Tom, 37, and his wife, Jenny, operate a farm with his brother, Richie Ostlie. Their father, Rick Ostlie, retired in 2018 but still works the farm seasonally. I knew Tom and Jenny, mostly through their fathers’ work with the American Soybean Association, that’s how the two met. Jenny and I grew up in the same region, around friends and similar communities. Today we live close to each other again, but our paths had not crossed until this series of stories.
Tom Metz walks through a cornfield on June 29, 2021, near Northwood, North Dakota. Despite severe drought conditions, Metz says the humidity is holding up and the corn is rooted. Metz grew up on a family farm in Northeast South Dakota and today operates a farm 180 miles north of his childhood farm in Northwood, North Dakota with his brother-in-law. His wife, Jenny, works as a pharmacy manager and together they raise their three young daughters. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Some things stood out to me in my four interviews with Tom:
He prepared for our talks. He always asked for interview topics one or two days in advance so that he could meet expectations on a range of agronomic, agricultural and marketing topics. He was also willing to share the difficulties he faced that day or the past week and month. I appreciate preparation in all aspects of life.
For Agweek to provide you with relevant and timely agricultural news, we need farmers to speak up and share openly. I appreciate Tom’s willingness to do it not just once, but four times during his hectic four months on the farm.
The corn harvest was about half complete on October 12, 2021 at Ostlie Farms, and despite the ongoing drought in 2021, the harvest appeared to be average. Photo taken October 12, 2021. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Every farm I have visited in my career, spanning the United States, Canada and Germany, is as unique as a fingerprint – no two are the same. Often times, farms and farmers are painted with a wide brush, but once you get to know a farmer and their farm, the differences are obvious.
Tom grew up on a farm in South Dakota; his brothers and his parents still cultivate there today. Tom and Richie both had successful careers off the farm when they first started working in agriculture. Jenny now works as a pharmacist in the rural health care sector, and Richie’s wife, Dr. Jane Ostlie, is a rural family physician.
The collaboration of quarry and farm farming in Metz and Ostlie is unique to them – and a representation of a generation in agriculture and rural America that I greatly appreciate. Your farm and the way you started farming won’t look like your neighbor’s farm or someone else’s.
The soybean harvest near Northwood, North Dakota went well, despite a generally dry late July and early August, says Metz. Grand Forks County, where Northwood is located, is in the throes of a severe drought with a small portion classified as extreme drought. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
In the depths of a severe drought, Tom’s optimism always shone through his interviews. Farmers survive on pragmatic optimism – a real reality but a positive approach to farming. Farmers do their best with what they have, the people and resources around them, saving money and looking to the future and drawing on expertise and experience. It was evident on my end of June, early August, September and October visits at the Ostlie farm. Tom, like most of the farmers I know, is sane, honest and energetic, a trait that stood out for me.
Finally, we need a younger generation from our farms and rural communities to volunteer service. I know firsthand that it’s hard to do while juggling work and family commitments. In our first interview, Tom shared with me his childhood home that burned down when he was 17. Seeing rural volunteer firefighters inspired him to give back as an adult. He first volunteered for the Northwood Rural Fire Department, eventually becoming Chief, then later resigning as Chief, while continuing to serve as a volunteer firefighter. He also sits on the municipal council.
Get to know a farmer by reading and watch Agweek and AgweekTV, visiting people who operate farms and ranches in your area. Don’t presume. Don’t be judgmental. Their farm is unique to them, unlike any other farm or farmer you know – but each is important to the fabric of agriculture and rural America.
Pinke is the publisher and CEO of Agweek. She can be reached at [email protected], or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.