Steward of the Year

Steward of Year Award Recipients


Gabe Brown


Gabe Brown farms and ranches at Brown’s Ranch, located east of Bismarck, N.D. He and his wife, Shelly, purchased that 1,760 acres from his in-laws in 1991 and farmed much the way the previous generation had: with tillage, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and conventional grazing practices. in the late 1990s, he was hit with four years of hailstorms. His crops failed, and many of his cattle died. He was forced to reconsider how he was farming and find a regenerative path forward—a way to literally regenerate the fertility of the land.
Almost giving up in despair had brought a revelation: The soil fertility of some of the land that he’d left alone for a few years had actually improved in those years of so-called neglect. Leaving the biomass from the previous year’s harvest to lie on the ground fed the soil.
In this way, and in many others, the land taught him lessons when took the time to observe it.
Here’s how Gabe describes his operation today: “We believe in and practice Holistic Management, a part of which is farming and ranching in nature’s image. We strive to solve problems in a natural and sustainable way. Improving soil health is a priority and no-till farming has been practiced since 1993. A diverse cropping strategy, which includes cover and companion crops are used. We have now eliminated the use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides. We use minimal herbicide and are striving to eliminate it.  We do not use GMOs or glyphosate. Our ever evolving grazing strategy allows most of our pastures a recovery period of over 360 days. These strategies have allowed the health of the soil, the mineral and water cycles to greatly improve. In other words, the natural resources have benefited. This results in increased production, profit and a higher quality of life for us. We are moving towards sustainability for not only ours but future generations as well.”
The operation has grown to 5,000 acres, including several thousand acres of native perennial rangeland. They grow a wide variety of cash crops, as well as multi-species cover crops. Brown’s Ranch also includes grass-finished beef and lamb, as well as pastured laying hens, broilers, and swine.
His son, Paul, has become a partner in the operation, and his daughter, Kelly, lives and works in Fargo, N.D., and returns to help on the farm whenever possible.
Gabe Brown travels the world speaking about his farming practices, and the Brown family welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world to their ranch every year. He has formed a consulting practice called Understanding Ag with several partners to provide guidance to other farmers and ranchers.
He has many world-changing projects in the works, and we are always excited to hear what he’s up to next.
To honor his commitment to and promotion to sustainable and regenerative farming practices, we present Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society’s 2021 Steward of the Year Award to Gabe Brown.


Lonny & Krysti Mikkonen Family


Vincent & Patricia Meyers


Owen & Michele Trangsrud

 The NPSAS 2018 Steward of the Year award was presented to Owen and Michele Trangsrud, Enderlin, N.D. The Trangsrud’s are long-time members and supporters of NPSAS. They are fourth generation farmers and began transitioning their farm in 1993. They now care for over 400 acres, some organic and some in transition. They have produced a variety of crops including barley, oats, several wheat varieties, alfalfa, corn, blue corn, rye, sorghum, millet, flax, various fruits and more. They dairy farmed until the fall of 1996, then turned to beef cattle, currently focusing more on grass-fed beef, using the direct market approach for their beef, chickens, eggs and some garden produce. Owen and Michele have opened up their farm and hosted several field days throughout the years. Their farm has hosted numerous NPSAS Farm Breeder Club research plots, often going well above and beyond what was expected of them to ensure the success of the projects. Not only have they contributed to the leadership of the Farm Breeding Club, their farm has provided leadership and service to the NPSAS Board of Directors in the early 2000s and recently stepped up again when asked to serve as a current board member. Their five children were fostered and encouraged at a young age to culture their entrepreneurial talents, working with their parents to seek out and develop their own projects on the farm, and develop marketing relationships with the growing organic community in the Fargo-Moorhead market. They now have five grandchildren(with 2 more on the way). The Trangsrud family have worked hard to educate themselves and others about the benefits of an organic lifestyle, leading by example, and freely sharing information and expertise with anyone needing their help on a broad range of topics. Owen has reached out to several neighbors and fellow organic farmers to exchange labor and equipment. He trades beef for pasture land during the summer, and he trades labor for equipment use. His calves are born in the fall, so he can take and feed bulls from other spring calf farmers during the winter when he needs to breed his cows. They are actively engaged in their community in service of their neighbors and community organizations, exemplifying what it means to be a good neighbor, and acting as ambassadors for organic agriculture. Their family has provided exemplary, long-term, committed leadership as an engaged family farm in the true sense of the word, as organic farmers continually working toward improvement, and as servants to our larger organic community, serving others and giving of their time and talent. The Trangsrud’s added, “We believe in sustainable agriculture because we believe God gave us the opportunity and the responsibility to maintain the land, leaving it in a better and improved condition. We want to provide future generations with a stable business on which to build and grow.” “Most, if not all, of our direct market customers,” Michelle commented, “are either fighting a disease or trying to prevent one. They are using food as a line of defense in their fight. It is amazing how God created our body to heal itself if we just give it the right tools with which to do it, in this case, food full of minerals and vitamins. Our customers count on us to provide the quality food they need.”


