Born into a South Dakota farming family, Laura is a ninth-generation farmer. That’s a pretty amazing family history, but it’s not an uncommon story in the sugar industry. Roy, Laura’s husband, is also from a farming family; he comes from a sugar beet farming family.

Laura wasn’t sure she would have the opportunity to farm after she headed off to college. Her parents insisted that all their kids focus on education before making a career choice—even to stay on the farm. As Laura would tell you, farming isn’t for everyone, but if it’s in you, it’s in you. And it’s very much a part of her.

A way of life

When Laura met Roy, she was introduced to the sugar beet co-op system, which she says provides strong industry organization and encourages farmers to support each other. It reinforces the family-focused nature of the business. “I feel blessed,” Laura said. “It can be tough, of course. But I can’t imagine living any other kind of life.”

“I can sound cliché, but farming truly is a way of life. Land is often passed down through the families, and there is a personal connection to the place. It’s sometimes hard for people who aren’t connected to farming to understand, but it’s a passion. It’s who we are.”

When asked to explain what makes sugar beet farming so special for her, Laura had a specific answer that took a little explaining—an enormous pile of sugar beets.

She first set the stage. “It’s the co-op system that makes it work,” she said. “Sugar beet farmers are all individuals, but we are also members of a co-op, so we rely on and look out for each other.”

At harvest time, all the farmers within a co-op gather their harvest, and the beets go into a huge pile, Laura explained. “Harvest time is the physical expression of us all working toward a common goal and knowing that what I do as an individual directly impacts the lives and livelihoods of my friends and neighbors,” she said. “That’s why this industry is truly a family.”

Supporting farmers by walking the hill

There are so many challenges to farming: weather, politics, regulations and the ever-increasing costs. Laura pointed out that there’s is no real separation between work and home life.

It gets under Laura’s skin when people make throwaway about “big sugar” and how there aren’t really any family farmers in this industry. Not only is that simply untrue—she pointed out that most American sugar farmers are literally small family farm operations—but it also belittles the active role that many of those farmers play in supporting American agriculture.

“When I take precious time away from the farm to go to Washington, D.C., and talk to my representatives about important issues, I’m so proud of what I see,” Laura said. “It’s not just me; I see other sugar farmers doing the same thing, taking time away from family and work to support each other.”

For the love of sugar

Laura loves sugar—let’s just be clear about that. But choose a favorite sweet treat? That’s too hard. That being said, you might be surprised to learn that this North Dakota sugar beet farmer also happens to be an endurance athlete and marathoner.

This unique background means that she is very aware of the important role sugar plays when it comes to physiology. The body must store glycogen to maintain and control blood glucose levels and maintain endurance. For runners to have an adequate supply of muscle glycogen to sustain their blood sugar levels, they must eat at least three balanced meals of carbohydrates, fat and protein every day. “Most people don’t know that in addition to being physically prepared, it’s essential to be nutritionally prepared for a marathon,” said Laura.

Although sugar plays an important role out on the racecourse, it also takes center stage at home.

“One of my sons loves to bake,” Laura said. “Cakes or cookies, we are always working on—and eating up—something sweet. It’s so special to me that we get to spend time together in the kitchen, baking and making beautiful memories using this amazing ingredient that we also grow right outside the window.”

“It’s like a full circle. Our industry touches people’s lives in so many wonderful ways, even if they don’t always notice.”

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