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By Laurie Kesteloot
My family’s farm is located just east of Marshall, Minn. My brothers and I are the third generation to operate the farm, which we do alongside my parents. With a team of about 15 employees, we raise and sell 80,000 market hogs annually and farm 600 acres of corn and soybeans.
My parents never pushed careers in agriculture on my brothers and me when we were growing up. In fact, I never had any intention of returning to the farm. I studied economics and accounting in college, worked in the banking industry, and never planned on looking back. In the first couple of years of my career I began to notice a cultural shift toward people wanting to know where their food came from. In the media, at grocery stores, and at dinners with friends, the misperceptions I was hearing about where our food comes from and how farmers are raising animals was almost overwhelming. It was a steady drumbeat that I wanted to disrupt by sharing some of my own personal experiences.
It’s funny how life takes you places you didn’t expect. The commentary on farming began pulling me back to my family’s farm, and two years later I’ve found myself in a job that is innate for me — working with my parents and my two brothers improving our family farm everyday.
More than any generation before us, young farmers like my brothers and me have a responsibility to reconnect people to their food. And I’m not just talking about things like the upswing in farmers markets, eating local, or the farm-to-table movement. These are all good things, and to some extent they’ve helped create a need for that connection point. But a lot of farmers, and a lot of farm families, aren’t part of these trends. And I think that’s where young farmers can fill the void. We bring a new way of thinking and a belief in technology to our family farms, and like the generations before us, we have a passion for producing sustainable, safe, and nutritious food.
Even though I’m back on the farm, I try to stay connected to what’s happening in bigger towns and cities across Minnesota. What kinds of questions are consumers asking? Where can I present my personal experiences? And how can I take part in some of these conversations and provide simple facts. For instance, when most people look at me they see a farmer. But I’m a consumer too. I eat the meat that my family raises, and so do my niece and nephew. Safe and nutritious food is important to me, too, and that is my connection point with consumers who are asking these questions.
I never thought I would return to the farm, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As part of the next generation, I value knowing that we are continuing the farm that my grandparents established and my parents grew. I’ve seen the many changes our farm has gone through over the years, and it is exciting to think about what the future will bring to the industry.
I take a lot of pride in the farm my family has built over three generations and want to help connect people to the farm again. The gap can be narrowed, and I hope we can pull back the curtain and share our love for the food we produce.
For me, farming is much more than just a job. It’s a way of life.