When Martha and Jerry Karsnia were nominated for the Koochiching County Farm Family of the Year, Martha admitted she was a little confused.
“I didn’t think we had a farm, we don’t have any animals,” she said of the honor they eventually received. “We only have gardens.”
And while tractors and cattle may come to mind when thinking of farms, the Karsnia’s were told their abundant vegetable and flower gardens absolutely fit the criteria for the honor.
The couple, who will celebrate 49 years of marriage Thursday, were recognized Tuesday at the Koochiching County Board meeting as one of Minnesota’s Farm Families of the Year.
“It’s well deserved,” said board Chairman Brian McBride. “They’ve got some of the best corn in northern Minnesota.”
The Farm Family Recognition Program has existed for more than 30 years and honors farm families from throughout Minnesota for their contributions to the agriculture industry and their local communities. All of the honored farm families have made significant contributions to Minnesota agriculture and their communities.
The Journal met with the couple Monday to learn the history of the County Road 90 East farm and get a tour of what the couple holds near and dear to their heart.
“We’re really excited about this,” Martha said. “We just do this because it’s what we love.”
Batting away mosquitoes, Martha grabbed the wheel of the couple’s golf cart and made her rounds of the 38-acre property. Weaving in and out of fencing to keep deer away, the International Falls native knew the route like the back of her hand.
“Pretty soon here we’ll start making a 4-mile loop around the property every night,” she said. “We call it the Karsnia Kruise... I started it to look at lady slippers and I get all kinds of great photos. We’ve even seen a moose on our ride.”
Just talking about the farm noticeably brought out a sense of pride in Martha and Jerry, who finish each other’s sentences and likely know what the other is thinking before they think it. The property has forever been a part of their 49 years of marriage, and for Jerry, it’s all he’s ever known.
Way back when
According to information provided to the county board Tuesday, in 1946, Romeo and Marie Karsnia purchased the homestead in International Falls where they raised cows, pigs, chickens and horses. Their family of 12 children, including son Jerry, were all raised on the farm.
“We all grew up here,” he said.
After the death of Jerry’s father in 1967, Jerry took over the farming operation along with his mother, Marie. Once the two youngest sisters and brother were married and moved from the homestead, Jerry and Martha switched houses with Marie.
“The day the youngest sister was married, we made the move,” Martha said, laughing as she recalled the memory. “Stuff for one kitchen went that way while the other went this way. We just switched.”
Eventually, gardening became the main focus and the Karsnias provide vegetables for retail sale and to local grocery stores. The pair said they specialize in corn, cabbage, tomatoes, beets, carrots, pumpkins, cucumbers and squash.
“Cabbage is really big with people,” Martha said. “People make cabbage roles and sauerkraut.”
Jerry nodded in agreement.
“We have a customer that buys 150 pounds of cabbage,” he said. “Curly flat Dutch cabbage — it’s a little smaller leaf.”
Midwest Karsnia Farm
Martha said their farm got its name, Midwest Karsnia Farm, from an idea started by her son, Andy, who lives in Portland, Ore.
“He has a garden and he calls it the West Coast Karsnia Farm,” she said. “So I started calling ours the Midwest Karsnia Farm, and our daughter, Ann, calls hers the Maxwell Midwest Farm.”
This year, Mother Nature has challenged the Karsnia’s gardens with cooler temperatures.
“We’ve only had two days over 70 degrees,” Jerry said. “The heat doesn’t bother me. If we could get a handful of 80-degree (days), I’d be happy.”
In addition to weather challenges, the couple have had some health issues they’re dealing with, as well. Jerry fell in March, causing damage to his kneecap, and Martha uses a cane to get around.
Luckily, they’ve been able to keep up with planting and other garden-related work with the help of family and friends and their trusted golf cart.
“That golf cart is our best friend,” she said. “We find ways to get around and we make it work. We’re really proud of what we have out here... Sharing what we love is what it’s all about.”
Farm families from across the state will be recognized during a program that takes place during Farmfest, a Redwood County festival in August, however the Karsnias will not be in attendance.
Instead, the couple will host a family reunion on their farm, noting more than 150 people have already committed to attending.
“That number doesn’t even include our kids,” Martha said.
While they’re disappointed they won’t be among other families in the state who have been recognized as a 2019 farm family, Martha and Jerry said they are looking forward to celebrating from afar.
“We’ll celebrate it during the reunion,” Martha said. “We’re very honored.”