By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN The Dassel Area Historical Society is gearing up for its Red Rooster Days program and preview of what will be a permanent exhibit, “Planting the Seed,” a tribute to Dassel’s progressive developments in seed corn.
Kurt Greenley grew up working in breeding and test plots alongside his father, Kermit, who owned and operated a seed corn company in Dassel.
He remembers the work very well, he said.
Greenley also remembers the other seed corn companies that were prominent in and around Dassel.
Now, he is collecting stories, facts, and photos for the “Planting the Seed” exhibit that, when complete, will be a permanent mobile exhibit on the third floor of the museum.
With the development of a cold-hardy seed corn, Dassel’s seed corn industry grew to where in 1937, the area was recognized as the seed corn center of the great northwest.
“It’s a fantastic story,” said Dassel History Center Director Carolyn Holje, one that needed to be shared through an exhibit such as this.
In the late 1800s, several states were known as great corn growers but not Minnesota, Greenley said. It was just too cold and the growing season was too short, he noted.
With corn being considered the best food for livestock, the “stubborn Scandinavians” were going to do their best to make seed corn grow.
“They were very creative, diligent, and successful,” Greenley said.
“Now, of all the states in the union, Minnesota in number four for growing corn,” he said.
The exhibit features a timeline showing the progression of the corn industry in the Dassel area. It was in 1915, when seed corn development spiked, Greenley noted.
From that point on, seed corn companies, with names such as Johnson and Settergren, ballooned.
It was in the 1930s and ‘40s when Dassel had the highest number of seed corn companies, but it was in the 1950s that seed corn was the most significant industry in Dassel, Greenley explained. In the 1980s, Dassel started to see more consolidations of seed corn companies, he added.
Greenley touched on some of the factors as to why the growing of seed corn has been so successful in this area.
Geographically, the Dassel area has high quality soil. It has good moisture and was well-drained ideal for growing corn, he said.
Also, it is because the culture of the people who settled here, mainly Scandinavians with farming backgrounds, he said.
The Scandinavians had an interest in developing a better variety of corn, Greenley said.
Seed corn and prohibition
As a side note, Greenley discovered in his research that a certain variety of corn, called Minnesota 13, was grown in the southern half of the state.
This particularly fast-growing variety was used for distilling corn liquor during prohibition.
Minnesota 13 became the preferred corn whiskey, particularly in the speakeasies, and was of great demand.
Growing up around Dassel, Greenley would come across abandoned illegal stills hidden in the area.
What Greenley found shocking was that at Leavenworth prison in Kansas, where the most violators of prohibition in the five-state area were sentenced, inmates from Minnesota far exceeded those from the neighboring states of Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Iowa.
‘Planting the Seed’ RR Days program
This year’s Dassel Area Historical Society’s Red Rooster Days program will take place Saturday, Sept. 1 at 10 a.m., and will include a program related to the seed corn exhibit and a book signing.
The program will feature stories of working in the seed corn industry, in which the audience will be invited to share their stories.
This is an opportunity to collect more information that may be helpful in building the seed corn exhibit.
Visitors will have an opportunity to view the exhibit, which will be open throughout the year, leading to a permanent exhibit being planned for 2013.