The Land: The Larsen sisters — farming’s not just a man’s job.

June 21, 2016
Leta, Lindsay and Leah Larsen.

Leta, Lindsay and Leah Larsen.

 

 

#TheLand #FarmGirls

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

VICTORY TOWNSHIP — I have really enjoyed writing this series, The Land, about local agriculture. Today is our third installment and a story that I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time. I have known Burke and Lisa Larsen for most of my life. Lisa and graduated from high school together and met in kindergarten. I think I’ve known Burke almost as long. But this story isn’t really as much about those two as it is about their three daughters. Burke and Lisa have raised Lindsay, 20, and her 18-year-old twin sisters, Leta and Leah, to be leaders in their schools, leaders in agriculture and leaders in their communities.

Burke tells me he always had a dream of having sons who would someday be the fourth generation to operate his family’s dairy farm.

Leta says she loves operating the tractor.

Leta says she loves operating the tractor.

“Initially you think you’re going to have boys and you even have names for them.” Well, life didn’t turn out that way. Instead, Burke and his wife, Lisa, were blessed with three daughters. The girls have become just as much farmers as any son would have been at Larsen Farms, located on Sugar Grove Road just west of US 31.

“Things happen for a reason and having girls has been awesome,” Burke says with a smile.

Lindsay graduated from Mason County Central High School in 2014 and just completed her sophomore year at Siena Heights University in Adrian. After completing her undergraduate studies she plans to transfer to veterinarian school, most likely Michigan State University. She says she would like to return to this area and become a large animal veterinarian, something that is in demand.

Leta and Leah both graduated this spring from MCC. Leta says she plans on attending Michigan State in the fall majoring in agricultural business studies. She too would like to return to the area and manage the farm. Leah is going to attend West Shore Community College for a couple years and then move on to a university. She’s not totally sure what she wants to do with a career yet, but she sees herself as always being connected to agriculture.

The girls got involved with the farm in 2006 when the family moved into the homestead that had been occupied by Burke’s parents Warren and Judee. Lindsay was 10 and the twins were 8.

“We started feeding and watering the calves, driving a little golf cart,” Lindsay says. They still tend to the calves, especially Leta and Leah.

“We do a lot of the odd jobs around here that many of employees don’t want to do,” Leah says. “We pick up rocks in the fields, mow the lawn and of course take care of the calves.”

Lately, their roles are expanding.

Lindsay oversees the health of the farm’s cows.

“I like taking care of a cow that isn’t feeling well and making her feel better,” she says. “It’s kind of amazing, really. At college I have been learning more about organic chemistry and the molecular structure of the antibiotics we administer. It’s helping me understand how we can treat our animals the best way possible and do the least amount of harm to them.”

She monitors the cows’ health via her phone even when she’s away at college.

larsen_farms_tractor_2Leta says she enjoys the business end of the farm.

“I don’t think people understand all the aspects that go into farming,” she says. “First and foremost it is a business, that’s the bottom line.” She says she attends a lot of meetings with her dad that deal with all areas of operating the farm. “My dad is a great businessman, as was my grandfather as well.”

Leta has also recently started operating tractors in the fields. “I love that,” she says.

Larsen Farms began in 1957, the same year Warren graduated from Scottville High School (now Mason County Central). His father, Harold was the Michigan State University extension officer for Mason County and recognized his son had an interest in farming. Harold and his wife, Agnes, moved to West Sugar Grove Road and bought 13 cows. In the early ‘60s, a milking parlor was built and for the next 52 years Warren and Judee (Vanden Heuvel) raised a family of two sons, Bruce and Burke and two daughters, Brigitte and Beth.

Burke graduated from MCC in 1987 and then enrolled in Michigan State University’s Institute of Agriculture, a certification program (which will soon be offered at West Shore Community College). Burke married Lisa (Bailey), also an MCC graduate and they made their home down the road from the family homestead while Burke started working towards taking over the farm. Lisa is a teacher at Scottville Upper Elementary and has had an impact on many children in the MCC school district.

Warren died unexpectedly in August 2013 at the age of 74 and Burke has continued the tradition of operating a high quality dairy farming business while expanding it and adjusting to the demands of modern agricultural practices. Today, the farm milks about 500 cows with an additional 500 calves and young cows in the herd.

His brother Bruce is located just around the corner on North US 31 and operates Larsen’s Landscaping along with his wife, Karen. Brigitte takes care of Judee just down the road on East Sugar Grove Road while Beth lives out of state.

The Larsen sisters say they sometimes surprise people when they find out that they work on the farm. They tend to not let stereotypes get to them and instead educate people that women are just as capable of being farmers as men.

“We’ve grown up on the farm without any brothers,” Leta says. “That’s just the way we’ve always known it. We do get a lot of questions from people like: ‘So you will have to marry a dairy farmer now?’ No, we don’t. Or, ‘So what’s your dad going to do with the farm since he doesn’t have any sons?’ Well, we will be running it. You just gotta laugh sometimes. I think that people can be quicker to judge you when you are a girl working on a farm. It seems like they want you to make mistakes.”

“We recognize that we may lack in strength compared to most men, but I think we make up for it in patience,” adds Lindsay.

With that said, the girls are certainly respected (and protected) by the farms’ many male employees.

“They treat us pretty fairly,” Leah says. “We don’t get any special treatment, but it’s like we have a bunch of dads watching out for us. They are very protective.”

“We have pretty good employees,” Leta adds. “Actually, they’re the best.”

The girls say they have been taught a lot about farming from their grandfather, their dad and the farms’ employees. But, they also recognize the value of education, which has been instilled in them.

“Nowadays there seems to be a stereotype of farmers as guys in overalls that just go out and turn over dirt and make food,” Leta says. “That’s totally not how it is now. Yes, you see a lot of family farms that continue from generation to generation but that doesn’t mean that someone can’t begin a new career as a farmer.”

Leta and Leah credit West Shore Educational Service District’s Career Technology Education’s agriscience program with teaching area teenagers about the importance of agriculture (which happens to be Michigan’s second largest industry).

“We both took the class with about 20 other students and very few of them had an agriculture background,” Leta says. “It was great to see how much they learned about agriculture from the beginning in the fall to the end in the spring. Actually, I was amazed and how much I learned about agriculture. I learned about aspects of farming that I am not familiar with such as fruit farming, poultry and swine. It was just a great way for different kids to connect with agriculture.”

It seems that Larsen Farms is certainly in more than capable hands in the future and Dad couldn’t be more proud.

“I have worked with these girls side-by-side since they were this tall,” Burke says, gesturing low to the ground. “I wouldn’t change anything one bit. They watch, they listen and they are easy to teach. We are still teaching and they are still learning. Actually, I’m still learning. We learn a lot together as a family, it’s really the most special thing, learning and growing together. There’s really no better place to raise a family than on a farm. We’ve had a lot of good times and we will have a lot more good times to come. We’ve been pretty fortunate.”

Indeed they have. Keep up the great work Larsen family!

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