Stories that Show Family Farming Can Save our Food System

Contributing Author: Caroline Fox

Since last year, Food Tank’s Farmer Friday series has been telling the stories of farmers and ranchers focusing on sustainable farming practices. These practices include crop rotation, grassy waterways, preserving reconstructed wetlands, and farming on the contour. Many of these farmers are part of Niman Ranch, a network of over 720 family farmers and ranchers across the United States who focus on raising livestock traditionally, humanely, and sustainably.

Food Tank is excited to share the stories of 13 remarkable farmers.

Aaron Williams on Local Farming and Young Farmer Opportunities

Following in his father’s footsteps, Aaron Williams is a second generation Niman Ranch producer on Williams Family Farm in Villisca, Iowa. After graduating from Iowa State University in 2013, Williams pursued his passion for caring for pigs, and Niman Ranch allowed him to do what he loves and make a living doing it. Williams Family Farm practices no-till farming to preserve the ground soil and, as a sixth-generation hog farmer, Williams emphasizes the importance of taking better care of the land so that it can be passed on to the next generation in an even better condition than when it started.

Ag Is “Not a Question of Winners and Losers”

The Gilberts are recognizing their responsibility not only to their land and the animals they raise, but also to their neighbors, everyone who eats Niman Ranch products, and everyone who wants to eat food and use the land in the future. Since 1998, the Gilberts have been selling hogs to Niman Ranch, a company that they feel truly appreciates their efforts as farmers, genuinely cares about their individual interests, and ensures their welfare. The Gilberts emphasize the importance of working together towards providing maximum nutrition in the most sustainable way, even if it means starting small and slowly gaining skills and knowledge from established farmers.

April Wilson Wants People to Know Their Food

April Wilson is a third-generation hog farmer on her family farm, Seven W Farm, and she stands by Niman’s philosophy that animals should be raised using humane practices. Being part of the Niman Ranch family has brought Wilson a new community that understands her hard work and values, and she appreciates the opportunity to give consumers a choice in how their animals were raised. Wilson actually moved away from her family farm after graduating college, but city life brought on the realization that farming is a part of who she is, and she decided to move back and carry on her family’s legacy of taking care of animals and the land.

Farming Better Isn’t Enough: We Need to Protect Land

Integrity is what pulled Steve Peterson back to the Peterson Family farm in Decatur, MI in 1973, determined to reach a sustainable food system and treat the fields and woodlots with integrity. Jan and Steve have created a family of sustainable advocates, with their son Ted working on the farm part-time and their oldest son Luke, who received a Mina Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Award in 2008, now working as a conservation biologist in California. The Peterson family has always farmed hay and corn sustainably and raised their pigs naturally. Now, they are excited that the rest of the world is following suit at every level of the food system.

“Farming Is Who I Am”

Fulfilling their ‘personal farm legacy,’ Deleana and Tim Roseland of Roseland Family Farms use sustainable farming practices such as grassy waterways and terracing on their land so that their farm can be carried on for generations. With unpredictable market conditions, the Roselands joined Niman Ranch in 2005 and radically changed their pig raising techniques, adjusting to the Niman Ranch’s high standards. Tim believes family farmers dedicated to how they raise their livestock are leaders in protecting people, animals, and environmental health.

Farming Sustainably “Is a Responsibility Not to Be Taken Lightly”

Since 1969, the Crowe family has raised hogs on the Crowe Family Farms in Monroe City, MO. Adair Crowe is a sixth-generation farmer, and does everything he can to preserve and build better soils for the future. The Crowes practice sustainable agriculture by rotating crops, contour farming, building terraces, and using composted manure from the hogs. While Crowe does raise hogs the ‘old fashioned’ way, he also credits innovative technologies that help improve every aspect of farming and give him the responsibility to affect the food system long after he is gone. Niman Ranch allows Crowe to feel valued, understanding all of the hard work and reinforcing his ‘all in this together’ mentality.

