Ottertail-based farm has been in the family for over 110 years

Photo by Chad Koenen
The Menze family was recently recognized as the 2024 Otter Tail County Farm Family of the Year. Members of the family who work on the farm include: Jared Menze, Taylor and Shai Sweazey, as well as Mike, Jacob, Denise and Makayla Menze.

By Chad Koenen


The Mike and Denise Menze family of rural Ottertail have been named as Otter Tail County’s “2024 Farm Family of the Year” by the University of Minnesota.

The family is the fourth generation on the farm, who have also been honored as a Century Farm as well. They have two children, Jacob and Makayla, who attend Henning Public School. 

Honored families are chosen, one per county, by local University of Minnesota Extension committees based on their demonstrated commitment to their communities and to enhancing and supporting agriculture. The family said they were honored to receive the award, which recognizes just one family in one of the larger counties in the state of Minnesota.

“I think it’s an honor to get it. It feels like you accomplished something,” said Mike of the award. “We try to do a good job.”

The Menze family farm was started in 1914 by Mike’s great-grandparents, Chris and Dorthea Menze. Over the years the farm continued and was run by grandparents Herman and Ema. The couple had five children, Verlin, Arvin, Marlyn, Delvin and Sharon. Delvin and his wife, Bette, along with their children, Daniel and Michael, farmed alongside Delvin’s brother, Arvin, his wife Nancy and their daughter, Peggy, into the early 2000s. Together, the brothers and the families grew the farm by building a milking parlor in 1964. They upgraded feeding systems to computer-run feeders and purchased more tillable land.

Hired hands and neighbors have helped during harvest and in family times of need through the years. The farm has been home to many kinds of animals, but most of the farm’s success comes from Holstein dairy cows and rotational crop farming.

Mike spends much of his time managing the finances, cattle paperwork and land management aspects of the operation. He’s built dry cow housing and a new calf barn. Denise is the domestic engineer making sure family and employees are well taken care of.

Taylor Sweazey has been the main dairy farm manager for 13 years. The Menzes’ nephew, Jared, has worked for Michael and Denise for the past four years focusing on calves and general maintenance.

The Menzes milk 80 Holsteins and farm 1,100 irrigated and non-irrigated acres. The family raises their own replacement heifers and finishes their Holstein steers. In the past year, Taylor and his wife, Shai, along with Jared and Jacob, started their own beef herd.

Jacob and Makayla are both involved in various aspects of the farm and have their own 4-H animals. Mike is on the local DHIA board and an elder at the family’s church. Denise is a volunteer with East Otter Tail County 4-H, is working toward becoming a Master Gardener, and serves as a youth group leader at church.

The Menzes, along with all of the recipients across the state, will be officially recognized in a ceremony Thursday, Aug. 8 at the annual Farmfest near Redwood Falls, Minn. 

“These farm families are a major driver of Minnesota’s economy and the vitality of Minnesota’s rural communities,” said Bev Durgan, dean of the University of Minnesota Extension. “The University of Minnesota is proud to recognize these farm families for their contributions to agriculture and their communities.” 

Along with Farmfest, University units sponsoring the recognition event include the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and the College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Farmfest runs Aug. 6-8 at the Gilfillan Estate, near Redwood Falls, Minn. Event hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $8 in advance or $10 at the gate and those 17 and under are admitted free. More information on Farmfest is available at

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