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Ag gratitude galore at Fargo mall

FARGO, N.D. -- Agriculture remains an important economic mainstay in North Dakota and Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, and as we go through the holiday season, it is clear that many people are thankful for the economics of the industry and fo...

FARGO, N.D. - Agriculture remains an important economic mainstay in North Dakota and Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, and as we go through the holiday season, it is clear that many people are thankful for the economics of the industry and for the sustenance it provides.

Agweek made its annual pre-Thanksgiving visit with passersby at the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo and found a strong connection to farmers and agribusiness.

Lending for ag

Vern Hedland lives in Fargo but grew up on a farm near Kindred, N.D., where he still owns some farmland.

"My whole life is grateful for agriculture," Hedland says. "If it wasn't for agriculture, I wouldn't be where I'm at." He went to college at North Dakota State University, where he got a degree in agriculture.

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Hedland went to work for the former Farmers Home Administration. Retired for 22 years, he spent 33 years with the FmHA (now the Farm Service Agency) working with farmers. He spent his career in North Dakota, working at offices at Devils Lake, Bottineau, Walhalla, Cavalier, and the last 18 years in Valley City.

"You always hear about the bad boys," Hedland says, "but there are "many, many good people out there, farming."

He worked at the FmHA during the 1980s, a period when farm stress was "very, very bad." Interest rates were extremely high. "When you're paying 16 to 25% interest, it's pretty tough to make a living on farming. Things improved." Some are frustrated but others are doing pretty well, he thinks. Thanksgiving will find him with children between North Dakota and Montana.

Minnesota bounty

Stephanie Schenck and her husband, Tyler, live in the country near Hawley, Minn., with their young son, Cameron.

Stephanie works with Rural Enrichment and Counseling, serving Norman, Becker and rural Clay County, a Minnesota program that delivers food pantry and backpack program, among other things.

The harvest was behind in late September and October, so some farm workers accessed food pantry assistance because they weren't getting their normal hours and pay.

Both sides of Schenk's family had strong farming connections.

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Tyler works for a construction company. His father worked for a cousin who farmed, and he has uncles and cousins who still farm.

Stephanie's grandfather, Sam Rikhus, and father, John Rikhus, both farmed near Ulen, Minn., but today her father rents out the land. Agriculture sustains that community, especially through the presence of West Central Ag Services, a grain, agronomy center.

"It's a great environment for kids to grow up in," Schenck says. "It taught me hard work." The kids picked rocks in the field, helped clean out grain planting drills and helped clean out bins.

Some people in urban areas may not be so aware of the importance of agriculture, but many are. "People should be aware of it," she says.

Blessed, a blessing

Sandra Leikas has lived a life with many farm connections. "Farming is a wonderful occupation," she says. "I feel the Lord has blessed farmers in many, many ways."

And farmers are a blessing, too. Her parents were farmers in South Dakota's Marshall County, near the town of Veblen. Her first husband was a farmer near Anoka, Minn.

Her husband grew up on a farm near Michigan, N.D., but left it to go into other business.

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A brother-in-law raises sugar beets.

"Fargo realizes it," she says, of the importance of agriculture to the economy. "Our economy is based on how the farmers do. This mall out here would be thriving if the farmers would have big crops. New cars and trucks and everything would be sold."

This year seems a bit different. "I feel really bad the farmers," she says. "Our vegetable garden did terrible so all I can imagine and pray is that they get something for their efforts. It's been a tough year I know."

But Leikas says she has enough experience with agriculture to feel confident things always turn around. "You can have a bad year, and then a good year," she says. "You enjoy the bounty and you try to get through the bad times."

Harvest hiccups

Aaron Lee and his wife, Kali, both have strong connections to farming and gratitude for agriculture.

Aaron is is a sales agronomist for the Clifford (N.D.) Farmers Elevator. He completed a degree at North Dakota State College of Science in his hometown of Wahpeton, N.D.

Lee's grandparents farm in the Fergus Falls, Minn., area. "I spent a lot of time out there when I was growing up," he says."My dad is a parts manager for equipment dealerships - John Deere. I've always been kind of tied to (farming) and have had an interest in it."

Agriculture is the "veins of North Dakota," he says, it's "how we make a living around here, for a lot of people." Everybody either knows a person or is related to someone or farms or works on one. "It's an integral part of everyday life."

Rural people can feel it when the agricultural system has a hiccup, Aaron says. "The acres of PP (prevented-planting) that my farmers that I service are astronomical this year. And all of this rain!" Farmers typically have about 15 inches in a summer, in October they had received more than 22 inches. "I've never seen another year like this, ever. I don't know if we will (again)," he says.

Lee says thinks Thanksgiving time this year will be occupied with harvest that wasn't possible earlier in the fall due to excessive moisture, but he says it's fitting to pause anyway. "We always have to make time to be thankful for where our food comes from."

Field dinner

Kali Lee, 22, also has a strong connection to the soil. She grew up six miles east of Mayville, N.D.

Her father, Curt Klath, farmed eight miles north of Portland, N.D., with his father James Orien Klath and an uncle, Matt Klath. The family also has a 5,000-head cattle feedlot.

Kali graduated from North Dakota State University this past May with a degree in natural resources conservation management, and will have a career connected to agriculture.

She completed a "Pathways" internship in Steele County, N.D., for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, and is waiting for a full-time position somewhere in the agency, and is helping on her dad's farm while she waits.

Kali says she grew up with a satisfaction that her family and community were putting food on the table for a hungry world. She remembers riding along in a tractor when she was only several months old. She started to learn the basics of how farm trucks worked by age 8. "Seeing those family ties, learning the ropes," meant a lot.

At harvest she thinks of field dinners at the combines, delivered by her grandmother. She remembers the season as family members, scattered to different fields with different responsibilities. And at the end of harvest? "We got to see each other," she says.

Some people in larger cities in North Dakota who live removed from agriculture, even people in Mayville sometimes surprised her. When she was 10, she remembers, a Mayville resident asked her if she went to a grocery store, or whether her farming family grew all of its own food.

"A lot of people don't understand," she says.

Kali acknowledges farmers are "always nervous," about the impacts of trade policies, and hopes it's all resolved soon."That's how we make our living," she says. "If prices aren't high enough, we can't make a living and keep farming."

The 'backbone'

Mitchel White, 24, of Mankato, Minn., today does fiber optic utility service today.

White grew up at Berthold, N.D., and worked on a farm for Roger Nesheim, throughout high school. His parents didn't farm but his grandfather ranched. He started his higher education at NDSU, but completed a degree online through Rasmussen College, so that he could enter the workforce.

"Without farmers and agriculture I feel like the U.S. wouldn't be what the U.S. is," White says. "I feel farmers are the backbone of America. They provide the food." They are improving the land with farm practices, including tile drainage, and helping to make it more productive.

He isn't confident that most people realize the amount of work and hours farmers put in. "Not a lot of people can work those. It's unappreciated at times, and I think it needs to be appreciated more."

White looks forward to the holidays, when his family gets together in gratitude. "We always say our prayer, when my family's around," Wight says. "We thank the farmers, thank God for what he's done. Without the farmers we wouldn't have the food that we have, the produce and services they provide for us through them."

Related Topics: FARMING
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