HILLS — One hundred years ago this year, William and Sophia Kitchenmaster arrived in southwest Minnesota from Mecklenburg, Germany.
They purchased a farm near the Rock County community of Hills that is now owned by the Kitchenmasters’ great-grandson, Harlan Stueven, and his wife, Susan. The 120-acre site is being recognized as a Century Farm this year.
Susan said she and her husband still have the abstract from the 1919 purchase of the farm, which was bought from a family with the surname Rons. The Kitchenmasters went on to raise five children — Eli, Bill, Wesley, Esther and Clara — on the property, and the family grew corn, oats, flax and alfalfa while also milking dairy cows.
“They (William and Sophia) later moved to town and the farm went to Eli and his wife, Alvina — that happened in 1962,” Susan said.
Eli and Alvina were Harlan’s grandparents. Their children were Eldora, Evelyn (Harlan’s mother), Verla and Myra.
“Grandma and Grandpa had dairy cows, horses and chickens,” Harlan remembered. “They raised corn and beans, and what's pasture out there now used to be flax.
“They owned it until 1968, when Grandpa had a heart attack and died. My mom and dad (Wilfred Stueven) moved down here from Pipestone in the fall of 1968. I was in the fifth grade when we moved down here.”
Harlan graduated in 1976 from Hills-Beaver Creek High School. He left the farm place for a few years, but returned in 1982 and took over the dairy cow operation from his dad.
Susan, meanwhile, grew up on a Lakefield farm that has received a Century Farm status of its own. She was employed in Luverne when she met her future husband.
“I was working at the veterinary clinic and we actually met in church,” she recalled. “He kept calling me, and I kept turning him down.”
“I ended up enticing her with Oak Ridge Boys tickets, and she couldn’t say no then,” Harlan added.
Harlan and Susan were married in 1988 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Luverne. It was then that Wilfred and Evelyn moved into Luverne, and the next generation took over.
Harlan and Susan raised two daughters, Meagan and Natalie, on the family farm.
“Harlan’s grandma was in assisted living in Hills when our daughters were very young, and we would go visit her,” Susan said. “She’d always tell me, ‘I knew you’d have girls because I had girls, too, and that’s what’s always been on this farm — and they work just as hard as boys.’”
Meagan and Natalie and also brought some new animals to the farm.
“We quit milking in 2001 so Harlan could be more involved in the girls’ activities,” Susan said. “Now we have the two things he thought we should never have on the farm — lambs and horses — and he rolls his eyes every time I say that.
“Our younger daughter loves horses, so in 4-H we went from raising a horse to buying one. He went fishing one weekend, and I had a friend bring another horse in. Our older daughter always loved lambs; we started showing registered Hampshire lambs in 4-H. We just kind of kept going and haven’t looked back. Now we have crossbreeds … and our newest adventure is Babydoll Southdowns. They’re an old English breed, and they’re almost miniature.”
Meagan currently lives with her family on the farm and works as an agronomist at the Valley Springs, S.D. co-op. Natalie is married to Greg Fick; they live in Beaver Creek and she works as a physical therapist in Sioux Falls, S.D. Greg is involved in a custom manure hauling and crop-spraying business.
The Stuevens grown corn and soybeans on their farm, and like many in the region are finding current times challenging.
“When I started in ’82 and bought the cows, interest rates went to 24 percent,” Harlan said. “That was tough … and if this continues, we’re going to get there again. The plus now is people have a little more equity to fall back on.”
“Commodity prices are so low and all the input costs are high, and land prices are high,” Susan added. “The way our spring was, normally we would have planted by the first of May, and we just finished (in the first week of June). That’s why we have off-farm jobs.”
Susan is a vet tech who does purchasing and office managing at Rock Veterinary Clinic in Luverne. Harlan owns a truck and hauls distillers from ethanol plants to feedlots, and also is a substitute bus driver for H-BC school activities. In his spare time, he assists the Green Earth Players community theater group by building sets.
Given their daughters’ continued interest in agriculture, it appears likely the Stueven Century Farm will remain in the family for years to come.
“That’s Harlan’s parents’ hope, and God willing it will be,” Susan said. “That's very important to us. It's on our blood — especially Harlan's.”