August 5, 2008

University of Minnesota Names Farm Families of the Year

By Amanda Hillier, Agweek Magazine

Aug. 5--Being active in their communities and the agricultural world has earned 70 Minnesota farm families the honorary Farm Family of the Year title.

The honor is bestowed each year by the University of Minnesota. One of this year's honorees is the Gebhardt family of Clearwater County.

"We were surprised to be nominated because we've only been farming for nine years. We try to do research along the way so we don't make too many mistakes," says Karen Gebhardt, Clearwater County Farm Family of the Year nominee. "Our diversity probably helped. We raise cattle, goats and crops, and I have a small raspberry patch and a home quilting business called Heirloom Quilting."

Karen and Kevin Gebhardt live on their farm, Achin' Back Acres, near Leonard, Minn. They moved from Alaska nine years ago to raise their kids on a farm.

Achin' Back Acres is primarily a Black Angus feedstock operation with a small herd of South African Boer goats, a half-acre berry patch that Karen hopes will grow to a small commercial business in coming years, several crops and a home quilting business. The Gebhardts also have part-time jobs aside from the farm.

According to The University of Minnesota, the Farm Family Recognition Program has recognized farm families from throughout the state of Minnesota for more than two decades. The program was started around the 1980s by the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, Extension Services and College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Farm Families Recognition Program helps showcase Minnesota's diverse agricultural industry.

"Our mission is to serve the citizens of the state, including farmers, and it's a way to recognize their contributions, their hard work and their support for the U," says Bev Durgan, dean of University of Minnesota Extension Service.

"Farm families are the foundation of Minnesota agriculture and major contributors to the vitality of our communities. They are recognized as farmers, but they're also leaders in their communities, they serve on local school boards, they take part in many different local leadership roles. So we're also honoring their contributions to their communities."

Each year one family per county is chosen for Farm Family of the year.

There are 87 counties in Minnesota, though averages of 65 to 70 counties participate in the Farm Family of the Year.

County extension committees select the farm family of the year. Only 87 farm families can be named in Minnesota -- one per county.

In Traverse County, Gary and Rhonda Findlay were nominated for the Farm Family of the Year. The Findlays live near Herman, Minn., where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and feeder cattle.

The Findlays have five children and are active members in their community. The family also started their own association similar to the Parent Teacher Association.

"Both of us grew up with 4-H and were close to the extension services," Gary Findlay says. "So it's an honor to be selected by them. I know there were many other couples that could have been selected."

Families are selected based on their contributions to Minnesota's agriculture and their communities. Families must demonstrate a commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture and agriculture production in the agricultural world and their community.

"It is nice to be recognized for the things that we do, though that's not why we do them, we do them because it's fun," says Peggy Wilebski, Kittson County Farm Family of the Year nominee. "We live on the same farm as Joseph's parents did when they were named Farm Family of the Year in 1971. That makes being named Farm Family of the Year a little more significant and meaningful to us."

Joe and Peggy Wilebski live on the family farm near Lancaster, Minn. The Wilebskis raise beef cattle, hay, corn, small grains and now soybeans.

The Wilebskis are active in numerous community activities dealing with the church and school. They have four children and two grandchildren.

"I did not expect this nomination. I don't feel we have done anything special," Joe Wilebski says. "There are lots of people who volunteer and serve on committees, but there is always a need for more people to get involved."

The Farm Family Recognition Program is sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension Service, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and Farmfest.

A complete list of the 2008 Farm Families of the Year can be found on the U of M Farm Families Web site.


To see more of Agweek, or to subscribe to the magazine, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, Agweek Magazine

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.