Woodstock dairy farmer Joel Kooistra is one of four Illinois farmers selected as 2017 Master Farmers by Prairie Farmer magazine. The farmers were honored for their exceptional agricultural production skills and community service at a ceremony March 15 in Springfield.

“It was very humbling,” said Kooistra. “There are some very tall trees on the list of the people who have received this.”

Farmers, agribusiness leaders and farm organizations throughout Illinois nominate candidates for the award. Kooistra received 25 letters of recommendation outlining his contributions, such as participation in FDA trials for bovine somatotropin in the ’90s.

“The letters the scientists sent were mind-boggling,” Kooistra said. “They really set me back.”

Between 1925 and 1937 the magazine named 97 Master Farmers until the program was discontinued in the 1930s due to the Depression. Prairie Farmer revived it in 1968 and since then, more than 300 Illinois people have been named Master Farmer or Honorary Master Farmer.

Among the previous winners was Joel’s wife, Linnea Kooistra, who won the award in 2011, the first woman to earn the Master Farmer designation.

Kooistra lives on the same farm he was born on, located in a triangle between Woodstock, Harvard and Hebron. His mailing address is Woodstock, and he attended school in Hebron. Later, his children attended Harvard District 50 schools.

He runs an operation – consisting of a 500-head Holstein herd and 800 crop acres – with the help of his wife Linnea – who he still refers to as his girlfriend after 44 year of marriage – and his son, Danik, who he describes as a joy to work with.

He credited his family and staff of exceptional employees, who he also considers family, with making the farm successful.

“I love it. That’s the only thing I can say. I love what I do. There’s not a part of it I don’t like. I’m very fortunate that way.”

Kooistra’s involvement in the community extends beyond agriculture as the family regularly hosts French and Dutch university exchange students for college credit. He also served for 15 years on the board of directors of Conference Point Center, Lake Geneva, Wis.

Though very humbled by the award, Kooistra appreciates the publicity he receives as a mechanism to publicize and put a positive face on agriculture, something he strives to do daily.

“Every one of our neighbors is happy we’re here,” Kooistra said. “We’ve always tried to be in contact with people. That’s part of what agriculture has to do to be successful.”

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