North Dakota dairy farm starts with Dutch dream

For many Midwesterners, owning and operating a family farm is the American dream. For Corne and Conny van Bedaf, it started out as the Dutch dream … then moved 4,000 miles.

Raised in the Netherlands, the van Bedafs originally bought the 50-cow family farm Corne grew up on right after getting married. Each of their three kids was born there, but soon it became clear that land pressures and urbanization would render farming there nonviable. So, the family packed up for North America and eventually found home in a faraway place where they had no previous connections: Carrington, North Dakota — population 2,000.

“We immigrated to North Dakota to create the opportunity for our children to do what’s in our blood, just like our parents did for us in the Netherlands. We knew we could not give that opportunity to our children there, so we took the chance,” said Conny. “It’s been wonderful to see them grow into our business, take over our responsibilities, and do it all as a family.”

The two van Bedaf boys, Piet and Dries, are indeed coming into partnership this year at VanBedaf Dairy, which has grown to milk 1,500 cows and employ a total of 20 people, including family members. Daughter Maartje mainly works as a registered nurse, but stays connected to the farm by way of her entrepreneurial food venture, Duchessa Gelato, which caters to area weddings, birthdays, fairs and other community events. As one might guess, the base ingredient for the various flavors (including Dutch chocolate) is the family’s farm-fresh milk.

The cows’ meals are community-oriented as well, as they primarily eat haylage, silage and byproducts like canola meal, corn distillers, wheat middlings and sugarbeet pulp from local manufacturers. And while initially diffcult to convince nearby grain farmers that manure was better for their soil than the synthetics to which they had grown accustomed, VanBedaf Dairy now has a waiting list for its cow-made fertilizer.

Now in their 11th year dairy farming in North Dakota, the van Bedafs produce about 135,000 pounds of fluid milk every day, and have received milk quality awards from their local co-op every year in their existence. When people tour the farm, Conny says they’re impressed with how calm and comfortable the cows are and how everything is so quiet and clean. The investments in cow care — including high-tech ear tag sensors that make regular wireless contact with computers to identify cows not feeling or eating well — leave visitors confident in eating dairy products produced by those cows.

“Dairy is very personal in North Dakota,” explained Conny. “We have a small population, so people in town know our milk is in the local grocery store and they’re going for it. That’s the definition of community: supporting each other.”