That’s why we only use the amount of pesticide needed to eliminate harmful insects or weeds.”
From protecting honeybees and practicing conservation tillage to implementing precision agriculture techniques, farmers are continuously trying to make their operations more sustainable. Sustainability means doing what’s right by the environment and leaving the land and water in better condition for future generations.
“As farmers, we care deeply about the plants, animals and soil,” Jamie contended. “Everything is connected in a delicate cycle. We try to do our very best to keep it all in balance in order to grow and raise safe, nutritious food.”
Want to learn more about the farmer and pollinator connection in South Dakota? Read this blog to learn how farmers and beekeepers work together to protect beneficial insects and grow healthy crops.
“The phrase ‘You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl’ is more accurate than you might expect,” says Kristin Harms. She and her husband recently returned to the small town of Leola to help run her parent’s cattle ranch. For Kristin, ranching isn’t just about raising safe, delicious beef. It’s as much a family tradition as celebrating the Fourth of July with this tasty fruit pizza.
“From the time I was a kid, I watched my parents care for their livestock and the land with pride and purpose,” Kristin said. “Even though there were times I thought I might venture outside of the agricultural industry, I always seemed to find my way back.”
Kristin’s family takes great pride in raising beef sustainably. For ranchers like Kristin, sustainability means continuously improving the land, leaving it better than it was found. Kristin and her family practice rotational grazing, which means their cows nibble on grass and clover in a different part of the ranch throughout the summer. This is healthy for the animals and also helps maintain the natural grasslands.
You might be surprised to learn that farmers also use genetic information to help raise animals more sustainably. For Kristin’s family, that means being thoughtful about mating cows with desirable traits. This leads to better milk production, easier calving and, ultimately, healthier cattle. This means that they can raise safer, healthier, tastier beef using less resources.
While breeding cattle for desirable traits does not create GMOs, the same concept applies to soybean farmers, who plant seeds that have been genetically modified. These seeds not only help farmers produce more food with less resources but also help protect the environment. The use of GMO seeds in soybean, corn and cotton production has reduced soil erosion by 93 percent across the U.S. since the mid-1990s, according to a study from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.
“We all have families that we want to keep safe and healthy, and part of doing that is making sure they have access to nutritious food,” said Kristin. “Taking care of others is incredibly important to the farmers and ranchers of South Dakota, and the only way to do that is to be ethical and sustainable.”
Ranching is all about family, and what better way to celebrate summer than gathering your loved ones around the grill with a delicious meal? No backyard bash is complete without dessert. Try Kristin’s favorite red, white and blue fruit pizza to make your Fourth of July one to remember.
“My mom has always been a fabulous cook. Now that I’m a mom, she’s passing on her stellar recipes and cooking skills or at least trying to,” Kristin said, laughing. “I’m pretty lucky to have a mom like her who shows me how to be a good mom and how to work my way around the kitchen.”
Gather your family and get cooking with Kristin’s fruit pizza recipe. For another dessert option, try a festive make-your-own s’mores bar.
Hungry for Truth held its third annual Farm-to-Fork Dinner in June, bringing to life its mission of uniting farmers and consumers around the dinner table to have open conversations about how food is grown and raised. Approximately 180 farmers and South Dakotans gathered at the Country Apple Orchard near Harrisburg for a social hour and meal featuring local food and beverages.
While the emerald orchard trees, luscious pink peonies and rustic wood architecture created a picturesque backdrop, the pinnacle element of the evening was the opportunity to share stories and connect.
“My favorite part of attending the Farm-to-Fork Dinner is the opportunity to hear more about what the farmers do year-round to create healthy food. There’s so much more to farming than just planting a seed and harvesting the crop,” said guest Lexie Frankman. “Plus, it’s a really fun vibe, and the menu is full of fresh, local favorites.”
