The first Friday of each month, we will be sharing a new feature called "Meet a farmer." We are asking farmers and ranchers a series of questions and sharing their responses with you. Our first feature is Jolyn Wasem, a rancher from Dunn County, North Dakota.
Tell us about your farm/ranch:
Chris and I have been involved in raising cattle since 2004. We started with commercial Red Angus and have built a registered Red Angus herd as well. In 2012 we held our first production sale selling bulls and open commercial heifers. We continue to hold an annual sale, and strive to raise Red Angus cattle that are powerful, practical and profitable for our customers.
Why do you ranch? What motivates you to keep doing it?
Sometimes we ask ourselves this very question. Why do we keep doing this? During times like these when we are faced with drought and low cattle prices, it can be a struggle. We continue to do what we do because we love it. The springtime is filled with a rebirth, from baby calves to new grass. Sometimes it is the little things like taking your kids out in the pasture to find crocuses, or watching the sunset driving home from checking cattle that make you realize how blessed we are to be doing what we do. As a parent, I want my kids to know where their food comes from and how hard we work as producers to provide for others. There are many days it gets trying and you want to give up, but knowing there are animals depending on you, and people depending on you for their next meal, helps keep you going.
What are your biggest struggles as a rancher?
Honestly one of the biggest struggles is the profit margin. We talk about where to cut expenses and you get to a point you can’t cut anymore. We have to start to get creative and think about how we can add value to what we already have, and that can be very difficult. I do believe this takes a toll on our mental health. This year we are worried about the drought. We aren’t sure we will have enough grass for our cattle this summer, but we are dang sure going to try and make something work. I think being able to pass the land and the ranch down to the next generation is getting harder and harder, and that can also be a struggle.
Do you think farmers and ranchers are inherently different than other people? Why or why not?
In some ways yes. I think we have an inherent drive to take care of the land and the animals on it. We do what we do and most of the time are happy to just break even. I think that is something that is a rarity in this “dog eat dog” world. I love being a part of an amazing community of ranchers that still help each other out. When you know people don’t have much, but they are willing to give to someone else in need, it is an amazing thing. We see this over and over in the agriculture communities, and I feel blessed to be in that circle of people. I think all people want to feel like they are doing what is right, and being the best they can be and I feel we can come together knowing we are all the same in this way.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a vet or marry a rancher! I am not a vet, but I did marry a rancher. My little girl dreams of riding off into the sunset every night aren’t really my reality, but it has been a pretty amazing life overall. I envisioned myself being more involved in the day-to-day aspects outside, but as I get older, my involvement has been more in the financial and marketing part of the ranch and raising my kids. I still help out quite a bit outside with the cattle during the busier times of year. Calving time is still one of my favorite times of year!
What do you wish consumers knew about farmers and ranchers?
We are good people. Sometimes we are villainized by the media and it hurts. We truly care about the animals and the food that we raise as well as the land we are entrusted to take care of. We want to have a conversation about your food if you are willing to listen.
Jolyn is the chair of the NDFB Promotion and Education Committee.