Farming Sustainably is the Key to “Ensure that the Farm Will be Here for our Children”

After low hog prices hit in 1998, Paul and Andrea, who started Alderland Farm in New Providence, IA, were drawn to sell their hogs to Niman Ranch. Niman Ranch’s premium guarantee allowed them to bring their oldest son back to the farm—awarding him the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Award twice—and allowing the Browns to keep their entire family together. The Browns have a passion for educating their community, and Paul’s passion for the community won him the 2014 Niman Ranch Farmer of the Year Award.

Future Family Farmers Help Communities Grow

Scheer began farming by growing hay, corn, and soybeans while working other jobs in the city to support his passion for farming. As the farming community began to change and Scheer saw farms growing larger with fewer farmers running them, he joined Niman Ranch to secure his family farming lifestyle. He believes family farmers are the future of communities and agriculture. Scheer wants to inspire young and beginning farmers to get started, starting with his son Anthony, who is currently the youngest farmer to work with Niman Ranch.

“I Couldn’t Think of a Reason to Not Farm Sustainably,” Says Howe

For Steve Howe, treating livestock humanely is a tradition that spans generations. Howe raises corn and alfalfa, all of which is used internally to feed the pigs, which then provide manure to fertilize the crops. Essentially, Howe cannot think of any reason to not farm sustainably, because it allows him to move forward and keep maintaining progress for multiple generations. Similar to other farmers, Howe joined Niman Ranch after the falling prices in the pig market. Now, Niman Ranch is like a family to him, and he believes mentorships and human connections such as this partnership is what will create opportunities for young farmers in the future.

Producing Better Pork

Phil Kramer’s father was a Niman Ranch Hog Farmer of the Year Recipient and, for the past fifteen years, Kramer has been fulfilling his career dream of working with livestock and being outside. He emphasizes the consumer’s role in agriculture and their ability to decide how they want their food to be produced. Kramer prides himself on farming delicious, safe, and wholesome hogs, and, just as he enjoys gaining knowledge from other Niman ranchers, Kramer continues to encourage consumers to educate themselves on what they are purchasing.

Quality Meat from Quality Care: An Interview with Niman Ranch Farmer Randy Gadient

As a first generation hog farmer, Randy, along with his wife Gina and their two kids, run Gadient Farms in Northeastern Iowa. Niman Ranch has brought Randy a community of like-minded farmers who understand that animals come first and helps him instill the value of life in his kids at an early age. His daughter, Elle, was the first Phyllis Willis Founders Scholarship recipient, awarded by Niman Ranch as an opportunity for young people to get an education and also be awarded for their hard work and passion for sustainable agriculture.

Scott Sibbel on Sustainable and Humane Farm Practices

Sibbel Family Farm, south of Carroll, Iowa, has been in the Sibbel’s family since 1919, and since 2006, as an independent rancher and farmer, Scott has been committed to raising hogs and cattle according to Niman Ranch’s high standards and protocols. Scott’s hard work paid off in 2016 when he won the Farmer of the Year Award from Niman Ranch. Sibbel Family Farm builds a better food system simply by its method of farming—antibiotic free with no added hormones, good husbandry practices, and sustainable farming practices. Thanks to Niman Ranch, SFF can get their story to the consumer and receive positive feedback that keeps the family motivated and excited.

To Cultivate a New Generation of Farmers, “We Need to Open Up to Young Folks”

Ron grew up in a farming community, saw the potentials a farm life could offer, and now stands by the belief that his children would “not be the people they are today if they had not grown up on the farm.” Ron protects his land using sustainable farming methods such as crop rotation, minimum tillage, and grassy waterways. For Ron, Niman Ranch perfectly aligned with his livestock care and philosophy, while simultaneously allowing him to be his own boss and ensure stable prices. Niman Ranch cuts out the worries of marketing and allows Ron to concentrate on taking better care of his pigs and maintaining his farming practices.