COLUMN: ‘Steeped in ag’ is a good thing

FARGO, N.D. -- When I interview farmers for Agweek stories, I delight in learning about their ancestry. It's surprising how many people know the year at least one side of their family came over "on the boat," and when they established their farms...


FARGO, N.D. - When I interview farmers for Agweek stories, I delight in learning about their ancestry.

It’s surprising how many people know the year at least one side of their family came over “on the boat,” and when they established their farms. In this part of the world, there are many Century Farms, quasquicentennial farms (125 years) and, I’m told, there are a few sesquicentennial (150 years) farms in Agweek country, even though they haven’t started handing out plaques.
I have my own ag story. Part of it will be told at the Paulson family reunion in western South Dakota this month. We’re descendants of Jens Paulson, born in 1861, and Martha, born in 1865, who immigrated from Norway in 1904 and lived north of Philip, S.D. Like their fellow Norwegian-Americans, the Paulsons were driven by a quest to own farmland, which had become unavailable in the Sognefjord back home.
Western South Dakota was nothing like the land they were used to farming.
Jens and Martha’s first U.S. farming was near Elk Point, S.D., where they worked for a time for Martha’s relatives. They moved to Corsica, S.D., where a pair of twin baby boys died in 1906. The couple moved for the last time to Haakon County, which had been renamed for King Haakon VII of Norway in 1905.
It was a tough life. In 1911, Martha died in childbirth to the last of their 13 children. Their daughter (my grandmother), Johanna, became a kind of surrogate mother to her younger siblings, including the last one - Martha “Babe” Paulson.
Jens had established farms and the Hilland Lutheran Church. His farms (and debt) went to his children, including my grandparents, and his son, Kristian Paulson, farmed a couple of miles away.
Jens returned to Norway in the 1920s, where he remarried and died in 1942.
As a young man in the 1960s and 1970s, I spent a week or more every summer in the country where Jens had settled.
Johanna married Herb Pates, and lived on one of those farms. Grandpa Herb delighted in describing the landscape, the condition of the grass, the prospects for rain (usually dry). We learned about cows and bulls, and gathering eggs.
My dad’s sister, Rose, married farmer and rancher Loren Kiel, and settled a few miles away in the Grindstone, S.D., area. When we’d visit, Loren took us on whirlwind windshield tours of pastures at what seemed like break-neck speed. Loren spoke intensely about cows, the summer fallow tillage, the stock dams and the irrigation system. It went fast, but I learned the basics about hay, wheat and 7-foot-tall sudan grass. Loren encouraged his city-dwelling greenhorn nephews to help with the beef cattle, and we helped the cousins with the milk cows.
Back home in Brookings, our family sometimes would take Sunday rides to family farms with my maternal grandfather. Cousins were commercial beekeepers. My brothers and I were laborers for a custom baler.
Ag was all around us, and it gave me a bit of context when I earned my ag journalism degree at South Dakota State University and was hired as the ag writer at the Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe. In four years at Worthington, I learned the basics about the hog and cattle feedlot industry, and more about corn and soybeans and farm programs.
In 1983, I was hired by the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. My boss, Terry DeVine, boasted in a press announcement that his new ag writer had been “steeped in agriculture.” I laughed at that line, but when I think back on what’s happened since Jens came over on the boat, I am grateful to think he might be right.

Related Topics: FARMING
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