 Rick & Helaine Fonder Family

Rick and Helaine Fonder own and operate a diversified organic dairy farm near Milbank, S.D. Together with their six children, Rita, Samuel, Abraham, Clarissa, Michaelann and Dominic, they take care of approximately 540 acres of organic pasture and cropland. A variety of crops including barley, oats, field peas, alfalfa, corn, rye, sorghum-sudan grass, millet and emmer are grown as feed for the livestock. They also use a blend of different grasses and legumes in their pasture mix. The farm was transitioned to organic, starting with the soil, in 2003. After meeting with representatives of Organic Valley, they knew they wanted, and needed, to become members of their coop. With help from soil consultants, feed analysts, organic veterinarians and certification experts, they were certified organic and got “on the truck” in November of 2006. “It was such a rewarding feeling to finally have our good milk going into an organic fluid market, where the customers rely on and trust our integrity and commitment to quality. It was also great to receive premiums for that quality and be a part of a coop that believes in a stable price.” Without a doubt, the most beneficial aspect of the whole experience has been the people they have met along the way. Satisfying friendships have been forged with farmers from Maine to Vermont to Tennessee to Ohio to Oregon and even to the U.K.! People in the organic and sustainable world are generally positive and upbeat because they know the future generations are dependant on them to continue doing the right thing. That’s what stewardship is all about. Whether it’s farming or the business world, we must do our best to take care of what we have been given and make it an attractive way of life for our children and grandchildren. Rick stated, “Each of us has someone that has influenced us at some point in our lives. I have been blessed to have my dad as a motivator and a believer is sustainable farming. Also, a good friend of our family, Deacon Paul Treinen, has been an inspiration to me. He taught me to ‘live every day, in the way, we would like to be remembered.’ Hopefully, if we continue to be good stewards of all that God has given us, we will be remembered as a family that was generous and encouraging to all. Thank you, NPSAS, for allowing us to be part of your family.”


Mark and Barb Askegaard

Mark is a 4th generation farmer from Moorhead, MN who graduated from NDSU with a BS Degree in Agricultural Economics. Mark and his family began transitioning their 900-acre farm to organic production in 1995. Their farm has been 100% organic for the past 15 years, growing a variety of different grains, oilseeds, dry beans and cover crops. Mark has served on numerous boards including his local church board, county soybean growers, Northern Crops Institute at NDSU, C-W Valley CO-OP, Minnesota Grown Advisory Committee and the Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership board in Minnesota. Mark and his wife, Barbara, have 2 daughters, Claire and Beth. Barb, Claire and Beth have all played active roles on the farm with Beth joining the operation full-time in 2014
When asked why the Askegaards are committed to organic ag production:
1. We had a concern for our own personal health and that of the environment’s when using synthetic pesticides. Many people including farmers in the community seem to suffer from higher rates of disease than the non-ag community at large. Various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimers seem to stand out.
2. We believe that a healthy rural economy revolved around having many farmers, growing a diversity of crops and having more neighbors – not fewer. Organic agriculture fit into our belief system.
3. We felt that there were unanswered questions about GMO technology and knew that the main benefactors of this technology would be the chemical and biotech companies, not the farmer. Somehow or other, soil health was never brought up as a reason to grow biotech crops.
4. Corporate control of seed/agriculture did not sit well with our independent demeanor.
We had also been growing some of our soybean crop for several years without the use of chemicals and knew that we were capable of growing them without chemicals. The organic movement was really beginning to come to the forefront and we knew that we could farm organically, it was just a matter of finding a rotation of crops that we could grow. We are still experimenting with our rotation. Farming is a journey. Mother nature holds the cards and we just do our best to work with her. We have been trying to incorporate plants that attract beneficials into our field buffers for the past couple of years realizing that the more diversity we can include into the surrounding environment, the better the odds of having nature in balance and to help control pest outbreaks. With the demand for local, organic foods increasing, we decided to begin processing some of our organic grains and oilseeds and have been fortunate to have our products (flaxseed, flaxseed meal and whole wheat flour) carried/used by several retail outlets and institutions. Learn more at and find them on Facebook.


