Like many young farm boys, long before Mike Jaspers was harvesting a crop in the field, he was on his hands and knees, harvesting off the floors in his parents’ home.
“If dad was out harvesting, I was in the basement with my toy combine harvesting,” recalls the fifth-generation Marshall County family farmer, ‘88-89 State FFA President, former legislator and current South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture.
As he reflects on the journey which led him to accept Governor Daugaard’s request to serve as Secretary of Agriculture starting July 5, 2016, Jaspers explains that although his passion for public service was developed in college, his passion for agriculture was nurtured from the start. It started long before he was old enough to drive a tractor.
“I’m a typical kid who grew up on a farm. You live your mom and dad’s business. It’s just part of who we are as South Dakota ag producers. You grow up with it and that passion for agriculture becomes part of who you are,” explains the 1993 South Dakota State University graduate.
Mature enough to remember the ag economy of the late 70s, Jaspers is no stranger to the current challenges facing South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers.
Schaefers siblings – farm kids and soldiers: Sam, Paivi, Josie and Paul. Their youngest brother, Jacob, is pictured right.
By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union
Growing up actively involved in their family’s fourth-generation South Dakota farm prepared Josie Ries and four of her siblings well for military service.
“There are so many times on the farm or in our small farming community of Polo when we did things bigger than ourselves not just on our family’s farm, but for others in our community,” explains Josie, who joined the Army National Guard as a junior in high school. “Being a soldier is similar. You develop a strong sense of family and community with the people you serve with and you have this awesome sense of doing something bigger than you.”
When she signed up in 1996, Josie was the first of five Schaefers siblings to serve. The second oldest of seven children, Josie said she was inspired by older cousins and neighbors who served, as well as the fact that in their small community of Polo, patriotism is celebrated.
“We always had the best Fourth of July and Memorial Day celebrations,” Josie recalls.
She was only 17, so her parents, Fred and Cheryl Schaefers, had to sign for her.
Her brother, Paul, adds that in Polo, the Legion is one of only a few buildings left in the town. “Our Legion plays a big role in the community; making donations to local ball programs and helping with funerals and celebrations,” explains Paul, 31, who deployed to Iraq in 2006 and now farms full-time. Paul and his wife, Blair, a registered nurse, live in Polo.
Paul was a recent high school graduate when Josie deployed to Iraq in 2003.
He and his other siblings all credit Josie, in part, with inspiring them to serve. “It felt like the right thing to do,” explains Paul, who didn’t wait to be called up, but instead volunteered to deploy in 2006 with an infantry guard unit from Michigan. “I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines. I wanted to do my part.”
By 2012, his brother, Sam, and sister, Paivi Stone, and their youngest brother, Jacob, were also enlisted.
As the youngest of seven, Jacob says even though he was the baby, he wasn’t coddled at home on the farm. “Once they all left I had to do a lot of work on the farm, plus help my mom with her catering business.”
Jacob says the work ethic and ability to stick with a job until it was done that he developed on the family’s crop and livestock farm served him well in his role as a Marine. “When something breaks on the farm, you may not know what is wrong or how to fix it, but you will get it figured out,” Jacob says.
When Cheryl and Fred Schaefers tied the knot 40 years ago, the two farm kids shared a strong passion for farming. And, along with crops and livestock, the couple wanted to raise a large family.
“We originally wanted 12 kids. Fred is the youngest of 9 and I am the second oldest of six we wanted a house full of noise and love,” Cheryl says.
Today, the active grandparents reflect on raising their seven children on the farm and say they wouldn’t change a thing. Their children include: Belle Schaefers, Josie Ries, Maureen “Mo” Wernsmann, Sam Schaefers, Paul Schaefers, Paivi Stone and Jacob Schaefers.
“What better way of life is there?” Fred asks.
“The kids all learned to care for life and that every life is important because they understood that it mattered to the farm’s bottom line,” Cheryl added.
The early years were busy, but happy. All seven of their children were born two years apart. “Whatever we were doing, I’d just pack up the kids and bring them along. We even put a swing in the milk parlor so the baby could watch us and swing while we milked,” Cheryl says.
The couple began milking their first Holstein just 10 days after they married. It was 1976 and Fred says Hand County was full of small 50 to 75-cow dairies. “There was money in dairying. It was a good steady income.
At one time there were at least 30 to 40 dairies in Hand County.” Slowly, they expanded their dairy herd to 80 cows.
The entire family helped with milking. As a young kid, Paul recalls carrying buckets of grain to each stanchion. “Then we installed an automatic feeder,” Paul remembers.
“You were replaced by technology,” his wife, Blair, jokes.
Paul and Blair celebrated their first anniversary this May. Like Paul, Blair grew up on a farm. “This way of life isn’t new to me,” explains Blair, who works as a nurse for Faulkton Area Medical Center and Good Samaritan nursing home in Miller.
Paul says the farming lifestyle was one reason he wanted to return to his family’s farm full-time after completing a deployment. Paul and four of his siblings are veterans.
During harvest, mornings come early for South Dakota farmers like Greg Mehling.
By 7 a.m. the Wessington farmer and his son, Cole are greasing combines or they are behind the wheel en route to the local elevator to unload trucks. By mid-morning they are in the field combining soybeans. That's where Greg and Cole will be until about 9 p.m.
"Sure the days are long, but this is my favorite time of year," says the fourth-generation farmer who raises corn, soybeans and some wheat.
Working within a small window of time allocated by Mother Nature to get the crop harvested before the weather turns, Mehling explains that there is no time to stop - even for meals. So, when Mehling was handed a sack lunch as he was unloading at Wheat Growers' Wolsey elevator the other day, he says it was appreciated.