Producing Excellence shares compelling stories of American farmers and ranchers, both newcomers to agriculture and producers who span generations.
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West Bend, WI
Type of Operation: Dairy
Size of Operation: 400 cows, 3,000 acres
Years in Business: 45
Farm Credit Partner: Badgerland Financial
Years Working with Farm Credit: 25
It’s an almost universal sentiment among America’s farmers and ranchers: rural America is a wonderful place to live, and farming provides a lifestyle that’s second to none. It’s not every day, though, that this rural lifestyle is celebrated as clearly as in country music star Toby Keith’s 2011 video, “Made in America,” which features a Wisconsin farm family and their local 4th of July celebration.
Dairy farmers Bob and Mary Ihlenfeld started their farm in 1967 with 24 cows and 120 acres that they bought from Bob’s father. With hard work and commitment, it’s since grown to 400 cows and 3,000 acres, an operation that now supports three families: Bob and Mary, and those of their two sons, Ken and Steve, who are partners in the business. Ihlenfeld Farms encompasses five locations, including what they name the “Home Farm,” which is the original acreage that holds their traditional white farm house complete with a big front porch. It’s that home, along with the big red barn and picturesque grounds, that attracted the producer of the Toby Keith video. With a humbleness that seems to permeate rural America, Mary says, “They picked the farm, not us.”
After a full, seven-hour day of filming on the farm, the production team was invited back for the Ihlenfeld’s annual 4th of July picnic the next day, the result of an unplanned invitation. “They were just so nice that we invited them to come back,” says Mary. The crew filmed the nearby Cedarburg Independence Day parade the next morning before joining the party, where to the Ihlenfeld’s surprise they took more pictures. Even more surprising to them was watching the video for the first time three weeks later, and seeing themselves in it. “We had no idea we were going to be in the video. They offered to take a family photo in our corn field, and when you watch it, it’s me and Bob, and then the kids and grandkids sort of spring up around us,” she says. “If only it was that easy to raise a family!”
Being able to raise her children on a farm and teach them rural values is the best part of being a farmer, says Mary, the results of which are recognized even outside of agriculture: “There are years your product doesn’t have a good price, but the one thing you raise that are always wanted are your kids.”
Fortunately for the Ihlenfelds, what their children wanted was to continue the family farming tradition, with Steve managing the dairy cows and Ken taking charge of the fields and machinery. Not surprisingly, Bob and Mary continue to work hard on the farm as well, embodying the rural values celebrated in Keith’s “Made in America.”