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Callaway farmer Karolyn Zurn recently received the President’s Award from the American Agri-Women, during their annual conference in Niagara Falls. Zurn is the president of Minnesota Agri-Women. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Zurn receives American Agri-Women award

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Zurn receives American Agri-Women award
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When asked what she does for a living, Karolyn Zurn doesn’t hesitate to say that she’s a farmer.

But the rural Callaway resident also admits that her life’s work encompasses a lot more than just driving a beet truck or operating a combine.


“We (i.e., herself and husband Bill Zurn) have always been proponents of the ag industry, and ag community,” she said.

“I’m a proponent of everything in agriculture, whether it’s farming, ranching, timber… I’m also a defender of agriculture,” she said. “If the EPA comes down with unsound rules and regulations that only harm our farming practices, I deal with that as well.”

But since she stopped working outside the farm several years ago, Zurn’s ag advocacy efforts have shifted into an even higher gear.

Besides sitting on the board of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, she also serves as president of the Minnesota Agri-Women, chairs the Northern Crops Council (the governing board for the Northern Crops Institute), sits on the Minnesota Ag in the Classroom Board, and works as the North Dakota Soybean Council’s local coordinator for Common Ground.

The Northern Crops Institute, located on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo, is a collaborative effort among North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota to support the promotion and market development of crops grown in the four-state region.

The NCI is an international meeting and learning center which brings together customers, commodity traders, technical experts and processors for discussion, education and technical services.

NCI short courses enable participants from around the world and across the U.S. to learn about northern grown crops and their unique quality, marketing and processing characteristics.

The courses taught there “highlights what we grow that no other part of the nation can grow,” Zurn said, and being chosen as chair of its governing council was “a very great honor,” she added.

Her work as Common Ground coordinator came about through her work with the North Dakota Soybean Council. According to its website, Common Ground is a group of farm women from across the U.S. who work “to help consumers understand that their food is not grown by a factory… it’s grown by people.”

In other words, Zurn said, Common Ground works to help “take the fear out of food” by showing exactly how farmers and ranchers grow and supply food for public consumption.

As if all that weren’t enough, this past week, she and her husband Bill took a working vacation to New York City, where in addition to seeing the sights, she and Bill joined a delegation of about 50 U.S. farmers, mostly from the Midwest, in learning more about how New York uses biodiesel fuel to power not only its diesel-fueled motor vehicles, but also for heating the city.

“In New York, they have bio-heat, where it’s mandated that they have to use at least 2 percent soybean oil to heat their homes,” Zurn said.

In addition, LaGuardia and JFK airports use B20 biodiesel fuel to power all of their fire trucks, snowplows and other on-ground equipment.

This is of particular interest in Minnesota, Zurn said, because there is currently a mandate in place that B10 biodiesel fuel (i.e., containing 10 percent soybean oil) be in use statewide by July of 2014.

“If New York can do it, Minnesota can do it,” Zurn said.

Her tireless work on behalf of Minnesota agriculture has not gone unnoticed. Recently, Zurn was honored by the American Agri-Women during its annual convention in Niagara Falls, where she was the recipient of the President’s Award.

“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Zurn said of her discovery that she was the recipient of the annual award, after being introduced by American Agri-Women President Sue McCrum as “this tornado out of Minnesota.”

“Each year the president chooses someone she thinks is helping the American Agri-Women to grow,” Zurn said.

This year, nine others were also chosen as President’s Award recipients, though Zurn was the only one from Minnesota.

Minnesota did come away from the convention with several other top honors, however. Doris Mold, St. Paul, was elected as AAW’s first vice president, and Kris Zillion, also of St. Paul, received the prestigious LEAVEN Award.

The American Agri-Women, and their local affiliate, Minnesota Agri-Women, are considered a “Voice of Truth” in support of agriculture.

Zurn says she has made all 10 of her grandchildren AAW “legacy children,” which is the equivalent of a lifetime membership in the organization.

“I take pride in the fact that all five of my children are in agriculture in some way or form, though they’re not all farmers,” she said.

She and Bill have operated the same farm north of Callaway since their marriage 41 years ago; two of their sons now have their own farm operations as well.

“They have their own operations, but we all farm together,” she said.

“Agriculture is the base of all our communities, the base of our whole nation,” Zurn said. “I feel very strongly about keeping it that way.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 15 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454