“As immigrants, my husband and I picked Brookings County, South Dakota because it is a great place to raise our family and it has opportunities in agriculture and dairy, particularly. Agriculture is the number one industry in South Dakota, which is a delight for a farmer. Our home country has 1000 people per square mile. South Dakota has 9 people per square mile. We love it.” -Olga Reuvekamp, originally from Donkerbroek, Friesland, The Netherlands
It was just over a month ago that Olga Reuvekamp and I were speaking at the same women’s conference when we all became stranded together during an early fall blizzard which what was later termed Storm Atlas in western South Dakota. Thousands of head of livestock were lost across South Dakota. From that disaster though, I met an amazing group of women and spent three days with them in a dark and powerless lodge. We were warm by a gas fireplace and the blizzard allowed us time to have conversations we would have never had otherwise. I listened to a few of Olga’s stories of life in the Netherlands and their traditions. I asked her questions about choosing to come to America, for a new farming life for she, her husband and their children.
After meeting Olga, I thought of the importance of immigrant farmers to America. My family’s heritage and history is based on the Norwegian immigrant farmers willing to take a chance for a better life over 125 years ago. While Olga and her family didn’t travel at the bottom of a boat across an ocean or by train across the United States to reach the land they now farm like families did a century ago, Olga, her husband and children left behind their family and original dairy farm for a chance at a better life in America. It was a huge risk and required years of planning and perseverance. It’s a new culture, a new way of life and they are thousands of miles away from the life they once knew. As a fifth generation American in agriculture, I am intensely proud to see the success of new immigrant farmers, growing our industry and willing to take a chance to build a life here, just as my ancestors once did for future generations in our family. I am thankful for Olga and her entire family.
Below in her own words, you will read that Olga is an inspiring woman in agriculture. She is a businesswoman, a former teacher, involved and active on boards and organizations that impact her farm, business and family. American agriculture has gained a new leader in Olga Reuvekamp. I am honored to have met her and have her as a new friend.
Olga is originally from Donkerbroek, Friesland, The Netherlands and now lives in Elkton, South Dakota with her husband Wilfried, daughter Els (15) and sons Thijs (14) and Wim (11).
Meet Olga Reuvekamp, as a woman in American agriculture.
What is your role in agriculture today? I am the owner/manager of Hilltop Dairy in Elkton, South Dakota, together with my husband Wilfried. We milk 2,000 cows together with 22 employees and our children.
I am the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership (SDARL) Program Facilitator, an Ag-advocate, Dairy Farm Mom, Land O’Lakes unit alternate delegate, Midwest Dairy Association District Secretary/Treasurer, HICAHS Dairy Advisory Board member, mentor of foreign intern students at Hilltop Dairy. Occasionally, I take part in strategic planning committees for agricultural organizations.
How has agriculture shaped your life? I did not grow up on a farm, but married a farmer. It has changed my life drastically. Farming has made me more flexible. Every day is different; for instance if a cow is calving we might not make it to a party. Farming has built a stronger perseverance in me and made it possible to live really close to nature – through animals, soil, weather and nature.
What excites you about your community? As immigrants, my husband and I picked Brookings County, South Dakota because it is a great place to raise our family and it has opportunities in agriculture and dairy particularly. Agriculture is the number one industry in South Dakota, which is a delight for a farmer. Our home country has 1000 people per square mile. South Dakota has 9 people per square mile. We love it.
I’m also very excited about the countless opportunities to be involved in our cooperative (Land O’Lakes), commodity-groups, Elkton FCCLA Alumni, Rotary International (Youth Exchange Officer at Brookings Rotary) and SDARL. One very special opportunity is to be involved in HICAHS (at Colorado State University, Ft. Collins); which focuses on safety and health of farm workers. Even in 2013, there are still farmers getting hurt or killed; too many women have been wondering why their husband would not come in for dinner; finding out the worst. HICAHS is thoroughly working on improving our work environment.
Lastly, there are great educational and ag-related opportunities for our children who are involved in FFA, FCCLA, SDSU Jackrabbit Dairy Camp, and the South Dakota Governor’s Camp, among others. As a former teacher, I naturally focus on youth and education.
What is your favorite home-cooked meal? Fried sidepork, mashed potatoes & kale with gravy. Mustard and pickles on the side, “Vla” for dessert, which is easy to make by adding gingerbread-spices and more milk to vanilla jello. A typical Dutch winter meal.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor? I would pick Michelle Obama, our First Lady. She focuses on food (our profession, after all) and youth, which is something this world needs the most. Not that I agree on all details, but from a 10,000 foot view I believe she is a great and intelligent leader. And a woman. My mother has taught me to always vote for a woman if possible. It would be great to have more women in leadership in agriculture.
Stay connected to Olga through Twitter, her farm’s Facebook page and she also designed and maintains the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership website.
Would you be willing to uproot your life and relocate to another country for a chance at a better life for your family?
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November 1: Introducing 30 Days of Women in Agriculture
For a listing of all the 30 Days Bloggers my friend Holly Spangler rounded up, visit here.