Since June, reporter Emily Beal and I have visited farmers as part of an Agweek series, Follow a Farmer. Editor Jenny Schlecht took my AgweekTV interviews and created print and digital stories on one of those farmers, Tom Metz of Northwood, North Dakota.

Tom, 37, and his wife, Jenny, farm with her brother, Richie Ostlie. Their father, Rick Ostlie, retired in 2018 but still works on the farm seasonally. I knew of Tom and Jenny, primarily through their dads’ work with the American Soybean Association, which is how the two met. Jenny and I both grew up in the same area, around similar friends and communities. Today, we live near each other again, but our paths hadn’t crossed until this series of stories.

Tom Metz walks a cornfield on June 29, 2021, near Northwood, N.D. Despite severe drought conditions, Metz says the moisture is holding and the corn is rooted down. Metz grew up on a northeastern South Dakota family farm and farms today 180 miles north from his childhood home farm at Northwood, N.D., with his brother-in-law. His wife, Jenny, works as a pharmacy manager and together they are raising their three young daughters. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Tom Metz walks a cornfield on June 29, 2021, near Northwood, N.D. Despite severe drought conditions, Metz says the moisture is holding and the corn is rooted down. Metz grew up on a northeastern South Dakota family farm and farms today 180 miles north from his childhood home farm at Northwood, N.D., with his brother-in-law. His wife, Jenny, works as a pharmacy manager and together they are raising their three young daughters. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
A few things stood out to me in my four interviews with Tom:

He prepared for our interviews. He always asked a day or two in advance for interview topics so he could meet expectations on an array of agronomic, farm and marketing topics. He also was willing to share the difficulties he was facing that day or the past week and month. I appreciate preparation in all aspects of life.

For Agweek to deliver timely and relevant agriculture news to you, we need farmers to go on record and openly share. I appreciate Tom’s willingness to not only do that once but four times over the course of four hectic months on the farm.

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Corn harvest was about half over by Oct. 12, 2021, at Ostlie Farms, and despite the ongoing 2021 drought, the crop appeared to be about average. Photo taken Oct. 12, 2021.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Corn harvest was about half over by Oct. 12, 2021, at Ostlie Farms, and despite the ongoing 2021 drought, the crop appeared to be about average. Photo taken Oct. 12, 2021. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Each farm I’ve visited in my career, spanning the U.S., Canada and Germany, is as unique as a thumbprint — no two are the same. Often farms and farmers are painted with a broad brush, but once you get to know a farmer and their farm the differences are apparent.

Tom grew up on a South Dakota farm; his brothers and parents still farm there today. Both Tom and Richie had successful off-farm careers when they started farming. Jenny works as a pharmacist in rural healthcare today, and Richie’s wife, Dr. Jane Ostlie, is a rural family doctor.

The collaboration of careers and farming on the Metz and Ostlie farm is uniquely their own — and a representation of a generation in agriculture and rural America I highly value. Your farm and how you started farming won’t look like your neighbor’s farm or anyone else’s.

The soybean crop near Northwood, N.D. has done OK, despite a mostly dry late July and early August, says Tom Metz. Grand Forks County, where Northwood is located, is in a severe drought with a small portion classified as extreme drought. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
The soybean crop near Northwood, N.D. has done OK, despite a mostly dry late July and early August, says Tom Metz. Grand Forks County, where Northwood is located, is in a severe drought with a small portion classified as extreme drought. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
In the depths of severe drought, Tom’s optimism always shined through in his interviews. Farmers survive on pragmatic optimism — a real-life reality but positive approach to the business of farming. Farmers do the best they can with what they have, from the people and resources around them, saving and looking ahead to the future and relying on expertise and experience. That was evident on my late June, early August, September and October visits to the Ostlie farm. Tom, like most farmers I know, is sensible and honest as well as high-energy, a trait that stood out to me.

Lastly, we need a younger generation from our farms and rural communities to serve in volunteer capacities. I know firsthand this is difficult to do while juggling business and family commitments. In our first interview, Tom shared with me his childhood home burned down when he was 17 years old. Seeing the rural volunteer firefighters inspired him to give back when he was an adult. He first volunteered for the Northwood Rural Fire Department, eventually becoming chief and then later stepping down as chief but continuing to serve as a volunteer firefighter. He also serves on the township board.

Get to know a farmer, by reading and watching Agweek and AgweekTV, by visiting with people who farm and ranch in your area. Do not assume. Do not make judgments. Their farm is uniquely their own, different than any other farm or farmer you know — but each one important to the fabric of agriculture and rural America.

To read more of Katie Pinke's The Pinke Post columns, click here.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.