By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Kelvin and Rosanna Martin give credit for much of their successful farm experience to the groundwork laid by Mickey and Curly Braun, the former owners of their farm north of Brooten.
“They have been very generous and helpful,” said Kelvin.
While running their conventional dairy operation on the 14 acres they purchased from the Brauns, the Martins also rent 200 acres from the Brauns. On those acres they grow corn and alfalfa organically.
Kelvin and Rosanna grew up in northern Indiana and moved to the Brooten area with their families in 1999 through a church outreach. They are members of Faith Mennonite Church near Padua.
Kelvin’s father, Keith, has farmed organically since moving to Minnesota. He does intensive grazing on his farm about seven miles from Kelvin and Rosanna.
Kelvin went to work for Mickey Braun in 2005 and noticed that Braun didn’t use sprays on his hay fields.
“I suggested that it wouldn’t take much effort to have those fields certified organic,” said Kelvin.
First, one field was certified organic and planted in corn. “When the yields were good, he thought it would be OK to transition the rest of the farm to organic,” Kelvin said.
It was a three-year process to transition the entire farm. As each field came out of hay it was planted in corn.
By the first year the Martins moved to the farm, all of the land they rented was certified organic. They purchased the 14 acres with the dairy barn, house and outbuildings in 2009 by contract for deed.
The dairy operation is not certified organic since Kelvin is the only person doing the work right now. To graze the cattle requires more hands to move them several times a day.
“When the kids get older and can help move the cows around for grazing, then we’ll look at making that transition,” Kelvin said.
The Martins milk 65 head and have a total of about 180 cows and heifers at any given time. Bulls are sold within the first two weeks after they are born.
To maintain organic status, a 30-foot buffer must be maintained around any field planted next to non-organic fields. So a whole field is planted organically, but the 30 feet along the adjoining edge is harvested conventionally.
This is the first year that Kelvin put up warning signs along the road, preventing spraying in the ditches. That way, he can farm right up to the road.
When rotating to plant a new field in alfalfa, Kelvin puts in a nurse crop of barley with the alfalfa.
“The barley comes up first and shelters the alfalfa. After the barley is harvested, the alfalfa comes up clean and almost weed-free.”
Nearly all of the seed the Martins purchase is from Blue River Organic Seed, a company which deals almost exclusively in organic, non-genetically modified (GMO) products.
Blue River is working on a hybrid variety of corn which will not pollinate with any other corn variety.
“We think this is the best way to raise corn and alfalfa,” said Rosanna. “We like working closer with the soil; we like not using spray.”
In spite of a very dry three weeks in July, the corn crop is prospering on the Martin farm. “It’s one of our better years with the corn,” Kelvin said. “It was dry for a three-week period in July but then we had good rains.”
Seeking to help others who were not so fortunate, Kelvin sold some hay in Ohio. “It’s a way to help out organic farmers there,” he said.
“We are very indebted to Mickey and Curly for all they did to make this a nice farm,” Rosanna said. “Mickey really taught him a lot.”
“I think it would be helpful if other farmers would do for young farmers what Mickey did for us,” Kelvin said. “With high farm prices, it’s difficult for a young family to get started farming. He was willing to set it up so payments worked for us, and it meant tax benefits for him that way too.”
“When you get out and dig in the dirt it really makes you appreciate God’s creation,” he said. “We’re thankful God has guided us and allowed us to live here and take care of this farm.”