For farmer Dale Koestler, farming with Niman Ranch offers both fulfillment and stability.
Koestler, whose father was a farmer, purchased his own farm in Minnesota in 1986. In 2000 he joined Niman Ranch, and he has remained a part of the network ever since.
Today, Koestler runs and operates Koestler Family Farm with his wife, Cheryl. Together, they raised three daughters who grew up on the farm.
Thanks to Niman Ranch, Koestler says, he has been able to remain an independent farmer, raise a family, and live a good life. Niman Ranch also allows him to raise his hogs in the way that he believes is best for the animals and the planet.
“I am part of a sustainable food chain,” Koestler tells Food Tank. “I really believe in the product we produce and I enjoy raising hogs this way. I am very proud to be a Niman Ranch farmer.”
It is not only Koestler who finds joy in the farm’s operations. “My family enjoys the days we get feeder pigs,” he says, when asked about their favorite farming activities. “They love to see them running around in a clean hoop barn.”
In addition to raising hogs, Koestler raises chickens and grows corn and soybeans. To care for the land, he uses crop rotation, which helps to reduce soil erosion, and no till planting, which also benefits the soil and reduces fuel emissions. Koestler also plants buffer strips to slow water runoff.
While Koestler takes pride in his work as a small farmer, he says that in the last 20 years, farms around him have gotten larger.
“‘Bigger is better’ is a philosophy that has really changed agriculture [and] in my opinion, not in a good way,” Koestler tells Food Tank.
With this change, he also notices that his area is losing the sense of community he once felt among farmers.
To make farming attractive to new farmers and encourage their participation in healthier food systems, he tells Food Tank, “We need to make it attractive to them. We have to make it profitable.”
He believes that Niman Ranch offers young people one of the best opportunities to get involved in farming. The network not only helps farmers pursue sustainable practices on their land, but also support themselves.
“Niman Ranch really wants you to succeed in raising hogs the way we do. If we do well, Niman Ranch does well. It’s a win-win situation.”
Photo courtesy of Niman Ranch