Lelands honored by U of M
Some people place great emphasis on the three “R”s; reading, (w)riting and ‘rithmetic. But sit down and visit with Carter Leland and his family and you are more apt to hear about the three “F”s; faith, family and farming.
The Leland family farm, operated by brothers Greg and Carter, was named Faribault County’s “2020 Farm Family of the Year” earlier this summer by the University of Minnesota.
The U of M’s Farm Family Recognition Program began over 30 years ago. It honors one farm family in most of Minnesota’s counties. The recipients are eventually chosen by the U of M Extension committees based not only on the family’s significant contribution to agriculture, but also to their communities.
It was over 100 years ago, in 1915, when Greg and Carter’s grandfather, Gustav, settled in the Norwegian community of Bricelyn. Gustav had emigrated from Norway.
“The story goes he had caught a huge fish back in Norway. It was supposed to have been so big it drug on the ground out of the trailer he was moving it in,” Carter says. “Well, he took the money from selling the fish and used it to come to America.”
A home was built in 1916 on the 80 acres of land Gustav had purchased in Brush Creek Township. Greg and his wife, Kathy, lived in the house at one time but it is no longer in use.
Gustav would eventually pass the farm on to Greg and Carter’s parents, Gehard and Mavis.
“We learned to work on the farm when we were quite young,” Carter shares. “Some of our first chores were cleaning out hog pens each week.”
The boys stayed quite active and kept increasing the number of farming skills they were learning.
“We both learned to plow using an Allis Chalmers D17 tractor by the time we were 10-years old,” Carter recalls. “We would also use that tractor to check pocket-gopher traps. The money we earned from trapping gophers was used to buy school clothes.”
Like many other young boys at that time the brothers also did their fair share of baling hay and were paid a penny a bale for each bale they stacked. Although they worked hard, Carter said there was time for fun too.
“I remember learning to drive the old pickup truck in the hayfield and riding with my dad on the tractor,” he mentions.
It was not always a foregone conclusion Carter and his brother would farm together.
“I graduated from high school in Bricelyn in 1972 and went to college and earned a degree in ag education. I was offered a teaching position when I graduated,” Carter explains. “It so happens the opportunity arose at the same time to return to the farm and work with my brother. I could have been in the classroom teaching others about farming, or I could go home and actually farm. I have never regretted my choice.”
Carter’s wife, Yvonne (Vonnie), backs up her husband on that statement.
“To this day Carter will still come into the house after working on the farm and be amazed by what he has seen and heard while being outside doing what he loves to do,” Vonnie shares. “He enjoys nature, the wildlife he gets to view and the sounds different creatures make.”
The brothers were both in their early 20s when they began farming together. They were diversified not only in what they raised, corn, soybeans and hogs, but also in the talents they each brought to the farm.
“Greg is a great mechanic and a master machine operator. He also has great engineering abilities,” Carter notes. “I took on the bookkeeping responsibilities and ran the hog operation. I also handle most of the marketing duties.”
The farm grew to 800 acres in the 1980s and soon they were taking on another task.
“There was a canning factory in Bricelyn and along with it a big stack of decomposing silage which created quite an odor which was not appreciated by the townspeople,” Carter explained. “Greg and I were approached by the manager of the canning factory about spreading the silage as green fertilizer on the harvested sweet corn fields. We eventually did the same for the canning factory in Wells. When those two factories closed, we took on the Waseca operation.”
While the brothers stay busy with their farming operation, they also are active in their church and community.
“Greg has been very active in the Bricelyn community. He heads up the annual fundraiser for their Fourth of July fireworks celebration and has run the display for over 30 years,” Vonnie says. “Carter has served on the church council at Dell Lutheran Church and is currently on the board of elders. He has been a Sunday school teacher and worship leader for many years.”
The Lelands acknowledge there are many challenges farm communities are currently facing.
“Commodity prices have been down and making a profit is hard to do right now,” Carter comments. “It is a very stressful time. Marketing is tough and farmers are being forced to deal with managing losses in addition to the challenges that raising a crop brings.”
But the Lelands still take time to count their blessings.
“We raised four wonderful children on this farm. They learned the values of hard work and to appreciate God’s creation,” Carter shares. “I cannot think of a better place to raise a family then on the farm.”
One of their children, Jonathan, comes home to help on the farm and has shown more of an interest in the operation.
Jonathan is a mechanical engineer for ExxonMobil but he was already thinking like an engineer when he was very young, according to a story Vonnie shares.
“Jonathan was six or seven years old and was riding with his dad in the combine during corn harvest and he asked why combines weren’t made with a chopper attached so they did not have to make another trip with the tractor to chop stalks,” Vonnie explains. “Well, years later corn heads that chopped the stalks were invented.”
The love of the farm extends beyond Carter and Vonnie’s children.
Vonnie says their grandchildren (they have seven with another one on the way) love to come to the farm and help their grandpa.
“One of the grandchildren, Gabriel, was about three years old when he gave Carter a little trinket in the shape of a heart,” Vonnie says. “Gabriel said, ‘Grandpa, take this and whenever you are lonely you can take it out of your pocket and remember me.’ Carter carries the heart with him every day.”
Asked what advice he would give to a young person looking to get his start in farming, Carter does not offer technical advice but instead refers to the book of Proverbs which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”