May Featured Farmer: Katy VanderWal
It is no secret that more and more consumers today make food decisions based on much more than taste. From nutritional value to cost to dietary restrictions and questions about how the produce or meat were raised, food shoppers have more on their mind than ever before when they go to a grocery store.
As both a registered dietitian and a beef producer, Katy Vander Wal brings a unique perspective to help her patients make decisions that are best for their health and lifestyle.
Katy and her husband, Tom, are the third generation to live on and operate the farm that Tom grew up on near Brookings. They raise corn, soybeans, grass hay, and feed beef cattle. Tom and Katy do most of the farm work themselves, relying on help from family and hired help during busy seasons. In 2013, they built a new hoop barn to be able to feed cattle more efficiently and provide a better environment for the cattle year-round.
She has also worked as a registered dietitian for almost 10 years. She works at Brookings Health System, providing care to patients in many settings, including inpatient, outpatient, diabetic education, community education, and long term care.
“My job entails a lot of education to patients and their families on how to manage their health problems or diseases with changes to their lifestyle and diet,” said Katy. “I tell all of my patients that most all foods can be enjoyed in moderation and in combination with others. I always encourage small changes to their lifestyle that can be long term and sustainable.”
When her patients or colleagues have questions about how cattle are raised for beef production, Katy is happy to share her experience
“Today’s public has access to so much information – some accurate, some not – it is important to be able to ease concerns or answer their questions about how beef as a food product is raised,” she said.
In turn, Katy asks her own questions about how what the animals are fed can impact the nutrition of the beef that is produced.
“I enjoy working beside my husband and our animal nutritionist to understand what an animal’s diet does to the nutrient profile of the food product we provide to the consumer,” she said. “Our goal is to raise healthy cattle and feed high quality ingredients to provide the best product we can for consumers to buy at grocery stores or eat at restaurants.”
She notes that the variety of beef cuts, including lean ones, make it a great option to be enjoyed on a regular basis.
“Beef provides a good, bioavailable, source of protein to a diet, along with many other nutrients such as B-vitamins, zinc, and iron,” she said. “Beef can be enjoyed along with other food groups as part of a well-rounded diet.”
Tom and Katy have two children, six-year-old Cooper and four-year-old Callie, and a brand new baby, Charlotte. They have been married and farming together as a family for seven years. She recognizes the challenges of farming, from volatile financial markets to unpredictable South Dakota weather, but is thankful for the opportunity to live and work as part of a family farm.
“It can be hard to balance family life with the demands of farming, however we really enjoy being able to work together to provide food and fiber products for family, friends, neighbors, and beyond,” she said. “We also enjoy watching something we have nurtured grow and be harvested throughout the year, whether it would be cattle or crops.”
They are both active in their community, church, and agricultural organizations. Katy and Tom are members of their County Farm Bureau and also currently sit on the State Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. In that role, they plan events across the state for young farmers and ranchers. They also work to provide resources to our local communities for events such as farm safety days and farm tours.
Farm families play a key role in local economies by doing business with local companies and service providers, said Katy, noting that is it also important for farm families to serve as educators and advocates for the agricultural profession.
Tom and Katy have also opened their own farm for tours. They hosted an open house to the public and a tour for other cattle producers when their new barn was completed.