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University of Minnesota Extension

Itasca County Farm Family

Justin and Wililyn Dowell

Growing up on a farm in the Philippines until age 12, Wililyn gained invaluable experience cultivating a variety of crops such as rice, garlic, onion, ginger and tobacco. This early exposure to farming instilled in her a deep connection to the land and a passion for agriculture.

Wililyn married Justin in Hawaii in 1996. The couple, along with their four children, moved to Grand Rapids in 2005 on a 10-acre hobby farm near Little Splithand Lake. Wililyn spent many years working in real estate, the mortgage industry and property rentals. Following the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Wililyn found herself drawn back to her agricultural roots. She and her husband embarked on a new chapter by starting a farm operation on their homestead in 2022.

Wililyn and Justin, a disabled veteran, invested in three high tunnels in 2022 and 2023 to extend the growing season and increase productivity. These structures allowed them to cultivate a wider range of crops and start early seedlings, maximizing their yield and revenue potential. Their farm operation encompasses various crops including tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, greens, flowers and herbs. Venturing into experimenting with Asian produce such as long beans, bitter melon, Japanese eggplant and okra reflects Wililyn's cultural heritage and expertise in diverse agricultural practices.

While overseeing the day-to-day operations of the farm, Wililyn and Justin receive valuable support from their adult children and friends, particularly during harvest time. Committed to producing food through organic methods and eliminating chemical pesticides, they prioritize sustainable farming practices.

Wililyn's commitment to community involvement and her contributions to agricultural organizations highlights her dedication to both her farm and the broader community. Operating her booth at the Grand Rapids Farmers Market and serving as an Aggregation Manager, she fosters collaboration among multiple vendors and local businesses. Initiatives include partnerships that provide food products to schools for Farm to School programs and support underserved communities through local food purchase assistance programs. Participating in the University of Minnesota Extension’s Master Gardener program and coordinating programs to connect emerging farmers with USDA support further showcases Wililyn's dedication to sustainable agriculture and community development.

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