Steffens honored at recent Ag Gala

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Farm Forum

For Jeff and Jolene Steffen, their farm is more than a way to make a living – it’s about preserving a way of life.

For them, farming calls for wise conservation measures. They believe in farming sustainably for future generations, including for their children Jenna and Cole

That sense of stewardship stands out as a strong characteristic for the Steffens, named the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Farm Family of the Year.” They were honored at the recent 10th annual Ag Gala sponsored by the Chamber’s Agri-Business Committee.

The Steffens noted the large number of deserving farm families for the award and admitted they were stunned when they learned of their selection.

“It was a huge shock, for one thing,” Jolene said. “Jeff’s first reaction was, ‘Why us?'”

In that regard, the Steffens bring many attributes to the table, said Agri-Business Committee member Justin Wagner of First National Bank in Yankton.

“Our ideal candidate has a well-established farming operation with a proven track record of community service, family involvement and dedication to the advancement/promotion of agriculture not only here in Yankton but the surrounding area as well,” he said.

“The Steffen family met all of these requirements . and in our minds were well deserving of this award.”

The Farm Family of the Year award wasn’t the Steffen family’s only honor at the Ag Gala. Cole received a PAY (Promoting Agricultural Youth) scholarship. The Agri-Business Committee awarded eight scholarships, each for $3,000.

Cole Steffen won his PAY scholarship because of his pursuit of drone technology in the field of agriculture, Wagner said. Cole graduated from Crofton High School and will attend the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City this fall.

Also this year, Jenna is completing her final year of medical residency.

“Overall, the Steffen family (members) are very generous people that love making people smile with acts of kindness,” Wagner said. “This award is just a small token of our appreciation for their hard work over the years.”

The Steffens have farmed southeast of Crofton since they were married in 1984. Their farm is a diversified operation of row crop, livestock and certified seed production.

The farm has been in continuous no-till for almost 20 years. In recent years, Jeff has been raising cover crops for soil health and seed production.

Love of wildlife has always been an influence, the couple said. More than 40 acres of the farm’s riparian and woodland acres are devoted strictly to wildlife.

In addition, Jeff has actively promoted soil, water and wildlife conservation. As part of that work, he has served on local and state boards and commissions.

Jolene has shown a passion for farming and gardening. She has also captured the rural life in her artwork, which has drawn national attention.

“Jolene donates an ag-related print every year that is often a highlight of our auction at the Ag Gala,” Wagner said.

Jeff and Jolene Steffen were both raised in northeast Nebraska. The Steffens consider their love of the farm life as continuing the legacy they learned from their parents.

Jeff’s father, Wally Steffen, was very active in the Soil Conservation Service in the 1950s and 1960s. Wally was a director on the newly-formed Cedar County Natural Resource District (NRD) in the 1970s.

When it comes to promoting natural resources, Jeff has followed in his father’s footsteps.

For many years, Jeff served on the university extension board and is currently on the board of directors of the Lewis and Clark NRD. He is a member of the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association.

In addition, Jeff has served on the Cedar County Pork Producers as well as the Fordyce Farmers Co-op boards.

Four years ago, he was appointed to the Nebraska Natural Resource Commission which oversees funding for soil and water conservation projects throughout the state.

Because of that role, Jeff was selected for the water sustainability task force which held meetings across Nebraska. The task force discussed issues related to water quality and quantity in the state, he said.

During his time on the task force, Jeff learned about northeast Nebraska’s plentiful rainfall and water supply compared to some other regions.

“It made me appreciate our little corner of the state,” he said.

Besides their work on the farm, the Steffens and their children have been involved in 4-H and community organizations. In addition, the Steffens are active members of St. Joseph’s parish of Constance, Nebraska.

Jolene expresses her love for the beauty of nature through paintings of her surroundings.

For 25 years, she and Jeff have taken her artwork on the road where they meet people from all walks of life. In the process, the Steffens promote the local area and the rural lifestyle.

“We really like going to the art shows,” Jolene said. “Many times, when you’re in a city and showing your art work, you come across a lot of people who (aren’t familiar) with ag and farm life. It’s great fun to share that.”

Jolene admitted she stands out from the crowd when it comes to many art shows.

“I’m the only one with farm scenes and cattle. I’m the only farm artist,” she said. “It’s my chance to share agriculture.”

As they pass on their own legacy, the Steffens said they are grateful they could raise their children on the farm.

Jenna and Cole developed many memories and learned many valuable life lessons, Jolene said.

“They grew up with the work ethic and with appreciating our land and our food sources that come from the land,” she said. “They are appreciating all the natural resources that we are surrounded by.”

Jenna and Cole remained active in 4-H and FFA, holding offices and participating in the leadership program, Jolene said.

“They had so many opportunities. Their lives have been so full of learning,” she said. “We really push learning and educating ourselves on everything we can.”

The Steffens expressed their appreciation for the Farm Family of the Year award and sharing the program with Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, a Yankton native, and South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch.

By sponsoring the Ag Gala, the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce is showing important support for farmers and their contributions, the Steffens said.

“It brings awareness to agriculture, and it’s obviously important to those farm families, their work ethic and way of life,” Jolene said. “It’s a way of appreciating them for their hard work.”

Jeff echoed those sentiments. The Ag Gala — and the Farm Family of the Year Award in particular — recognize producers’ contributions both on and off the farm, he said.

Regardless of the year’s recipient, the Farm Family of the Year award celebrates all producers and the important role of agriculture, Jolene said.

The Steffens emphasized they would feel that way even if they weren’t this year’s winner.

“There are so many families who deserve (the award), that when someone else gets it, you’re happy,” Jolene said.

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