Farm and Farmer History

Kevin: beginning farmer, veteran, tinkerer, guy with too many ideas.

PC in soy cropped

Growing up, I spent summers and weekends on this farm in the same house that we’re renovating to start our farming future. I played with my sister, worked with my father, and learned from my grandparents. When I was young, I knew I was going to be a farmer.  Later in life I began to wrestle with that plan; advice and ambition led me on to other things for several years.  A few years kicking around Minneapolis was followed by treating a case of wanderlust with an enlistment in the army as a combat engineer stationed in Germany.  Having been away from school long enough to appreciate it, I decided to go to college when I came home. My experience on the farm gave me an interest in living things and landscapes, so I focused on biology and ecology in my Bachelors program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. While at UWS, I discovered an interest in field research and investigating scientific questions, so I went on to a Master’s program in integrated biosciences at the University of Minnesota in Duluth where I researched ecology and evolution of insects on goldenrod plants.  I gained a lot from the program but the best thing to come of it bar none was a relationship with my beautiful and brilliant farming partner, Annelie.

I began to reconnect with farming while in Duluth and realized that there was some very exiting work being done in Sustainable Agriculture. When I entered my master’s program, I thought I could do the most good by researching how humans interact with the environment; during the program I realized that this was true, but my background and passion for farming provided the perfect avenue for me to have a bigger impact. Nothing people do has had a larger effect on the world than agriculture, and the application of ecological principles, new technology, and new knowledge has the potential to benefit farmers, communities, and ecosystems.  To develop my skills as a researcher in agriculture, I moved on to a Ph.D. program in Applied Plant Sciences at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul working with cover crops. My research was trying to fit profitable cover crops into corn soybean rotations to add value to farms and provide ecosystem services on the landscape.

There are three things I want to do with my career: I want to farm because it’s who I am and I feel the need to keep a connection to the land and dirt under my fingernails. I want to research because I see the need for change in agriculture and because I love new ideas and learning.  Finally, I want to teach because sharing knowledge is one of the most valuable things I can do and because it challenges me to truly understand what I’m doing when I have explain it to others. Good Turn Farm is my way of integrating those three aspects as a whole that will allow us to do well by doing good.

Annelie’s Gardening/Farming History:

I started gardening early with my grandparents and parents. My family temporarily moved to the suburbs of Springfield, MO when I was in 3rd grade but I couldn’t give it up and started working the soil in our backyard with a fork from the kitchen.  My parents kindly noticed, found me some proper tools, and I’ve never turned back.  Straight out of high school, I started managing the large family garden site on the old homestead I rented from my parents.  Trial and error was the name of the game but the beautiful thing about gardening is:

“If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy” – Chinese Proverb

I did work hard, and the land was by no means lazy. The potatoes never failed.  Determined to learn more about the natural world around me, I spent 4.5 years at University of Minnesota Duluth learning about the biology of the world. I spent the entirety of those years employed at a local floral shop and greenhouse, designing floral arrangements and hawking bedding plants, perennials, and trees.  This was my first taste of combining my artist’s eye with the natural beauty of plants and flowers as well as an intense, hands-on education in horticulture.

All the while, my vegetable gardening improved, as did my cooking. Shortly after starting graduate school with a focus on insect ecology and evolution, I realized that Sustainable Agriculture was the field for me.  Sustainable Agriculture perfectly combined my drive to conserve & restore the environment with my love of vegetable & flower gardening.  During grad school, I worked on a small, organic fruit and vegetable farm and at the Duluth Farmers Market.  I also met my wonderful, handsome, land-inheriting (this only slightly influenced my decision) fiancé, Kevin – Good Turn Farm’s other half.  Shortly out of graduate school, I was offered the opportunity to teach a Plant Biology lecture and lab at the University of Minnesota which added to my understanding of the plant kingdom and the history of plant evolution.  During and since grad school I have also attended several regional conferences focused on organic farming, sustainable food systems, food access, and women in sustainable agriculture.

I worked in non-profit sustainable agriculture for 4 years in the Twin Cities area before transitioning full time to Good Turn Farm. I am also currently on the Steering Committee for the Lake Pepin Local Food Group and working with the group to implement a SARE Farmer Rancher Grant that we received in the Spring 2017 to improve connections between local producers and consumers. I was also recently hired by Renewing the Countryside to facilitate connections between local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices and women farmers & landowners.

Farm heritage and the reason for the acorn

OK And Emma

Good Turn Farm is just sprouting but the history of my family on this piece of land goes back five generations. At the age of fifteen, my grandpa’s grandpa Oscar K. (OK) Andersson emigrated to the area with his parents and two brothers in 1875, losing an s along the way. They came from the Närke province of Sweden, which is I believe where nearby Nerike hill got its name. OK began working on farms shortly after arrival and later became a brakeman on the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  When he returned, he bought one of the last available parcels of land and founded Oak Wood Farm where my family has continued to work the land. OK was active in local government, and owned one of the first cars in the area (a Buick). He had four children with his wife Emma, the youngest of which was my great grandfather Merritt Anderson. OK retired to Pepin when Merritt took over the farm; my grandpa Merlin once told me of how he imitated his grandfather OK’s protruding stomach and swagger when he was walking with him in town. Great Grandpa Merritt and Grandpa Merlin were both born in the same house which I came home to after being born; my dad and stepmom lived there until 2000 when they built a new house on the land recently building a new home.

Merritt recalled helping his father disassemble the cabin that had been the Little House in the Big Woods where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born and spent her youngest years and is now memorialized across the road from our place. Merritt was a soldier in WWI, operated a threshing machine as his father had, and also had a saw mill. My Grandpa Merlin inherited the farm and ran it as a dairy operation. He eventually bought the parcel his uncle had built on along with several others in the 1960’s and 70’s when farms were expanding and increasing production. The craftsman house that we’re now renovating was built by my great uncle Ed in the 1930’s who operated a machine shop across the street. My grandparents eventually moved into the house when my father took over the farm in the 80’s. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with the two of them in this house even though my parents divorced when I was young. My father spared me from milking by converting the farm to focusing on cash crop production in the mid 80’s, a hard time for dairy farms. The farm is now run by my father and stepmom, who have both worked other jobs for most of their lives to support their farming habit.

This farm has gone through changes as each generation brings their best ideas onto the land and will continue to develop through my life and beyond. I’ve always had a strong connection to this piece of land and I’m grateful to all the Andersons (and Anderssons) who made it part of my heritage. The way I see it, this farm belongs to my grandparents and my grandchildren and it’s my place to honor the memory of those who came before me and leave something worth being proud of for those who come after me. The acorn you see in our logo represents the connection of Good Turn Farm to Oak Wood Farm; it shows that we are an offshoot of something well rooted and carry great potential for growth.