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U of M Farm Family of the Year tradition returns

Farm fields at sunset

Eighty-one families from throughout Minnesota were honored in person as 2021 Farm Families of the Year by the University of Minnesota.

The farm families were recognized in ceremonies on Aug. 5 at the annual Minnesota Farmfest on the Gilfillan Estate near Redwood Falls. The program included remarks by University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel, who also had a chance to meet with farmers to hear how the drought has challenged their operations this year.

The families were chosen, one per county, by local University of Minnesota Extension committees based on their demonstrated commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture.

“The University of Minnesota takes pride in honoring these families. The farm families receiving this year’s honors exemplify what makes Minnesota agriculture strong,” Extension Dean Bev Durgan says. “They bring innovation, science and hard work to farming. They care greatly about the land and animals and delivering quality products to consumers worldwide.” 

Read profiles of the 81 families.

Members of the Donahue family (a woman and two men) pose in front of a "Farm Families of the Year" poster.

Rice County

Donahue Family

Donahue’s Greenhouse was purchased in 1972 as a chrysanthemum business, but in the 1980s they started to specialize in clematis. The family business now ships over 800,000 clematis plants to other greenhouses and garden centers.

The Donahues have expanded their retail garden center over the years as well; they now grow over four acres of a wide variety of plants they ship from Faribault each spring. They maintain five acres of greenhouse space between Faribault and Morristown. 

The Noble family (Chris, Jillian and three of their children) posing at Farm Fest.

Lincoln County

Noble Family

Chris Noble grew up farming with his family in Lincoln County and went to South Dakota State University to pursue a master’s degree in agronomy and entomology. After conducting research throughout the country for Monsanto, he found a position that led him home to southwest Minnesota.

In 2010, the Noble farm began with the purchase of his grandfather’s farm. He farmed with his dad, adopting the latest technologies. The family’s current farm consists of 340 acres, with 230 acres of corn and soybeans and the remaining acres in a conservation program. They use conservation tillage methods and cover crops to improve soil health and suppress weeds. Noble and his wife, Jillian, have four children who enjoy their 18 egg-laying hens.

Nick Robinson and Lance Ramm of R&R Cultivation at Farm Fest.

Ramsey County

R&R Cultivation 

Nick Robinson is a Twin Cities native with a passion for growing fresh, gourmet mushrooms. After getting married in 2012, he lived in Shanghai, China, for three years and visited 12 different countries. After returning home, he started finding ways to give back to his community in a local and meaningful way. After working in education, he was drawn into the world of sustainable living and urban farming by a friend, Lance Ramm. 

In 2018, Robinson and Ramm started their first mushroom crop in Robinson’s basement. By 2019, they were ready to expand into a warehouse and increase their mushroom production eight-fold. Today, they supply fresh, gourmet mushrooms to co-ops, farmers markets, and Lund’s & Byerly’s grocery stores.

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