Sandra Melstad agreed. “As someone who works in public health, I appreciate resources that can help families eat and live healthier lifestyles. Learning more about locally grown, sustainable foods is important to me and the people I serve. Hungry for Truth does a great job of bringing farmers and families together at this event,” she explained.
Dinner began with a welcome from Vermillion farmer Jerry Schmitz. He described his farm and how he grows soybeans, corn, apples and also keeps bees for local honey producers. Other farmers, including Jeff Thompson, Walt Bones and Alan Merril addressed the crowd throughout the meal, explaining how their family farms are becoming more sustainable.
“Our farms have changed to grow and raise food more efficiently but we’re also committed to caring for the soil, water, air and wildlife for future generations,” stated Walt, who gave some specific examples of technology and how it’s helped farmers grow more with less land and resources. “If farmers today used the techniques from the 1950s, we wouldn’t be able to grow enough food to feed approximately 131 million people. That’s equal to the number of people who live in the 9 most populated U.S. states.”
Alan shared how technology has helped him be more efficient with pesticide application and making sure just the right amount is applied to the crop at the right time.
Guest Karla Santi said she appreciates learning more about food and farmer safety when it comes to pesticides. “Pesticides can be useful in protecting crops, but it was good to learn about the growth of biotechnology products compared with pesticides. It’s good to know farmers use technology that helps keep them and our food safe.”
For Karla and other urbanites whose regular connection to the farm is the grocery store or a farmers market, sharing a meal around the table with a local farm family is a special treat.
“Farming is really key to being a South Dakotan. It’s a big part of who we are, and I’m excited to be part of celebrating it,” said Natalie Eisenberg.
Sustainability is a trending topic among South Dakota farmers and families. Farmers want to take care of the soil and water for future generations, and consumers want to know the food they’re eating is grown and raised with the environment in mind.
Morgan and Jason Kontz are no exception. Jason is the fourth generation in his family to grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and raise beef cattle near Colman. Morgan recently added a few free-range chickens to the mix.
Keeping up with the demands of the animals, crops and two young kiddos can be challenging, but they make time to explore new opportunities to enhance sustainability on the farm.
“We feel very privileged to have a role in growing safe and nutritious food for families. We’re making decisions today we hope translate to better soil and healthier crops and animals so our children have an opportunity to farm in the future,” said Morgan.
For example, they use no-till for growing all crops. No-till is just like it sounds: not tilling the field after harvest. By leaving plant stalks and roots in the ground, they keep the soil in place and enrich it with organic content and beneficial bugs. Over time, healthier soil translates to nutritious and productive crops.
Another way to improve soil health is through cover crops. These are crops planted before or after harvest that can increase organic matter and fertility, reduce erosion, improve soil structure and limit pest and disease issues. Morgan and Jason are planning to start using cover crops this fall. First, they need to test the soil to determine the right mix for their fields.
Their commitment to doing the right thing for the environment extends to the cattle barn. The deep-pit beef barn safely collects manure from cows in a large pit through grates in the floor. Then they apply the manure to their fields using a tanker truck and a drip line. Precision technology allows them to apply the right amount of fertilizer per crop, per acre.
According to Morgan, this is a perfect example of sustainability and recycling because they’re using waste to precisely fuel plant productivity.
“We want to be able to come full circle on our farm. We like that we can apply manure to feed our crops and then we use those crops to feed our cattle,” she explained. “Sustainability is more than a trend on our farm. It’s something we plan to continue growing for the future.”
Did you know that when it comes to being environmentally friendly, the size of the farm doesn’t matter? Test your knowledge with this blog on the truth behind five sustainability myths.
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing the right thing for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. BJ Hansen is no exception. On his farm near Turton, diversity is also key to building a sustainable future for their farm.
BJ is the third generation to join the business and works with his father and uncle to grow a variety of crops, including soybeans, corn, sunflowers, wheat and alfalfa. They use some of those crops to feed a herd of purebred Charolais beef cows, which he brought to the farm when he moved home. He uses embryo transplant technology to breed the Charolais and sell them as seed stock to other farmers and kids in programs like 4H.
