WORTHINGTON — The Bill and Dawn Gordon family of rural Worthington will be recognized twice next week for their selection by University of Minnesota Extension as Nobles County’s 2019 Farm Family of the Year.
The Gordons will be honored at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Nobles County Fair in Worthington, and also at Farmfest in rural Redwood Falls on Thursday afternoon.
The statewide recognition program, which dates back to 1980 in Nobles County, honors farm families for their contributions to agriculture and their communities.
A fourth-generation farmer, Bill grew up with a love for the land and a dream of following in his family’s footsteps. Wife Dawn, who grew up on a family farm near Beaver Creek, had dreams of her own — of leaving the farm and working as a nurse.
“Growing up, it was a lot of work and I thought I never wanted to marry a farmer,” Dawn said. “Something drew me back to it, which was a good thing.”
That something was Bill, who graduated with degrees from Minnesota West in production agriculture and South Dakota State University in general agriculture with minors in agronomy and animal science.
The two met at a church youth group function while in their teens, and stayed in contact through mutual friends during college. It wasn’t until after Dawn was settled in a nursing career in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Bill was farming with his parents that the two fell in love and were married.
Nearly two decades and four kids later, the Gordons are proud to be raising their children on the farm.
“What I really appreciate about a family farm is that you raise your family in a way that teaches morals and values and a general appreciation of the right things,” Dawn said. “We work together as a family to achieve and accomplish things. At the end of the day, you’re very fulfilled and proud of what you’ve accomplished.
“I see that in our kids,” she added. “We head to the field in the spring or in the fall and there’s an all-hands-on-deck perspective, from our (almost) 16-year-old to our 8-year-old. Everybody jumps in to help.”
All four of their children — Luke, 15; Lance, 13; Anna, 11; and Liam, 8 — pitch in when things get busy on the farm. Luke has a farm permit and has started to operate most of the machinery.
“He helps with a lot of the legwork and helping Grandpa keep the rest of us going by running for parts,” Bill said.
Lance is starting to operate the basic machinery, and Anna and Liam chip in to collect corn samples during harvest to check for moisture content.
“Anna and Liam will help Grandma around the house; they’ll run parts out to us,” Bill said, chuckling as he recalled Anna running out with a grease gun and saying, “Just tell me what to do, Dad.”
Not only are they a family, they’re a team.
The Gordons farm in partnership with Bill’s parents, Galen and Colleen, as well as his uncle Wayne and two cousins. They grow corn and soybeans on 2,000 acres, including the original Gordon farm settled by Bill’s great-grandparents, William and Clara Gordon, in 1920. Next year, the family will celebrate their century farm — an achievement that coincides with the 100th birthday of the American Soybean Association. Bill will be president of the national organization during the momentous occasion, as he’s currently serving as ASA vice president.
Bill’s leadership skills, honed through his years as a Nobles County 4-H’er and Worthington FFA member — including a stint as a State 4-H Ambassador — have led to 16 years of service to the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board of directors and the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers Association. He is a graduate of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program, and he and Dawn were named DuPont Young Leaders in 2004.
The DuPont program inspired the Gordons to grow as leaders.
Today, Bill is a national spokesman for the soybean industry at a time when farmers are dealing with extreme challenges. From China’s imposed tariffs on American soybeans to the weather’s devastating impact to crops and the battle to increase soy biodiesel blending through the renewable fuels standard, speaking on behalf of farmers is a big job.
“There’s less and less family farms every day,” Bill said. “We need to have a voice.
“The people who show up at the table to have the discussion are the ones to make the rules. You want to be there to voice your opinion. It might not always go your way, but at least you were there.”
In addition to being a soybean industry spokesman, he’s working to develop the next generation of leaders to fill the seats on ASA’s 54-member board of directors.
The leadership role is a full-time job, taking Bill to meetings across the country and even around the world. Without the support of his family, he said he wouldn’t have made the commitment.
Once his term as president wraps up — he takes the helm on Dec. 12, and will lead the ASA through December 2020 — Bill will have more time to spend at home, just in time to enjoy Luke’s senior year in high school.
Meanwhile, Dawn gets the kids to their activities — including the county fair next week, where all four of them will exhibit as members of the Elk Tip Toppers 4-H Club. She also has a full-time career as Dean of Science and Nursing at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, is chairwoman of the Minnesota Deans and Directors of Nursing Education, and serves on various local health care advisory boards. She recently co-authored a publication on nursing leadership and rural health.
Through their roles, the Gordons have shown their children that leadership and service to the community is important.
“Our kids are very involved in activities — farm activities, community service, 4-H, church, FFA, music and sports and school,” Dawn said. “Those things are very important to them and to us because it’s giving back to support your community, but yet appreciating the farm and the value of what that brings.”
The family was able to share its values of farm life and community involvement by hosting Crailsheim exchange student Liss Huss for the past five months. Huss recently returned home to Crailsheim with a new appreciation for production agriculture with her farm life experiences.
When she arrived in Worthington, Huss was a vegetarian. She left with a love for steaks and ribs, said Bill with a grin. She came without ever having driven a vehicle, and left with the pride of having driven a big track tractor down the road.
“She took on the farm role pretty good,” Bill said.