'Viking blood' inspired travel, but a heart for home brought him back to the ranch.
COOPERSTOWN, N.D. — David Lunde and his father, Nathan, sit at the kitchen table in the house in which David grew up and is living again. They talk about cattle and careers, choices and options, their lives so far and their lives still to come. And they talk about David's adventures far from home.
"It's his Viking blood (that prompted David's travels)," Nathan says with a smile.
David (pronounced duh-VEED) smiles, too, and says, "I enjoyed my time away. In a parallel world, I might still be working overseas now. But coming back — being the fifth generation of my family in agriculture and carrying on, or trying to carry on the tradition — seemed the right thing to do."
So, David, 24 at the time and with a heart for home, returned to Cooperstown in the fall of 2016 after studying and working in Colorado, France and Africa. Now he's holding several jobs and sorting through options that include eventually taking over the family's 80-head cow-calf operation.
"I don't know how it's going to work out yet. But I'm sure this is where I should be," David says.
Most people involved in Upper Midwest ag know, or have known, someone like David Lunde: A talented young person with an adventurous streak who leaves to see more of the world, then returns home, a little wiser and more experienced.
And at least one other thing about David Lunde will be familiar to Upper Midwest agriculturalists: His parents still own and operate the family ranch, which doesn't generate enough income to support another family unit. So, like many other young agriculturalists who return home to a similar situation, David holds several jobs to make money to support himself.
Here's the list:
• He's the Griggs County tax equalization director, a three-day-a-week position. Cooperstown, population just under 1,000, is the county seat of Griggs, in east-central North Dakota. David often walk or bikes the short distance to work.
• He's a substitute teacher at Griggs County Central School District in Cooperstown. David's mother, Marybeth, teaches English and French at the school. David has subbed in many classes, ranging from kindergarten to high school.
• He writes articles for the Steele County Press, a weekly newspaper based in nearby Finley, N.D.
• He helps his uncle, Keven, a Cooperstown grain farmer, during harvest.
• He works on his family's ranch for hourly pay.
• He makes and sells bread, cleaning and milling it himself. "Right now, it's a hobby. But maybe it might develop into something more."
Seeing the world
David, who enjoys the outdoors, attended the University of Denver, earning bachelor's degrees in International Studies and French. The school's strong reputation for international studies, as well as the Colorado landscape and climate, appealed to him.
His education includes studies at the University of Strasbourg in France and the University of Tunis-Carthage, where he studied Arabic. Tunis is the capital of Tunisia in North Africa.
After graduating from college in 2015, he moved to Zambia (a landlocked country in southern Africa) to work for an organization that provides scholarships to young students. He held the post for about a year.
Then, in the summer of 2016, David visited Cooperstown and told his parents that he was interested in remaining permanently.
"It (returning) had always been in the back of my mind. But I'd been afraid to say anything because it might get my parents' hope up," he says.
Marybeth was surprised to learn that her son wanted to return, given his education and other interests.
In retrospect, "I think I may have underestimated the depth of his love for the land and the tradition," she says.
But she supports his decision.
"He's never been rash or impulsive. He's a good, careful thinker, and I've always trusted his judgement," she says. "And I want him to be happy."
Her only concern is, "I hope he doesn't get bored. He has such an active mind," Marybeth says.
David began his new adult life in Cooperstown last fall. He's living in his parents' house, in his old room, but plans to have a place of his own in Cooperstown by the end of 2018.
Like parents, like son
Nathan and Marybeth have had their own overseas adventures. Nathan, a fourth-generation Cooperstown agriculturalist, studied nursing at the University of North Dakota before spending many years working in health care in Chad.
"It was my Viking blood," Nathan, who's of Scandinavian descent, says of his time overseas.
While in Chad, he met Marybeth, a California native who was teaching in Africa. (No, she's not of Scandinavian descent.) She and Nathan married in 1987 and continued to work in Chad until moving to Cooperstown in 1997, when Nathan began operating the family ranch.
David spent the first few years of his life in Chad, a landlocked country in central Africa. Its official languages are Arabic and French.
The entire Lunde family, which includes David's two older sisters, is fluent in French and often speak it to each other.
"It's our code language," Nathan says with a chuckle.
Nathan and Marybeth still own the cattle, and Nathan, 60, plans to remain a full-time rancher for another three to five years. But they're looking at ways they could pass on to ranch to David.
Earlier this winter, Nathan, Marybeth and David attended a North Dakota State University Extension service farm transition workshop series. The sessions helped, but the Lundes continue to evaluate what they should do.
"We're taking our time, trying to think everything through and get it right," Nathan says.
David is using the same approach.
Carefully and methodically, he's investigating his options and developing a long-term strategy to survive and thrive in Cooperstown.
Value-added agriculture, which can generate more income from the same amount of land, interests him.
The tax equalization position — for which he says his college education wasn't particularly useful — helps him meet county residents, either for the first time or to reconnect after his time away.
"Getting to know people in the county a little better is important to me, and I enjoy it," he says.
'Good touch with cattle'
David, who was active on the family ranch when he was young, "has a very good touch with cattle. He's patient," Nathan says. "Cattle be unpredictable, but I can always count on him to be a steady-eddie voice of calm."
David's knack with cattle is obvious later. when he and his father show visitors their cattle in a heavily wooded pasture a stone's throw from the Sheyenne River. David is comfortable and natural with cattle — as is his father.
David nods when asked if not studying agriculture in college will work against him. He understands that some people will question his educational choices, given his later decision to return home.
"Yes, I could've gone to NDSU for an ag econ degree. And, yes, not doing that has made some aspects (of coming back to ranch) more difficult," he says. "But I'm very thankful the experiences I had in Colorado and overseas. The perspective I've gained — I wouldn't trade that for anything."
By returning when he did, rather than in, say five to 10 years, David is able to learn from his father, his uncle and his grandfather, also David, all of whom live in the Cooperstown area and are knowledgeable agriculturalists.
"There was a window of opportunity that would close if I waited too long (to come back)," the younger David says.
Asked what he enjoys about agriculture and ranching, he says, "I like being outside. There's a rhythm to the work, it moves in seasons. There's variety, diversity."
And the challenge of being the fifth generation of his family appeals to him, too.
"I couldn't think of anything else that would be more meaningful to apply my time and energy to.
I want to continue that and carry on the tradition, while at the same time making my own mark," he says.