GRAFTON, N.D. – The harvest is all Stephanie Osowski has ever known. A childhood spent on the road and in the field – a lifestyle that seemingly was ingrained in her just hours before her birth.
“My mom was combining the day I was born,” said Stephanie relaying one of her favorite stories about the day of her birth. “She gave birth to me that night and it’s always been my little segue to where I can say ‘I was born into this, I can’t help it.’ I would always joke with my dad, ‘You really made mom combine when she was 9-months pregnant? That was nice of you.’”
Her father started custom harvesting in 1986, alongside her uncle. Not long after, her grandparents got into the business and after her parents got married it turned into a whole family affair each summer.
“My brother and I grew up custom harvesting every summer. All my friends thought we’d be heading down south for vacation. What a joke that is to think of harvesting as a vacation,” she laughed. “It was unconventional, that’s for sure, but thinking about all the time my family and I were able to spend together, all the people I’ve met and the lifestyle of it all, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
Their route was nearly the same every year. They’d leave their home in Grafton, N.D., and head south to Hobart, Okla. They’d then make their way north from there, cutting through Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska before heading home to harvest their own crop.
Stephanie started helping out here and there early on in her childhood and was considered an employee of the crew by age 14. She always wanted to do her part, sometimes stubbornly so.
“I have that attitude that if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to show I can, and that I can do it better than you,” she said. “My brother and dad pushed that into me.”
Her time on the road wasn’t always easy. The custom harvesting profession is a male-dominated one – the vast majority of crews are men traveling in the heat of summer, up and down the country with no shortage of testosterone amongst the group.
“It makes you have thick skin, growing up around men. To this day I probably get along better with guys than girls. They tell it like it is,” she said. “There was some scoffing from time to time when other crews would see me. ‘Oh, you have a girl on your crew.’ That’s when the blog came in.”
Stephanie started blogging for “All Aboard Wheat Harvest” at the High Plains Journal, published in Dodge City, Kan. From that moment, she started being recognized from crews and farmers in the area. The blog also shed some light on her value to the crew.
“Everyone would read about me and realize I was involved, I was part of the crew, and I was like one of the guys,” she said. “I’m not a wrench, I’m not a mechanic, but when it comes to marketing, writing and getting our name out there to get jobs. That was my niche within my family business. That was my way of doing my part.”
As she got older, she took pride in being an example for other women and an inspiration to young girls who may one day hope to get involved in the industry.
“My dad had two purple Kenworth trucks and I would drive one of them and pull the tractor and grain cart on the trailer,” she said. “I remember driving up to a gas station and parking everything to stretch in between stops. I was walking into the restaurant and a little girl was sitting with her family at a table. She started nudging her mom and pointing at me. ‘Did you see that girl drove a purple truck? I want to drive a purple truck!’ That’s what it’s all about, teaching these young girls that there are some things the guys can do, but you can do anything you want as well.”
Stephanie met her fiancé, Peter, during her time on the harvest. They met in a trailer park in St. Francis, Kan. Peter, a South African, had just recently come state-side to start building a life over here and had a job on another harvesting crew in the area. They’ll be married this September.
The pair worked with Stephanie’s family during the summer of 2016 and then decided to move onto their own ventures and pursue their own ideas. In 2017 they decided they were going to try and build a life together. He started working down in Mississippi, while Stephanie got a job out of Starkweather, N.D. After moving back to North Dakota to be closer to Stephanie, Peter worked in Killdeer and then last year landed a job in Grafton.
“We’re both in one place now,” she said. “We want to farm ourselves. We’re just planting roots. I grew up here and Peter feels that sense of community that is here as well.”
As Stephanie moves on in her career, she looks back on her childhood – the long road trips, the hot days in the field, and the battle to show her true worth in a male-driven industry, with the fondest of memories.
“If you ask people who go on harvest, they’ll tell you it’s an addicting profession,” she said. “You have to be on the ball all the time. You have to be ready for anything. You have to be flexible and sociable – willing to get out there and talk to people and get those jobs. They’re not just going to come to you. You have to find the famers, and then you have to do a good job. You have to communicate and meet their expectations and be authentic.”
Her story isn’t over, but in fact, just beginning. Stephanie has started her own website, with its own brand, to continue blogging and telling her story to the people who follow her.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing and I’ve had a lot of support in the process,” she said.
To read more about Stephanie and continue to hear her story, please visit her blog, From North Dakota, With Love, at fromndwithlove.com.