Westminster, Colorado-based Niman Ranch has announced the Jovaag family of Austin, Minnesota, as the 2022 Niman Ranch Sustainable Farm of the Year. This accolade honors the Jovaags for their land stewardship and ongoing commitment to the principles of regenerative agriculture.
Jon and Ruth Jovaag have been members of the Niman Ranch network of family farms since 2011, following in the footsteps of Jon’s parents, Arvid and Lois, who began raising hogs for Niman Ranch in the early 2000s. In addition to raising pigs, cattle, sheep and chickens, the farm produces row crops, all in a rotation that enhances the productivity of the soil.
Since 2011, the Jovaags’ have slowly but steadily converted over their cropland to fully certified organic. They rotate their crops, rotationally graze livestock and experiment with new composting methods.
Additionally, the Jovaags plant soybeans as they roller-crimp their rye cover crop to reduce erosion, weeds and irrigation needs. Healthy soil has been proven to produce more abundant crops, reduce or even eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers, support biodiversity, reduce water runoff and sequester carbon to help fight climate change.
“I applaud the Jovaag family for this well-deserved award,” said Chris Oliviero, Niman Ranch general manager. “The Jovaags exemplify regenerative agriculture in action – every season trying out a new practice to improve their soil and never settling for the status quo. The Jovaag’s leadership doesn’t stop at their farmgate; they are committed to sharing successes and learnings with other producers to drive a farmer-led movement for a sustainable future.”
The Jovaags regularly host field days on their farm and partner with their local soil and water conservation districts and other regional research institutions to test out new practices and measure impacts on soil health and biodiversity.
“The Jovaags have a history of conservation and good stewardship of their land. Their leadership and mentoring of other farmers has been instrumental in improving soil health practices in Minnesota,” said Mark Gutierrez, executive director of the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, a producer-driven education, outreach and information exchange network.
In celebration of the Jovaag’s Sustainable Farm of the Year award, Niman Ranch donated to the coalition to support more farmers on their regenerative agriculture journeys.
The Jovaag family raise their hogs according to Niman Ranch’s strict standards, with no antibiotics, no crates and in bedded barns that offer shelter from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. In addition, the pigs and sheep graze a wooded section of the farm to keep invasive weed species in check. The manure from the animals is spread on the fields as fertilizer for crop nutrition.
The Jovaags like to experiment with different commercial crops, and if they plant something that isn’t successful, it gets used as feed for the pigs. It’s a system where nothing is wasted and everything is put to use.
The Jovaags encourage more farmers to embrace regenerative agriculture to build a resilient farm for future generations. “It’s a real mindset shift,” shared Jon about embracing regenerative agriculture. His advice to fellow farmers: “Just try a little bit at a time and have an open mind.”