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July 14, 2014

University honors Farm Families of the Year

Representing agricultural achievement in diverse farming operations, 74 families from throughout Minnesota are being honored as a 2014 Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota.

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension, office 612-626-4077, mobile 651-492-0811,

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (7/14/2014)—Representing agricultural achievement in diverse farming operations, 74 families from throughout Minnesota are being honored as a 2014 Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota.

The farm families will be recognized in ceremonies beginning at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 7, at the annual Minnesota Farmfest on the Gilfillan Estate near Redwood Falls. The event is in the Wick Buildings Farmfest Center on the estate grounds.

The farm families represent each county participating in the program. They were chosen by local University of Minnesota Extension committees based on their demonstrated commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture.

"The farm families receiving this year's honors exemplify what makes Minnesota agriculture strong. They bring innovation, science and hard work to farming. They care greatly about the land and animals and delivering quality products to consumers worldwide," said Bev Durgan, dean of Extension. "The University of Minnesota takes great pride in honoring these families."
A sampling of farmers and their contributions to agriculture follows, as does a complete list of 2014 Farm Families. More on Farmfest is available at

Northern Light Farm, Beltrami County
After many years of being sustainable farming advocates, Paul Conklin and Becky Marty finally decided to buy a farm of their own in 2000. They produce two acres of market vegetables distributed through a CSA and a farmer's market. The couple also has a small herd of Highland cattle, honeybee hives and a free ranging flock of laying hens. Paul is a full-time farmer and Becky is a DNR regional ecologist; they have two children. They're long-time members and supporters of the Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association, the Land Stewardship Project and the organic program of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

John Irrthum Family, Goodhue County
John grew up on the Irrthum family farm near Wanamingo where his parents, Walter and Pat, milked Ayrshires and Holsteins. Along with his mother Pat, wife Linda and two children, he continues the dairy tradition. The Irrthum family is well-known for their quality dairy livestock, and was recently awarded the Progressive Breeder Award at the All-Dairy Breeds Convention. Pat coordinates the County Extension Home Study Program; John has been a 4-H leader, which has allowed him to volunteer in many ways at the county fair. John also serves as president of the Minnesota Ayrshire Association.

Van Lin Family, Houston County
Van Lin Orchards on South Ridge was bought in 1958 by Frank and Helen Van Lin. It began as a dairy farm, but changed in 1959 when Frank started a tree nursery. In the nursery, dwarf trees were raised from stock imported from Holland. In 1994, Van Lin Orchards was passed down to Frank's sons Dan and Rick. Varieties they grow include Haralson, Regent, Fireside Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious and Zestar. Van Lin Orchards has been a member of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association for more than 30 years, as well as a member of the La Crescent Chamber of Commerce.

Richard and Vicki Syverson, Pope County
Richard and Vicki Syverson are the fourth generation on their family farm. The Syversons use precision agriculture practices such as grid sampling and making sure all fertilizer is variable-rate applied. In addition to the corn and soybean crops, Richard and Vicki feed out 80 dairy steers per year. They also have a solar power project, which they added in 2013. They have three grown children. Vicki is executive director of the Swift County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Richard is involved with Minnesota Corn Growers Association and in nine corn and soybean organizations in West Central Minnesota.

Paul Red Elk, Ramsey County
Paul, a master herbalist and Extension Master Naturalist, has multiple projects in Ramsey County and other locations, in an effort to preserve seeds and native plants. Paul has partnered with museums and local archeologists to collect seeds. He has collected seeds for squash, beans, and corn plants, all of which have been used by native communities for over 2,000 years. He also is developing two herbal gardens, including one at the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, where he teaches. In addition, Paul has coordinated with 73 different wild rice producers throughout Minnesota to offer and sell rice at the Farmer's Market in Minneapolis.

Kiefland Holsteins LLC, Winona County
Raising Holstein cows has been a tradition for the Kieffer family since 1952 when Gary's father, Leon purchased the original farm. In 1988, Gary and Linda purchased the farm from Leon and his wife Fern. Over the years, Gary and Linda have made improvements to the farm, including the addition of a free stall barn to hold 200 cows, the remodeling of the old barn to a parlor with a holding area, and the addition of five robots, which milk 300 cows daily. In addition to the cows, the Kieffers farm alfalfa and corn on 600 acres. They have three children and have been involved with the Winona County Dairy Showcase, Winona County Open Dairy Show, Winona County Dairy Judging, and the Minnesota Holstein Association. In addition, they have been hosts for the Precision Dairy Conference, and participated in many domestic and international tours.

The full list of farm families is here:

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