Phil & Jill Jerde

Phil and Jill Jerde family, who own and operate Great Plains Buffalo in Reva, S.D. were awarded the 2015 Steward of the Year award.

The Jerde family manages one of the largest 100% grass fed buffalo herds in the U.S. and run a cow/ calf operation as well. Located in the center of the Great Plains, their herds roam freely on beautiful golden prairies and feed on lush native grasses. Animal husbandry, sustainable land management and high-quality products are top priority.

This high-energy family firmly believes in what they do. They have owned and operated their ranch for 20 plus years. Their children are an integral part of the operation and help out with every aspect of the family business.

They’ve been using Holistic Management planned grazing on their ranch since 2001. Their livestock are handled in the lowest-stress manner possible to ensure the happiness and contentment of both the animals and the handlers. The environmentally sound practices that they choose to implement result in healthy critters, living in balance with nature, with no need for antibiotics or hormone supplements.

Their native pastures are constantly monitored and managed to improve the quality of the soils and grasses, which then puts carbon back into the soil.  Covering bare ground is essential. This will ensure that both domestic creatures and wildlife will have a super high-quality diet. By being sensitive to the ecosystem processes, they can manage their land to make clean air and water readily available. They believe that being good stewards, healing the land, making it productive, and looking at the bigger picture is something everyone has to do if we all want to thrive on this planet.


Lynn & Dee Brakke

Lynn Brakke and wife, Dee, live on the family farm near Moorhead and have 3 children, all in college at this time.
Lynn switched from conventional to organic production in 1993. There were several reasons for making the switch. The main ones being the health benefits for Lynn (his father passed away at a young age from cancer 10 years prior) as well as those that consume what their farm produces, and as strange as it may sound, “it just feels right.”
The Brakke farm raises blue corn for blue corn chips, soybeans for a variety of soy food, both domestic and over-seas, alfalfa for organic dairies throughout the U.S., grassfed organic beef for local direct markets and various fruits and vegetables grown in high tunnels for local wholesale and retail markets.
Some of the fears Lynn has for the future of organic agriculture and their farm are the impact of GMO’s, spray drift from neighboring farms, and the lack of adequate crop insurance protection.
He has never had plans for acreage expansion but instead, adding value to what they do on their existing farm foot print. His future plans are to continue to add value to what they produce and continue to diversify the operation.
Lynn’s employees on this farm are more than employees, they are a team and they all play an important roll in the success or failure of this farm. Lynn feels he owes the success of the farm to his employees because without them they would not be successful at what they do. It has been his goal to provide a generous compensation for his employees and to create an environment where people would like to work. Their farm currently provides a living for 6 local families.
Lynn couldn’t recall when he first became a member of NPSAS. He appreciates the community of like-minded farmers that NPSAS provides and greatly enjoys the annual Winter Conference.

Lynn would like to be remembered for doing “the right thing” even when it’s not popular.


Rick & Char Mittleider

Rick and Char Mittleider live south of Tappen, where Rick has been farming organically before it was even called organic! In the sandy loam soil of Kidder County, they grow a variety of small grain crops including HRS wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, lentil beans and flax, with alfalfa and yellow blossom sweet clover added to the rotation to build soil health.

Over the years, Rick has been on various presentation panels, and has hosted a number of different field tours. He enjoys sharing his knowledge with people and has been a mentor to many. Currently, they are working with the NPSAS Farm Breeder Club.

