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Reflections on Food, Family and Farming

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At first it may not seem like there's a lot in common between a dairy farmer's wife and a Viking's player wife. But there's a universal language when raising young kids and dealing with the struggles of balancing life as a mom.

That's why Midwest Dairy organized the opportunity for Stephanie Ham, wife of Viking's running back C.J. Ham, and Minnesota dairy farmer Margaret Johnson to meet virtually via Zoom to connect and talk about food, family and farming.

Tell us about yourself, your background and your family.

Margaret: I'm Margaret Johnson, and I grew up on a small dairy farm. We only milked about 27 dairy cows. So, we had a lot of responsibility on the farm when we were kids and more so when we were in high school. That's where my passion for agriculture started.

I met my husband, Michael, my last semester of college. We got married in 2010, our wedding reception was on his family's farm, Trailside Holsteins, in Fountain, Minnesota. And now, we have four kids – Sawyer (8), Levi (6), Claria (4) and Jacob (18 months).


We've been busy raising kids, and I really enjoy that. It's such an experience to raise them on the farm. Normally I stay at home with them, but we've been so busy lately on the farm we try to lend a helping hand where we can.

We farm with Michael's dad, and have a tremendous team of employees. I've been passionate about the dairy industry my whole life, and I'm excited to share that with my kids.

Stephanie: My upbringing was quite different. We were city people, but both my parents are from South Dakota. We grew up in the city but would go back to grandma and grandpa's farm a few times a year. At that point they didn't farm, but there were pastures and some farm animals they cared for. So, we got a taste of it.

I ended up going to college in Sioux Falls, SD at Augustana where C.J. and I met. I played soccer there. I was there for about 4-1/2 years and we had our first baby, Skylar, who is four now. I went back to school for a doctorate in physical therapy, and during that time I had our second baby, Stella, who is two years old soon. And, we have a little boy on the way who is due in March.

C.J. is obviously at the training facility with the Vikings, and I've been working for about a year now at Twin Cities Orthopedic part time, so just starting that realm of working mom.


As working moms with husbands that have jobs that demand a lot of their time, how do you go about finding that work-life-mom balance?

Margaret: It's so hard. What has helped me has been getting up early before the kids, to just do something for myself. I think they can hear me blink though. They know when I'm awake and seem to wake up earlier, no matter how early I wake up.

Sometimes in the mornings I'll just go down and feed calves or go for a walk and get some exercise. I feel like I'm a little more productive if I exercise in the morning. It's my own time.

I guess the rest of the day is theirs and whatever else needs to be done. It's a challenge.

Stephanie: Oh. Definitely. I feel for me we are super blessed that I'm able to work part time. That's been crucial for me. To be able to work and have adult interaction and also have those days where I can take one of the girls for a mommy-daughter day. I'm trying to find that balance and appreciation for both aspects.

For our family, C.J. is so great about supporting me to take time for myself. Really all I need is an hour or two during the week. It doesn't need to be a full weekend. We just love being at home, together as a family. Chilling and watching TV is great, too.


Margaret: That's a great point about the hour during the week. I think a lot of people disregard self-care because they think they need a whole weekend or an hour every day. Just valuing the time that you do get and knowing it's "me time" really makes a difference.

Stephanie: Yes, and getting up early and doing what you need to just to have silence. It's nice to just have quiet for 10 minutes.

Margaret: {laughing} Yes, good point. Can you tell me a little bit about your fall schedule what it's like being married to C.J. Is it crazy during the season?

Stephanie: It is. This season has actually been less crazy with COVID. In years prior training camp starts the end of July, usually right after C.J.'s birthday. So, we celebrate his birthday and send him off for three weeks. They come home every fifth day. During the season they are at the training facility six days a week. Tuesday is their off day, but C.J. usually goes in for recovery treatment or reviewing things to prepare for the upcoming week.

As the season goes on, the days get a little bit shorter, so he'll be home mid-day compared to the late evenings during training camp. Then obviously on the weekends it gets tough because when they travel, they leave Saturday afternoon and then return from the game on Sunday. I usually use the weekends for time to visit family to have some company, the girls are great travelers.

How about you? Your schedule seems consistent year-round, at least we get an off season! Having a dairy farm there's really no day off. The cows have to be milked, they have to be fed and taken care of every single day. Christmas. Easter. Thanksgiving.

Margaret: Yeah, they sure do. Fall and spring are our "game-on" seasons. Right now, we have all our crops in from the fields, the corn is harvested and the feed is made. Now we need to fertilize our land that took care of our crops all summer long. So, we are hauling our natural fertilizer, which is cow manure, onto the field. It's a lot of management to know where and when it needs to go on the fields. Mike has been busy and works a lot since the beginning of September when harvest starts. We have some flexibility during the other times of the year, like in the winter months or the summer when we aren't harvesting hay.

Right now, Mike feeds calves about 5 a.m. most mornings and doesn't get home any earlier than 6 p.m. The nice thing that we can do is go over to the farm and visit or bring him lunch. It helps that I'm excited about the dairy industry and want to help and the kids can get time with him.

