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Picturesque Family Farms have Helping Hands Across Generations

The Wagon Wheel Farm carries on that image. Mike and Karen Ostry and their 11 children farm land that was settled near the rolling hills of Bruno, Neb., in 1874. The children are the sixth generation working the land as Mike, 52, recovers from emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor in February that left him blind. Doctors have said he might get his sight back.

In the meantime, the three oldest boys, Matthew, 24, Louis, 23, and Anthony, 14, are rearing to plant the fields, Mike said. The farm rotates corn, soybeans, oats, field peas, flax, a small grain like wheat with clover underneath, then back to corn or a few years of alfalfa. Cecilia and her twin sister Angelica, 21, work in the garden along with siblings Helena, 17, Gerard, 11, Lydia, 7, and sometimes with one of their grandmothers.

Ostry children ‘walking the beans’ at Wagon Wheel Farm in Bruno, NE.
Ostry children ‘walking the beans’ at Wagon Wheel Farm in Bruno, NE.

“She likes spending time with the grandkids,” Mike said. “The kids like it, having grandma over.”

Maria, 19, raises animals; hogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and she’s working with two draft horses in the garden, maybe in the fields one day. Gerard and Lydia also take care of the hens. Gabriella and Carl, the youngest two at 5 and 3, help where they’re needed, Mike said.

On top of all of that, Karen, 46, and the children are maintaining the paperwork for organic certification. The Ostry’s farm was certified organic by the Organic Crop Improvement Association starting in 1992. Mike went to an OCIA Nebraska 1 chapter meeting early on and right away he was on a committee. He remembered saying, “I don’t know enough about this” and he said other chapter members told him, “Oh, you’ll learn fast.”

Mike said he farmed with chemicals for a period, but quit because he wanted his family to be able sit down in a field and eat lunch without him having to worry about chemical residue. He also turned to organics because costs left him without enough money to pay his bills at the end of a year. The organic market has been good for the Ostrys who sell organic feed grain to a variety of customers.

“It’s a nice avenue and comradery and it’s just nice,” Mike said.

He called some customers “homesteaders” who might just have a few acres and livestock. One customer was OCIA member ShadowBrook Farm that asked if Mike was still planting a mix of flax, field peas and barley this year. It has been a good feed mix for ShadowBrook Farm’s goats, he said.

“Yeah, I’m planting it again,” he said he told them, just for them and himself. He likes the mix because it keeps weeds down, he can swath them together and grind them together, he said.

Mike may not be planting the mixture himself this year, but his family and the farmers around him are keeping the place going. Ruth Chantry, a fellow organic farmer from Raymond, Neb., set up a fund for Mike’s medical bills.

The OCIA Family Spotlight is a series of stories about OCIA members, in celebration of the International Year of Family Farming.


Date Published:  April 10th, 2014
Author/Title:  Demetria Stephens, OCIA International Board Member
E-Mail:  sandnuri@gmail.com
Address:  OCIA, 1340 N. Cotner Blvd, Lincoln, NE, 68505

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