2021: Schafer Family

The Minnesota Pork Board recognized the Schafer family of Goodhue, Minnesota, as this year’s Family of the Year award recipient.

It’s no question that farmers care for the environment and the land they farm, for it is their livelihood and duty to leave things as good or better than when they took over. The other piece to this puzzle lies in setting the framework for future generations to take over successfully. As the 7th generation of Schafer farmers begin their careers on the farm, it’s important to recognize the inherent role each generation of their predecessors took on to make the farm what it is today.

Successful Generational Shifts

The Schafer farm dates back to 1886, featuring traditional agriculture production practices at the time with several enterprises and much less consolidation than most of today’s farms. In 1984, the farm officially became a corporation and began to operate as a multi-family unit under one core business structure.

Lowell Schafer, 5th generation, described the changes he saw on the farm growing up. His grandfather, 3rd generation, was an extreme innovator, always trying to improve the farm and search for ways to do things differently. Lowell’s father always did right by the farm, but had a more conservative mindset when it came to innovation.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, dramatic changes effected the farm, as the dynamic of a once father and son farm became a father and two sons operation. The business model became much more complex with additional people involved, but the changes were all generally positive with more eyes looking at the business and more people to help accomplish business goals.

The transition from generation 5 to generation 6 was fairly seamless, as Lowell anticipated his son’s return to the farm to take over. Brandon Schafer, 6th generation and current general farm manager, described the progression as “natural”, for Lowell was looking to phase out of day-to-day responsibilities.

“Dad had trust in us, and was willing and comfortable with us taking over the farm while being a great coach along the way,” Brandon stated. “This allowed my generation to pursue our dreams without interrupting the business, and that is largely due to the selfless nature of my parents. They weren’t looking to what they could take with them as they exited and instead left behind what they could for the generations following them to take over.”

Today’s Homestead

Today, the farm largely focuses on pork production, but also consists of a cow-calf and seedstock operation. The Schafer’s also specialize in multiplication of genetics, providing the farm a niche opportunity for growth.

Brandon and his wife Monica lead the farm managing staff, production records, and risk management. Under their leadership, two of their children, Max Schafer and Maddie Hokanson, 7th generation, also play a vital role in the farm.

Max described the evolution of his tasks on the farm, beginning with helping out in the barns, switching to a maintenance role in construction, to now being a manager of a sow farm, along with trucking as needed. This past year, he also took on managing manure application efforts.

After graduating from college in 2019, Maddie came back to the farm and took over as the farm accountant, which was previously the job held by her grandma, Pat Schafer, 5th generation. She also participates in freelance communications, often creating pieces for the National Pork Board.

“I pride myself in knowing every family member who has returned to the farm did it by choice. It’s not that they didn’t have the option to pursue a different career.” noted Lowell. “Not many people in today’s workforce get to work beside their sons, grandsons, and granddaughters. The most satisfying thing is being able to look back – not at how many acres we’ve got, how many pigs go out the door, or money in our bank account – and know I had the opportunity to work with family and watch them grow.”

Pat added, “Seeing how our hopes and dreams have become their hopes and dreams is very special.”

Mentorship is Key

Great mentors within the family and connections created through industry involvement deserve endless credit, as relationships hold as a cornerstone for successful business. Throughout the years, every family member immersed themselves in the community, serving on county boards, state boards, and national boards, being spokespeople for the industry as ambassadors, National Pork Board Pig Farmers of Tomorrow, and holding positions on school committees, church committees, and many volunteer roles.

It is clearly evident the Schafer’s understand the importance of being present in the areas where their passion lies. Connecting with others who are like-minded and share interests promotes individual growth and provides opportunities for mentorship.

“Through my involvement in industry activities, I learned the importance of being a part of something greater than myself,” Brandon stated. “I formed so many great relationships, many of whom received the Family of the Year award. I watched them receive this award in the past, and always looked to them as mentors and tried to emulate what they have done. I’ve tried to make parts of them a part of me, and I believe their mentorship has led me and my family to this point.”

Lasting Legacy

Each member of the Schafer family explained how proud they are to be a part of a farm that has withstood the test of time, despite challenges such as keeping up with the shifting economy, societal pressures and the innovation to stay ahead of the curve as new generations rise up.

Max and Maddie recognize the incredible opportunity they have as 7th generation farmers, along with being able to raise their 8th generation children on the farm. With less than 2 percent of the population being involved in agriculture, a number that is continually declining, they understand the great responsibility that entails. The land stewardship, careful management, and forward-thinking adaptability will be passed into their hands in time.

“We don’t want to be the ones to mess it up,” stated Maddie. “People always ask why I’m so passionate about pig farming. The pork industry does a good job at respecting the legacy and nostalgia of farming but is still willing to see what’s next. What the farm was 100 years ago and 50 years ago is so different than what it is today. In order to be relevant, the farm needs to look completely different 50 years from now, and that is up to us.”

“The decisions we make today will make the most impact on the people we will never meet,” Brandon inferred. “What will our legacy look like in their eyes 2-3 generations down the road? What we do every day, and the impact our business has on our community, neighbors, and environment all are going to have a lasting impact.”

For more than 130 years, the Schafer’s have integrated faith, family, integrity, teamwork, and a lasting legacy into every aspect of their farm. They strive to always be trusted in what they say and do the right thing in every situation whenever possible. These core values guide the work the Schafer family takes part in every day, and recognize that core values have to be more than something you just say – they have to be lived out.

“I want to personally, and as a business, be viewed as focused on results and goals, while aligning our life goals and those of the people around us. I want Schafer Farms to be seen as a good neighbor, community member, and employer that has business values focused on a Christian-centered motivation,” Brandon declared.

Through the generations, every family member of Schafer Farms undertook the vital role of feeding the nation. With that great role came great responsibility, and the legacy Schafer Farms has built can be attributed to the reputable family members who continue to show up every day.

“There isn’t a day since 1886 that somebody in our family didn’t get up and take care of the farm,” Max proclaimed.