Adding cattle to the mix brought a new level of diversity to the farm that allowed them to increase value without growing in size.
“My dad and uncle take care of the fields, and I manage the cows. Adding cattle to the farm is how I was able to come back and build a life for my wife and children,” explained BJ. “We probably won’t grow our farm by purchasing more land, so we have to find ways we can do more with what we have to grow healthy food.”
In addition to the cattle, they’ve also seen an uptick in wildlife thanks to the 60-foot grass waterway strips they installed along the creeks in their fields. Grass waterway or buffer strips are a conservation practice used by farmers to help filter rain as it runs off the field and into water. They are also great nesting ground for pheasants, ducks and other birds, which supports BJ’s outdoor adventures.
While he enjoys seeing the diversity their practices bring to the fields, he’s even more impressed with how efficient they’ve become. The cattle manure is recycled by spreading it on the fields to nourish crops and the soil. They’ve also stopped tilling the ground and started using cover crops to limit erosion and control weeds. Precision technology helps them apply just the right amount of pesticides when needed and plant the right amount of perfectly-spaced seeds per acre.
“We used to do a lot of tillage when I was growing up. Then in the 1990s my dad decided to stop and just leave the crop stalks and roots in place. With no-till, our soil has become so much healthier,” explained BJ. “We’ve continued to add conservation practices and technology to our farm and are seeing great results.”
The best part of all is that by focusing on sustainability through diversity, BJ’s kids may have the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.
“Sustainability is helping us get the most out of what we already have and make improvements for the future,” said BJ. “Someday I want my children to have the opportunity to join me on the farm and continue the tradition of growing safe and healthy food.”
Did you know South Dakota farmers are so committed to conservation that it’s the top state in the nation for enrollment in the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program? Read this blog to learn more.
Sometimes farming and ranching can get a little sloppy, especially when spring storms dump a couple feet of snow on the ground and interrupt calving season. Good thing for quick, kid-friendly family meals like Sloppy Joes to make sure everyone has the energy to pull on their boots and keep the cows and crops healthy and safe.
Bradee Pazour, her husband Joel and their boys are big fans of any kind of beef. Sloppy Joes are a tried and true comfort food that are great for lunch or dinner and easy to freeze or reheat as leftovers. While it’s OK to get a little sloppy in the kitchen, the Pazour family and many other South Dakota farmers and ranchers are anything but messy when it comes to growing and raising food.
“Sustainability is all about improving our practices to take care of the land and water for our future because it’s the right thing to do. Farmers are constantly educating themselves and using technology to become more efficient,” said Bradee. “Thanks to the GPS capabilities in all of our equipment, precision planting, pesticide application and field mapping have helped farmers be more accurate than ever before.”
In addition to growing soybeans, corn and wheat, the Pazour family also raises cattle as part of a feedlot. The attention to detail they use to grow crops also translates to how they care for their cattle.
The Pazours work with nutritionists and veterinarians to ensure their cows are well-fed and cared for throughout their lives. It starts with a diet high in roughage like grass, hay and silage, and gradually steps up to more grain and protein-rich ingredients such as corn and soybean forage to help them thrive as they get older. They also maintain clean pens and pastures, and ensure cattle have ample water sources.
“Cows are such neat animals and play an important role in in keeping our food system balanced. They act as ‘upcyclers,’ meaning they take inedible food – grass, hay, silage – and turn it into something healthy and nutritious we can eat,” explained Bradee.
By working together as a family, the Pazours are carefully and sustainably raising healthy foods to beef up mealtimes everywhere. Get Bradee’s favorite Sloppy Joe recipe below. While it’s simmering, take a few minutes to read more about environmentally friendly cattle ranching on another South Dakota family farm.
