By Thalen Zimmerman (Originally published in the Alexandria Echo Press)
Sustainability and conservation, but most of all, family.
That's the focus of the Warren and Norma Engelbrecht family farm near Lake Andrew in Douglas County. Their work to ensure the farm's future for the next generation has earned them a state award.
Since 1979, the University of Minnesota Farm Family Recognition Program, in coordination with the University of Minnesota Extension, the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Sciences, and the College of Veterinary Medicine, honors farm families all across Minnesota, picking one family from each county.
This year it's the Engelbrecht family's turn in the spotlight. They're being recognized for their work with humanely raised, non-antibiotic hogs. They're also being honored for their work within the community, being a part of the Viking Sportsmen club, their local FFA alumni chapter, and their whole family's involvement in 4-H.
The Engelbrecht farm operation started back in 1902 as a dairy farm by Warren’s great-grandfather. Warren is the fourth generation to farm the land he’s on and says he’s been doing it pretty much since birth, “As long as I can remember. I was born into it.”
“The cows left when I was 10, so I never had to milk a cow a day in my life. How do you like that?” laughed Warren while grinning from ear to ear.
Today, Warren and his son, Darren Engelbrecht, are the full-time operators of the farm. But it is a whole family affair. Warren and Norma’s extended family all live within a mile of each other, and the entire family helps out whenever needed.
“I’ve got my one son helping me on the farm, and the other works at the hospital, but he is working on getting some land too,” said Warren. “Even the grandkids can’t get enough of it. They are all in either 4-H or FFA or both.”
Warren and his son raise hogs, but they also grow crops like corn, beans, wheat and some oats. “We are pretty basic,” said Warren. He says they run things the old-fashioned way by raising their antibiotic-free hogs from farrow to finish.
Warren has also been involved in the Vikings Sportsman Club, the FFA, 4-H, and the Douglas County Fair since he was a young man. He even met Norma at the fair.
“That’s a story for another time,” said Warren with a wink.
To Warren, the most important things about his farm aren't his antibiotic-free hogs or his crops (although his wife Norma says he will spend hours in the fields to see their growth). It also isn’t the fact that he has been recognized by Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District for his sustainable uses of sediment structures to prevent run-off from going into the lakes. It’s not even the wild animals (although he says he always enjoys seeing a deer run through his land). It is his family.
The farm has allowed him to remain close to his family; most of them have a corner of the land to call their own. Warren even built roads through the fields that connect all their homes and allows his grandkids to ride their ATV or golf carts to come to visit, and grandma Norma always keeps the candy drawer filled and the cookie jar stocked.
“We all get to live here and raise our kids here just like we were raised. It’s my parents’ biggest highlight to see their grandkids running through their yard every single day and interacting with the animals,” said Karen Bundermann, Waren and Norma’s daughter.
“The only thing I am truly proud of is that we had four kids, and they are all right here. Some guy’s kids had to leave to find jobs and make a living. Thanks to the farm, we have all our kids here and access to all our grandkids. That’s the biggest plus,” said Warren.
Warren encourages the next generation of farmers by allowing 4-H and FFA members to use his farm for projects when necessary and expose his grandkids to their farming interests.
“One kid wants a goat, he gets some goats. The other wants some beef cattle, he gets some beef cattle. There are all sorts of animals on the farm to encourage his grandkids,” said Bundermann.
Warren worried for the future of farm families.
“Many are being bought out and taken over by corporations, factories and investors,” said Warren, “What you call the family farm will soon be gone.”
“It’s important for farmers to be recognized for the work they do because they are the ones that truly give back to their community,” said Bundermann, “My dad is good at what he does. He is just too humble to admit it.”
Warren says many other farm families deserve to be recognized.
“We aren’t any more special than the rest. Probably just got it because no one else wanted it,” Warren snickered.
The whole Engelbrecht clan will be heading to Farm Fest in Redwood County this week. Warren and Norma have four children. Darren is married to Tara, and they have four children, Hunter, Ethan, Gavin and Seth. Their daughter, Karen, is married to Steve Bundermann and they have three children: Alex, Kodi and Rylee. Warren and Norma’s daughter, Lisa, and her husband, Mike Lennes, have three children: Reagan, Hayden and Brynley, and the Engelbrechts’ son, Ryan, has three children with his wife, Courtney: Jackson, Nathan and Bennett.
The family will also be honored at the Douglas County Fair during the livestock auction on Saturday, Aug. 21, at 9 a.m. in the Erickson Pavilion Building.
In a news release about the farm family winners, Bev Durgan, dean of the University of Minnesota Extension, said, “These farm families are a major driver of Minnesota's economy and the vitality of Minnesota's rural communities. The University of Minnesota is proud to recognize these farm families for their contributions to agriculture and their communities.”
The Engelbrecht family will be one of 81 families honored at Farm Fest. The University of Minnesota Farm Family Recognition Program chooses one family per county. For a family to be nominated, they must be Minnesota food producers, actively involved in agricultural production with one or more agricultural enterprises, have made significant short-term progress or innovative contributions to their agricultural endeavors have demonstrated a commitment to enhancing and supporting the fields of agriculture and production have some involvement in their communities or related organizations, and not have been previously recognized by the Farm Family Program.
“There truly is no better place to raise a family than on the farm,” said Norma Engelbrecht.