AG AT-LARGE: Northwood, N.D., farmer tells it like it is
FARGO, N.D. -- It took me more than 25 years of jawboning to finally get an interview with Enoch Thorsgard. Enoch is a North Dakota original. His active farm management now covers parts of eight decades. The 91-year-old farmer and his extended fa...
FARGO, N.D. -- It took me more than 25 years of jawboning to finally get an interview with Enoch Thorsgard.
Enoch is a North Dakota original. His active farm management now covers parts of eight decades. The 91-year-old farmer and his extended family operate one of the region's enduring feedlots near Northwood, N.D.
Don't get me wrong. Enoch always has been happy to talk informally, but he has been elusive when it comes to doing a story -- partly because he doesn't like to call attention to the livestock enterprise.
In late 2006, I told Enoch he literally owed it to his industry to tell the story about his farm and feedlot, even there are risks. Enoch finally broke down. My "Salvage King" story about Enoch was published in Agweek in December 2006.
My interview revolved around his 6,000-head cattle feedlot, yes, but it was mostly about an irrepressible spirit with an ability to recognize opportunities, such as using potato processing waste or the profit potential in feeding cull cows. It was about his quintessential blending of his Norwegian identity and his Christian conviction, as well as a bright and audacious mind.
There are many farmers I've interviewed over the years who possess similar qualities, but Enoch's extraordinarily long life and his brute energy level set him apart.
And now, Enoch is an author.
That's right. Just before Christmas, Enoch sent me a copy of "Enoch's Saga" -- an autobiography he half-jokes was my "fault" because a Christian lady he knew said my story in Agweek failed to underline his religious faith and tithing.
Had to write
So he simply had to write the book.
Enoch's book is 228 pages and was a perfect read for my snowy vacation. The story is told in equal parts personal history and technological history, starting out with his lineage and childhood experiences. It starts out with a somewhat linear structure and finishes with a stream of consciousness that is not unlike conversations with Enoch. Enoch tells what he did through the years, but also how he felt about the events and personalities in his life.
Among other things, Enoch relates his near-drowning in 1941, and how his rescuer later died in an accident. He offers a series of testimonials from his grandmother, who told stories of Christian mysteries -- a miraculous curing, or a protection from sickness, or how a prayer helped find a way through a storm.
Enoch bares his soul about his business and his decidedly mixed community image. One time a neighbor lady -- a shirt-tail relative -- drove up and told him his feedlot had "ruined the whole neighborhood.
"I said nothing, just sat down and wept," he says.
In 2007, neighbors at a township meeting confronted him about odor. Without blaming his critics, he describes it as an "unsolvable problem that has caused me much pain and grief."
Enoch talks about his hired men and neighbors -- some beloved and rise above handicaps, others whose careers and lives are limited by alcohol or other afflictions. He is quick to recognize his own shortcomings. He sprinkles in a series of sayings, or quotes, which Enoch has memorized over nearly a century -- "Happiness does not come from doing what we like to do, but liking what we have to do."
While Enoch's story isn't polished literature, it's a must-read for aspiring agriculturalists. For now, you can find it for $10 at any of the local grocery or drug stores in the Northwood area. It'll soon be at B. Dalton in Fargo, N.D., and elsewhere. Or just drop "Author Enoch" a line at Route 2, Box 77, Northwood, N.D. 58267, or at email@example.com .