By Arielle Windham, Empowered by Ladyboss Lifestyle
Corn, Cows, and Capitols
ND ag woman talks farming, family, and the future
Emmery Mehlhoff’s agricultural roots run deep. A fifthgeneration grain farmer, Mehlhoff has seen firsthand how laws and regulations at both the state and federal levels impact local agricultural operations—for better or worse. Mehlhoff has lobbied to preserve fairness and autonomy for American farmers from D.C. to Bismarck. A new ag enterprise and recent motherhood might have taken the girl out of the capital, at least during farming season, but Mehlhoff’s passion for agriculture remains an inspiration for many.
“My dad ran for office when I was younger, and I got to meet a lot of people in the political scene early,” Mehlhoff said. “That experience made me realize politics weren’t some faraway thing. It was happening right here, and I could be part of it. I could help influence the laws that affect farmers and ranchers and that affects my family.”
After graduation, Mehlhoff studied government at college in Virginia and got her feet wet in ag policy as one of Senator Kevin Cramer’s first interns. But the halls of government couldn’t hold Mehlhoff. The country life was calling.
“Cramer’s office was new and they hadn’t set up an intern program when I applied,” Mehlhoff said. “I called them up and begged them to take me. They agreed eventually. That experience really hammered home the importance of personal relationships in politics. By the end of my degree, they wanted me to stay on, but I just wanted to farm.”
Mehlhoff returned home as a partner in her family’s grain operation, planting her first crop of corn and soybeans in 2014. More involvement in the business side of the farm brought Mehlhoff back to politics, but at the state level as public policy liaison for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, so she could better balance farming and lobbying.
“Politics at the state level are completely different than in Washington,” Mehlhoff said. “It’s more personal, more relationship-driven. Like, I know my senator and representative. I can call them up and have a conversation, even if I’m not lobbying. I can be the expert for them on ag policies that affect my day-to-day operation. I can be the face of agriculture for them. Help them understand that this is what agriculture really looks like. This is what it means to apply fertilizer to corn. This is what it means to preg-check cows. This is how your legislation really impacts people’s lives. Really, that’s important in any industry, getting involved in politics at some level to provide expert insight into how certain legislation will impact your business, your community, and the state economy.”
Farming for the Future
In 2018, a new agricultural opportunity opened up for Mehlhoff. Well, a relationship that led to an ag venture. The farm girl married a rancher and started Bluestem Beef, a grass-fed beef operation focused on local distribution.
“I had the land, and Caleb had the cows,” Mehlhoff said. “He moved into the house and the cows moved onto pastures that used to be old crop ground. I still farm with my dad, but now I guess I’m also a rancher.”
The couple founded Bluestem Beef with a vision for the future–providing healthy, omega-3-rich beef directly from the farm to your door. Bluestem focuses on natural, sustainable beef production. Using regenerative grazing practices and taking a holistic look at the health of the entire system, from soil to animal to beef, Bluestem looks to maximize the nutritional value of its beef.
“We believe what you eat has such a direct impact on your overall health,” Mehlhoff said. “I personally used to avoid red meat because of various health issues. But, in my case, it wasn’t the type of meat, but more how it was finished.”
Mehlhoff found that what the cattle ate had an impact on the beef’s composition. Grass-fed beef didn’t trigger her health problems—and it tasted delicious. “We felt like our neighbors—everybody—should have access to high-quality beef, so we started to direct market.”
Like many cottage industry operations, the recent pandemic increased the visibility of Bluestem Beef, with conscious consumers looking to buy locally. This interest and the birth of her first child have shifted Mehlhoff’s priorities slightly to focus more on the home front.
“Having a kid changes everything,” she said. “I lobbied at the Capitol every single day in the 2021 session while I was very pregnant. I waddled around the Capitol. But once Titus was born, I wanted to focus on farming with my father, ranching with my husband, and watching my son grow up. At least for now. I want to build a successful operation that he can take over if he wants.”
Today, Mehlhoff spends most of her time in the field or with her family but plans to continue advocating for North Dakota farmers and ranchers.
“For years, the Farm Bureau has been asking how we can make as much local food available as possible,” she said. “Whether that’s decreasing regulations to make it easier for small mom-and-pop butcher shops to pop up. Or, in the last session, we worked on a bill to make raw milk more accessible to the consumer where instead of owning a cow share, you can just buy it directly from the farmer. Issues like these are important for our ag community, and I’m happy to provide the expertise our legislators need for the best results.”
Want to get involved in your own industry? Mehlhoff recommends connecting with your state legislators. “Make friends with a legislator. Let them know your area of expertise. Volunteer or just show up during a meeting and introduce yourself. Because I can guarantee you there will be a time when there is a piece of legislation that could directly affect your business, whether it’s cosmetology, computers, or farming.”
For those in the ag industry, the North Dakota Farm Bureau is a great resource for both involvement and information on current legislation. Similar member organizations and focus groups exist for other industries and demographics, so find the group that represents your interests and reach out.