Rick and Char are greatly blessed to have each of their three children and their families farming alongside them!


Dennis & Diane Schill

Dennis and Diane Schill, rural Hannah, N.D., are dedicated stewards of the land and true innovators at heart. Their farming operation has changed over the years from conventional farming with a small hog confinement barn to organic small grains, sheep, hogs and direct market poultry, and now includes a focus on custom rotational grazing.
They have been very intentional about conserving the land. Natural waterways are in grass. Livestock is rotationally grazed. Trees and shelterbelts are added and maintained. Dennis and Diane were awarded the Cavalier County Soil Conservation Award in 2006.
The Schills raise chickens for meat and for eggs. They use “chicken tractors” to graze the broiler chickens. They also have built the “U Gut Clucker Plucker,” a mobile poultry-processing unit. They have established a “CSA” format to direct market their broiler chickens and pigs. They have a small flock of sheep and a few pigs.
They are dedicated to producing local food for themselves and for the larger community.
Diane is also a co-founder and co-owner of the North Dakota Wooly Girls, a business created to add value to their wool by washing, dyeing, carding and felting it and then creating beautiful, wearable, warm art.
Diane and Dennis are active community members in Langdon. Dennis has served on the local St. Alphonsus Catholic School Board and the Church Council. Diane is active in the local Arts Council and the Cavalier County Museum as well as their church.
They have served as mentors to beginning farmers interested in sustainable agriculture and livestock production. And they have been very active in NPSAS.
Dennis has served on the NPSAS Board for several challenging years and has done so with leadership and vision for the future. Diane has served on the NPSAS board and for many years on the NPSAS program committee.
Those who visit Dennis and Diane’s farm are immediately made aware of the pride in their farm and their vocation which is made clear throughout the farm, from the lovely gardens to the remodeled farm-house, to the happy livestock in the grazing paddocks.


Myron & Georgean Lick

Myron and Georgean Lick own and operate the Ruso Ranch that had been a homestead farm in Georgean’s family since 1906. The Licks have been farming since 1973 and have always employed soil conservation practices, however the ranching operation has changed over time. Although they’ve never used growth hormones, their livestock were originally raised using conventional methods on a combination of pasture grazing and grain finishing. The Licks believe research proves animals raised on grass are healthier and produce more nutritious meat. The cattle are sold commercially and directly to consumers. The meat is processed at a state-inspected facility and sold in bundles. The farm also produces free-range chickens from May through September that are pre-sold to customers. All livestock is raised naturally without hormones, antibiotics or pesticides.
The Licks have participated in NPSAS Summer Field Tours and demonstrations on their ranch in an effort to raise awareness of the benefits to soil and human health through grass-fed, natural beef production. They are strong advocates of local foods systems, believing that consumers should have access to nutrient-dense, locally grown foods. The Licks run their own CSA and attend workshops and conferences to learn more about local foods systems.
The couple has three grown daughters, two granddaughters and two grandsons. The Lick’s youngest daughter, Farrah, and her family joined the family ranch business in 2005.


Don Jarrett

The 2010 Steward of the Year Award went to Don Jarrett of Britton, S.D. Don has been an inspiration to many. He is a faithful supporter of NPSAS and has been a dedicated organic farmer for over 20 years.
He is well read and challenges us to study the economics, politics and science of agriculture. He is innovative and committed to producing high-quality crops. He sets a good example for the rest of us in considering the soil science necessary to produce those high-quality crops. His farm produces organic corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, grass, sheep and cattle. He has done innovative work in saving and breeding varieties of open-pollinated corn seed for use under organic management.
Don is forward thinking about the political climate of food production and has traveled around the world as a spokesman for organic agriculture. He is energetic and often volunteers his time to get a job done. He is the only living charter member of S.D. OCIA #1, and has honestly and faithfully served as their treasurer since 1988 – more than 21 years! Don is a man of physical and moral strength, whose unassuming leadership style has earned the respect and admiration of many people.


