Owen and Michele Trangsrud, of Enderlin, N.D., are the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society’s 2018 Stewards of the Year. The couple farms about 400 acres, some of it organically and some in transition to certified organic. They have grown barley, oats, wheat, alfalfa, corn, blue corn, rye, sorghum, millet, flax and several other grains. They also used to have a dairy, but now they have beef cattle and direct market grass finished beef.
Today, about half of their gross farm income comes from the cattle. Demand for the beef and other organic products has grown so rapidly recently that they are looking to diversify and increase their production.
“Our customers are asking us for more, more of everything — beef, fruit, vegetables, chicken, pork, eggs, milk,” Michele says. “Once the relationship is there, they want everything.”
There are opportunities for their five adult children — Matthew, Erik, Jared, Elise and Staci — to be involved in the farm if they are interested, Owen says.
Making a change
Owen and Michele faced an all-too-common dilemma in 1993. Input costs had risen sharply, and they weren’t farming enough land or milking enough cows to make ends meet on the smaller profit margins. They had to get bigger or increase their profit margin, or maybe do both. Their cooperative, Land O’Lakes, had a program to help expand the dairy, but “I was nervous about the debt we’d have to take on. We both were,” Owen says.
Michele had a lot of questions about how they were farming, too. She didn’t grow up on a farm. She worked as an aeronautics process quality engineer for Honeywell before marrying Owen. Everything on the farm was new to her.
“I asked a lot of questions about what he did, and why he did it that way — just like I did at Honeywell,” she says. “I guess I still do.”
Owen’s parents planted the idea of starting an organic farm.
“They came back from a North Dakota Farmers Union meeting where Terry Jacobsen, from Wales, N.D., talked about organic farming,” Owen says.
Jacobson is an organic farmer and organic farming advocate.
“They said we should check it out,” he says. “They even had his phone number for us.”
Owen and Michele followed up with him, and they liked what they heard from Jacobsen and others. Organic farming offered a chance to reduce off-farm inputs and get a premium for what they produced. They also liked the health benefits for the land and people.
“It wasn’t easy,” Owen says of making the transition. “There was a lot to learn. In fact, we are still learning.”
The money didn’t just roll in when they switched, either. For many years, Owen ran an auto and farm repair business in addition to farming. He worked at the Bobcat Manufacturing plant in Gwinner, N.D., for a while, too. Michele, who home schooled their children, worked off the farm for about six years when the children were older. They are both able to farm full-time now.
“It has worked out for us,” Owen says.
The Trangsruds hope to be able to help new organic farmers like they were helped. They are members of NPSAS, which provides organic farming education and research in the Dakotas and several other states. Owen is in his second stint as a board member. The couple has hosted many farm tours, and has devoted land to the NPSAS Farm Breeders Club’s variety trial and research plots.
It is fitting that the Transgruds were named Stewards of the Year.
“We are trying to be good stewards of the land and our little corner of the food world,” Michele says.