By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Keith and Mary Ann Martin started their married life farming in Indiana. They became the proud parents of nine children — two daughters and then seven sons.
In about 2000, they were part of a church outreach looking for a place to settle. Keith and six other men headed west across the hills and prairies of Illinois and Iowa before turning north into Minnesota.
“Land was available here and farmers were ready to sell,” Keith remembers. “There was no one wanting to take over their farms.”
“They hadn’t talked about Minnesota at all before they left,” Mary Ann said. “I was shocked.”
The neighbors have shared with the Martins that if they had tried maybe 10 years earlier, they would not have found land here.
“Things fell into place,” Keith said. “We could see that God was leading us to this area. A lot of the old farmers took good care of their land and their buildings.”
As high as land prices are in Minnesota, they were higher still in Indiana.
Four families came that first spring, with nine more coming the next year. The Martins bought 316 acres south of Sauk Centre. Two more families joined them in the fall, and the final group came the next year.
Keith had grown up farming, where he had milked about 70 cows. Pennsylvania native Mary Ann, who grew up in Indiana, was not used to farm life.
“I had to get used to those scary cows,” she said.
Back in Indiana, the Martins had a tie-stall barn, but decided to make a change to a free stall facility when they moved.
They also established their farm for organic production.
“We immediately began organic farming practices,” said Keith. “It took three years for the crops to be certified, and four years for the cows.”
The certification process now only takes three years for cows, too.
Since the boys were big enough when they moved to Minnesota, Mary Ann has not had to milk any of the 110-120 cows. Their sons, Wilson and Eddie, are the only remaining offspring on the farm and they do a lot of the chores.
Corn and soybeans are the Martins’ row crops. They also plant hay and barley. Barley is used as a nurse crop, smothering weeds out of the new hay.
“We plant them at the same time, but the barley grows a lot faster,” Keith said. “We take it off as a forage for the cows, or wait and take it as a grain.”
When the green hay underneath is uncovered, growth takes off a lot faster when it gets the sun.
The biggest challenge of organic farming was to keep the weeds under control.
“We learned to do the flame weeding so that it doesn’t reduce yields,” said Keith.
“Sometimes the youth from church come pull the weeds out of the soybeans in the worst spots,” Mary Ann said. “It’s a money-making activity for them. They pick rock, too.”
Since the Martins don’t use antibiotics on their cows, herbal remedies take care of mastitis and even ailments such as pneumonia.
The Martins have been very happy in Minnesota.
“…except for the mosquitoes,” said Mary Ann with a smile. “I’ve had to pick green beans in my winter coat just to stave them off.”
“The weather we’ve been having here lately is more like Indiana winters, with thawing and mud between snows,” Keith said. “I like not having mud in winter.”
Mary Ann notes that the growing season is shorter here, but the sun shines longer during the day.
“Our neighbors are really friendly,” said Mary Ann. “People in this area are from German stock, which is the same ancestry as our own German and Swiss.”
Keith does mechanic repair as a hobby. He used to do some work for others, but has scaled back to concentrate on his own operation.
“If not milking, I’m doing some kind of repair on tractors, skid loaders — any machinery it takes to run the farm,” he said.
In addition to their nine children, the Martins have 14 grandchildren, six of whom live in Africa with their eldest daughter. She and her family are part of a mission in Uganda. Three of their sons live in Virginia.
Their second daughter, Lana, lives across the road and operates a bulk food store there, “Lana’s Place.”
Sons Kelvin and Lyndon live near Padua with their families.