CLINTON — As the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey said his department doesn’t hand out the Good Farm Neighbor Award arbitrarily. Only 10 acknowledgements are bestowed each year. On Wednesday, the honor went to a worthy family in Clinton County.
“There need to be folks that people have that are good neighbors,” Northey said, outside Rastrelli’s Restaurant, after giving the award to Mike and Marty Burken of Clinton. “People that represent livestock agriculture well, usually good producers, but also do things for their neighbors are what we look for. In this case, the fact that kids come out to their farm every year is an amazing thing.”
The Burken brothers, alongside their father Loran, said they were deeply honored.
“Everybody that’s been invited here today are people that help us be who we are,” Mike Burken said. “It’s just a pleasure to have you all here.”
Dozens from the local farming community turned out for the banquet. Northey joined Bob Quinn from WHO-Radio’s “The Big Show” in the celebration.
For years, the Burkens have opened their northward Blue Hyll Dairy in hopes of educating youths. They maintain roughly 800-head and entertain thousands of student guests throughout the year.
Northey said this is vital for a society that’s growing less aware of the importance of agriculture. While negative news of livestock raising occasionally makes national headlines, he said it was refreshing to see an Iowa family committed to promoting the positives.
“We’re seeing a growing livestock industry in Iowa in all segments,” Northey said. “We’re seeing opportunities to be able to grow, and not everyone sees how hugely important it is to the Iowa economy.”
The Burkens were joined by family members as Rastrelli’s provided food and beverages. Marty Burken said the support from others was overwhelming.
“Our goal, we encourage people to come out and see how we do things and see how our life revolves around making things as good for the animals as possible,” he said.
Chris Freland, manager of industry relations for the Midwest Dairy Association, nominated the Burken family. The Burkens have brought in Clinton and Prince of Peace students, among others.