Modern Minnesota agriculture got its start when a few courageous families moved out on the prairie. They lived in sod houses, faced fierce blizzards and struggled to survive on their newly homesteaded land.
Those pioneer families made decisions that laid the foundation for agriculture growing into a leading factor in Minnesota’s economy. Life has changed considerably since those pioneer times, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of farm families to Minnesota agriculture. Farm families make decisions that increase production, build rural communities and provide consumers with safe and healthy foods.
Earlier this year, local county Extension committees throughout the state selected one family in their county to be honored as University of Minnesota Farm Family of the Year. You’ll see these 75 families recognized at local events this summer and at an official recognition ceremony at Farmfest.
Minnesota agriculture has diversified considerably since those early pioneers set out to make a living on the prairie. Today there is no standard definition of a Minnesota family farm. The profiles of the University’s honorees illustrate this point. This year’s list includes big farms and small farms as well as farms using conventional and organic practices. Corn, soybeans, wheat, sugar beet, dairy, pork, beef and poultry production form the foundation of Minnesota agriculture today and appear often in the profiles.
Not every family farm follows the same path, however, and farms raising honey, apples, goats, Christmas trees and grapes are also being honored. The one factor they all have in common is working together to make their farms successful. That work ethic is the major contributor to the success of Minnesota communities and Minnesota’s agriculture.
The entrepreneurial efforts of Minnesota farmers have a big impact in rural communities and worldwide. Recently the Minnesota Department of Agriculture reported that Minnesota exported $900 million more in agricultural products in 2010 than the year before. The state’s $5 billion of agricultural exports in 2010 was one of the few bright spots in our economy.
Farming is not the isolated life it was in pioneer days, but too often Minnesota farm families don’t get the recognition they deserve. Thirty years ago the University began a recognition program to acknowledge the contributions farm families make to our communities, our economy and our quality of life.
You can read brief profiles for all 75 University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year at http://mnfarmfamilies.cfans.umn.edu.
Bev Durgan is the dean of University of Minnesota Extension and director of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.