If you’re craving fresh, zesty tacos for your next fiesta, these Five-Step Chipotle Lime Shrimp Tacos fit the bill. Use taco seasoning to spice up the shrimp, and top them off with a zesty chipotle lime crema for added kick. The sour cream offsets the chipotle chili powder, giving this fresh, simple dish a hint of indulgence in just five steps.
Not a fan of shrimp? This recipe would also be delicious with any kind of whitefish, like cod, trout or walleye. Eating fish is not only healthy and delicious, it’s also getting more sustainable thanks to a company based right here in South Dakota. Brookings-based Prairie AquaTech uses soybeans to create protein-dense pellets to feed farm-raised fish. These soybean pellets are more environmentally-friendly than typical fish food, which is made from anchovies or haddock. Being sustainable means finding ways to have less impact on the land and water, while raising safe and healthy food.
Get your fiesta on by watching the video below for a step-by-step tutorial and then learn about other sustainable foods grown and raised in South Dakota by reading this.
Ram Farrell grew up around the world. His dad’s military career took the family everywhere from Hawaii to Panama to North Carolina. When it came time to literally put down roots, the Farrell family knew South Dakota felt like home.
Ram, now a 32-year-old father, is the third generation to farm in South Dakota. He grows soybeans, corn, wheat and cover crops near Parkston with his wife, Ashley, and their one-year-old daughter, Rosalie.
“I’m glad my daughter will have the opportunity to grow up on the farm. So many kids in big cities just don’t know very much about where their food comes from,” said Ram. “I can’t wait to teach her more about ag as she grows up. Maybe we’ll even farm together some day.”
As a young dad, Ram knows how important it is to protect the environment while growing nutritious, safe food to feed families. That’s why he practices precision agriculture. Ram leverages data and technology to determine exactly where to apply fertilizer and pesticides. Resources are applied only where they’re needed to limit waste.
Precision agriculture makes it possible to use a small amount of pesticide – about a coffee cup’s worth diluted in water – to cover an entire acre, which is about the size of a football field. To cover about 70 acres, it takes 18 gallons of pesticides diluted in 1,000 gallons of water.
“Some people think farmers are out here spraying pesticides every day and that’s just not the case,” Ram explained. “Farmers only want to apply as much as they need to grow a healthy crop. It saves money and, more importantly, it helps preserve the land for the next generation.”
In fact, Ram doesn’t apply insecticides to his crop. Insecticides are a type of pesticide that specifically target insects. Instead, he uses GMO seeds equipped with technology to defend against pests. GMO soybeans have reduced pesticide use by 37 percent, according to the American Council on Science and Health.
Ram also practices a form of conservation tillage called “no-till” to keep his soil healthy. After harvest, he leaves corn stalks and wheat stubble in the field. This reduces soil erosion, improves soil quality and conserves water and energy. No-till farming also helps suppress weeds, which means Ram uses less herbicides to grow healthy crops.
“We’re really treating the land the way God intended,” Ram stated. “The soil microbiology and everything happening below the surface, invisible to our eye, helps us grow healthy plants. It’s important for us farmers to understand how everything we do affects our crop and the land.”
Now you know how farmers use pesticides safely and sustainably. Go deeper with this blog post about how farmers apply pesticides.
When you imagine a South Dakota farm, you probably think of soybeans, corn and wheat. While row crops comprise most of our state’s agricultural production, South Dakota is home to farmers who safely and sustainably grow and raise some pretty surprising things. For many, sustainability is a priority because farm families want to do the right thing for the environment and improve the land and water for future generations.
At Hungry for Truth, we love connecting families with the farmers who grow and raise their food and digging into the truth behind what happens on today’s farms. Let’s explore some of the unique products that come from farms across our state.
1. Fish Food
Soybeans are a great source of protein and amino acids. They’re typically fed to farm animals such as chickens, turkeys, pigs and dairy cows as part of a balanced diet. However, in the last decade they’ve also become popular with farmers who raise fish because they’re a sustainable source of food.
