This winter Farm Gate introduces you to the new members of the state Young Farmer and Promotion & Education committees — in their own words.
By Mary Alway
I have lived here all my life, raised on my family’s dairy farm in central Mason County. My grandfather Carl Berndt started the farm over 100 years ago — a milestone we celebrated with my grandmother a few years ago.
Grandma and grandpa Berndt raised two boys, but only my dad Curtiss was interested in farming. He attended Michigan State University for a year but had to come home to help on the farm. Our family raised chickens and dairy cattle on our 350 acres.
My parents, two sisters and a brother were all active on the farm. Each of us kids took turns getting up at 5:30 a.m. to help dad milk the cows. Even at a young age we were required to help even if it was just putting feed in the mangers.
I’ve always told people: This is how I learned what hard work truly is and the importance of seeing through to the end of a project. There isn’t “half done” when it comes to farming; you have to finish the work. Someone or something depends on you completing the job.
Along with the cattle and chickens, my parents thought us kids needed more things to do, so there was the large garden and each year we would also have either ducks or turkeys to take care of over the summer.
My husband Tom and I were high school sweethearts. We’ve been married for 33 years now and have three grown daughters.
We currently farm two acres of hops. They are very labor-intensive and the girls say they would rather unload hay on a hot summer day than harvest hops in August! We also help Tom’s dad with his asparagus fields and, depending on the year, oats or wheat. My father has retired from milking but still grows hay and rents out land to other area farmers.
I work for a company in Ludington that manufactures decals for cranes and other heavy equipment along with safety decals for some of the major airlines. I have a degree as an administrative secretary and recently finished another in marketing and management. I plan on using the new degree to help market our hops in areas beyond brewing.
My parents were involved in Farm Bureau for many years. Tom and I got involved after starting the hops farm. He and his two brothers wanted to keep their family farm active, so they went into business together and chose hops.
We attend local and state Farm Bureau events and enjoyed learning how its grown over the years. With our farming backgrounds, we still knew many of the people at our local events. At the Growing Together conference I learned about the FARM Science Lab and wanted to help bring it to Mason County.
We’re a farming community but many of our young people don’t know where food comes from. When our oldest daughter lived near Detroit for a few years, she was amazed how many people think meat is made in stores!
My dad hosted farm tours for elementary schools and took in calves for show-n-tell. We’re missing those aspects of teaching these days. I love the Farm Crates that are being made available to schools.
I substitute taught in area schools for several years and love helping people learn; Promotion & Education helps me do just that. I’m also involved in the MSU Ag program at our local community college and have enjoyed working with the Mason/Lake Conservation District over the years.
Farming is such a huge part of who I am that I want everyone to know the importance of what farmers do. Being a farmer isn’t just working the fields — it’s also sharing what it means to farm and to be a good steward of our land. The more people understand that — by taking care of our livestock, land and other resources — the more we’re making our planet a better place to live.