The recipient of this year’s Crow Wing County Farm Family of the Year stands in stark contrast to what much of the farming community is becoming -- which is to say, the Nelsons are young, family-oriented and small farm proprietors in an industry that’s trending older, bigger and increasingly corporate.
Magnus and Kristin Nelson, accompanied by their six children -- Olivia, M.J., Elliott, Theodore, Oliver and Francis -- received their recognition at a small ceremony Thursday, Aug. 1, at Birney Wilkins Memorial Garden on the Crow Wing County fairgrounds.
“I’m honored,” Magnus said. “I credit my wife a lot for it. I appreciate everything that she does for me. Yes, it’s a lifestyle, but if we’re not in it together and strong in our faith, raising the kids, then nothing really matters.”
Well-wishers and recipients for other awards crowded the small memorial garden -- upwards of 50 people, many of them representatives of the agricultural community, decked out in everything from white cowboy hats and sequined sashes, to thread-bare denim and hobnailed boots caked in dark earthy loam.
Sponsored by the University of Minnesota and presented by Crow Wing County Commissioner Steve Barrows, the Farm Family of the Year award seeks to recognize and honor Minnesota family farms that show significant progress and innovation, as well as promote progress in the community. Each year, a family farm is selected by the Crow Wing County Extension Committee.
The Nelsons have operated a 53-acre farm in rural Brainerd known as the Green Barn Veggie Farm since 2012, tending to 15 vegetable crops on 5 acres of land, whereupon it is sold at self-serve stands, through an online growers market of their own creation and via local co-ops in Brainerd and Onamia.
In addition to their vegetable crops, the family raises about 30 laying hens and 1,000 broiler chicks annually, processed through Nelson-Shine Produce, which is operated by Mangus’ father, Ron Nelson. A flock of 30 sheep and Pekin ducks raised for eggs and meat round out the family’s homestead.
In addition to their farmwork, Magnus has made his mark as an educator and facilitator for agriculture in Brainerd. He works as the agriculture education teacher at Brainerd High School and serves as an adviser to the local Brainerd chapter of the FFA, formerly Future Farmers of America. He is involved in the county farm bureau and he, Kristin and their two elder children are involved in 4-H.
So, what prompted the Nelsons to take up the challenge and juggle young parenthood, the rigors of farming and teaching the next generation of kids from the lakes area?
“She married into it,” Magnus said with a chuckle as he flashed Kristin a smile. “I grew up with it. I was the oldest of seven children on a dairy farm, my grandparents were both agriculturists, so I appreciate the skills and the knowledge and lifestyle that I was given through them. This is what I always wanted to do.”