Nate Walter looks through pictures of his family’s farm site over the years Oct. 29 near Villard, Minnesota. Walter and his wife, Angie, purchased the farm from Walter’s dad and stepmother in 2002. 
Nate Walter looks through pictures of his family’s farm site over the years Oct. 29 near Villard, Minnesota. Walter and his wife, Angie, purchased the farm from Walter’s dad and stepmother in 2002. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
    VILLARD, Minn. – Dairy farming has brought Nate and Angie Walter many opportunities: the chance to carry on a family tradition, the blessing of raising their children on a farm, and the ability to be prominent in their community.
    Their chosen career recently provided the Walters with one humbling opportunity, to be named the 2020 Pope County Farm Family of the Year.
    “This is a really big honor,” Angie said. “Everything we’ve worked for, someone has seen or noticed.”
    The Walters and their two children – Laureen and Levi – milk 100 crossbred cows on their third-generation dairy near Villard.
    Earlier this year, the family was recognized for their contributions to agriculture and their community in western Minnesota as part of the University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year program.
    Nate and Angie purchased the farm from Nate’s dad and stepmother in 2002 with 80 cows and 160 acres to its name. Throughout the years, the couple has expanded their land base to 390 acres, grew their herd size and became a part of a niche market in the organic farming industry.
    “That’s my biggest accomplishment, other than our kids,” said Nate of the farm’s progress, particularly the accrual of land.  
    Nate’s grandparents began farming in 1935 with six cows. The farm was 160 acres, and home to hogs, poultry and cows.
    As the second youngest of 14 children, Nate’s father farmed alongside his grandfather, Kenneth, then became the sole farm operator when Nate’s grandfather passed away unexpectedly in August 1975.
    He continued raising hogs while putting a greater emphasis on the dairy operation.
    “Dad and Grandpa planned to build a new barn, and Dad still did that in the fall of ‘75,” Nate said.
    The barn was built to hold 32 cows.
    When the Walters transitioned into ownership of the family enterprise, Nate and Angie focused solely on dairy. They renovated the barn to include a swing parlor in 2005, built a manure pit and drive-by feeding in 2006 and became certified organic in 2013.
    As the Walters have continued on their family’s farming legacy, they have also placed a great deal of focus on being present in their community.
    For the past 18 years, Nate and Angie have volunteered at the Minnesota State Fair’s Moo Booth and are active in the execution of the Pope County Fair. Both have served as dairy superintendents, Angie has been a member of the fair’s livestock committee, and Nate is a part of the auction committee.
    Additionally, Nate is a board member on their cooperative’s regional dairy executive committee.
    “I think it’s important to be a part of the community, especially to bring consumer awareness about the industry and how we care for our animals,” Angie said. “We can show them the way we farm.”
    Nate agreed.
    “We’re putting a face to dairy,” he said. “That matters. People need to hear your story.”
    Nate and Angie’s leadership throughout Pope County has been a model for their children to follow. Both Laureen and Levi are active members of their 4-H club, the Villard Livewires, with Laureen serving as a club officer.
    “When we got involved in 4-H, we didn’t know much about the program,” Angie said. “It has been the best thing for our kids.”
    Angie never dreamed of raising her family on a dairy farm but is enjoying it, and Nate has never imagined his life to involve anything but cows.
    The couple encourages their children’s involvement on the farm, and they are often all found working together to complete chores and fieldwork. Nate does the majority of the farm work. Levi helps with feeding and skidloader work while Laureen helps milk a couple times each week. Angie feeds all the calves and does bookwork.
    “There are so few families who farm full time, especially in Pope County,” Nate said. “It’s enjoyable to see your work, caring for a young calf turn into a cow and have a calf of her own. To think all farming does for us; we provide a life for the cows, and they provide a life for us.”
    Last summer, Angie also took on a position as Sustainable Farming Association’s central Minnesota Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship coordinator. This role allows her to connect with like-minded farmers and help the next generation transition into dairy farming.
    “It’s very rewarding,” she said. “The people I’ve met give great ideas and hope for the industry.”
    As the Walters reflect on their time in the dairy industry and all they have left to contribute, they are simply humbled. The recognition was equally surprising as they join the ranks of fellow dairy farmers and friends.   
    “As dairy farmers, we’re part of a dying breed, especially in our county,” Nate said. “We’re so glad to be a part of the agriculture community, and it’s an honor to be recognized in this way as a family farm of our size.”