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‘Century Farms’ provide a wealth of history

Century Farm Awards were presented to four Becker County families at the 123rd annual Becker County Fair on Saturday, Aug. 2 in Detroit Lakes. Among those honored were the Schons family. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gredes

The Minnesota State Fair has been recognizing century farms — farms that have been in continuous ownership by a single family for 100 years or more — since 1976.

But it’s only since 1987 that the Becker County Fair has offered a similar program. In that time, a total of 90 farms within the county have been awarded century farm status — and this year, four more were added to the list, bringing the total to 94.

Last weekend, the farm of Mark Groth in rural Ogema; the Karppinen Farm in rural Frazee; as well as the John and Mary Schons farm and the Richard Malvick farm, both in rural Detroit Lakes, were honored during the Becker County Fair in Detroit Lakes.

Groth Farm

Though he’s not sure how big the original property was, Mark Groth said, “I farm 756 acres now,” including about 160 acres that were added during the time that his father, Dennis, and grandfather Oliver operated the farm.

According to the Ogema centennial book, “My great grandfather, Carsten Groth came up here and bought some land after the (White Earth) reservation opened up to everyone, in 1909 or 1910,” Mark added.

Part of Carsten’s land eventually went to Oliver Groth’s family, and part of it went to his brother Arthur. Those farms were passed on to Mark’s father Dennis, and to Dennis’s brother Arthur, and today they are operated by Mark and his cousin, Ryan Groth.

“The house where Ryan lives was the homeplace where Carsten settled,” Mark Groth said.

Originally Carsten bought the property northwest of Ogema — “about a mile and a half from the county line,” Mark said — and divided his time between that farm and another in Iowa, taking the train to travel between them.

“He did that for a couple of years before they sold the land down there (in Iowa) and moved up here, in 1911,” said Mark, who added that he has lived on the property all his life.

Today, he said, “I farm corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and have a cow/calf operation. A lot of the corn and alfalfa goes to feeding them.”

Mark said he was “honored” to have a century farm, though he does not yet have a family to inherit that legacy.

When asked what has kept him in farming all these years, Mark said, “It’s the pride of working the land and raising cattle.”

Karppinen Farm

It was 1913 when Matt and Anna Karppinen migrated from Finland and purchased approximately 120 acres of farmland in rural Frazee.

“My dad (Henry Karppinen) bought pieces of land when they were available to make it the 320 acres that it is now,” said Elaine Karppinen Wothe.

“My brother Milton bought the farm from our parents, Henry and Mary, in 1994.

Though the family currently rents out the land for raising soybeans, through the years the farm has also been used to raise cattle, horses, chicken and sheep, Elaine said.

“We feel so blessed to have a century farm in our family. I have so many wonderful memories of growing up on this farm, with wonderful parents, siblings (two brothers) and grandparents.

“Lots of aunts, uncles cousins and friends came to visit, and we still get together and talk about the happy memories here on this family farm. It’s very special to our family, our children and grandchildren.”

Elaine and her husband Bruce, who have been married for 45 years, have three children, Lisa, Steve and Susan. Lisa and her husband Mark live in Atwater, as does Steve and his wife Robin. Their daughter Susan and her husband Dominic Popowski live in Louisville, Ky.

Between their three children, the Wothes have also been blessed with seven grandchildren, Elaine added.

“My great grandparents came from Finland and bought this farm,” said Elaine’s daughter Lisa. “Now their great-great grandchildren, Miranda, Erica and Carsten Borchert, are able to benefit from this beautiful country setting. They appreciate being able to carry on the farming tradition.

“My mom remembers gathering with her cousins often growing up. They are still close. Joan and Gary Stephens even came from the Cities for the century farm presentation! A cousin from California (Linda Karppinen) and some local cousins also visited the farm that day.”

“I feel so blessed to have grown up on this wonderful farm,” Elaine Wothe added.

Malvick Farm

“This house is over 100 years old now,” says Richard Malvick, whose grandfather Karl migrated from Norway back in the late 1800s before finding his way to Detroit Lakes and purchasing 80 acres northeast of Detroit Lakes in 1902.

“My grandfather was 16-17 years old when he first came over from Norway,” Richard added. “He went across Canada by train to Winnipeg, and worked for a cattle rancher for a while, to make some money.”

After making enough to purchase the property near Richwood, Karl Malvick went to work for the Lindberg family, who lived about 100 miles east of the farm.

“He worked for Charles Lindberg’s dad,” Richard said, noting that at the time, he had no idea that the kid he used to bounce on his knee would become famous.