Allan & Kim Miller

 The NPSAS 2009 Steward of the Year award winners went to the  Allan and Kim Miller family.Together, Allan and Kim have a diversified livestock and grain farm which is located northwest of Ellendale, N.D. They farm with their two sons, Brett and Craig, and daughter Dixie. Kim does a good job of raising direct market chickens using non-medicated feed and fresh grass.
Allan is a quiet fellow and extremely faithful in serving his community as well as this organization. He has been a long-time member of NPSAS and has served as a past Board Member. Allan has served numerous years on the nominating committee to search for new Board Members. He has been present for many past conferences and summer farm tours.
Allan is on the township board, and sings with the “Alive” group which gives concerts in the area during the winter. Kim accompanies high school students for music contests. They are both active in their church. Conservation practices include rotational grazing; their crop rotation includes cover crops, both cool and warm season crops and alfalfa. Congratulations Millers!


Duane & Chantra Boehm

Duane and Chantra operate a 4,000-acre diversified beef cattle and grain farm near Richardton, N.D. They have two grown daughters. Duane and Chantra have been members of NPSAS since the early 1980s. Duane has served on the NPSAS board of directors from 1997 to 2006. Part of that time, he served as treasurer. Duane and Chantra hosted NPSAS Summer Symposiums in 1993 and again in 2003. Duane has also been involved with the Winter Conference and has presented several workshops. Duane is currently serving as treasurer on the Farm Breeders Club board of directors.
Duane has served on the Dickinson Research Extension Center’s agronomy advisory committee for several years. They have cooperated since 2001 with on-farm crop variety trials. In 2003 NPSAS was invited to seat one of their members on the State Technical Committee. Duane volunteered to serve in this capacity, providing input and practical experience into the technical merits of the state’s policy and implementation of such programs as EQIP, CRP, the Grassland Reserve Program and CSP. He was appointed by Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Board serving from its inception in June 2006 through June 2007.
Duane and Chantra are involved is several community activities in the area. Chantra enjoys gardening and is an avid fisher person. Fishing is her Sunday afternoon recreation. NPSAS has benefited immensely from having such fine folks as Duane and Chantra Boehm in its organization. Congratulations, Duane and Chantra and thank you for all you have contributed to NPSAS over the years.


Blaine & Susan Schmaltz

Blaine and Susan Schmaltz, along with their family of four teenagers, were awarded the prestigious award of “Stewards of the Year” at the Winter Conference. This award is given to members who are practitioners of organic agriculture and conscientious stewards of the land and all that inhabit it.
The Schmaltz family certainly is all of that. Anyone that ever attends a NPSAS Winter Conference or Summer Symposium would know this family. They almost always are at these events and have a booth at the conference.
Blaine and Suzie own and operate an organic farm close to Rugby, ND. They have four teenage children, two boys and two girls, who all help with their operation. They grow many grains, dry beans, grasses and hay along with organic beef. They sell Certified Organic and State Certified Seed.
Recently Blaine was appointed to the State Organic Advisory Board by Roger Johnson. Blaine spends a great deal of time answering calls from farmers interested in changing to organic and patiently answers a multitude of questions regarding organic production.
Congratulations to the Schmaltz family.


Patti & Loren Patrie

Patti and Loren Patrie are grain, livestock and raspberry farmers from Bowdon, North Dakota. In 1990, the Patries started planting raspberries as part of a farm diversification project to help build a college fund for their three children. This enterprise has now grown to about seven acres of u-pick raspberries, an on-farm gift shop and a line of raspberry preserves and syrups processed in their on-farm commercial kitchen. They are members of the North Dakota Pride of Dakota program and market their value-added products throughout the state at Pride of Dakota Showcases, specialty shops and grocery stores.  The Patries’ ingenuity and entrepreneurship are examples of the creativity needed to be sustainable stewards on the Great Plains.
Patti and Loren are also active community members. Patti and Loren are long-time members of NPSAS and Patti has served on the Long-Term Finance Committee. Patti also recently participated in the Rural Leadership North Dakota initiative, a dynamic two-year interactive study and travel program dedicated to producing graduates with vision and commitment to lead themselves, their organizations and communities into the future. Loren has served on the Wells County Soil Conservation District Board. Besides caring for the land, Loren and Patti are certainly stewards and advocates for their rural community of Bowden.