Mark Spadgenske works to finish evening milking Dec. 3 on their farm near Menahga, Minnesota. The Spadgenskes started milking cows in 1994.
Mark Spadgenske works to finish evening milking Dec. 3 on their farm near Menahga, Minnesota. The Spadgenskes started milking cows in 1994. PHOTO BY DANNA SABOLIK

    MENAHGA, Minn. – When Kristine Spadgenske got a phone call from her friend Lucas Sjostrom, she was not alarmed.
    “It was nothing out of the ordinary; Lucas will call to get our opinion every once in a while, so when he called and wanted me to call him back when my husband was around, I didn’t think much of it,” Kristine said.

    But this call was not the usual check-in and farmer-to-farmer advice call the couple was used to.
    “He asked if we would accept the honor of … producer of the year,” Kristine said.
    She was humbled, as she had previously served on the Minnesota Milk Producers Association board, who makes the decision each year.
    “I know what goes into choosing this award, and I know how many great dairy producers we have in this state, so I consider this a high honor,” Kristine said.
    The Spadgenskes farm 1,400 acres in addition to milking 350 cows on their farm near Menahga and are this year’s Minnesota Milk Producers Association Producer of the Year. The farm is run by a team of twin brothers, Mark and Mike, Mark’s wife, Kristine, and their son, Ryan.
    “The Spadgenske family exemplifies the resiliency we’ve been seeing in Minnesota dairies,” said Lucas Sjostrom, Minnesota Milk executive director, in a press release. “They manage their risk well, focus on their strengths and thoroughly evaluate big decisions amongst other possibilities. By being diversified and involved in their community, they’re a great example of Minnesota dairy farming in 2020.”
    For nine years, while Kristine was on the MMPA board, the family’s dairy was not eligible for this honor, but after she stepped down in 2019, they became a contender.
    “We don’t do this for the accolades,” she said. “We truly do what we do because we love it.”
    Kristine, Mark and Mike grew up near Frazee. Kristine lived on a dairy farm, and while Mike and Mark did not, they had ample experience as relief milkers throughout high school.
    Starting a dairy farm from scratch is no easy feat, but the Spadgenskes have been able to build a legacy worth living up to in their 26 years of dairying.
    In 1994, Spadgenske Dairy was established when the trio rented a barn and some land with 60 cows. Today, the farm continues to be a family affair, continuing on with the next generation.
    Mark and Kristine’s four children, Ryan, 23, and his wife, Jen; Kate, 21, Adam, 17, and Seth, 13, all assume roles on the farm.
    Mike’s son, John, 11, is also involved, helping his dad with calf care most often.
    Ryan graduated from Ridgewater College in 2017 with a degree in dairy management. He is a full-time employee on the farm, and Jen is studying pharmacy at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota.
    Kate became invested in 4-H through her youth and today finds her interests on the farm in genetics. She is attending Ridgewater College for an agriculture business degree with a dairy science minor.
    Adam and Seth help on the farm with whatever needs to be done. They both have their preferences but are known to be one of the first to volunteer to drive the tractor or do fieldwork.
    “We didn’t build this dairy with the expectation that our kids would take over one day,” Kristine said. “We certainly want to keep it viable if that is their interest and they want to, but that’s not our priority.”
    The dairy is known to have an open-gate policy, and the family hosts farm tours for first graders each fall.
    “I think it’s part of our responsibility as dairy farmers to educate consumers and teach them about where their food comes from,” Kristine said.
    Kristine and Mark both lobby at the Minnesota Legislature and in Washington, D.C.
    “I want policymakers to get their information from the source, so if I establish a relationship with them, then I can be the person they think of when they have a question and they can give me a call,” Kristine said.
    Kristine also serves on the Minnesota division board and corporate board for Midwest Dairy, Dairy Farmers of America and on the local electric cooperative.
    “We are all about trying new things and thinking outside the box,” Kristine said. “If we can adapt to make ourselves, our business or our farm more efficient, we will.”