It’s rare that Jeffrey and Karen Larson shut down their combine in the middle of harvest season. But when their landlord’s daughter and family called and asked if her and a few friends from the Twin Cities could come over for a tour of the Larson’s farm a few years ago, the Larsons took a short break from the fields and gave the group a taste of what farming in Minnesota is all about.
“We’re going to take the time, we’re going to engage them and answer their questions,” Jeffrey said. “Building those type of connections is important.”
The Larsons have plenty to share with non-farmers who have questions about agriculture, or simply want to develop a better understanding of modern farming. The Larson family farm began operating in 1874 in Evansville, about 20 miles northwest of Alexandria. Jeffrey is the sixth generation to farm the land and today grows a rotation of corn and soybeans.
“Now that’s sustainable agriculture,” Jeffrey says with a smile. “I challenge any Fortune 500 company to be in existence as long as our family farm.”
Longevity isn’t the only area where the Larsons have sustainability credibility. They’ve also worked with the Natural Resource & Conservation Service to build and maintain about 50 sediment retention structures on their farm to prevent soil and fertilizer from running off of their fields during large rain events.
They experimented with no-tilling their fields, but didn’t get the results they were hoping for. Minnesota’s farmland is diverse. Conservation practices that work on one farm might not work on other farms. But the Larson’s kept experimenting and today practice minimum tillage to help keep the soil in place, retain natural organic matter and reduce erosion.
“We’re willing to try different things on our farm to protect the land and increase efficiency,” Jeffrey said.
Another way the Larsons spread the word about their conservation efforts, as well as common conservation practices found on other Minnesota farms, is online. Karen recently attended an AgChat seminar and spends time on social media talking food and farming.
“It’s eye-opening,” Karen said. “When you do it correctly, it’s another way to build those important connections with non-farmers.”
The Larsons hope their son becomes the seventh generation to farm. Their minimum tillage practices and sediment retention structures are helping to preserve the land for when that time comes.
“Those of us in agriculture are active environmentalists, as compared to environmental activists,” Jeffrey said. “We need to protect the land every single day because we want to leave it in better shape than when we started.”