By Starrla Cray
LORETTO, MN Wide open spaces are becoming scarcer in Hennepin County, but the farm Jeff Kohnen’s great-grandfather bought in rural Loretto is still going strong.
“There used to be little farms everywhere,” Jeff said. “Now, I could probably count on two hands the number of active dairy farms in Hennepin County.”
The Kohnen farm is the only Hennepin County Century Farm to be honored this summer by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Farm Bureau. The family will receive a commemorative plaque and certificate, recognizing that their farm has been continuously owned by one family for 100 years or more.
In 1890, when Jeff’s great-grandparents, Oscar and Elma Sipe, settled in Loretto, Hennepin County was largely agricultural. According to the county’s website, farmland covered 284,000 acres (about 72 percent of the county’s total area) in the early 1900s.
By 1950, however, development reduced the amount of land devoted to agriculture to just 132,000 acres.
It was about that time (1945) when Oscar and Elma’s daughter, Genevieve, married Lloyd Kohnen.
The young couple took over the family farm in 1947, after Genevieve’s father passed away at age 46.
“My wife had three brothers, and none of them wanted to farm,” Lloyd said, explaining why Genevieve’s mother sold them the property.
Lloyd used milk machines by that time, but he remembers milking cows by hand on the nearby farm where he grew up.
“After we got married, that’s also when I started with the tractor,” he added. “Before that, it was horses.”
In addition to dairy cows, Lloyd and Genevieve had chickens, pigs, and crops.
They also raised three daughters and one son, Ron (Jeff’s father).
Ron, and his wife, Sharon, live on the property adjacent to Lloyd and Genevieve.
“Dad is full time at the farm,” Jeff said. “He still milks cows.”
“[Ron] will be 67 this fall,” Lloyd added. “He ain’t ready to quit. He likes it.”
Ron’s sons, Jeff and Matt, both inherited their dad’s passion for farming.
Growing up, the boys took care of livestock, drove tractor, picked rocks, unloaded hay, and anything else that needed to be done.
“We did it all, you name it,” Jeff said. “We always enjoyed it.”
Matt and his family farm in rural Buffalo, and Jeff’s family farms on the property that had belonged to Lloyd and Genevieve before they moved to a townhouse in Albertville.
“Both boys have outside jobs, too,” Sharon said, explaining that they take time off during planting and harvest seasons.
“The farms are all basically together,” Jeff said. “We all pitch in. Sometimes two or three heads are better than one.”
Jeff also gives credit to the women in the family, who help with a variety of tasks on the farm.
“It’s all the behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps everything running,” he said.
Jeff’s wife, Stephanie, didn’t grow up on a farm, but she appreciates life in the country.
“There was a time when we didn’t have kids, and I helped out a lot more,” she said.
Jeff and Stephanie have two boys, Jared, 10, and Jonah, 8.
“I love living on the farm,” Jared said. “I like just working with my dad.”
Matt’s 18-year-old son, Willie, is also a big help on the farm.
“It’s a good place to raise a family, really,” Sharon said. “They learn how to work, and develop responsibilities at an early age.”