The Levendoski Family: Mark, Kris, Sarah, Jonathan, Jackie and Henry
Hello, I'm Mark Levendoski and this is a brief story about our family dairy farm; although it's hard to be brief about a story that covers more than 135 years.
My great-grandfather, August Levendoski, purchased this farm in 1876. He bought it from the original homesteader that had settled the land in 1867. The farm has passed from father to son for the next four generations. Our son, Jonathan, and his wife, Jackie, will eventually purchase the farm from us.
That's five generations of our family on this farm, and counting. Our two-year old grandson, Henry, represents the sixth generation. He's already learning what it takes to be a dairy farmer, beginning with how to call cows in from pasture. Plus, he checks on them daily, and 'helps' feed calves. And if there's machinery to repair, he's out there with his father and grandfather, wrench in hand.
My Dad told me to get a good education, in case something might happen that would prevent me from farming. His concern wasn't that something might happen to him, or the farm, but to me. Seemed like good advice to me, and I was more than willing to follow it. So I went to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and obtained a degree in Dairy Science. That way, if anything did happen and I couldn't farm, I'd still be able to be involved in the dairy industry.
Fortunately, nothing has happened to make me leave this life that I love. I've dealt with the ornery cows and weather extremes, but that's part of the life and part of what keeps it interesting and challenging. And, there have been many good things along the way. The first one was meeting my wife, Kris. We met through a mutual friend and got married less than a year later. Three years later our daughter, Sarah, was born; followed by our son, Jonathan. Both of our children helped with the farm while they were growing up. Sarah is now married with children of her own. She and her family live only 30 minutes away, and she comes home to help if we need an extra set of hands.
Since the advice I received from my Dad about getting an education seemed like good advice, I gave the same advice to our children. Jonathan followed this advice in the exact same way, to UW-River Falls for a degree in Dairy Science. He also pursued advanced studies in animal genetics, and received a Master's Degree in Education. Today, he teaches high school history and farms. He manages our herd genetics and breeding program, with a focus on cross-breeding. The cross-breeding suits our rotational grazing program very well. I manage cow feeding and nutrition, animal health, crop production and equipment. Jonathan and I handle most of the milking duties, with Kris helping as needed.
By most standards, we are a small family dairy farm with only 265 acres and 40 milking cows. Our farm sits high on the ridgeline bluffs, above and a few miles east of the Mississippi River. The sunrises and sunsets are beautiful. These days, it's harder for a small farm to support a multi-generational farm family. Jackie also teaches in the La Crosse area and Kris works at one of the banks in La Crosse. She spent 18 years as a full-time, on the farm mom; but, as the kids got older, decided she needed more than milking cows twice a day.
I've had the honor of serving on the boards of both local and national cooperative businesses. In college, I took a course titled "An Introduction to Cooperatives" and was intrigued by the philosophy and history of our member-owned cooperatives; especially those formed by farmers, ranchers and others involved with agriculture. It's an all-for-one and one-for-all philosophy.
Most people don't realize that well-known brand names like Ocean Spray, Welch's, and Sunkist are actually cooperatives owned by cranberry, grape, and citrus growers. Ace Hardware and TruValue Hardware are also good examples of cooperatives being owned by individual store owners and their families.
Milk from our cows is sent to the Westby Cooperative Creamery, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year (2013). We are proud that it's owned by dairy farm families just like ours, and always has been. Our family farm has been a patron-member since 1969. And I am pleased that I was able to serve my neighboring farm families as a Board Member for a total of 15 years, eight as Board President.
Being on the Board wasn't something I had planned to do. People just kept asking me to run for a position. I did, was elected, and then re-elected a few more times until I hit the term limit of 15 years. In a way, it wasn't just me elected; it was my whole family. Serving on a cooperative Board requires a large commitment in time, a lot to learn, and plenty of late night meetings. There are always new things to think about, worry about, pay for, and implement in the policies, plans, management, and growth of the cooperative's business.
I have no complaints or regrets. I am happy and proud to have served; and I'm thrilled by the growth of our Cooperative over the past ten years from $15-million to $50-million in total revenues, and growing. I thank Kris and the kids for being by my side to help handle the farm chores, and for answering the phone just as often as me when a fellow patron-owner called with a question or comment. They also served as a great sounding-board to review and discuss business issues of the Cooperative.
As a family, we've always believed in being a part of our greater community; giving back for the blessings we've received, and being involved in things that mattered. And nothing has mattered more to us than the strength and future of family dairy farms. That's why ours has lasted for more than 135 years, and counting.
When you take home country goodness from the family dairy farms of Westby Cooperative Creamery, you take home country goodness from our family - the Levendoski Family - and for that we say thank you!