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Continued: Loretto farm is a family affair

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 29, 2012 - 2:12 PM

The table in Jeff and Stephanie Kohnen's comfortable kitchen sits in the exact spot it did more than 75 years ago when Genevieve Kohnen, Jeff's grandmother, grew up in the two-story white farmhouse in Loretto and ate dinner each night with her family.

Then, like now, the house, barn and silos were surrounded by acres of green farmland, with a long, hilly driveway leading out to the road.

But venture too far beyond the family's 80 acres of corn and soybeans and the similarities between the two eras end. The farm, which used to be surrounded by other family owned farms, is now one of only a handful left in Hennepin County.

"Along this road, when we came here, we farmed all 80 acres and milked cows, too," said Lloyd Kohnen, 89, Jeff Kohnen's grandfather and Genevieve Kohnen's husband. "Now nobody does."

For Jeff and Stephanie Kohnen's son, the difference in the number of young farm families can be measured another way.

"I'm the only one in my class -- no, my whole grade -- who lives on a farm," said Jared Kohnen, 10.

The Kohnen farm is unique not only because it's family-owned, but because it's been in the same family since 1890. It will be designated as a Century Farm this summer by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

A commemorative plaque and certificate will be given to the Kohnens, recognizing that their farm has been continuously owned by one family for 100 years or more and that it's 50 acres or larger.

Fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette said that the program recognizes the important role agriculture and family farms have played in the state.

"The State Fair's roots are in agriculture, so it really makes sense for us to recognize family farms," she said.

This year, the Kohnen farm is one of 144 farms in Minnesota to be named a Century Farm and the only one in Hennepin County. Since the program began 36 years ago, 57 other farms in Hennepin County and more than 9,100 farms across the state have been so designated.

A family business

Farming is truly a family affair for the Kohnens; Jeff Kohnen's grandparents lived and farmed on his property for 48 years and his great-grandparents before that.

Today, Jeff Kohnen's dad, Ron Kohnen, owns and farms more than 100 acres adjacent to Jeff Kohnen's land, and other family members pitch in to farm several thousand acres the Kohnens lease from various landlords. The family grows corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, and Jeff Kohnen has 45 Holstein steers, too.

"We all do it together -- my dad, myself, my brother and my nephew. And it's the support crew that keeps everyone going. My mom does a lot of running around for us," Jeff Kohnen said.

The farm is a big part of their lives, but Jeff Kohnen, 35, and Stephanie Kohnen, 36, also have full-time jobs. Jeff works in construction and Stephanie works in sales for a company that makes construction materials. They moved into Jeff's grandparents' house and bought the property about 15 years ago.

While Jeff grew up surrounded by farmers, Stephanie wasn't from a farm family.

"[Farming] is a lot of hard work. You really have to enjoy it," Jeff said. "If you don't grow up in a farm family, it's pretty hard to get into it, or to even want to."

Generations work together

And although Lloyd and Genevieve Kohnen, who is 87, have retired and live in a townhouse in Albertville, they both continued to help around the farm until recently. Lloyd still likes to call his son and grandsons and make sure things are getting done. "If not, he'll give us an earful," Jeff Kohnen said.

The decision to be a farmer was a natural one for Jeff Kohnen, who remembers spending time on the farm as a kid, helping milk cows and unload hay.

"Jeff used to come over here on his horse, Partner, when he was 10 or 12 and say that all he wanted to do was farm when he grew up," his grandfather said.

At age 10, Jared Kohnen is interested in being a farmer when he gets older, while his brother Jonah Kohnen, 8, isn't so sure he wants a job in agriculture. Jared Kohnen helps out around the farm, moving cattle, mowing the lawn and picking up rocks.

Farming is easier now

Each year as a Christmas present, Jeff Kohnen's sister creates a video documenting that year and the Kohnen family, showing not only how the kids grew and what the family did for fun, but also highlighting the seasons on the farm.

From planting in the spring and, later, harvesting and combining throughout the fall, the year-round nature of farming is something non-farmers probably don't understand, Jeff Kohnen said.

"Everyone sees you out there driving tractors and combines, but they don't see the planning that goes into it. They see you out there for two weeks and they think that's all you do," he said.

And there's likely no season or part of a farmer's job that hasn't been made easier by technology, Lloyd Kohnen said, observing that farming has changed dramatically in the 17 years since he's left the business.

"The technology and size of the equipment have changed a lot. The technology that's in the seed is huge, too," Jeff Kohnen said.

Combines can now almost drive themselves using GPS, Stephanie Kohnen noted, and farmers strategize with the soil and planting decisions more than ever before.

Most people today also understand little about the basic aspects of farming, Stephanie Kohnen said. She recalls a client who thought that, as farmers, her family sold ears of sweet corn at a vegetable stand. Others assume that her family eats the crops they grow, she said with a laugh.

"Those are the silly things that city people don't understand."

As farming continues to change and farm families grow scarcer in Hennepin County and elsewhere, Jeff and Stephanie Kohnen have no plans to live anywhere but on their Century Farm. "I don't ever want to leave this place," Stephanie Kohnen said.

Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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