Farm Horizons, Oct. 2016

Planting dreams, growing results – Youngs turn Cokato dairy farm into five-acre garden

By Jennifer Von Ohlen

On a rural farm southwest of Cokato reside Brad and Debbie Young, who have dedicated much of their time to being outside as they transform what was once a dairy farm into the garden they envision and continue to imagine.

Brad has been working landscaping his entire life, and learned everything he knows on the job. He and Debbie were raised in Columbia Heights, and neither of them have received any formal education in landscaping design.

It all started when Brad was simply looking for something to do one summer. His brother-in-law was then working for the landscaping business, Arteka, and got Brad a position at the company.

Brad continued to work at Arteka for 19 years before working for a guy who kept Brad busy for another 25 years with various projects, without ever needing to seek other work. Debbie also started working there as a taper, and the two of them learned the trade as they went from one job to the next.

After spending several years tending to other people’s yards and visions, the two of them reached the point where they decided to apply their skills to their own property.

“[We’re] always out here doing everything together,” Brad stated. “This is our project, and we’re gonna get it done together.”

The Youngs moved to the farm 13 years ago, and have undergone significant landscaping projects to make the land their own. Once lined with thick trees and patched with cow pasture, the Young’s place is now lush in color and vegetation from their various gardens throughout the property.

Closest to the house is the formal garden, which Debbie said is perhaps her favorite spot on the property.

“It’s probably because it’s sunken in and it feels like you’re almost in a room,” she stated. Standing in the garden, visitors are hugged by flowers and foliage from all directions, with a pergola overlooking the scene.

Even though the pergola was added only a year ago, it already has a picturesque abundance of vines climbing up and framing its entrance. The vines were actually planted in the ground six years ago, and the Youngs let them grow on the ground because they knew they eventually wanted to have a pergola in their garden for the vines to climb.

“Everyone was like, ‘yeah, yeah’,” stated Brad. “I kept talking and talking. Well, finally, I [added the pergola] and took all the vines and threw them up there.” The next time the family came over, they were filled with questions, wondering how the vines grew so quickly while the Youngs laughed that they had been growing them for years.

Just past the garden is a small pond where the Youngs’ domestic geese and some wild ducks like to spend their time. As their owners stroll by during their daily walk, the geese like to tag along for the stroll.

Brad has plans to eventually build a bridge over the pond, which he wants to be visible through the pergola, from his bedroom window. On the other side of the bridge, Brad’s dream is to have a gazebo.

Rounding the pond is the “park area,” which presently has a picnic table and swing sheltered by tall looming trees – where someday a tree fort will be added.

Close to the “park” is a small vineyard, from which the Youngs were able to make 30 gallons of wine last year. “It tasted so good, we drank it,” Brad stated. “It was gone by Easter.”

On the southern end of the property is a decorative vegetable garden, designed so that each row of produce is a layer of a circle that starts at the center and expands like a ripple to give it a frame. Near the garden is the path of an overflow, which the Youngs garlanded with pumpkin vines.

When choosing which plants to add to their garden, selections are often solely based on how they will look. The vegetable garden is located where pigs were once kept, before the Youngs moved in, making the ground quite fertile and the produce quite big.

Partying in the barn

Perhaps the project Brad is most excited to complete is to finish remodeling the 50-year-old dairy barn and granary so they can host more parties.

Two Halloween parties have already taken place in the barn, but Brad has more visions in mind before it is completed.

One of his ideas involves the barn’s previous roof, which the Youngs replaced after receiving hail damage. As the roofers were working, Brad asked if he could keep the large metal sheets that were to be discarded.

He plans to use the sheets to cover the installation he’s placing inside the loft, using them like wallpaper. He is hoping to one day host a Christmas party there.

The Youngs have already collected several tables and chairs for the space, and also set up a bar area.

“I’m a party guy,” Brad stated. During the remodeling, the Youngs installed a speaker system throughout the barn that can be turned on with the flip of a light switch.

When remembering their previous Halloween parties, the Youngs said they used the speakers to get the barn vibrating with scary sounds and festive tunes, such as the “Monster Mash.”

One year, the guests arrived dressed like characters from the ghoulish song and put on a performance, with Brad playing the guitar.

“It was so much fun,” he said.

Moving back to ground level, the dairy stalls were removed and the area was spray washed before pouring concrete into the barn gutters. One still needs to be filled, but Brad wants to get the plumbing for a small kitchen unit installed beforehand.

Also in the barn is Brad’s workshop, where the Youngs make everything they envision come to life.

“We build everything you see [around the property],” Brad stated. “This is what we do. The only person who’s been here is a heating person; otherwise, we put everything together ourselves.”

“It’s a lot of work to get to this point,” he continued, “Thirteen years later, this is where we’re at, but it’s got a ways to go.”

“But [Debbie’s] going to make me work in the house [now],” he added with laugh.

Keeping it beautiful

With just the two of them maintaining the acreage, the Youngs shared that the trick is to walk the yard every night, and to pull the weeds as they go.

In addition to this daily habit, Debbie said placing woodchips in the garden also helps control weeds. The garden takes about 100 yards of woodchips.

To keep the yard in shape, Brad uses a 27-horsepower John Deere lawn tractor that travels at 12 mph.

“I saw somebody doing it at work, and I just couldn’t believe a lawn mower could go that fast and cut grass. I walked up to it, and I had to have one,” he stated. “I can do the whole [property] in two-and-a-half hours.”

Needing to keep everything well hydrated, the Youngs repurposed a smoke house into a base for their 13-zone sprinkler system. It also serves as a control center for their yard lights, which they enjoy whenever company is over.

Advice from the Youngs

When considering the challenges of having an elaborately designed property, Brad said, in a way, it is difficult for there to be any – although Debbie would laugh and say everything has its challenges to some extent.

“I’m not too afraid of trying something,” Brad stated. “I would say to somebody else you shouldn’t be afraid [and say that] ‘I can’t do it.’ I never say that.”

Brad attributes his mindset to the way he was raised, with the concept that “Your day is as good as you can make it. Get off the couch and get going.”

“When it came to doing something, [his mother] would always say, ‘oh you could do that, you could do that,” Brad stated.

“Always dream big,” he continued. “And if you don’t get there, then you did okay. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, because then it gets me into these things, because I dream big. You can tell, I still dream tree forts [at age 64].”

“You just keep learning, and just keep doing,” added Debbie.

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