Farmer Stories Series with CommonGround – Ellyn Oelfke

Our partners at CommonGround Minnesota are highlighting the women volunteers who join them on their mission to educate on food, farming and sustainability. Today, meet Ellyn Oelfke!

We are excited to continue with our Farmer Stories Series to follow along with CommonGround’s mission to share information about food and farming.

CommonGround wants to create an open dialogue about how food is grown and raised on farms in Minnesota and across the United States. We are women in agriculture from across Minnesota who volunteer our time to share information about food and farming. We share our personal experiences, as well as science and research, to help you sort through the myths and misinformation surrounding food and farming. Our goal is to be a resource for your food and farming questions!

Today, we are highlighting one of our brand new volunteers – Ellyn Oelfke. Read below to learn more about Ellyn!

commonground volunteer and woman farmer - Ellyn Oelfke

Meet Ellyn Oelfke

Where is your farm located?

Along with my husband, Jacob, and his sister (Jessica) and her husband (Ben), we own and operate our farm, HyTest Ag LLC. Our farm is located just about an hour straight west of the Twin Cities in between Green Isle and Hamburg, Minnesota.

What do you grow/raise on your farm?

On our farm we raise corn, soybeans, and beef cattle. We also sell seed corn for Wyffels Hybrids and help manage two hog barn sites that consist of 4,000 pigs. A main focus of ours at HyTest Ag is conservation, so we use cover cropping and no-tillage (no-till) practices to help preserve the land we steward – we are all about regenerative agriculture!

As the farm wives of our operation, Jessica and I have also started a business venture of our own this year and are growing traditional and specialty pumpkins and cut flowers. We hope to sell our products to the public if all of the stars align this growing season!

How long have you been farming/how long have you or your family owned the farm?

I am 25 and have been farming my entire life. I grew up as the fifth generation on a traditional row crop farm (corn and soybeans) in southwest Minnesota near the small town of Trimont, so ag is deep in my roots.

My love for agriculture led me to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Thanks to mutual friends and our passion for farming, I met Jacob during that time. We instantly hit it off and I was definitely head over boots in love. After college, I moved to be closer to him and his farm, and then we were married just a couple of years later!

Jacob is the sixth generation of Oelfkes to farm on the original homestead, which was founded in 1896. While the farm has evolved tremendously since then, it has been in our family for quite some time. Jacob is 27 and has alsOelfke Family - Farmer Storieso farmed his entire life, growing up milking cows. He often tells me that he grew up in the barn – as a baby in his crib while his mom and dad milked cows, and then by the time he was about 3, he was bringing cows into the milking parlor himself.

Unfortunately, due to the volatile markets, his parents had to sell the dairy in 2019. Shortly following that in 2020, we made the full transition of the farm from the previous generation to us. We wanted something that we could make our own, so HyTest Ag was born. We also wanted a clear and recognizable brand that would represent our vision and goals moving forward. It represents everything we have been through to get where we are today, but also the legacy building yet to come.

Is there anything else you think we should know about your farm? What makes farming so special to you?

Farming is in our blood. It is our identity and simply just who we are. We are a family farm, and we are a business, so having a successful family business is incredibly special. All four of us contribute day in and day out, both on the frontlines of work and behind the scenes. We are real people and real families behind our farm trying to make a living and carry on our legacy so our children can farm the same land we steward.

One thing that differentiates us from other conventional farms in our neck of the woods is our passion for regenerative agriculture. We are one of very few farmers in our area that exclusively utilize the conservation methods of cover cropping and no-till. We want to protect and preserve our land because we live on this planet too – we want to take care of it and see our world thrive.

One unique belief that we cherish is that we all recognize that the roles of the “farmer” and “farm wife” are equally important when it comes to our operation. I am a farmer, but I’m also a farm wife. I can’t do everything my husband does on the farm, but he also can’t do everything I do on the farm or at home – and we embrace that as a man and woman in business together. We learn from each other and that’s how we grow!

What is something you wish more people knew about farming?

I wish more people knew that even though you might think you don’t have a direct connection to farming, you do in almost every moment of every day. Because of farmers, you have food on the table, clothes on your back, fuel in your car, and so much more.