Two South Dakota State professors noticed the opportunity a few years ago and founded Prairie AquaTech, a company in Brookings that transforms soybeans into fish pellets.
“Making fish food out of locally grown crops helps lessen the environmental impact of fish farming, while providing a protein-packed, nutrient-dense fish meal for healthy, tasty fish,” said Dennis Harstad, vice president of operations.
Hops are the ingredient that gives beer its bitter flavor. If you’re a fan of craft brews, you know the taste.
Ryan Heine transitioned from engineer to farmer when he and wife, Michelle Donner, established 6th Meridian Farm near Yankton, South Dakota, in 2014. They grow five acres of crops and process them into pellets for breweries.
Ryan uses his background to grow safe, quality crops. “Growing up on a corn and soybean farm taught me that farming is a science,” said Ryan. “I’m always checking the weather and walking the rows to check for any signs of pests or disease.”
You can taste 6th Meridian hops in select beers at these South Dakota breweries:
- Crow Peak Brewing Co., Spearfish
- Ben’s Brewing, Yankton
- Lost Cabin, Rapid City
- Haycamp Brewing Company, Rapid City
- Remedy Brewing Company, Sioux Falls
There’s nothing sweeter than local honey, according to beekeeper Nic Hogan. This South Dakota native has over 5,000 colonies stretching from Wagner to Vermillion.
His bees travel with him all over the country to pollinate almond groves in California and vegetable fields in Texas. Nic knows that working with farmers is an important part of protecting his bees.
“Bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of the food grown in the United States, so it’s important that we keep them safe,” explained Nic. “Beekeepers can help farmers make key pesticide decisions to protect pollinators like bees.
Wave “hi!” as you pass fields of sunflowers grown by Moriah and Austin Gross while driving through Sully County, the sunflower capital of the United States. The Grosses love to host the public at their fifth-generation family farm for pheasant hunting, sweet corn picking and, of course, sunflower field frolicking.
“I host an annual photoshoot in the sunflower fields for my students,” said Moriah, who teaches music in Onida and Pierre. “Their parents are always happy to see how we care for the land while running our business.”
In addition to sunflowers, the Grosses grow corn and wheat, using sustainable practices like conservation tillage. Conservation tillage is when a farmer leaves corn stalks or other crop residue in the field after harvest, which reduces soil erosion while conserving water and energy.
5. Goat Meat
Goat meat might not be something you regularly put on your table, but this lamb-like meat is a staple in cuisines worldwide. Goats can be raised on relatively little land, making them a sustainable choice for people who may not have access to beef.
Leslie Zubke of Watertown has been raising goats since she was five years old. She regularly cares for more than 20 female goats, or “nannies,” and one male goat, a “billy goat.” Most of the goats she raises are sold at sales barns and transported to grocery stores outside the U.S.
While you might not be adding goat meat to your meal plans soon, it’s a safe bet others are enjoying nutritious goat meat raised on the Midwestern plains. But that’s only if Leslie can catch them.
“They’re Houdinis!” exclaimed Leslie. “They can jump out of their pens and get in a bunch of trouble.”
Do you know a local farmer who grows or raises something unique or unexpected? Let us know in the comments below. Keep your sustainability knowledge growing with these myths and truths.
Thirteen years ago, Rebekah Scott was a young farm wife struggling to make ends meet. In an effort to give Christmas presents on a budget, she leaned on a lifelong passion for sewing and designed handbags as gifts for her family. They loved them and soon her favorite hobby blossomed into a business: Rebekah Scott Designs.
Today, she employs 20 South Dakota women who sew bags, process orders and respond to customer inquiries from her home in Valley Springs. But Rebekah isn’t the only entrepreneur in the family. Her husband, Nick, is a fifth-generation farmer. Together, they grow corn and soybeans, and raise cows and pigs.
