A few years back, Prairie Farmer named Jamie Walter's dad, Jim, as a Master Farmer. For the record, you've hardly seen anyone so proud and so supportive of his father, as Jamie was of Jim. It was really very touching to watch.
And so was born a friendship between Jamie and wife Kristen and me and my husband. Over the years, we've exchanged emails and phone calls, including last week when we tried THREE TIMES to have a cell phone conversation about our WatchDog unit (thanks a lot, Verizon). And once I even dropped by to visit when I was in the area. They have a very thoughtfully designed (and very beautiful) home, courtesy of Kristen and her architecture background.
Which reminds me, Jamie and Kristen started out their careers far from agriculture. Jamie has a law degree and Kristen, an architecture degree. Yet the call of the farm was strong, and in 1998 they came back to the greater DeKalb area to farm with Jamie's parents, Jim and Sue, as part of Walter Farms.
Today, they raise corn and soybeans on 3,000 acres, 1,000 acres of which is custom farmed for neighboring landowners. No livestock, though Jamie reports "one nearly worthless shop cat." I suspect he's not much of a mouser. Nonetheless. Jamie and Kristen are also parents to Sydney, 8, Joshua, 6, and Danielle, 17 months.
Jamie describes Kristen's role on the farm – which I think captures what a lot of us farm wives do these days – as this: "She is the glue that holds us all together, especially when we’re really busy. Besides bringing home-cooked meals to the field (a duty she shares with my mom), as the kids grow she is moving into a CFO-type role with the farm and our retail seed business and crop insurance agency."
Farmwives, doesn't that catch us pretty well? Runner, chef, child raiser, helpmeet, finance organizer. Glue.
I like it.
Jamie, as much as any young farmer I know, approaches his operation with an eye for business. His farm philosophy is centered on stewardship: focus on long-term sustainability of the land, focus on economic viability, and focus on customer and consumer needs…if they can do each of those three to the best of their abilities, they're own family will ultimately benefit.
And what of agriculture worries this former lawyer? "Volatility and margin degradation worry me a lot. Our business has gotten so much more capital intensive – the risks are exponentially rising along with input costs – yet some farmers seem willing to place very big bets in very risky hands. I fear the eventual outcome could be far reaching and may contain a lot of collateral damage."
And so as not to end this post completely depressed, I'll leave you with Jamie's parting thought on what he'd like a consumer to learn from his operation.
"Sustainability is an important term – but it needs to include more than just the environment. Part of sustainability is remaining economically viable while providing enough food for all 7 billion of us."
Exactly. I couldn't have said it any better myself.
30 Days of Farm & Families
Day 1: The Webels
Day 2: The Mies Family
Day 3: The Thomases
Day 4: The Stewarts
Day 5: The Weavers
Day 6: The Hawkinsons
Day 7: The Kortes