Creating, maintaining a farm family legacy is Oetting’s message

By: 
Dave Marner
Managing Editor

Sharon Oetting had just found out Thursday she’d won Best of Show honors with her canned tomatoes at the Lafayette County Fair.

She shared that bit of news with 300 Osage, Maries and Gasconade county residents during the sixth Women in Agriculture forum held at White Mule Winery. Her good fortune came with the footnote that her grown children were already staking claims on her winter provisions which she expects to reach 180 quarts once she’d finished for the season.

And, yes, she was still using a 1945-era pressure cooker alluded to by University Extension speaker Susan Mills Gray earlier in the program as she addressed the crowd about new health and safety techniques for canning produce and meats.

Oetting and her husband, Steve, co-own and operate Oetting Homestead Farms, Inc., near Concordia, Mo., and with their son, Sean. Another son plans to join them in the farming operation after he retires from the Marine Corps in 2020. His children are already looking forward to the day they stop just having “farm-cations” and can live on a working farm.

Her husband’s family settled their land in 1839. For 40 years they raised pigs from birth to market but now finish 50-pounders for another producer along with growing row crops including corn and soybeans. Their farm is one of the oldest among 500 century farms in Missouri.

Their key to success is not doing the same thing they were doing 10 years ago. You must be willing to change you farming practices, she warned them.

“Unless you adopt new practices, you won’t be in business in 10 years,” she told the predominantly female audience.

She urged the crowd to “take advantage of farm programs” to help with equipment and fertilizer purchases. Participate in conservation programs designed to protect valuable farm land from run-off and erosion problems.

“We used a lot of USDA conservation programs to help preserve that legacy” of their Century Farm, Oetting told them.

She also encouraged each member of the audience to become volunteers in their communities and become advocates for programs which support farm life styles. She told them they need to teach their children and grandchildren to do the same.

“Consider running for county committee seats, USDA boards,” she told them.

The Oettings were recognized by the National Hog Farmer magazine and National Pork Board as the 2008 recipients of the recipients of their Environmental Steward Award. They were also recipients in 2008 of the Missouri Master Farmer Award presented by the Missouri Ruralist magazine and University of Missouri Extension. They were also the 2008 Pork Producer Farm Family.

The Missouri Governor’s Conference in 2015 presented them with the Missouri Agricultural Environmental Award. She was named the National Farm Spokesperson of the Year by Farm Journal.

“My life’s been great,” she told them, adding while although there had been some “ups and downs” along the way, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

She recalls the pain her father went through when he lost his farm in the farm crisis which swept across the nation in the 1980s. She said her father couldn’t even speak to her the day of their foreclosure sale. 

“But he knew I was there,” she recalled. Families support each other, she said. “They know that other person is there.”

The simple, seasonal cycles, of farm life are what drives her. The planting, the harvesting…the sound of combines. Piglets being born.

“Farmers deal with miracles every day,” Oetting said, noting her joy watching baby pigs being birthed. “If you don’t get excited about it, it’s time to get out of the business.”

Her sons are the future of their family’s legacy, she noted, but added, “I am truly, always will be a farm girl. Boots, heals, boots in the barn.”

Women on the farm, she told them, are the caretakers.  They have strength. And patience. “You’re the glue that holds it all together,” she told them. Each member of the audience has to determine how they want their farm family legacy to be recorded, she said in closing.