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Nobles County Farm Family honorees put family first

Ten years after taking over the family farm, Nystoms still have a lot they're looking forward to.

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The Nystrom Family is the 2022 Nobles County Farm Family of the Year.
Nystrom Orchard
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WORTHINGTON — A cheery yellow house overlooks the expanse of fields and apple trees south of Worthington. It’s impossible to miss — not just because of the house — but because the gravel road's turn-off is marked by a large white sign reading “Nystrom Orchard”, with a picturesquely painted apple core next to black lettering.

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It’s the home of Nobles County’s 2022 Farm Family of the Year, Kia and Aaron Nystrom, and their three children, Kip, Cortland (like the apple), and Thea. The farm has been in the Nystrom family for four generations, raising everything from pigs to soybeans.

Since Kia and Aaron took over the farm in 2012, the tradition of mixed agriculture has been upheld, but with renewed efforts toward sustainability and making the Nystrom Orchard a can’t-miss destination in southwest Minnesota.

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Kia Nystrom poses with a photo of the original Nystrom farm, which has been in the family for four generations.
Emma McNamee / The Globe

“Agriculture is the backbone of this community,” Kia explained, as she walked the grounds between the house and recently renovated shed, where tastings and small gatherings are hosted. “We want to showcase what agriculture can be and how you can use it to build a life for your family and teach people where their food comes from. That is our whole purpose of why we get up every day. So we can teach our kids how to work and provide for our community.”

With 700 acres of corn and soybeans and approximately 1,000 apple trees — not to mention the cattle that are raised on the property — the Nystrom Orchard has a hand in a little bit of everything.

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This year alone, they planted 150 new apple trees, in addition to those that were planted on the property generations ago. Though it will likely take at least six years before the new trees are ready to yield an apple crop, these trees are central to what Kia calls her “big plans” — and already an established part of what is offered at the Nystrom farm.

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Apple trees are shown at Nystrom Orchard.
Emma McNamee / The Globe

Along with selling over 16 varieties of apples, they also make their own cold-pressed cider, sell caramel apples, and hold tasting events showcasing apple dishes — like their delicious apple pie.

“It takes a true village,” Kia noted, looking across the rows of apple trees. “I have a lot of family in the area, as does my husband, and all of them help us. We always say we couldn't do this without our family.”

Kia grew up on a neighboring farm, just down the road from Aaron. They have been together for over 16 years — through high school and college and family losses and what Kia calls their “pivotal year” in 2014.

She was pregnant with her second child at the time, with a one-year-old at home. Both Kia and Aaron were working full-time jobs off the farm — which they continue to do today — and trying to decide how much they should invest in the farm. In a matter of six months, they made the call to tear down and rebuild the farmhouse, put up a cattle barn, and start feeding cattle.

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Nystrom Orchard's cattle graze in a pasture.
Emma McNamee / The Globe

The result today is “Orchard Beef,” a mix of Charolais and Angus cattle that are raised and fed at the Nystrom farm before being sent off to a beef processing plant. From there, most go into the commercial food chain, but a small amount comes back to be sold through Nystrom Orchard’s own brand.

“A lot of thought went into that and planning and it was stressful,” Kia said of that time when her and Aaron were still attempting to figure out their next steps. “But I look back on it today and it's really humbling to see how far we've been able to come, and just to use God's gift and our own ability to … use our hands and use our minds and provide for the world.”

While the farm keeps them plenty busy, Aaron still works as a large animal veterinarian and Kia stays involved in the dairy industry through her work.

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The recently installed solar panels at Nystrom Orchard will provide enough electricity to supply the entire farm -- and help with sustainability efforts for generations to come, Kia Nystrom hopes.
Emma McNamee / The Globe

“I think it’s allowed us to see what makes an operation successful,” Kia said of both her and Aaron’s work off the farm, which has given them insight into other areas of agriculture. “Also, (we see) what some people are doing that is going to be their demise, and see their mistakes and try to avoid them. It isn't perfect, but I think it’s made us a lot better.”

It’s a balancing act, Kia explained, one that she and Aaron had to approach when they were fairly young, after Aaron’s dad died. While their other friends are just starting to come back and take over family farms, Aaron and Kia have been farming for 10 years now, building something that feels uniquely them.

“It’s challenging and there’s good and bad to it,” Kia said, “and I know we made the right decision.”

Back near the house, Kia pointed out a patch of young pumpkin plants, which her son, Kip, planted. It’s important to her and Aaron, she explained, to help their kids find their own passion projects, something they can “take ownership of.”

For Kip, it's pumpkins, which will be harvested and sold come fall. Eight-year-old Cort runs her own cotton candy business — and helps out in the kitchen, learning recipes and creating artful plating presentations. While their youngest, Thea, brings a “dance to the party,” Kia is certain she’ll find her own thing as she gets older.

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Cortland (from left to right), Thea and Kip stand among the blossoming apple trees at Nystrom Orchard. They are part of the fifth generation to work on the family farm.
Nystrom Orchard

The kids get to learn what it takes to grow a crop or the costs of operating a small business, and how much work is involved in making something.

“But then also,” Kia said, “(they get) the reward of putting the time in for something you enjoy and seeing the result of that.”

It’s a fitting sentiment for Nystrom Orchard, as Kia talks about their future plans — a commercial kitchen for the shed they rebuilt in 2019, to host more tastings. Kia hopes the project will be complete by next fall and after that, who knows?

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The Nystroms will continue to plan their years around goals and family time, and enjoy summer nights on the front porch of the house they built.

“It’s a labor of love,” Kia said, smiling out at the farm, “and we do love it.”

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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