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YF Excellence winners building a legacy, promoting 'all aspects of agriculture'

MFB Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award winners Chris and Jackie Sanford run Sanford Family Beef in Parma, offering direct-to-consumer cuts of beef and pork. Image credit: Bri Grunden, Michigan Farm Bureau
Date Posted: July 24, 2023

Two sons, a thriving direct-to-consumer farm store, successful careers in ag — oh, and winning Michigan Farm Bureau’s 2023 Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award.

Jackson County Farm Bureau members Chris and Jackie Sanford are building a legacy and blazing their own path. A path that started in a high school choir class.

“His first question he asked me is if I wanted to farm for the rest of my life,” Jackie told Michigan Farm News. “So that was kind of his screening question he was saving. I said yes, and the rest is history.”

One hiccup: Jackie — who was raised on a cash crop farm in the Eaton Rapids area — grew up being told by her mom never to marry a farmer.

“And you did!” the Sanford’s 8-year-old son, Colt, chimed in as his 5-year-old brother, Lane, stood smiling next to him.

“And here we are,” Jackie laughed.

And here we are, in Parma, at Sanford Family Beef.

What started with selling beef at farmers’ markets has evolved into a direct-to-consumer approach. The Sanfords will raise and finish close to 100 head of cattle this year, which are fed from what’s grown on their 80-acre farm and additional land they rent for custom work.

Step into their roadside shop and you’ll find a row of gleaming stand-up freezers — which are now also stocked with pork, thanks to some hogs they’ve added to their farm.

The Sanfords also carry locally sourced cheeses, ice cream, popcorn, and other foods inside the red shed-sized building where they can talk with customers one-on-one.

“The importance of buying local is really allowing our customers to connect with us, connect with the story, with the land, and with agriculture,” Jackie said.

“Less than 2% of us here are farmers and we have such an important story to tell the consumer. That's what we love about our operation is we really try our best to help people feel comfortable in the kitchen, so we provide multiple recipes that are tested by Chris and the boys.”

While the Sanfords bought the 80-acre farm they live on in 2019, they’ve also spent time building off-farm careers in agriculture. Chris works for AgriKing as a beef and dairy nutritionist and Jackie is a senior chattel appraiser for Greenstone Farm Credit Services.

Their on-farm experience and off-farm expertise has helped them grow within MFB, leading to Chris serving on the Jackson County Farm Bureau board as vice chair and Young Farmer representative, as well as being the Young Farmer representative on the state Policy Development Committee.

It’s a family tradition — his mother was the first woman to chair the state Young Farmer committee.

As the state winner of the Excellence in Agriculture Award — which recognizes young farmers for their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau — the Sanfords receive a three-month lease of a Michigan CAT skid-steer; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Annual Meeting to compete in the national competition.

“I've loved the opportunity that Farm Bureau has provided for networking,” Jackie said.

“I get that through my job, but then I get to see all these people at the conferences, and the local Farm Bureau, we've met a lot of farmers in the area that we didn't know were around. So, the networking aspect, the resources that Farm Bureau provides, is unmatched for farmers. It’s the ultimate resource out there for us farmers to be able to utilize.”

Chris has used his role in the county Farm Bureau to promote the Young Farmer program, advocate for more expansion of meat processing opportunities, and reassure fellow members that Farm Bureau is there for them when times get tough.

“If we don't build upon what was put before us, what will be there for the future?” Chris said. “And truly that's the legacy Jackie and I want to leave — promoting all aspects of agriculture.”

Chris said if his sons take over the farm someday, he wants them to consider all aspects of what the next steps could be. Think expanding agritourism, having a restaurant, a corn maze in the fall, or even shifting to a bigger level of production ag.

They’re already getting experience talking with customers at the farm store and are budding entrepreneurs, selling lemonade and wristbands in the store on the weekends.

“There's so many life lessons that the boys have the opportunity to learn that their classmates might not,” Jackie said.

“I hope that through Chris and I, and what we can show them day to day that farming can be calm, it can be an enjoyable lifestyle. Yes, there's hard circumstances that are thrown at us as farmers. But it can be a wonderful life here on the farm.”

It’s a good thing Jackie didn’t listen to her mom — just that once.

Young Farmer Excellence winner Chris Sanford laughing with his wife and two kids while sitting in front of a sign reading "SANFORD FAMILY BEEF."

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