- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) - Spring means nonstop activity at Kragnes Family Farms. David Kragnes and his son Ben are putting corn seed in a planter in the farmyard.

The Kragnes family has farmed here, 20 minutes outside of Moorhead, since the end of the Civil War: Corn, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat.

David is 63. He planned on Ben, 29, taking over the farm someday.

“I was even crazy enough to plot out in my head where he was going to do more and more and I was going to do less and less until he was doing all and I was doing nothing,” David said. “And then he got the idea he wanted to raise a vegetable farm.”

He questioned his son’s sanity. Not only did he want to run a vegetable farm, he wanted to run it using organic growing methods, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1FMQHcZ ) reported.

“I thought, ‘That’s too much work; you’re crazy,’” he said. “But that’s what he wants to do. He’s not supposed to do what I want him to do. He’s supposed to do what he wants to do. “

Organic and conventional farmers sometimes struggle to coexist - particularly on the same land. They often find themselves at odds over using genetically modified crops and pesticides. But on the Kragnes’ Red River Valley farm, father and son have figured out a way to make their very different approaches to farming coexist.

Six years ago, Ben Kragnes and his partner, Tyne Stormo, 27, started growing vegetables on a few acres. Eight people signed up to buy the produce. He worked for his dad to pay the bills.

This year, the couple hopes the community-supported agriculture operation will serve 225 members. They’re also selling produce to local restaurants in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The Kragnes’ produce plot has grown to 13 acres, about 1 percent of the entire farm’s land.

Ben said he uses organic methods in his farming, but the farm isn’t a certified organic operation, because he refuses to pay fees the federal government requires.

“To pay someone so that I don’t have to spray chemicals on my crops, it’s un-American,” he said. “And I won’t do that.”

The operation, he said, is about as big as it can be while still being manageable. He wants it to remain a hands-on local food operation. Rows of tiny vegetables stretch across a field. Two greenhouses are overflowing with plants ready to be put in the ground.

Stormo says managing 80 varieties of plants is a delicate dance. Plant at the wrong time and you’ll be overwhelmed with the harvest.

“When broccoli’s ready, broccoli’s ready,” Stormo said. “You get three days before it goes to flower.”

It’s a lot of work. Ben and his dad agree it takes more work to grow 13 acres of vegetables than it does to raise 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans.

And despite his dad’s early misgivings about growing vegetables, Ben said David has become his son’s biggest supporter.

“When I have struggles, instead of criticizing them, he’s always figured out ways to help me get around them,” Ben said.

Coexistence means making adjustments. The elder Kragnes said he and his son have established clear boundaries on the property to protect the vegetable crops from pesticide drift.

“When the wind is out of the north, there’s certain places I spray around here, and when the wind is out of the south, I spray the other direction,” he said. “So we have a separation. It seems to me this can be maintained. We’re certainly doing it on our farm. Is it convenient for both operators? No.”

Neighbors, too, have taken pains to protect the younger Kragnes’ organic-style vegetable operation.

“I’ve seen times where they’ve come back on a separate day to come spray part of their field,” Ben Kragnes said. “(That’s) them going out of their way, having costs and time that they’re doing just because they’re really good neighbors.”

Sometimes in the summer, he arrives at the farm early in the morning to find his dad already hoeing weeds in the vegetable patch.

And he’s even getting some help from another generation. Ben Kragnes is using some of the small farm equipment his grandfather Russell carefully greased and parked in the woods 75 years ago.

“I’m really lucky to have so much machinery sitting in the woods, that my grandfather put away, greased, that this farm assumed it would never use again,” he said.

All of the support and hard work is paying off: Stormo said the CSA operation is now profitable.

Ben Kragnes is now looking for ways to encourage others in the area to start similar ventures. He estimates that about 1,500 of Clay County’s 117,000 acres of cropland are in organic production. There are a handful of other CSA farms in the area, but he sees room to grow, in an area with nearly 300,000 people and only about 1,000 CSA members.

“We’re definitely not making millions, but we’re successful, we’re paying our bills,” Stormo said. “We have enough so that we can get a little bit more machinery each year.”

And this year, because corn and soybean prices have crashed, David Kragnes says he’ll probably lose money on most of his crops - which is beginning to make his son’s vegetable farm look like a smart choice.

“This year he’s very likely to net more on the 13 acres than I will on the whole 1,350,” he said.

As for the future of Kragnes Farms, David isn’t sure who will take over the family’s larger, conventional operation. Another son and a son-in-law also help him part time. And the elder Kragnes said he still enjoys farming, so he’s not sure he wants to retire.

He has farmed his entire life. But watching his son’s vegetable operation expand over the past six years has been an education, David said.

“They’re growing stuff here I did not know you could grow in Minnesota,” he said. “I had no idea you could grow artichokes in this country. I’m still not a Brussels sprouts fan - so sorry, some people are. That’s the way the world works. Some people like Brussels sprouts, some people grow corn and beans.”

And on this farm, there’s room for both.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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