Organic farm is a family affair

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Nebraska Farmer - September 2007

Marketing/Management

Organic farm is a family affair
By JIM CARLTON

At a glance
■ Eastern Nebraska couple receives OCIA awards. ■ Family makes full transition to organic farming. ■ Farming this way requires spreading out the workload. bles,” explains Mike Ostry. In addition, he says, the farm produces broiler chickens, ducks, turkeys, hogs and beef cattle. The livestock are fed from the crops produced on the farm. Ostry, who has been farming for the past 20 years, grew up on the family farm near where he currently farms. “I grew up during the transition into the use of more chemicals,” he says. “Now, I have transitioned my way back out of the use of them.” Moving from the traditional to the nontraditional didn’t come about overnight, according to Ostry. The transition actually began around 1990 when he changed his crop rotations. “We increased our rotations and got more into producing the small grains to help break

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ARMING without using chemicals obviously isn’t for everyone, but Mike and Karen Ostry are making it work for themselves and their family of nine children on their Wagon Wheel Farm in Butler County near Bruno. In fact, the Ostrys were recognized this year by the Organic Crop Improvement Association International’s Nebraska Chapter as “Farmer of the Year.” Additionally, they received a Certificate of Merit from the OCIA Research and Education Inc. in this year’s Outstanding Organic Farmer of the Year awards program. That awards program was created to “honor and showcase producers who excel in cropping and livestock practices, who are good stewards of the natural environment and who are committed to the organic community.”

WORKING TOGETHER: Mike and Karen Ostry and eight of their nine children pose for a photo in a field on their Wagon Wheel Farm near Bruno. Back row are Mike and son, Louis, while in the front row (from left) are Anthony, Gerard, Helena, Cecilia, Karen, Angelica, Maria and Lydia. Matthew was away at work when the photo was taken. up the weed cycle and help build up the organic matter in the soil,” he says. “The biggest thing in organic farming is building up the organic matter. When you build that, the weed pressure goes down.” “We have been certified 100% every year since,” he says. Ostry says markets for organically produced farm commodities are growing. These markets include not only local customers in Nebraska, but also in other states and countries. “I’ve had soybeans go as far away as Japan,” he says. He acknowledges that operating the organic farm often is a lot of work. “You need to spread your workload throughout the year,” he says. One of the primary motivations for moving away from traditional farming to organic was his children, says Ostry. “I didn’t like using the chemicals around the children. I figured that we had farmed for centuries without them and that we should be able to go back to it.” Carlton writes from Lincoln.

Certified organic
By 1992, Ostry had been able to move from the use of chemicals, he says. In 1995, the farm was certified organic by OCIA.

Variety of commodities
“We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, oats, alfalfa, peas and mixed fresh vegeta-

Ostry family shares gift of music with others
UNNING a 320-acre farm keeps Mike and Karen Ostry and their nine children plenty busy. Even so, they still manage to find time to take advantage of their musical talents and entertain others at festivals in Nebraska. “We do a family show,” says Mike Ostry. “We are 100% Czech ancestry. We are fifth generation in this country, and we still carry on a lot of the Czech traditions such as singing and dancing.”

OCIA reaches out worldwide
HE Organic Crop Improvement Association is an international organization that provides certification services to organic farmers, processors and handlers from more than 20 countries, according to information available on its Web site, www.ocia.org. Its world headquarters is located in Lincoln. OCIA also has regional offices in Canada, Europe, China, Latin America and Japan. In the United States, the organization has state chapters in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin. “A nonprofit, member-owned, agricultural organization, OCIA is dedicated to providing the highest-quality organic certification services and access to global organic markets,” according to the Web site.

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Known as the Ostry Family Singers, the family entertains at many Czech festivals, plus at nursing homes, churches and other venues. “Every year, we have a traveling show that is based on a specific theme,” says Ostry. For example, two years ago the theme was based on the family’s farm and all the activities the family is involved in during the year. This year, the theme is a tribute to Czech music. “We do songs and skits in

both Czech and in English,” Ostry says. “They are comical skits that are entertaining for the audience.” All of the Ostry children, including Matthew, 18; Louis, 16; twins Cecilia and Angelica, 14; Maria, 13; Helena, 10; Anthony, 8; Gerard, 5; and Lydia, 1, sing and play musical instruments. Mike says music comes naturally to the whole family. It also helps that his wife, Karen, has a degree in music education.

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