The kids' favorite thing to do all year is to have "field meals". It's essentially having a picnic wherever they are working in the fields. It's a lot of work for mom. Trying to figure out what I'm going to make, prepare it, pack it all up and bring it out to the fields. It takes a lot of planning.


Stephanie, prior to this interview you had the chance to watch the virtual farm tour that Margaret hosted this year. Can you share what resonated most from watching that?

Stephanie: The coolest thing I learned is that it takes about 48 hours for milk to get from the farm to your table. Do you guys just provide milk to one Kwik Trip? Or how does that work?

Margaret: That's a great question. Our milk goes to the Kwik Trip plant in La Crosse, Wisconsin where it's pasteurized and such, bottled and shipped out to all the Kwik Trips. My husband estimates that one in 14 gallons that Kwik Trip sells comes from our farm as we send one semi-load of milk to Kwik Trip every day.

Stephanie: That's awesome. That really resonated with me how quickly and efficient the process is to get milk to people. Didn't you say you milk cows three times a day?

Margaret: Yes, we're milking for about 18 hours a day in three shifts. Its different cows rotated throughout the day, so each cow only spends about 20 minute each day being milked.

Dairy has a great story in that it's fresh and local. It doesn't travel that far, and most people live within 100 miles of a dairy farm.

Sustainability and caring for the land and animals is a growing topic of interest for those wanting to learn about where their food comes from. Margaret, can you share some examples of ways you implement sustainability practices on your farm?

Margaret: Basically, what we're doing is producing milk that is safe and healthy, while also taking care of the land, natural resources and our animals to the best of our ability.

An example on our farm would be that our water is recycled. When the milk leaves the cow, it travels through a plate cooler to bring the temperature of the milk from 101° to 55°F. Working like a radiator, cold water from our well runs through the plate cooler efficiently cooling the milk before it enters the bulk storage tank where it cool further to about 36°F. That warmed well water then travels to the cows' water trough, cows actually prefer to drink warm water.

We also do a crop rotation on the fields with corn and alfalfa. Alfalfa is a legume, so it grows like your lawn and works well to prevent soil erosion. We use our natural fertilizer, the cow manure, which is great for soil health and helps feed our crops in a natural way.

Farmers are always striving to responsibly produce milk, and sustainability practices are naturally a part of what we do.

Stephanie: For me personally, sustainability is a newer topic. Has there been any huge changes that you've had to make on your farm with new research or has this always been the way it is?

Margaret: Yes, the story of farming and agriculture is all about sustainability. One of the more recent things that comes to mind is the F.A.R.M. program, which is a nationally recognized program that all farmers participate in. It provides accountability that all farmers are treating their land and cows responsibly. Animal care is a huge priority for us on our farm.

I mentioned in our virtual farm tour video that all our cows wear a tag on their ear, that is basically a Fit Bit, so we know what the cows are doing all day. It's as if the cows all have social media and can check in through Mike's phone all day. It gives us peace of mind that all our animals are being monitored so if a cow isn't feeling well, we can give them care right away.

Stephanie: That's so awesome.


We're approaching the holiday season. Do you have a holiday recipe or tradition that you really enjoy doing during this time of year?

Stephanie: I'm not the best cook so anything simple and easy. I don't know if it's the pregnancy or not, but lately I've been making a lot of cheese-stuffed things. This year since C.J. plays on Christmas Day so it's going to be a nice small meal, probably cheese-stuffed seasoned chicken with a couple sides, and our family enjoys an egg bake casserole on Christmas morning {recipe provided below}.

I don't know how to cook for the masses yet, so I'm working on that {laughing}.

Margaret: I am too. I've never cooked a whole Thanksgiving meal. I've reached this peak, this mom level where I was able to do roast and potatoes and corn and have it all hot and ready at the same time. It took me a lot of time to do that, a lot of practice. I can do that, but now there's that next level of Thanksgiving and holiday meal that I'm just not ready to tackle yet. I'm happy to pass that on to my mom or my mother-in-law.

Stephanie: I'm with you. I want to so bad. It's the coordinating of everything that's hard.

Margaret: Yeah, I try to think ahead for the holidays. I've gotten better about choosing easier things since all the holiday gatherings we bring a dish to pass at the meal. In order to make the holidays less stressful, I try to choose something simple or something I can do ahead of time or takes less effort.

Stephanie: Our family is big dessert family. You can make whatever you want for dinner as long as you have a good apple pie or pumpkin pie, they will be happy.

Margaret: Yes! And in my family, we love ice cream, so sundaes are super fun with a chocolate topping that I make {recipe provided below} with brownies and ice cream.

Easy Egg Casserole


Recipe adapted from


1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

6 eggs, whisked

6 slices bacon, diced

2 slices bread, cubed

1/3 red bell pepper, diced

2 green onions, chopped

3 tablespoons milk

½ teaspoon minced garlic, or to taste (optional)

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl until well-combined; pour into prepared baking dish.

Bake until eggs are set, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Chocolate Ice Cream Topping



½ cup butter (1 stick)

2 squares baking chocolate

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla


Melt butter and baking chocolate together. Add sugar, cream and corn syrup and whisk together. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 90 seconds. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Refrigerate.

Thank you to Margaret and Stephanie for your time and sharing about food, family and farming. To read more about dairy sustainability and recipes, visit