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Published May 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

A love of farming

People were rolling down their car windows to snap pictures, others were waving, and a mother even took her young son out to meet Adam Buckentine as he slowly wound his way home. And no wonder: Buckentine was straddling his newly purchased antique tractor, driving it at its top speed of 7 mph from Chester Park up 19th Avenue East and onto College Street in Duluth.

By: By Janna Goerdt, Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — People were rolling down their car windows to snap pictures, others were waving, and a mother even took her young son out to meet Adam Buckentine as he slowly wound his way home.

And no wonder: Buckentine was straddling his newly purchased antique tractor, driving it at its top speed of 7 mph from Chester Park up 19th Avenue East and onto College Street in Duluth.

“My friends think I’m goofy,” said Buckentine, who grew up on a family farm in Cologne, Minn., about 30 miles west of Minneapolis. But for a University of Minnesota Duluth college student homesick for the cows and crops of his youth, a 1942 Allis-Chalmers C tractor to tinker on is just the remedy.

The vintage machine is a link to Buckentine’s history on the farm, and his near future. This summer, Buckentine has an internship at a farming co-op in Hutchinson, Minn., home of the “Orange Spectacular,” the annual Allis-Chalmers tractor show.

And perhaps, the tractor is a symbol of where he wants to go.

Buckentine wants to stay in farming but not exactly as a farmer. Instead of raising crops, he wants to raise awareness about farming issues. He plans to put his degrees in political science and communications to work as an advocate for farmers because, he said, “the farmers are too busy farming.”

“I want to be a voice for the farmers,” Buckentine said. “I don’t want to see farming disappear.”

Buckentine has long loved tractors. His grandfather placed a tiny toy tractor in his hospital bassinet, and Adam learned to drive a full-sized tractor before he turned 10.

When homesickness struck early this year, Buckentine started looking for someone who would teach him how to repair old tractors. Instead, he found the classic tractor for sale. Buckentine and a friend hauled it down from Pengilly in late March, unloaded it at the park and made that ponderous journey to its new city home.

Buckentine celebrated his recent 21st birthday in part by dismantling the tractor’s carburetor and fiddling with the choke. He’s trying to get the tractor running again after its maiden voyage through Duluth, when the orange beast sputtered to a final stop in the alley behind Buckentine’s garage.

“Oh, there we go,” Buckentine said as the rubber fuel line he was yanking on finally popped loose, dribbling gasoline on the garage floor. Buckentine is learning about the engine by trial and error.

It’s the same make of tractor that Ralph Buckentine, Adam’s grandfather and a fourth-generation farmer, started out using. Ralph Buckentine still is farming 250 acres today, a month shy of his 70th birthday.

“It’s all I know how to do,” Ralph said.

Ralph has seen plenty of change in farming since he climbed aboard his first Allis-Chalmers and gripped the steering wheel. Farms are getting bigger, some as large as 3,000 acres, the veteran farmer said. “The bigger farms are buying out the little ones.”

The Buckentine families have seen neighbors’ farms swallowed by housing developments; they’ve seen fields of nearly ripe corn leveled so sewer lines could be laid. Adam Buckentine has seen small family farmers treated badly by buyers and suppliers, and he’s seen farmers’ children leave the life behind for careers in the city.

He sees a generation that is more and more removed from the land. When he first arrived at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Buckentine had fun telling people that white milk came from white cows, while brown cows let down chocolate milk. About half the people believed him, Buckentine said.

But Buckentine also has seen an upswing in small family farming, with some farmers learning to strike a balance between being swept into a huge corporate farming operation and breaking their backs on tiny farms for little money.

So, that slow journey from Chester Bowl to Buckentine’s house on College Street was just one more stop in a farmer’s life.

“Watch that kid,” Ralph Buckentine said. “You’ll never know what he’ll do next.”

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