September 1, 2017
Katie Olthoff’s story shows that a young woman who takes advantage of her education, curiosity, interests and abilities can follow many different paths. Even at a young age, a person can be accomplished and successful — and be honored with the Iowa Master Farm Homemaker Award.
Raised in Hamilton County, Katie didn’t grow up on a farm. An Iowa State University graduate, she majored in elementary education and taught school for four years after she and husband Bart were married.
They met as students at Iowa State University. Both were from Hamilton County, but they didn’t know each other growing up.
“We attended different high schools,” says Katie. “I graduated from Webster City High — Bart from South Hamilton.”
They married soon after graduating from ISU. “And we were not intending to farm,” says Katie. “But after working for a while in other jobs, we had the opportunity to put up the turkey barns. Bart is a third-generation turkey farmer.”
They began raising turkeys and moved to the farm near Stanhope in 2008. They now have five barns and produce about 100,000 turkeys a year, receiving them at a day old, growing them out and sending them to market at West Liberty Foods.
A true family farm
The Olthoffs live in a 108-year-old house on the farm where Bart grew up. Bart’s family didn’t own this farm, but rented it. When the house came up for sale, Katie and Bart bought it.
They’ve had help and advice from the older generation of turkey farmers and are appreciative that the established producers in their area want to see the new generation get a successful start.
Bart’s parents are 2 miles away; Katie’s are also nearby. “Our families help us daily,” says Katie. “We don’t get through a single day without their help. Bart and his dad share an employee, too. Otherwise, with our three young children, I don’t know how we would be able to accomplish what we do.”
Katie and Bart have two sons — Adam in third grade and Isaac in first — and baby daughter, Edith, was born in March.
Katie thinks a lot about the farm women who lived in their house and raised families over the years. Bart and Katie have restored and modernized the home.
“You realize what it must have been like generations ago — no electricity, hot upstairs, cold downstairs, cooking, doing laundry,” she says. “I’ve looked up to and admired many farm women.”
Spreading word about ag
Soon after she and Bart began farming, Katie realized that “there were a lot of people like me who didn’t know a lot about modern agriculture.”
She says, “I was in a unique position to be able to help share ag’s story with them. I got involved with CommonGround, to talk to other farm mom’s like me. CommonGround is an organization that gave me knowledge, helped me learn about how agriculture works, and ultimately led to my job and other activities I’m involved in.”
As a volunteer speaker for CommonGround, Katie has participated in events including a media tour to New York City, where she took part in interviews at TV and radio stations. Katie also participated in the Food Dialogues, discussing Thanksgiving on the farm. For the past two years, Katie has worked full time as director of communications for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association in Ames. Before that, she worked part time on the staff of the Iowa Turkey Federation.
Katie writes the blog “On the Banks of Squaw Creek” to help tell the story of modern agriculture.
“It’s helped me meet new friends all over the country,” she says. “When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote about her life on the prairie in the Little House books. I write about my life on the prairie here — on the banks of Squaw Creek.”
Writing for children
Katie has written three children’s books about family farming, which have been supplied statewide to schools through the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.
The first was “My Family’s Farm: Adam’s Turkey Farm.” Katie was prompted to write it when she realized few children’s books discussed today’s livestock farms. Farms have changed over the last 50 years, but their portrayal has not. This book is an effort to change that.
She has since written two more books: “My Family’s Beef Farm” and “My Family’s Corn Farm.”
Her books are meant to appeal to a broad range of ages. The text at the top of each page, written from a child’s view, is for younger children; the information at the bottom of each page is directed at older students and adults.
Bart and Katie are busy with their growing family, as their children’s activities take priority.
“Whenever I face a decision or someone asks me to commit to something, I have to decide will this help make the world a better place for my children?” Katie says.
That’s the yardstick she uses to decide the best use of her time and abilities. That’s why she is a Master Farm Homemaker.
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