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80 Minnesota farm families honored by U of M

TWO HARBORS, Minn. -- Monica and Dan Highmark spent 20 years next door to the farm north of Two Harbors that eventually would become their own, before they decided to make the leap and purchase it in 2009. Now, just six years after they became fa...

The Highmark family -- from left, Tori, Dan and Monica -- owns the New Song Farm near Two Harbors, and have been named a 2015 Farm Family by the University of Minnesota Extension. (Photo courtesy of Monica Highmark)



TWO HARBORS, Minn. -- Monica and Dan Highmark spent 20 years next door to the farm north of Two Harbors that eventually would become their own, before they decided to make the leap and purchase it in 2009.

Now, just six years after they became farmers, the Highmarks have been named a 2015 Farm Family by the University of Minnesota Extension, representing Lake County. Eighty farm families throughout the state have received the honor this year and will be recognized at Farmfest in August in Redwood Falls, Minn.

"I think it's quite an honor," Monica Highmark said. "I don't really feel like I deserve it because so many people work so much; they're so much more knowledgeable about it."


Highmark was a stay-at-home mom before she and her husband bought the farm. Now, she puts the time she used to devote to raising her now-adult kids into raising fruit, vegetables, chickens and sheep on what they've named New Song Farm. Her husband still works full-time as a plumbing and heating contractor, and helps restore the farm's buildings on nights and weekends.

Highmark said she named the farm after her favorite psalm, which reads, "He put a new song in my mouth."

"When we got the farm it was at a time when my kids were graduating," she said. "The farm just happened to come for sale then, and this being a dream to have a farm that I always had, it put a new song in my heart."

Even though her career as a farmer began only recently, farming runs in Monica Highmark's family. She grew up visiting her grandfather's potato farm and always admired the lifestyle that went hand-in-hand with farming, something she can now experience for herself.

"I think we both just really enjoy the independence that comes from it and the ability to grow our own fruit and vegetables," she said. "We just like being outdoors, and the improvements that we see that we're bringing to this place are rewarding, so we find it very satisfying in that way, too."

Highmark also has experience with planting; she has been a Master Gardener with the U of M for 10 years.

Her family's enthusiasm about the farming lifestyle is one of the reasons they were honored, Highmark said.

"We are living as a farm family," she said. "This is our life right now and we're pretty immersed in it, and enjoy it."


Bob Byrnes, the director of field operations for the University of Minnesota Extension, said farm families are honored not just for their role in food production, but for their involvement in the community.

"These are the same people that are on the school boards, on the township board or on the church board, and providing leadership in their communities in addition to the very important work of raising food," he said.

The Highmarks sell the yield of their 20-acre farm at the Two Harbors Farmers Market. They also sell directly to people who visit the farm.

They have been striving to improve the farm -- which had fallen into disrepair when they bought it -- and Monica Highmark said the honor gives her motivation to keep working.

"I want to continue to just perfect what I'm doing," she said. "I want to be better at what I'm doing, to continue to improve my soil, improve the orchard. I don't feel like I need to expand into growing any more areas, but really to fine-tune what I already am doing."

To learn more about New Song Farm, contact the Highmarks at newsongfarm@gmail.com .


Other 2015 Farm Families


The University of Minnesota has recognized 80 farm families from across the state as 2015 Farm Families. Here are some of the other honorees, with information from the University of Minnesota Extension:


Aitkin County

Hank and Faye Torgerson started their farm in 1973 with just two cows. Now, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Sheila and James Teas, they have 21 cows, along with calves and bulls. When they're not farming, the Torgersons volunteer with the Aitkin County 4-H where their grandchildren are active participants.


Carlton County

Meadow Brook Dairy Farm has been around since 1885. At one time it was a major regional milk producer and processor; now Dale and Joanne Mattinen, the current owners, grow horse hay and small grains. The Mattinens are the fourth generation to run the farm, and are active in their church and the local volunteer fire department.



Itasca County

In 1999, Brian and Becky Rasmussen purchased 350 acres from a relative's farm in order to start their own farm and raise their daughters. The family has spent the past 16 years raising cows, swine and horses. They also grow pumpkins and corn, which becomes a maze every fall.


Koochiching County

With help from their three children and eight grandchildren, Terry and Bonnie Aitchison raise small grains, sweet corn, vegetables and heirloom tomatoes. The family also runs a roadside market in International Falls. In addition to tending their 35 acres, the Aitchisons support their local Salvation Army food shelf and 4-H.


Pine County

Three generations of Nelsons have worked Home Place Dairy Farm since it was started in the 1930s by Ed and Francis Nelson. In the 1970s the Nelsons' son Howard and his wife, Diane, took over the farm, and in 2003 Howard and his son Nathan began a partnership to transfer the farm to Nathan and his wife, Suzanna. All of the Nelsons participate in Clover Community Church.



St. Louis County

Marvin and Peggy Pearson own or rent a total of 1,160 acres of farmland and pasture near Angora, on which they raise small grains and hay as well as Holstein cows and beef cattle. The Pearsons' son, Jeff, and his wife, Lisha, help out on the farm. Marvin Pearson is a member of the St. Louis County Fair Board and is very involved in the Minnesota State Holstein Association; he has received the Purebred Dairy Cattle Breeder of the Year Award.


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