Ag Experience Insider: Introduction of Hillside Partners

Learn more about the Hillside Partners farm family and their life on the farm from the perspective of Dawn Kress, farm wife, mother, podcaster, and part-time farm hand.

Blessed to be a Farm Family

My family is blessed to be a part of a farm-family hog and row crop operation in rural Buchanan County, Iowa. My husband, Ryan Kress, is a partner within Hillside Partners, LLC. We raise our three daughters on an acreage two miles from the operations home farm. 

The operation has evolved from a traditional family farm to a shared farm partnership. Our story is a little untraditional, as we call it a “farm family” but aren’t all related by blood. We are bound by a shared passion for the land and livestock we care for, and we truly consider each other a farm family. I’m excited to share with you how the story started.

Becoming a Hog Farm Family

John and Elizabeth (Liz) Francois started farming in 1973 and raised their five children on their home farm. Ryan started working for them in 1997 while in high school, doing pig chores and other tasks. Although Ryan’s parents didn’t farm, his grandparents and uncles did, and he grew up around agriculture. When Ryan went to college, he continued to work on John and Liz’s farm and has been with them ever since. 

I started dating Ryan in college and would tag along doing chores. I grew up in the same community and was familiar with farming but not with pigs. When I was younger, my parents milked Holsteins, so I teased that I was born into a dairy and married into pigs. Our second date was breeding sows one Sunday morning, and I remember asking many questions when I wrote the bred date on the sow cards!

In 2007, the operation transitioned from farrowing 500 sows and finishing market hogs to owning shares in sow units for our wean-to-finish hog operation. Ryan also invested in the sow units and built a hog finishing barn on his acreage. 

John and Liz’s family farm operation was evolving, and at the time, their children were branching out into the world in different careers. They wanted the farm they had built to have a legacy and to include Ryan and I as owners. This was when we transitioned to join their legacy. Our shared dreams into our “farm family,” Hillside Partners, LLC was created in 2009.

Continued Growth

As things continued to grow and evolve, John and Liz’s youngest son, Randy Francois, returned to the farm in 2015. Hillside Partners shifted, and Randy became the third partner and is raising his family nearby. His wife Megan is the farm office manager and skillfully takes on other duties as they arise!

John and Liz still play active roles on the farm and in their specialties. John is the project manager on various construction projects and renovations, spraying crops and running equipment where needed. Liz has transitioned her many years of service as the office manager to Megan, but she is still the lead grain cart driver in the fall and works the ground in the spring.

A Farm Wife’s Role

My role on the farm has changes since the early days of dating Ryan. Through college, I’d help with picking up rocks in the fields (and still do) and vaccinating piglets. While growing our family, I worked off-farm in the ag industry full-time. My farm duties changed to more gopher duties on my lunch hour, being a ‘Meals on Wheels’ during spring and harvest, and a farm Uber after work, all with kids in tow. 

These days, I primarily work from our home office as a Chief Operating Officer for a local independent insurance agency, host the podcast Harvesting Her Way, and enjoy promoting pork to other families.

It is a great experience to be involved in agriculture and raise our family in the same community we grew up in. We are blessed to live through our kids’ activities like sports and 4H.

Now that you have our back story, this summer I will share some insights happening on and around our operation as we go through the crop growing season and sprinkle in some of the other fun. Follow along behind the scenes with me over on Instagram.