Fresk family farm near Hadley celebrates 100 years
HADLEY -- Steve Fresk remembers his mother telling him, "Don't be a farmer. You don't want to work that hard."
Today, he thinks farming is like golf.
"I don't want to downplay it, but for me, it's almost like my golf game," Fresk said. "Farming was a natural progression for me."
Steve rents the century farm from his cousin, Judy (Fresk) Winter, a Sioux Falls, S.D., resident and owner of a health care administration consulting business.
The cousins' two families have been closely connected their whole lives -- and for good reason. Their fathers -- Goodwin and Gordon, respectively -- were twin brothers that farmed together in rural Hadley.
"We still are very close," Steve said. "We've vacationed together for over 50 years."
Goodwin's and Gordon's father, Axel Fresk, first bought the farm east of Hadley along present-day Minnesota 30 in February 1911, paying $6,317.20 for 157 acres.
"I did some quick calculating and that's about $40 an acre. Can you imagine?" Judy asked.
"I can't. I think I'm paying too much for rent," Steve said with a laugh,
Axel also owned and operated a small grocery store in Hadley, but as car ownership increased, people began traveling to larger communities to buy their supplies. Axel eventually sold the store to be a full-time farmer.
In 1918, Axel built a brick house covered in orange stucco that would become a "showplace and landmark of Highway 30," the family wrote in their Century Farm application.
"My mother told me that first they built the barn and then the chicken house, and that's where they lived in until the house was built," Judy said. "When they finished the house, then they turned that into the chicken house."
The farm also stood out as one of the first in the area to have electricity.
"It was before REA, so the electricity they had was a Delco plant in the well-pit," Steve explained. "The windmill created electricity and then stored it in batteries that were in the well-pit. The windmill not only pumped water, but also charged the batteries for the house. It was the first wind-powered farm."
Steve said he remembers hearing that his grandfather wanted to remortgage the farm prior to the Great Depression.
"Our grandmother said, 'Absolutely, positively, no.' That's what held the farm together," Steve said.
Axel's twin sons -- Gordon and Goodwin -- took turns attending the University of Minnesota. One would go one winter, the other the next winter.
"They both helped farm, and someone had to stay home and help milk cows," Judy explained.
When they finished college, Goodwin came back to Hadley and bought the farm from his father.
"My dad went off and did other things," Steve said of Gordon. "After World War II, he came back and moved north of town and built a farmstead there. It was interesting; they always fed cattle, so the first thing he built at our place was the cattle barn."
Judy's parents eventually moved into the farmhouse with her grandparents, and the two families shared the house.
"My mother said it worked out OK, but then they started having babies and it got crowded," Judy said.
When Judy's father -- Goodwin -- passed away in 1977, Judy and her two sisters inherited the farm.
"My mother passed away a year ago so I bought my sisters out for some of it and sold the rest, so now I'm the sole owner," Judy said.
Through most of his career, Steve worked in the "seed business" and "started farming as a mid-life crisis," he said with a laugh.
Steve said he remembers his uncle Goodwin advising him to try something other than farming first so he didn't feel like he was trapped in the profession.
"But it's interesting how times change," he reflected. "When I was in high school, we had 540 acres, and it took two full-time hired men and me because we had so much livestock. Now I have 450 acres and it's not part-time. It doesn't even resemble part-time."
From their grandparents and parents, Judy and Steve said they learned a strong work ethic and dedication to community involvement. Judy and Steve's grandparents, and both their parents, were very active in the community.
"Our grandfather, Axel -- both he and his wife, Margaret, were community activists," Steve said. "They helped organize the Red Cross in the area. They started a study club."
"Community involvement was important to them, and it passed on to our dads," Judy added. "My dad was on the school board, the oil co-op board, and they were all active in church."
"I guess that's what we grew up with," Steve added. "There wasn't an expectation of it; it was just what we grew up with. I guess you could say it was natural."
Both Judy and Steve said their parents would be amazed if they could see farming today.
"They would be amazed at the equipment and what it is today and the ease that things are done," said Judy.
"They were very frugal and thought that if they could work an extra hour a day, they'd rather do that instead of buying a new machine," Steve added.
The two cousins recognize the influence their parents and grandparents have had in their lives and the struggles that paved the way for them.
"Life wasn't easy," Steve said. "We think we have struggles now, but they had struggles back then of a different kind."
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.