Farm Horizons, February 2015

The end of an era for Peterson farm near Delano

By Gabe Licht

Despite measuring just 58 acres, the Peterson farm at 8910 Highway 12 south of Delano has been used for many things over the years. Since 1981, it’s been known for the Peterson Produce stand next to the highway.

“This last summer was probably the last one for the produce stand,” Jean Peterson said. “We’re not sure if someone else will step in and sell retail out there. We’ll still sell flowers in the spring.”

She, her husband, Al Sterner, and her parents Gordy and Lorraine Peterson began selling produce when Gordy retired from farming in 1981.

“Vegetables were definitely the way to go,” Jean said. “We weren’t going to continue with field crops on this small of space. That was a good choice.”

In an average year, the garden has ranged in size from 15 to 20 acres.

“We have almost everything you can grow here,” Jean said. “Sweet corn and tomatoes are the main crops, and pumpkins are big, too.”

Many teenagers have helped at the farm.

“Our labor source was kids from town over the years,” Jean said. “There were probably 150.”

Though the Peterson’s won’t be operating the produce stand, that doesn’t mean they’re done turning dirt.

“We’re going to have a big garden,” Lorraine said.

“Just to do a little less and not work so much will be good,” Jean added. “All we’ve done in the summer is grow crops and pick crops and sell crops.”

In addition to garden space, the farm includes about 20 acres of woodland, managed by Jean’s brother, John, and his wife, Mary.

Maple syrup is a prime commodity coming out of that part of the farm.

“We had 60 gallons two years ago, which was exceptional,” John said. “Thirty gallons is more of an average.”

A lot of lumber has also been harvested from the woods, evidenced by the myriad of wood products throughout the homes on the farmstead.

The pre-Peterson era

The land was originally homesteaded from the United States Government on Nov. 26, 1860, by Samuel Harvey and sold for back taxes for $14.40 to Lewis Hamilton in 1879.

From 1860 to 1899, the farm was sold for back taxes many times and, at one point, the same person bought it back from the county four times.

In 1879, the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad Company purchased 4.88 acres through the farm to construct a railroad.

Eight years later, the Northwest Telephone Exchange Company purchased a right of way for telephone lines, which were not removed until 2004.

Samuel Haughey bought the farm for $250 in 1880. A small lake across the railroad tracks bares the Haughey family name.

115 years in the Peterson family

Gordy’s father, John Peterson, bought the farm for $1,500 from Frank and Mary Slovik on Oct. 27, 1899.

A major change took place around the turn of the century, though it’s unclear if it was before or after that purchase.

“Before this time, Highway 12 followed the railroad through our yard and out our west driveway,” Lorraine said. “This must have been to avoid the low spot where there is water on both sides of the highway. Gordy remembered, as a boy, plowing through a strip of gravel in the east field.”

An 18-foot-by-18-foot house had been about halfway between the current highway and Lake Haughey. It was moved to its present position after the highway was rerouted.

“That house is now our kitchen and still has the original tin ceiling,” Lorraine said. “The framing of the house is solid oak and some studs are hand hewn. We don’t know if Gordy’s father moved the house here, but he did build on the next two rooms south of the kitchen between 1899 and 1909.

Lorraine remembers arriving at the home in 20-below zero weather in January of 1948. At that point, the home had electricity and a potbelly wood stove for heat in the living room and upstairs.

A trap door in the kitchen led into a small, stone cellar. Two years later, a basement with a bathroom, utility room and dark room was added.

“Gordy used logs about 10 inches in diameter with the bark left on for supporting the floor instead of posts purchased from a lumber yard,” Lorraine said. “They are still there.”

A Quonset loafing barn for cattle and a milking parlor was built in 1950.

“In 1966, I burned down, by accident, the combination garage, woodshed, granary, and corn shed,” Lorraine said.

Gordy excavated the rest of the house under what his father had built to add a two-car garage underneath and a 480-square-foot photo studio, which now serves as Jean and Al’s bedroom, above it.

“The oldest remaining out building on the farm is the small, white building north of the house, which was rebuilt in 2006,” Lorraine said.

In 1982, John and Mary built a home in the woods they maintain.

The latest addition happened in 2002, when John’s brother, Rob, built a tall addition on to the east side of the original home.

John said he enjoyed growing up on the farm.

“There was a lot of room to run around,’ John said.

“It’s still a really fun place to live,” Jean added.

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