“He (Karl) made some money with them, came back here and started to build,” Richard said.

At the time, there was nothing on the property but “a lot of trees and hazelnuts,” he added. “My grandfather had to clear it all out. He had to start from scratch.”

During those early years, Karl did whatever he had to do to earn a living, including getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. to go out and cut down a full cartload of wood, which he would then haul over to Callaway with his horse and wagon. “He would get about $2.50 per load,” Richard said, adding that there are a lot of similar stories from back then.

Though it was “very expensive” to maintain a horse and full harness at that time, it was also absolutely essential for transportation.

“It was like buying a tractor today,” Richard said, but “you had to have them to sell your stuff.”

After Whiskey Creek Road was built, transportation became a little easier, he added.

It was around the time that the road was built that Karl purchased some additional land, for road access purposes, bringing the total size of the property to 97 acres — which is where it sits today.

Karl’s three sons, Elmer, Walter and Art, took over the farm operation when he died in 1936. Elmer, Richard’s father got married and moved to a 280-acre farm in Evergreen Township, near Frazee, which is where he and his seven siblings grew up.

“I went to school in Frazee,” Richard said.

Walter continued to operate the family farm alone for many years, until Richard purchased it from him in 1988.

“I’ve been here 24 years now,” he said. “I always liked it. I liked the layout. It’s really private here.”

Though he helped out on his family’s farm for many years, Richard does not farm his own property, but rents out the land to a nearby farmer. He makes his living as a school bus driver for Schultz in Detroit Lakes.

Though no longer married, Richard and his former wife Carolyn had four children together, three of whom are still living.

“I lost my daughter Judy several years ago,” he said.

“My daughter Nancy lives in California, and has two children. My son Scott lives in Barnesville, and my daughter Theresa lives in Fargo.”

Though he’s not sure if any of his children will want to carry on the century farm, he feels quite fortunate to be part of that legacy.

“It tells a lot about your family to hold onto something like that for so long,” he said. “My neighbors have changed four or five times since I moved here.”

Schons Farm

John Schons’ grandfather, Nick, purchased 80 acres seven miles northwest of Detroit Lakes in 1914. A few years later, he added another 40 acres.

“He had it up until 1947, when he turned it over to my dad Phillip and his brother Gregory,” John said. “Right away, my dad bought my uncle’s share, and he and my mom Mary farmed it up until 1988, when we (John and his wife Linda) bought it.”

It was during this time that the farm grew to a total of 200 acres, where they raised various crops on a rotating basis.

“My dad had a small barn, he milked 12 cows, and he worked at the iceworks in Detroit Lakes in the wintertime, every year until they quit. I worked there the year after I graduated in 1967.”

The iceworks closed about a year and a half after that, John said.

“We put up another barn here and we milked 34 cows, until we sold them in 2000. I have a shop here on the farm, and I did my own mechanic work up until about 10 years ago in March, when I started working for Swanson’s Repair, working on Bobcat skid steers. I’m still there.”

Currently, the Schons family rents most of its farm land out, though “I put up some hay yet,” John said, and he also has about 35-40 hens.

“We sell the eggs we don’t use,” he added. “I also usually have about 2-3 head of cattle here that I raise for butchering.”

While the original house that was constructed on the property has been added on to over the years, “it’s still the main part of the house,” John said.

John and Linda have four kids, three of whom still live in the area.

“Our youngest boy Patrick lives on the building site across the road from us,” John said. “Jason just moved back here from Bismarck last fall, they live a mile south of us on (Highway) 59. Nick, our oldest, works as a manager at TS Dock & Lift and lives by Shoreham.”

Daughter Becky, who is still single, lives in Bozeman, Mont., and John said he doubts she will ever move back to this area, as she loves it out there.

“Jason and Patrick are married, and Nick is engaged,” he added. “We have 11 grandkids. I’m not sure if one of the boys will take over the farm. They’ve all got their own places right now, but I know they want to keep it in the family.”

They make frequent trips back to the farm in winter to enjoy the local deer hunting season, John added. “We’ve had good luck around here. We’ve got a fair number of them (deer).”

Having a century farm in the family is “a nice deal,” John said. “Not too many families get a chance to experience that. There’s not that many (small farms) anymore. Everything just kind of gets gobbled up.”

He said that while farming is “a lot of work,” he would encourage any young farmers who truly want to get into the business to do so.

“It’s rewarding in the end,” he added.

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

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454