Meet the family behind De Grins Oer Dairy – 2023 Breakfast on the Farm hosts

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The Okkema family of De Grins Oer Dairy in Blanchard Michigan, is excited to host Breakfast on the Farm. Tjerk, Ramona and their family will welcome visitors on July 29 for a free, farm-cooked breakfast and self-guided tour.

Michigan State University Extension is pleased to be partnering with De Grins Oer Dairy for this year’s Breakfast on the Farm event. Here is a brief introduction to the host family who will be opening their doors to the public on July 29.

Introducing the Okkema Family

The couple met while Ramona, a dairy farmer’s daughter, was abroad participating in the 4-H International Youth Exchange program. Her travels landed her in the Netherlands, where Tjerk was born and raised. Tjerk’s father was also a dairy farmer and taught him the ins and outs of animal husbandry and the dairy industry. In 1991, the couple married and moved to Achlum, a small village in the Netherlands, where Tjerk took over operations of the family farm milking almost 100 cows and caring for 120 sheep.

In 1997, Tjerk and Ramona realized it would be very difficult and expensive to modernize their farm according to Dutch federal regulations. At the time, Tjerk had a friend in the Netherlands from Michigan, so he chose to visit the “mitten state” in search of farmland and a community to raise their young family.

In April of 1999, with three kids and a dream, the family returned to Michigan and started De Grins Oer Dairy, which means “Over the Border Dairy.” The farm started with 14 milking cows and 260 acres of farmland. Twenty-four years later, the family cares for nearly 700 cows and 50 sheep and the farm employs 16 people. Tjerk and Ramona’s three children, Dirk, Cora and Evelyn are all involved on the farm.

On the farm, the cows are milked three times a day on a newly installed rotary milking parlor. Each milking cow at De Grins Oer Dairy produces an average of 11 gallons of milk per day. The milk collected is marketed through Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) and is used in different dairy products including Leprino cheese. Working around 1,600 acres of ground, they grow alfalfa, corn and sorghum which is fed to the cows.

On and off the farm, the Okkema family is passionate about farming and the agriculture community. They are members of Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Milk Producers Association and Michigan Corn Growers Association and have contributed to their local 4-H program at many levels. The farm has received numerous milk quality awards and in 2022, Ramona and Tjerk were inducted into the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame.

For event details, visit the Breakfast on the Farm website. Tickets will be available online at events.anr.msu.edu/BOTF23/ and at various locations in central Michigan beginning June 29. A list of ticket locations can be found at www.canr.msu.edu/breakfast_on_the_farm/find_a_breakfast.  For questions, please contact Ashley Decker, kuschela@msu.edu or 586-469-7616 or Mary Dunckel, dunckelm@msu.edu or 989-354-9875. We hope you will attend Breakfast on the Farm and meet the Okkema family in person!