Steve and Shelley Kern have been chosen as Meeker County’s 2019 Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota Extension.
Steve grew up on the family farm in Watkins, and has lived there most of his life. Steve’s parents Jim and Eileen started dairy farming in the early 1960s until things changed in the ‘90s due to his father’s poor health. As such, Steve started raising Holstein steers, in addition to growing corn, soybeans, alfalfa and hay.
The Kerns have demonstrated volunteerism and commitment to promoting, supporting and strengthening the agricultural community in the surrounding area. Shelley has been active in the community by serving on the Eden Valley-Watkins School Board, while Steve is an alumnus of the Future Farmers of America chapter for Eden Valley-Watkins High School, and today he continues to support the chapter.
“We started an Alumni chapter,” he said. “It’s got to be at least 12 years ago. The first (few) years, we did a raffle and now the last several years, we rented some land that we all help put in and get donations for seed and some of the machinery that’s needed for planting (and) harvesting (that) gets donated, and we sell the crop, and we use that money as our fundraiser.”
Kayla Huhn, office manager for Meeker County Extension, said that Shelley and Steve spent over 15 years on the Blue Ribbon Market Auction Committee supporting Meeker County 4-H youth.
“They stayed involved in this committee well past their children’s involvement — showing their dedication to the 4-H program,” Huhn said.
In 2018, the Kerns hosted a tour for the Beef Council, which provides promotion, marketing, research and education about beef products. Years ago, they also hosted a beef tour for University of Minnesota Extension, Steve said.
“Both of those were basically just to educate the (public),” Shelley said. “Last year there was a group of students from (the University of Minnesota) who were dietetic interns, and they came to see basically where their food came from, (where) their beef came from.”
In the past, they also hosted an event for more than 100 farmers, who wanted to learn new techniques or ways of operating their own farm, Shelley said.
“(They wanted) to learn how Steve does it,” she said. “Maybe to take a few pointers or do parts of it just like him, and we probably learned something from that day too. People with like interests helping each other to make things better for their animals or raise more money, more quickly, that’s really all.”
As a result of all the giving back to the community, the Kerns were recognized last week during Farmfest near Redwood Falls, Minnesota.
“These farm families are a major driver of Minnesota’s economy and the vitality of Minnesota’s rural communities,” Bev Durgan, dean of University of Minnesota Extension, said of Farm Family of the Year recipients. “The University of Minnesota is proud to recognize these farm families for their contributions to agriculture and their communities.”
For almost two decades, the Kerns raised baby calves with the help of their children, Simon and Sarah, until 2009 when they grew up and moved away. For about a decade, the Kerns have been raising feeder calves instead.
“At that time, we had our two kids, and they could pick up pails and we’d fill them with milk, and they put the little pails in front of the calves,” Shelley said. “So they could do a little odds-and-ends job. From there, baby calves to fully grown ready for slaughter is 12 to 14 months. So we did that for a number of years. Then when the kids were gone, then it was too hard for just us two.”
They switched to raising feeder cattle about a decade ago. Today, the Kerns have several hundred cattle and sell them year-round either in halves or quarters, Sarah said.
“My husband (Jeff Magedanz) works at a butcher shop,” Sarah said. “Some of their (her parent’s) cattle go through the butcher shop and you can buy them (there).”
Sarah and Jeff have two children, Theo, 4, Nora, 7, and they’re expecting another boy. Simon Kern is a swine nutritionist for Ideal Animal Nutrition in Iowa, where he lives with his wife Brittany.
In the current ag economic climate, Steve said they’re surviving. When asked her assessment of how the farm is doing, Shelley said, “Better than some and not as well as others.”
The Kerns see the value of owning a farm when they see their grandchildren run around having a good time. Theo and Nora have a sheep they’re looking forward to bringing to the fair, Sarah said.
“I’m so excited about that,” Sarah said. “They take a jar of beans and corn to the fair, and they were all excited about that too.”
“I mean it’s fun to see how excited they are over a few sheep,” Steve said.