Know Your Farmer: Karen Nelson

Who I am and why I do what I do is founded in family.

My parents, both of whom are from multi-generation farm families, started a custom harvesting business in 1974. I grew up in wheat and barley fields across middle America.

My husband is the sixth generation of his family to farm U.S. soil. He grew up with hogs and row crops; he now raises corn and soybeans and has a cow-calf herd. He has particular interests in pasture management and cover crops.

We met when I was born, really; our dads have been friends since college. Though our families lived in different states, my dad harvested corn in the fall first for my husband’s father and subsequently for my husband. I count myself blessed to be the custom harvester’s kid who married the corn farmer!

We now have five children ranging in age from four months to eight years. Between the births of our third and fourth kids, I left a 13-year career in print journalism to become support staff for the farm and raise our family.


Fourth of July at the grandparents' house. These kids are why we do what we do — both for the sustaining of their bodies and the opportunities for their futures.

Fourth of July at the grandparents’ house. These kids are why we do what we do — both for the sustaining of their bodies and the opportunities for their futures. (Five kids these ages rarely all look the same direction at once!)


I also work from our kitchen table as a freelance editor and designer with customers across the U.S. Our farm and my small business support our family.

Farming isn’t always a choice — sometimes it does the choosing. The love of independence and the love of land, livestock and family don’t necessarily have an escape hatch!

But it’s a reality of farming that operating a small farm is difficult. We have to be inherently optimistic and faithful in the face of significant risk, both financial and physical. My goal in persisting is twofold — in the short term, to not have to return to a “town job,” and in the long term, to offer my children (and everyone else’s children) the best possible opportunity to choose agriculture as a career and lifestyle if they so desire.

My husband and I believe it is our responsibility to be the best possible stewards of the resources we’ve been allocated. Realizing we’ll never make money hand over fist, we have to make every penny count to support our family while taking the best possible care of the livestock and soil that support us.

Production agriculture is often misunderstood. Hyperbole runs rampant, and tempers flare (and I am not immune). Farmers should be able to choose their farming methods based on the best stewardship of their resources and pocketbooks, and all people worldwide should have plenty and variety in the options of foods they eat. These two things go hand in hand, and that’s why I do what I can to be a positive voice in the farming discussion.

About Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson lives in south-central Nebraska, where her husband raises corn and soybeans and has a cow-calf production herd. They have five young children and a generational interest in good stewardship. While Karen’s main job is taking care of her household, she also works from home as an editor and designer for print publications. It’s her position that there is room in agriculture for producers of every niche, and that our job as producers is to promote all agriculture.


  1. Very well put. Thank you.

  2. Betty Jo Lill says:

    Very well said Karen. I appreciate your positive tone regarding the management choices farmers make based on many factors. In the end I believe farmers try hard to be good stewards of the land and their animals. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Karen Nelson says:

      Thanks, Betty. I feel like it simply doesn’t do anyone any good to argue. Makes more sense to build each other up than to tear each other down. We all need to eat!

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