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Old-fashioned farmers are conservation-minded

EDGERTON -- Bob and Esther Masselink have owned and operated their farm near Edgerton for 34 years. This year, the farm turns 101. The Masselink family is originally from Michigan. Bob's great-grandfather was headed for North Dakota, but he had a...

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Bob and Esther Masselink stand in front of the farm's oldest barn. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)

EDGERTON - Bob and Esther Masselink have owned and operated their farm near Edgerton for 34 years. This year, the farm turns 101.

The Masselink family is originally from Michigan. Bob’s great-grandfather was headed for North Dakota, but he had a bad toothache, so he and the family got off the train in southwest Minnesota. They must have liked it, because they bought land and settled there - that, or another train wasn’t coming for a while.

The Masselinks have always been old-fashioned, by their own words. They were the last farm in the region to still do threshing in 1980, when everyone else had moved on to combines.

They raised organic corn and soybeans before organic was a thing, as Bob never liked to use chemicals.

“Then the organic thing came out, and we fit right in,” Bob said.

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The farm was certified organic in 1998, and they haven’t used chemicals ever since.

Being organic comes with its challenges, the biggest being weeds. The weeds have to be cultivated out, and the Masselinks do dragging just before the corn comes up to kill any stragglers.

“I grew up this way - I did it this way my entire life,” Bob said. “So it’s no different for me.”

It also yields rewards, as their crops sell for significantly more than sprayed crops. Their main buyers are organic farms that feed their livestock with organic soybeans and corn.

“There’s lots of buyers on the east and west coast,” Bob said. “Around here, nobody cares much about organic.”

“Our buyers aren’t local - we have to call somebody and they decide when their price matches our expectations, then we market it,” Esther said. “We usually sell in the summer.”

Their pigs, which are too fat for most buyers, are old-fashioned as well, but the Masselinks got connected with a restaurant market that wants large pigs and will pay a premium for them.

Bob and Esther have four kids, two sons and two daughters, who are all college graduates.

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Rita is a nurse anesthetist in Pine Island. She helped with the farrowing operation when she was younger, as Bob’s hands were too big to reach into the sow and Esther didn’t want any part of it.

“She delivered those pigs because she had the guts to, and I didn't want to,” Esther said.

All of the kids got plenty of hands-on experience on the farm, as they were expected to help out.

“They manned tractors, they took care of the animals, they had a varied experience,” Esther said. “Sometimes they complained they had to work, and sometimes they just worked, but they had to work regardless. It’s a family farm!”

Beth is a construction manager in Golden Valley. Though she didn’t get into farming, the experience has helped her show her co-workers who’s boss.

“She’s in a man’s field, and sometimes they’ll give her grief,” Esther said. “She says, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll run that skid-steer,’ and she can do it, because she learned it here. And she goes, ‘Thank you, Dad, I showed them.’”

Sons Jim and Allan are both farmers. Jim farms one mile to the west, and Allan farms a mile to the south. Once Bob and Esther retire, which doesn’t seem like anytime soon, the two sons will take over their century farm.

“We’re fortunate that we have them and they want to farm,” Esther said.

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The farm has several unique features. The Masselinks own 25 acres of land nearby that is all native prairie, a rare sight in an area where most of the land has been plowed. The beautiful field features more than 100 species of flowers, including the Minnesota state flower, the Showy Lady Slipper.

Conservation groups have offered to buy the land and others have told them to plow it, but the Masselinks, continuing family tradition, have held onto it.

“I figured our family has taken better care of it than most people could for 100 years, so we’ve just kept it,” Bob said.

“Our sons are conservation-minded enough that they’ll take care of it - they won’t turn it into cropland,” Esther said.

Down a hill from the farm, the Southern Minnesota Railroad, completed in 1880, went right by the property as it made its way to Madison, S.D. from Jackson. The tracks were scrapped in 1973, and now Bob and Esther use it as a walking path.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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