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Advocates for Beef

Farmers Jamie Martz and Larisa Willrett represent agriculture

You might say these women have some big shoes to fill coming from families with a strong history of beef industry leaders. But seriously, these two female farmers stand on their own recognizance.

Today women are leaders and advocates for agriculture. In fact, one-third of farmers today are women who are working the land, sorting cattle, buying seed, owning farmland, and leading change in this once male-dominated business.

Jamie Martz and Larisa Willrett are directors of the Illinois Beef Association. Jamie serves on the Beef Checkoff Board and Larisa is an at-large director of the Policy Board.

Jamie Martz sees value in promoting beef to consumers

Jamie Martz says serving on the IBA Board is a good fit for her as she is interested in helping the industry with beef promotions.

Jamie Martz has always had a “love for animals” ever since she was a young girl. She grew up in Lanark, Illinois on a beef and hog farm and showed cattle at the 4-H Fair. “Some of my best memories are going to the pasture and spending time with the cows,” said Jamie.

Today she lives with her husband, Justin, and three children on their family’s farm in Maple Park. They are third-generation partners in Larson Farms Partnership where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat and of course cattle in their feedlots.

“I love being in the pens and interacting with the cattle,” states Jamie. “In the feedlot we see cattle come in from all over and it’s always fun to see the different breeds of cattle.”

Her love for animals has rubbed off on her children, Jaxson, Jaedyn and Justis. “They see generations of family members involved in our feedlot, all hands-on deck sometimes. The kids love what their parents and grandparents love.”

The Martz family of Maple Park is passionate about raising cattle and sharing information about beef production with others. They are (from left) Jaxson, Justin, Justis, Jamie and Jaedyn.

Jamie has managed to balance her young family with the farm and works for a crop insurance business. She also finds time to serve on the Illinois Beef Association Board and advocate for the beef industry.

“It’s important to keep promoting beef as a positive protein in our diet. Consumers are always looking for something else. But they need to realize that beef is consistent. And a safe, healthy meat,” explained Jamie.

Advocating for the beef industry runs in the Larson and Martz families. Jamie respects family members who have served before her at county, state and national levels in beef leadership – Grandfather-in-law Ray Larson, Father-in-law Mike Martz and her husband Justin, all supportive of Jamie’s role in IBA.

“This is a great opportunity for Jamie to truly experience for herself what the IBA can do to positively affect the beef industry,” said Justin. “Even though we have had previous family members involved in beef organizations, Jamie has her own ideas and perspectives.”

Growing up, Jamie showed cattle at the 4-H Fair.

Jamie has served for one year on the state beef board. “It is a good fit for me being on the Checkoff Board. Using checkoff dollars to promote beef is important,” said Jamie.

She sees the value in beef promotions with urban consumers, especially being so close to the suburbs. Their DeKalb County farm is located about 20 miles west of Geneva.

For that very reason Jamie and Justin are part of the Illinois Farm Families group, which is another advocacy group targeting Chicago influencers through social media posts, website blogs, and YouTube videos.

Being a female farmer, Jamie feels she can relate to female consumers and share her story with people that are disconnected from agriculture. She states, “It is important to have women represent the industry because it provides a more diverse set of ideas and ways to do things.”

Jamie says her daughter Jaedyn loves animals as much as she does and plans to show at the 4-H Fair.

Jamie, 36, passes on her passion for beef farming to her daughter Jaedyn, now 10. “She will have the same opportunities as her brothers if it is something she cares about and has an interest in.”

That’s how Jamie was raised and learned that living on a farm instills a good work ethic. “There are no days off with livestock and they need to be cared for every day. We hope that our kids learn to enjoy being on the family farm and seeing that we can work together to make a living.”

Larisa Willrett understands benefits of advocacy

Larisa Willrett left the mountains of Montana for the flatlands of Malta to become a cattle feeder here 28 years ago.

From the West to the MidWest Larisa Willrett made a culture and career change in agriculture.
“Agriculture is more than a career path; it’s truly a culture based on family, community, hard work, faith and common goals,” said Larisa.

She was used to the massive mountains of Montana where she was raised and expansive cattle ranches in Wyoming where she worked during her college years. Later she would work in Colorado where the open feedlots were exceptionally large.

In the mid-1990s she moved to Malta, Illinois to flatlands and confined cattle-feeding systems.

“It’s a different lifestyle from Montana to Malta,” said Larisa. “We had ranches and huge feedyards; it’s such a bigger scale of beef there. Here we have farms and feedlots.”

She made the journey east after marrying her husband, Jamie. They met while she was working for the National Cattlemen’s Association in Denver.

Larisa and Jamie are partners in J. Willrett Farms, a sixth-generation cattle-feeding and grain farm in DeKalb County, west of Malta. They also are partners in a feedyard ultrasound business, Beef Performance Technology.

Jamie and Larisa are farm partners in their cattle-feeding and grain farm. Jamie is supportive of Larisa’s beef leadership and advocacy efforts.

With a diversified background in beef, Larisa brings a great deal of experience to her role as a director of the Illinois Beef Association. “I bring to the table my cattle feeder perspective. With a variety of beef producers on the board I can provide insight into feeder cattle issues,” said Larisa.

This is her third year on the state board where the focus is on policy, legislation, and issues significant to the beef industry and members.

She follows in the footsteps of her husband, Jamie, and father-in-law, Jim, who also served on state and national beef boards as well as in county beef associations. Oldest son, Justis, is currently a member of the county Cattlemen’s Association and youngest son, Sawyer, is on the Young Nebraska Cattlemen Board.

Sawyer, Olivia and Justis Willrett are in integral part of their family’s cattle and grain farm. Justis works there full-time. Olivia is currently in Colorado working as a market analyst for a cattle-feeding business. Sawyer is a student at the University of Nebraska in agribusiness. Their dog, Kate, is part of the family too.

“I am proud of Larisa becoming involved in leadership in the beef industry,” said her husband, Jamie. “Our family has always believed in returning to an industry that one has benefitted from. She has extensive knowledge of the beef industry and a great vision to sustain it into the future.”

Beyond beef leadership, Larisa gets involved in advocating for the industry personally and professionally.
“It’s important to put the right face of agriculture in the media,” said Larisa. “Through social media posts and stories we need to be conscientious of what we are putting out there in agriculture.”

Larisa, 54, values this as a freelance writer and editor for BluePrint Media, a woman-owned company specializing in media and marketing for mostly beef associations. She also helps develop social media posts for these same ag groups.

“Advocacy is critical in the beef industry,” stated Larisa. “Women are communicators, we speak to each other. We stay home with the kids. We advocate for what we believe.”

During her college years at Colorado State, Larisa worked at a cattle ranch, a feedlot, and showed beef cattle at the university show. After college, she worked for the National Cattlemen’s Association in Denver.

The Malta farmer works from her home as a freelancer; it’s something she started doing when her kids were younger. She attributes her writing interest to her late parents, both who were journalists. When she’s not writing she’s working alongside Jamie and Justis on their farm.

Justis returned to the farm four years ago after attending Kansas State. Daughter, Olivia, is a recent graduate of Colorado State and is employed as a market analyst for a cattle-feeding business in Colorado. Son, Sawyer, is at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying agribusiness.

“We endeavored to raise all three of our kids, regardless of their gender, with the same expectations. Work hard, be honest, live with integrity and chase your dreams. Each knows they have a place back on the farm if they choose to return,” said Larisa.

After 28 years, Larisa enjoys living in northern Illinois. The farmer is reminded of her past when a new load of cattle arrives on their farm; she gets a whiff of the fresh grass embedded in the young calves. “It’s a good memory,” she says with a smile.