Anne and Peter Schwagerl, Big Stone County
When they first married and moved out of Minnesota, Anne and Peter Schwagerl didn’t know they wanted to be farmers. Living in Florida after graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College, Peter was studying for his Ph.D. and Anne worked in a different field.
“Farming was not on either of our radars at the time, but really good food was,” Anne said.
Connecting with a rotational grazing farmer in their area got them involved in agriculture. Peter grew up on his family’s farm in Big Stone County, so it was a good fit to work on a pastured pork, grass-fed beef, poultry and egg farm. Anne and Peter both worked at farmers markets for the grazer on weekends.
“We found that (Peter and I) liked working together and found it a lot more fulfilling to work with food and have this kind of relationship with customers, a relationship with other producers, than we did with our day jobs,” Anne, who is from New Prague, said. “It was like, ‘Why are we waiting to end up following what had become our dream?’”
In summer 2012, the Schwagerls moved back to Minnesota, starting Prairie Point Farm on the land Peter’s parents farmed. Not long afterwards, they joined Minnesota Farmers Union. Now, Anne is in her first term as MFU’s Secretary – and she can already speak to the great impact the organization has had on her life.
How the Schwagerls farm
Anne and Peter raise pastured pork and about 300 acres of non-GMO crops. They butcher about 40 pigs per year and keep breeding hogs around as well. The pigs are on deep-bedded straw on winter and pastured lots in the summer, where cover crops serve as food for them.
“We’ve chosen a heritage breed hog that’s bred for slower growing,” Anne said. “There’s a little more marbling of fat in the meat, more traditional look and feel.”
Their meat is mostly sold by direct marketing to customers, although they are working on getting a license to sell to restaurants and farmers markets. About half of their crops are organic or transitioning to organic, and they plan to start transitioning the rest next year. Their soybeans are food-grade, so they can be used for tofu. Their corn is feed for their animals.
Diversification is a major goal for the Schwagerls. They’ve set up a coop of 12 laying hens.
“We started buying our eggs from other local producers, and I decided I wanted to do it myself,” Peter said. “It’s a good starter project for (our daughter) Nora (who is 4).”
Anne mentioned that they’d like to start with pastured broiler chickens before too long and even add sheep and cattle to their operation. They grow vegetables in their garden, which sometimes end up as treats for the pigs.
“We have chosen to go down the path of small and diverse versus large and simple,” Anne said. “It’s not easy, but it’s really fulfilling.”
The Schwagerls’ involvement with MFU has progressed from local to national. They joined one day when Field Representative Amanda Rosendahl visited to renew Peter’s father’s membership. Not long afterwards, they attended the Big Stone County Convention and were elected as delegates to the state convention. It was there that Anne realized her passion for policy.
“I was impressed by the grassroots organizing MFU does,” she said. “I loved what we did at the state level, going through the policy manual line by line. At the end of that convention, I went up to (Government Relations Director) Thom (Petersen) and asked if I could join the policy committee.”
Anne has made strong push to stay on the forefront of issues that affect younger farmers. She joined the National Farmers Union Next Generation Advisory Council in 2015. That group helped inspire her to run for Secretary in 2016, after discussions around leadership transitioning.
“This is an organization I believe in and that I want to develop myself further in as a leader,” she said. “I want to give some of my time to help wherever I can.”
Peter is also planning to participate in the NFU Beginning Farmer Institute, starting this fall.
The “big tent aspect” of MFU is attractive to the Schwagerls. They enjoy meeting farmers who do completely different things from them and learning from them, while finding similarities, too.
“Being able to have grown-up conversations about issues that face us all is what makes MFU a great organization to be a part of, because it brings us all to the table,” Anne said.