Farm Horizons, May 2000

Farm family award: 'it's what being a farmer is all about'

By Jane Otto

Sandy Otto moved about her kitchen, putting away groceries, answering children's inquisitions, and clearing the kitchen table.

"It's awfully humbling. You represent of a lot of people who are just as hard-working," she said.

Sandy, along with her husband, Alan, and brother-in-law, Steve, received the McLeod County farm family of the year award.

The University of Minnesota has been recognizing farm families for 20 years, said Joe Neubauer of the McLeod County Extension Office.

"We don't necessarily recognize the farmer who makes the most money or who has the fanciest equipment. The farm family is an example of what being a farmer is all about," said Neubauer.

Nominations are received from co-ops and other farmers, and then the Extension committee selects a family from those nominations.

The Ottos, along with their children Alaina 12, Jacob 8, Michaela 6, and Joseph 5, were one of 82 farm families honored at a banquet at the Radisson Hotel Metrodome in Minneapolis.

"It was a lovely evening," said Sandy. "An eight-course meal, but Jacob decided McDonald's was the place to go afterwards."

The special attention that evening paid to farmers is very nice, said Sandy. It's fun to talk shop and meet non-traditional farmers who are involved in sustainable agriculture or alternative styles of farming, she said.

More traditional farmers, the Ottos milk 54 cows and finish out 1,200 hogs. The farm is located in rural Lester Prairie, on the southwest corner of State Highway 7 and McLeod County Road 9.

And how long have Steve and Alan been farming?

"That's a silly question. They'll say they've been farming since they were 2," laughed Sandy.


Actually, they took over the farm from their dad, Ben Otto, in 1984, and like most farmers in the area, they're concerned about its future .

"It's only a matter of time until the urban sprawl reaches here," said Steve.

"Agricultural land on a main highway is more vulnerable," Sandy added. "Eventually, the value of the land may be too great to continue to farm it."

Financial stress is ever-present, Steve added.

The atmosphere has changed for them, too. Steve said that the feed mills that they worked with are either gone or soon closing. There was a time when every town had an implement business. Now, he travels farther for parts, he said.

The trend seems to be to concentrate large farms away from people, said Steve. The area is becoming more peppered with hobby farms, but Sandy pointed out that alternative agricultural projects often start out as hobby farms.

Whether Sandy and Alan's children follow in their parents' footsteps remains to be seen. Alan said education comes first, then they can make choices, but he certainly won't force them into agriculture.

Farming was all eight-year old Jacob could think about a year ago, said Sandy. Now, he wants to work for the DNR and fish all his life, she added.

Regardless of the future of farming in the area, Sandy said this is a great place to raise kids.

"They experience the full circle of life and really appreciate nature and all the gorgeous things God has created," Sandy said.

Joe, the youngest of the Otto children, was watching his dad help a cow who was having trouble delivering her calf. After the calf was born, Sandy said he asked, "Dad, is the show over now?"

Because of their young ages, their involvement in farming is at a minimum.

"They have raised a couple of calves that they fed half the time and dad fed the other half," laughed Alan.

Loading hay is one chore the Otto kids are on hand for, but most of the summers are spent outdoors visiting a favorite cow, playing in the barn, or just being kids.

"It's a good place to be," Sandy said.

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