“People often don’t think of farmers as entrepreneurs, but they really are,” Rebekah said. “Nick and his dad, Glen, are always trying new seeds and farming techniques in order to grow the best crops while preserving the land for the next generation.”
Doing what is right for the environment is a top priority for the Scotts, who have four children. Continuously improving the land means their kids will have the ability to farm alongside them one day.
Rotating crops is one way they reduce soil erosion and improve soil quality. Growing the same plants on the same land continuously can deplete the soil of certain nutrients. When you rotate crops, you give the soil an opportunity to recover and build up nitrogen through soil-enriching plants like soybeans.
Just like soybeans help support other plants by enriching the soil, Rebekah has made it part of her mission to support and inspire other rural women who want to start or grow businesses. She holds regular workshops and produces a podcast called “The Encourager” to help women develop strategies to manage the demands of work and family.
“Rural women make great entrepreneurs because you have to be creative and resourceful when you’re out here in the country and can’t go to town every time you need something,” Rebekah said. “My mission is to equip them with the tools they need to execute their long to-do lists and achieve their dreams.”
This includes connecting her fellow entrepreneurs with initiatives like Hungry for Truth, which is dedicated to bringing farmers and families around the table to have honest conversations about how food is grown and raised.
Do you have a question for a farmer? Share it in the comments below. Then read about another farm woman who uses cover crops to make her family farm more sustainable.
Eggs are a staple ingredient in so many of our favorite dishes, from protein-packed breakfasts to comforting chocolate chip cookies. South Dakota hens lay almost 700 million eggs a year to fill that spot in our refrigerators, but rarely do we stop to think about how they’re raised.
One farmer who spends a lot of time and energy taking care of those amazing birds is Jason Ramsdell of Dakota Layers in Flandreau. His family-owned farm processes about 1 million eggs every day. Leveraging technology helps the farm be more efficient, which keeps the operation sustainable and boosts the quality of life for his chickens.
For farmers like Jason, sustainability is an important part of doing business. It means continuous improvement and doing what’s right for the environment and the birds he cares for. Many farmers strive to leave the land in better condition than they received it to benefit future generations.
“We make sure nothing is wasted,” said Jason. “We have water lines feeding into each of the barns, so the chickens have just the right amount of water readily available to them. We also feed them out of a trough, so they don’t have the opportunity to waste any of the feed by scattering it on the ground.”
Dakota Layers isn’t the only environmentally friendly egg farm. Since 1960, American egg producers have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, used 32 percent less water and about half the amount of feed today as they did back then.
Advances in technology help farmers waste less water and feed, but improvements in the quality of feed have also made a big difference. Today’s chickens are fed protein-rich soybean meal, corn, distiller’s grains and added vitamins and minerals. The eggshell is made out of calcium, so chickens need a diet rich in that nutrient in order to create healthy eggs.
“Anything that’s taken in by the bird is used to produce the eggs,” explained Jason. “Since eggs are one of the best sources of protein out there, layers need a protein- and calcium-rich diet.”
Everything Jason does, from choosing a blend of nutrients to feed his hens to designing barns to house them, is centered around creating healthy, safe food for your family.
“One of the most interesting things many consumers might not pay attention to is how our grandfathers moved hens from a cage-free environment to cages specifically to keep them healthier and to ensure the safety of the eggs,” Jason stated. “Because our hens are in a closed environment, we can keep a closer eye on their health.”
Newer chicken facilities have what’s called “belted high rises” that ensure manure is quickly removed from the cages via a conveyer belt. This improves air quality and reduces the chance of cross-contamination between manure and the eggs.
Laying facilities also have temperature controls to make sure hens are comfortable. Farmers like Jason are constantly checking the temperature of their barns, as well as the air quality and the amount of water and feed available to the chickens to make sure their hens are healthy and happy.
Want to try Dakota Layers eggs? You can pick them up at Hy-Vee or County Fair Foods locations in the eastern part of the state. After you pick up a carton, check out this tasty egg bake recipe to fuel your morning.