When you think of a family farm, you might think of parents passing land onto their children. But for TJ and Katie Roth, “family” isn’t defined by blood alone.
After enrolling at UW-Platteville in 2007 to pursue his degree in animal science with a dairy emphasis, TJ picked up a part-time job with John and LuAnn Shea, eventually working his way up to farm manager. Over time, the Sheas became like a second family to TJ, and to Katie when the couple started dating in 2014. Both earned their place on the farm and in 2015; the Roths joined the Sheas as partners in Banner Ridge Farms LLC.
“I like to call Banner Ridge Farms LLC a ‘blended family farm’ because it is two families working together, the Sheas and the Roths, to pursue a love of animals and rural lifestyle,” Katie said. “John and LuAnn’s children, Jill Wiederholt and Steve Shea, are also heavily involved with the farm with succession plans to join the LLC. We all bring different strengths to the table.”
Together, the families milk about 500 cows three times a day, plus raise beef cattle and grow feed and corn. The milk produced at Banner Ridge is most often made into cheese at Emmi Roth facilities in Platteville or Monroe, Wisconsin or travels to Richland Center where it is processed into yogurt at Schreiber Foods. That milk not only provides a livelihood for the six families involved in the farm, but has economic impacts that reach throughout the state.
“Dairy farms are important players in the community as we supply jobs and generate economic activity to keep money local. In fact, our farm alone generates $17 million in the Grant County area,” said Katie.
That impact on the economy is just one reason why the Roth family and their partners were eager to see UW-Platteville join the Dairy Innovation Hub. Katie, who works part-time as an associate student services coordinator for the College of Business, Industry, Life Science, and Agriculture, feels lucky to have an inside look at the benefits the project is bringing to the region.
“The Dairy Innovation Hub has solidified UW-Platteville’s commitment to Wisconsin’s proud and important dairy heritage in being America’s Dairyland,” Katie said. “Its positive impact is witnessed in the jobs it has created, the new knowledge it has brought to help rural America and our local economies, and the ability of students to participate in high-impact practices such as conducting research to benefit themselves personally and professionally.”
While the Dairy Innovation Hub brings new connections to UW-Platteville, Katie and TJ can attest that there have always been opportunities for hands-on learning and building sense of community at the university. Katie is a lifetime UW-Platteville Alumni member in addition to being a lifetime member of CERES Women’s Agricultural Fraternity. And TJ still remembers doing a group project in his Dairy Cattle Management class where he farmed with his good friend Jake Guenzler. This time community really did become family, as Jake later married TJ’s sister Chelsea. Throughout their time as students and alumni with UW-Platteville, the Roths found ways to create connections and encourage current and incoming students to do the same.
“Make connections, network, and get to know people,” Katie said. “Work for someone else, job shadow, or do an internship to learn what you enjoy doing and to garner new ideas. You never know where it will lead!”