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Natalie's Everyday Heroes: John Koepke, fifth generation dairy farmer

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OCONOMOWOC, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture reports the state of Wisconsin could be on track to lose 735 dairy farms this year. But that statistic isn’t deterring dairy farmers from actively working to preserve their way of life, and the health of the state’s farm land.

“Times are difficult all across agriculture right now,” John Koepke said. “It's probably the hardest it's been in a generation.”

John Koepke is a fifth generation dairy farmer who’s doing just that, and that’s why he’s this week’s “Natalie’s Everyday Hero.”

Things run on a tight schedule at Koepke Farms in Oconomowoc. Even the cows know when it’s time to line up for milking.

“A typical day starts between 6 and 7 o'clock in the morning,” Koepke explained. He’s the one who keeps it all running.

“It's important to me because I'm generation five here on the farm and my wife and I have three sons, and they're generation six,” he said.

There are 350 milk cows and 1100 acres of corn, alfalfa, soybeans and winter wheat being grown. The family has even branched out into making cheese. It’s called La Belle Cheese, and  it’s something they feel will connect them to consumers.

“They can say they've seen us and they can support our local family farm,” said Koepke’s wife, Kim.

The dairy farm is their life’s work, but they also have a passion for preserving this way of life.

“We're out there doing our best to hopefully help keep lake country, keep the land green and the waters blue here in lake country,” he said.

Nearly 700 dairy farms closed in Wisconsin last year. That’s one of the reasons Koepke is dedicated to making sure the land is protected.

“We need to actively protect our environment and our resources that we work with,” Koepke said.

The family has placed land under a conservation easement. He’s also a member of Farmers for Lake Country, and he’s on the board of Tall Pines—which protects farmland and natural resources in Waukesha County.

It’s a passion he share with his wife. She likes the slogan from the organization, American Farmland Trust, which states, “No Farms, No Food.”

“We're here because we have to be and we need to be,” she said. “Without us, where are we going to be? Not very far. So, the No Farms, No Food is a very simple message that what we do here does matter every day. For you and for me.”

And Koepke hopes to pass his passion on to his sons, too.

“We've learned if we take good care of those resources,” he said. “They take good care of us, too. So it's a mutual win, win.”

Koepke is helping with a fundraiser for Tall Pines this weekend called “Ride to the Barns.” It raises money for land conservation efforts in Waukesha County. Bike riders can choose a 30 or 60 mile route that takes them through farm country, with stops at different farms. For more information, just visit http://tallpinesconservancy.org/ride-to-the-barns-2019/.

We’d love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion for “Natalie’s Everyday Heroes,” just send a message to nshepherd@cbs58.com, or find Natalie on Facebook and send a message. Let us know about someone doing good work in your community.

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