2013 – Cottonwood Farm. From grain farm to apple orchard.
1930 – The Nelson farmstead.
Looking back, the decision to plant all of these apple trees was the easiest part of reshaping the farm and myself. Taking care of the orchard, now that’s the part that hasn’t been easy. I knew nothing about the how to’s and the not to’s, the do’s and the don’ts of being an orchardist. Clearly, caring for the orchard and becoming the next family member to farm the Nelson land called for a little bit of innovative reshaping of myself. Not an easy task to do after I’ve spent years training to be other things.
1979 – Me with Grandpa Norman. Training to
be a hairstylist that day, not a farmer/orchardist.
To start my reeducation and training, I considered my ancestors. My ancestors were innovative people. They redesigned their own farms and themselves. My great-great grandpa Karolius, and his wife Olianna, remade themselves when they left Norway in 1884 and moved to Dakota Territory.
1920 – Milnor, ND. Great-great grandparents, Karolius and Olianna.
Karolius’s son, my great grandpa Nels Nelson, in early 1900, along with his wife Nellie, re-imagined a quarter section of Dakota prairie by breaking ground and farming the land that is now Cottonwood Farm, which includes our apple orchard. In 1938 Great-grandpa Nels planted all of the cottonwood trees that tower over the farm today. These trees are the reason we call ourselves Cottonwood Farm.
2016 - Cottonwood trees.
Standing strong for over a 100 years.
1900 – Nels and Nellie Nelson, wedding photo.
1940 - Great-Grandpa, Nels Nelson thrashing grain.
Nels’s son, Grandpa Norman, married my Grandma Louise in 1939. Soon after taking over his father’s farm in 1952, Grandpa realized that our farm was well suited for growing high yielding crops. This insight caused him to reshape the farm created by his father. To transform the farm, Grandpa sold the cattle and focused on raising grains. Years later, this decision led him to build the first on-sight grain leg in our county. Grandpa Norman was an innovative farmer who utilized the latest and greatest methods to remake the farm.
1920 - Grandpa Norman, 4 years old. 1925 – Grandma Louise, 4 years old
1970’s – My Grandparents, Norman and Louise. 1969 – Building the grain leg
In the early 1970’s, my dad started farming with his dad, my Grandpa Norman. When it was his turn to take the reins of the family farm, he too continued the tradition of innovative reshaping. In the early 80’s, after encouragement from my mom, Roberta, he converted all of our farmland from being farmed conventionally, to using only organic farming methods. Because of my dad’s innovative thinking and effort to reshape our farm, we became the first certified organic farm in Cass County, North Dakota, with over 2000 certified acres of farmland.
1982 – Grandpa Norman and my dad, Chuck. 1976 – My mom, Roberta.
1982 – Nelson farmstead. A certified
organic grain farm.
When I made the choice to carry on the custom of a Nelson farming the family land, I to decided to be an innovative thinker like my ancestors. To achieve my goal of being a farmer, I reshaped myself and learned the skills needed by a farmer/orchardist. I also recreated a portion of my father and grandfather’s grain farm into what is now our apple orchard and Cottonwood Farm. You might be asking yourself, why not just continue being a grain farmer? Wouldn’t that be the simplest way to go on farming rather than changing a grain farm into an apple orchard? Remember, I said the decision to plant all those apples trees was the easiest part of reshaping the farm and that the hard part was figuring out how to go about caring for the trees. Why was the decision to change the farm such a no brainer?
That problem with me becoming a grain farmer was that after my dad retired from farming in 2006, he sold the machinery essential for grain farming. How could I be a grain farmer without the necessary machinery? No machinery meant grain farming was no longer an option! We all thought that the family farm book was closed. No more new chapters to be written about the next innovative Nelson who would reshape the family land. Then, one day, mom and I had the idea about how to restart the farm. We would plant the first large-scale certified organic and Biodynamic® apple orchard in North Dakota. This transformation of a grain farm into an apple orchard was my imaginative approach to how to continue the Nelson farm legacy and be the newest Nelson to farm.
Innovative reshaping of the farm and myself opened up the family farm book. I added my own chapter to the book. This chapter is about support and guidance from family and friends, remaking myself, others being remade, working hard, and creating a dream. I can’t wait to start writing the next chapter entitled:
Cottonwood Cider House!