Farm Family honored
WORTHINGTON -- Tending to the soil and making a living from the land have been constants in the Perkins family lineage since Jerry Perkins' grandfather moved to Nobles County in 1920 from his home in Illinois.
Yet for Jerry and his wife, Terry, a lot of what they learned about production agriculture came from their extensive travels -- from working in the Peace Corps in the 1960s in Chile and Bolivia, to agricultural consulting in Costa Rica, Bolivia and Lithuania, and their involvement in sustainable farming associations after returning to the farm in 1974.
On Aug. 9, during a program at Minnesota's agricultural expo, Farmfest, the Perkins will be among 76 families from across the state to be honored as a Farm Family of the Year. Local recognition will be Aug. 11, at approximately 4 p.m., in Olson Arena during the Nobles County Fair.
The Perkins family farm, located in Section 35, Elk Township, was settled by Gilbert Perkins in 1920, after he relocated here from Chatsworth, Ill.
"They hauled things up here by train," Jerry said. "My grandmother came from a well-established, tree-lined street in Chatsworth. She planted flowers and a grape arbor here."
After arriving on the land north of Worthington, the family resided on nearby farm sites until they could complete construction of outbuildings on their farm, said Jerry. The original house, built in 1923, was recently remodeled and is now home to the Perkins' daughter, Julie, and her husband, Jorge, and children Ariana and Ben Lopez.
It's the same home where Jerry grew up and developed a love for farming.
"There's something about taking the boy off the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy," Jerry said. He and Terry settled there in 1974, after Jerry's dad retired from farming. By then, the couple had experienced life in several countries and had been living in Montana, where Jerry worked as the Ag Extension Agent at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
"This is where we finally settled down," he said, seated at the dining room table in the nearly 90-year-old farm house.
In the years since they returned to Nobles County, the Perkins have developed somewhat of a reputation for their interest in preservation and conservation of the soil.
"My dad got a chisel plow early on, but I think we probably got that (interest in conservation) by roaming around the country and overseas," Jerry said.
"Carbon sequestration didn't even have a name, I don't think, when we started farming -- or it didn't get into the local dialogue," Terry added.
Through practices of no-till and minimum tillage of the soil, the Perkins worked to build soil quality structure and increase organic matter -- a process Jerry said is slow, but valuable. Today, they see very little wind erosion of the soil, and water erosion, while it does occur during heavy rains, isn't as widespread.
Additional advantages of reduced or no tillage are less fuel and equipment use. One trade-off, however, is having a more management-intensive operation.
"It was quite a struggle until we got better herbicides and planters," Jerry said.
When Jerry and Terry Perkins semi-retired eight years ago, they wanted to ensure the efforts taken on their land to preserve the soil would be continued. They could have rented their land to several different farmers in the area, but it was Tim Hansberger, who wanted to come back to the community and be involved in production agriculture, who said he would continue the no-till practice. Hansberger now farms 400 acres of the Perkins' land, while Jerry and Terry maintain 112 acres of crop ground -- "just enough to tie us down from wandering too much," Jerry said with a laugh.
They also have about 100 acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve and Reinvest in Minnesota programs; and rent a 5-acre parcel to several local Hispanics for commercial vegetable production.
In their more than three decades in farming, the Perkins have been members of the Southwest Minnesota Farm Business Management Association. They also hosted, for a few years, a residue management training program for Minnesota employees of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In addition, Terry has served on the Nobles County Extension Committee, was on the Council on Agriculture, Research Education and Training (CARET) and served on the advisory committee of the U of M's Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton.
Meanwhile, Jerry served on Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation District and Farm Connect boards.
"There was a lot of learning going on," Jerry said. They also did some teaching, hosting individuals in the MAST (Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee) program through the U of M for six years.
"We believe in unbiased education -- university research," Terry said.
"We wish there was more, and that it was better funded," Jerry added.
Even as they look more toward retirement, they're still concerned about the land and its sustainability for generations to come.
"We're interested in food production," Jerry said. "We don't see ourselves much as farmers as food producers. We're interested in sustainability."
That thought process has continued on to the next generation, and while daughter Julie said her family isn't as involved in farming, they still care about the land. She and Jorge both help with the operation when needed, and their kids help with the garden.
The Lopezes moved to Worthington in June 2004, six months after Julie's brother, Mike, died. They were living in Milwaukee, Wis., at that time.
"Our family was in Mexico and in Minnesota and it was important for our kids to know their grandparents and form a bond," Julie said. They settled on the Perkins family farm in 2005.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.