Agricultural products are lbeef cattleiterally found everywhere and in everything. So, without farmers, we would have absolutely no food, fuel, or fiber. Farming is not for the faint of heart, but we are the faces of American agriculture – REAL people and REAL families that are not here to harm you with the products we grow. We put in the literal blood, sweat, and tears to continue the legacy of our family farm. We certainly also do not get rich doing so – ha! The profit margins are incredibly small in agriculture right now. While commodity (corn, soybeans, beef, etc.) prices are high right now, so are our input costs (seed, fertilizer, fuel, etc.) so for us, it is basically a wash.

If we make a profit on the farm, that money goes right back into our business. We are producers, but we are also consumers that eat the same exact foods you shop for in the grocery stores or markets. We are honest, hardworking, and faithful, and we absolutely love what we do because we care about, and take pride in, the land and animals we steward.

If you have kids, what is important for you to pass onto them about eating farm to fork?

We do not have kids right now, but we pray that we’ll be blessed with a family someday soon. However, I think it is incredibly important that we pass on the importance of agriculture in everyday life. With our conventional crops, while we don’t take them directly from the field or barn into our kitchen to prepare for food, we still know that we are producing nutritious and ethically raised commodities. We sell our corn and soybeans to elevators where they are turned into many products – both edible and not. We do keep back some of our beef and pigs to feed our families, but send them to another local, family-owned business for butchering and processing.

Jessica and I are working towards growing more homesteading crops like fruits and vegetables, and I think it is crucial that our children know how to raise their own food and be self-sufficient to also help raise that food for others that are unable to.

What does each season on the farm look like for you?

Each season is busy in its own way on the farm, but we love it! Starting off in the spring, we plant our corn and soybeans. This is one of the extremely busy times of the year, but also the most exciting because we get to sow our seeds and have faith that they will grow.

Moving from spring into summer, we move our cattle from our barns on the farm to pasture where they will stay until late fall. So, all of our cattle are grazing on pasture for several months. During this time, we also will spray our fields. We spray our cover crop “down” using a safe herbicide that essentially kills the cover. Sometimes before we do this, we cut the cover and make hay to feed our cattle during the colder months. By terminating the cover crops, it allows for the nitrogen in the plants to go back into the ground for corn or soybean seedlings to uptake when starting to germinate. This is essential, because then we don’t have to apply as much fertilizer for the crop to take off. By killing the cover, it allows the cash crop (corn and soybeans) to have more access to nutrients and water in the soil that the cover would otherwise have utilized. Terminated cover crops also serve as a weed suppressant, meaning we don’t have to spray weeds dead throughout the growing season! So, during the summer, we essentially watch the crop grow and check in on our cattle that are out on pasture.

Moving into fall, this is probably our busiest time of year. We harvest all of our crop and haul home to store in grain bins to sell at a later date or haul the crop directly to a local elevator. Usually, our harvest crew is made up of about 6-8 guys at any given time, because it takes a lot of people to get the crop off the field between the combine operator, grain cart driver, and several people driving semi. Once we get the crop off the field, we then seed our cover crop so it can become established before going into winter. Then in the spring, it germinates and comes back to life! Typically, at this point, we move our cattle from pasture into corn stalks (the harvested corn fields). There, the cattle graze, and forage on the cornstalks as well as any remaining cover crop. This is dually important because it provides feed for cattle that we are not directly responsible for feeding, and they also spread their own fertilizer (manure!).

Winter is probably our slowest time on the farm, but we typically calve all of our cows during January-March. While that lends itself too being busy, that is our primary focus during that time. There is never a dull moment on the farm and there is most certainly always work to be done!

What are ways our followers can support you and your farm throughout the year?

I share our farming and agricultural story, as well as everything about rural life on my Instagram page @ellynoelfke. We have a Facebook page for our farm, which can be found here HyTest Ag. And, I have a blog, Rural Soul, that is linked here! We would love for people to follow me on Instagram and our blog, and also “like” our Facebook page. We are so grateful for any and all support! I also encourage people to follow and like us on these platforms, because as we move into selling our homegrown products directly to consumers, those sites are how people will find out all the details! We also hope to have on-farm education events and tours in the future, and these platforms are how people will find out.

Twin Cities Mom Collective is a locally-focused parenting resource for moms and families. Passionate about parenting and our community, TCMC strives to connect area moms to relevant resources, local businesses, can’t-miss happenings, and most of all — each other!

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