Farm Horizons, February 2017

Cokato family named 2016 ‘Outstanding Conservationists’

By Jennifer Von Ohlen

When it comes to farming, caring for the land itself is as important as harvesting the crop it produces.

Harlan and Mary Anderson of Cokato are no strangers to this way of life, and were named Outstanding Conservationists of 2016 by the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District for their efforts to protect the environment while tending to their farm.

The Anderson’s 1,000-acre plot known as “Idle Acres,” located north of Cokato, was homesteaded in 1871 and is presently in its fourth generation.

Together, the Andersons, along with their two sons, Mark and Richard, farm alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and wheat, and host 160 bee hives.

Idle Acres was the first farm to be certified under the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality program in Wright County, a recognition that distinguishes farmers who conserve water quality during their operation.

Some of the Anderson family’s conservation methods include fertilizing no-till/minimal-till fields with local liquid manure, using cover crops and inter-seeding for soil stability, and encouraging bee pollination plants.

For Harlan, the decline of the honeybee population, which he contributed to chemical usage, echoes the same warning dead canaries would give to miners.

“I think it’s an indicator that we aren’t taking care of the environment,” he said.

Harlan also linked soil erosion and water quality to signifying a damaged environment, both of which Harlan said are the “poorest” he has ever seen.

These observations are what motivates Harlan to keep his conservation efforts going; to ensure his sons and grandsons will have a homestead to continue operating.

Harlan’s father and grandmother also strongly believed in conservation, and that agriculture should work alongside it rather than against it.

“The mentoring of those two people is a big part of what I do today,” credited Harlan, “and is something I hope to pass on to my sons and grandsons.”

The Andersons received the Outstanding Conservationists award at the annual Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation District meeting in Bloomington Dec. 6, 2016.

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