“I grew up riding on the seat of my dad’s tractor,” he says.
Now, at age 29, Feist is the fifth generation to farm the home place just outside of Wells. His dedication earned him the honor of being named one of 2011’s top 10 National Outstanding Young Farmers by the U.S. Jaycees, John Deere, the Outstanding Farmers of America Fraternity and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
Back in 2009, Feist was a finalist for Minnesota’s Outstanding Young Farmer, and couldn’t believe he would be up for such an award.
“Some of the people that were there were just phenomenal individuals,” he says.
But it was Feist who won the honor, so he was automatically submitted into the national contest.
As if earning the title at the state level wasn’t enough of a shock for him, it became even more surreal when Feist was selected as a semi-finalist at the national level.
“I’m just a small hog farmer in Minnesota,” he says.
Being a semi-finalist took him on a trip to Kentucky in February, where judges narrowed down the selection and the top four finalists were named national winners.
Feist ended up finishing in the top 10, but not the top four — although he’s not bothered by the result.
“It was still an honor to be down there and be included,” he says.
The National Outstanding Young Farmer Program was administered by the U.S. Jaycees, a group Feist has been an active member of in Wells.
“We do all sorts of different things just to help the community out,” he says, giving examples of cleaning ditches, filling sandboxes and picking up Christmas trees after the winter season.
Feist has been in the Jaycees since 2005, but has been involved in the community of Wells much longer, having grown up there. He attended United South Central High School and graduated in 2000, before leaving small-town Minnesota for higher education.
He graduated from South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., in 2005 with a degree in agronomy, which is the study of plant science.
Though he didn’t need to attend college to become a farmer, Feist says his studies in agronomy helped him have the right mindset for the job.
“It’s kind of the icing on the cake.”
And although he says hands-on farm experience was probably the best education he could get, the degree is definitely helpful when it comes to Feist’s other job. For the past 2 1/2 years he has been employed with Land O’Lakes, traveling throughout the upper midwest to visit career fairs where he recruits college students to become agronomists.
But even while Feist is gone, the farm isn’t left neglected, because his dad, Randy, and younger brother, Jon, share the responsibilities with him.
The family does some work in the fields, with a couple hundred acres of corn and soybeans, but the Feists primarily run a hog farm.
Even with technologically advanced barns, the hogs still require attention every day to be sure none of them are sick and nothing in the building has stopped working. The hogs come to the Feists weighing about 12-14 pounds, and nearly six months later the farmers have raised them to be about 300 pounds.
Aside from two large hog barns, the Feist farm also has a smaller barn that houses seven steer and a handful of chickens, but those are just for the family’s personal use.
“We’re kind of an Old McDonald hodge-podge place,” Feist says.
The actual “farm animals” may stop there, but the amount of animals on the farm continues. Dogs Chasity and Patches are added to the mix, as well as a number of cats who seem to be coming out of the woodwork as several more appear around every corner.
“They breed like rabbits,” Feist jokes.
Between farm chores and work at Land O’Lakes, Feist still manages to give a lot of time to the community, something his parents instilled in him and his three siblings.
He is a board member for the Wells Historical Society, is active in his church, St. Casimir’s Catholic Parish in Wells, has been on different subcommittees for the Wells Chamber of Commerce and remains involved at SDSU as an alumni of the Farmhouse fraternity, which takes him back to Brookings a couple of times each semester.
“You’ve got to contribute,” he says. “You’re going to get out of life what you put into it.”
While Feist would like to be a full-time farmer within 10 years, moving into and taking over the home place isn’t on his agenda quite yet.
He says he hopes his parents are around long enough that he won’t get much of a chance to move into their house, but maybe one day his children will call it home.
“You never know what the future brings,” Feist says. “There’s nothing — in my mind — better than growing up on a farm.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Ryan Feist is the fifth generation to farm his family’s home place just outside of Wells.