September 28, 2020 at 1:09 p.m.
“It’s really a joint venture at this time,” Amy said. “By working together, we can do chores faster so there’s more time for other projects around the farm and it’s easier to take time off.”
The Leonards milk 50 cows in a tiestall barn on their Carver County dairy farm near Waconia. They also crop farm 200 acres of land and raise all of their replacement animals.
In 2018, Tim and Amy were able to accommodate Christine’s return to the farm.
“I always wanted to come back, but I didn’t really know where there was a place for me,” Christine said. “It’s a lot different working for your parents than working with your parents. It took us time to figure out how everything fits together.”
The family collectively does chores, such as milking, feeding and caring for the livestock, and Tim oversees the fieldwork. Amy also works as a part-time dietician. With Christine home, additional part-time help is only needed for fieldwork.
Currently, Christine receives a percentage of the farm’s milk check. In time, her intentions are to purchase the herd, then equipment and eventually land base.
As Christine works with her parents and makes plans to farm on her own one day, those plans include developing the niche markets that surround the family dairy.
Placed along Minnesota State Highway 5, the Leonards’ property is visible to all passing from Norwood Young America to Waconia.
Not only do the Leonards have an opportunity to capitalize on agritourism, but Christine also wants to establish an on-farm cheese processing facility by 2030. For the time being, she creates artisan cheese platters with specialty cheeses from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
“The environment is there to nurture it,” said Christine of the farm’s ability to capture new markets. “I want to invest a little, get things going and then invest a little bit more. I have to make sure the community is there with me.”
Prior to graduating from college in 2016 with a food science degree, Christine approached her parents about the possibility to return to the family’s business. However, at the time, they were not prepared for the farm to support another family member.
“We encouraged her to get out and work off the farm and think about it,” Amy said. “We needed to think about it too.”
“And the hours and commitment are a lot for a young person to take on,” he said.
So, in the meantime, Christine worked for a farmstead creamery in central Minnesota. On this farm, she was exposed to the artisan cheesemaking industry.
“I fell in love with the farmstead cheese aspect,” Christine said.
The Leonards re-evaluated their daughter’s request and were able to have her become a part of the farm in January 2018; this time, with a clearer vision for Christine.
“The biggest part was that (milking) was getting to be too physical on my body to keep doing everything all the time,” Tim said. “Honestly, the cows probably wouldn’t be here right now if she didn’t come home.”
Tim already had not planted alfalfa in 2016, and was planning to phase out rotational cropping with forages to focus more on a cash crop enterprise.
But with Christine’s continued interest in milking cows, the Leonards found a way for her to be included on the farm.
Christine clearly recalls knowing when she was given the OK to return.
“I remember it was May, and dad called saying he planted alfalfa,” Christine said. “Only a farmer really knows what that means. When you plant alfalfa, you’re looking at a longer time investment. He was telling me they had decided to give me the opportunity to come home and farm with them.”
The farm site was first homesteaded in 1871 by Amy’s great-great-grandfather, Joe Wessbecker. In 1959, Amy’s parent’s, Mark and Elaine (Wessbecker) Buesgens bought the farm from Elaine’s parents. Since then, the women have been the ones to return to the farm site. Christine takes pride in being the sixth generation to farm here, with the last three generations being women.
Next year, the Leonards will commemorate 150 years of farming. And this year, they are honored to be the 2020 Carver County Farm Family of the Year.
“They’re humble,” said Christine of her parents’ recognition. “I’m proud of the accomplishments they’ve had in their 30 years of farming.”
“There are a lot of great farm families in Carver County,” she said. “I think this says a lot about our families before us. It is the hard work and the determination you have to have to get it done. It’s a family affair.”
In addition to the Leonards’ involvement in multiple local and regional dairy organizations, the family is active in their community, inviting Waconia High School students to their farm as part of the school’s curriculum.
“It’s good for those kids, and everyone, to see this is where their food originates from,” Tim said. “It’s eye-opening for them.”
With Christine’s vision, the Leonards have the potential to engage their community in the farm-to-fork discussion as milk is made into cheese at the dairy. In the long run, Christine would like to downsize the milking cow herd just enough to sustain the cheese-making business and cultivate that aspect of dairy farming.
“The (farmstead cheese market) is getting more saturated, but if you have a good story to tell and make a good product, there is still opportunity,” Christine said.
Until then, the Leonards are grateful they were able to find a way to bring the next generation home with their sights set on grand plans for their small family farm.
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