In the heart of our country, rural America, is where you will find people in small towns who are doing big things. Natalie Kovarik is no exception. As a rancher’s daughter turned ranch wife turned ranch mom, Natalie, her husband Luke, and their three sons—Tad, Jaks, and Rue—own and operate Kovarik Cattle Company, a cow calf operation with a growing registered herd. Their ranch is in central Nebraska and borders an awe-inspiring area known as the Nebraska Sandhills. While it is a first-generation family ranch, Natalie and Luke source their knowledge and work ethic from their fifth-generation roots. Being involved in agriculture their entire lives, Luke is the president of their local chapter’s Nebraska cattle association, Nebraska Cattlemen, and Natalie is an entrepreneur, a healthcare worker, and an advocate for women in agriculture. When not working alongside Luke out on their ranch, Natalie shares her family’s ranching story on social media to foster a community who believes in the agricultural world as much as she does. We connected with the Kovarik family and spoke with Natalie to capture a part of their story on the importance of ranching and the people in agriculture.
Can you talk about the agricultural industry and community and why it is so important?
“Our farmers have an important role in society to provide the food that feeds our families. These are folks who every single day go out there recognizing that they’re feeding not only people in this country, but people all over the world.” - Tom Vilsack
I wouldn’t call the agriculture industry important; I’d call it a necessity. And it feels silly to have to remind people of that - remind them of what the agriculture industry does and the value it brings. The fact is that agriculture is comprised of just 2% of the population, and it clothes and feeds the entire population. Somehow people have forgotten that; forgotten where their food comes from, forgotten how their clothes are made, and forgotten just how far the agriculture sector truly extends into their lives.
To me what is so powerful and important about the agriculture industry and the community within it is that ranchers and farmers don’t actually have to leave the county to do something big. They can stay home in their small communities and farm their crops and raise their livestock and still make a rippling impact worldwide because every day they wake up and do so much more than change the world – they feed and clothe it.
Describe land stewardship and why are you so passionate about it.
Land stewardship is something that my husband and I are extremely passionate about. We believe that animals, plants, and soils play a synergistic role to each other. So, our ranch practices aim to use the three together in concert enabling us to give back to the land, instead of just taking from it. Good land care leads to healthy and productive soil which in turn leads to carbon sequestration, increased water filtration, improves wildlife and pollinator habitats, and of course is the driving force behind beautiful landscapes. It is one of the most important tools we have as producers to not only better our own operations, but the planet as a whole.
Describe regenerative agriculture and sustainable beef production.
The definition of regenerative agriculture can change based on who you’re talking to, but to me it’s the idea of balancing efficient production with environmental impacts. The same with sustainable beef production – you manage your herd so that it works in concert with nature and benefits the land. Both concepts, and the ideas behind them, are something my husband and I are extremely passionate about. We truly believe that when it comes to balancing the act of feeding a growing population while protecting and preserving the planet, the best solution we have is agriculture. Ruminant animals, like cattle, sheep, buffalo, and the like, help the land act as a carbon sink, which is one of the best tools we have at mitigating climate change.
What is your connection to rural America and where does that passion come from?
I grew up in rural America, so I suppose my passion for it simply stems from my appreciation for it. I have found that rural America is a community comprised of some of the best people I know. They are hard workers with sound values, open hearts, and a pride and love for things long forgotten by others. It is simply a community that I am extremely proud to belong to.
In your opinion, why is rural America important to our nation as a whole?
I can’t stress enough how important rural America is and how much it matters not just to the community it is comprised of but to communities everywhere. I think there’s a misconception that it’s behind the times and needs to catch up to its urban counterpart. In reality, it’s thriving. More importantly, it’s preserving something that our urban counterpart needs more of, which ironically is the concept of less - less noise, less hustle, less distractions, just less.
How has being involved in the agriculture community your entire life shaped you?
As a 4th generation rancher’s daughter who married a 5th generation rancher and is raising her sons to be 6thgeneration ranchers, there isn’t much I hold closer to my heart than the agricultural community. It has taught me who I want to be, what I want to stand for, and what really matters most in this one life we live.
What is it like owning and operating your family ranch with your husband and your children?
“The country habit has me by heart.” – Vita Sackville-West
Like most, ranching and farming isn’t just an occupation, it’s a way of life. To me, one of the biggest blessings of living this lifestyle is that our children are as much a part of our operation as we are. The days that my toddler and baby aren’t accompanying us from sunup to sundown are far and few between, and my oldest spends most of his summers and free time on the ranch as well. Whether we are bouncing around in a dusty old tractor out at pasture or on horseback, we always seem to be together. While I know that may seem foreign to most, it feels like home to me.
Nothing is without its negatives though. As rewarding as ranching can be, it’s not always an easy path to walk. The days are long, the elements are harsh, and the financial risks are great. Oftentimes, ranches are generational. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears are put into making a ranch run and the stress to have something to give to the next generation can be an overwhelming feeling for many in the industry.
Can you describe your day-to-day life on the ranch?
One of my favorite things about ranching is that no two days are ever the same. Chores change as often as the seasons do. While that prevents redundancy, it also makes it hard for me to give an accurate description of our day to day. We are definitely heavier on the livestock side than we are on the farming side, so most of our days revolve around cattle. Like many ranching and farming families, I work off the ranch to help supplement our income. Two days a week I am a staff pharmacist at our local hospital, and the other five days a week I lend a helping hand to my husband when and where he needs it. We have littles that are often in tow so my ability to help is usually dictated by the weather, small humans’ attitudes, or simply the number of arms I have available at that moment. But all that aside, outside, alongside my husband, is where I prefer to be no matter what the chore is.
Describe your experience as a ranch daughter, wife, mom, and rancher.
I grew up on my family’s registered Hereford operation in SW Montana and that is really where my love for agriculture began. Our ranch was very much a family business, as most farms and ranches are, and looking back I feel extremely blessed for the childhood I was afforded. It’s something I am actively trying hard to give my children: an upbringing that provides equal amounts of opportunities to teach hard work, commitment, and responsibility as it does to allow for rest, freedom, and fun. I recognize now that some of my greatest lessons learned were taught to me growing up on the ranch and many of the opportunities afforded to me were because of my upbringing in agriculture.
What drives you to be heavily involved in the agricultural community and why is that important?
It has always been my belief that the greatest ally we have in the agricultural community is ourselves, so investing back into ‘us’ is absolutely priceless. Luke and I want to do more than just say we support agriculture; we want to show that we support agriculture. For us, that means donating our time in local organizations where we feel we can have an impact. We don’t do nearly as much as we would like to, or as much as many others within the industry do, but this is a good balance for us right now with a young family.
What is it like living in Ord, NE?
“We who live in quiet places have the opportunity to become acquainted without ourselves, to think our own thoughts and live our own lives in a way that is not possible for those keeping up with the crowd.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder
Like one would imagine small town living to be – simple, quiet, monotonous – I truly wouldn’t trade it for the world. Don’t get me wrong, small town living definitely has its downfalls. What I wouldn’t give for a Costco closer than 3 hours away or upscale dining for a night out. But I find that what small towns lack in Uber and Doordash, they make up for in community and support. And when it comes to raising a family, you really could not ask for anything more important than either of those.