ST. LOUIS COUNTY — A 200-acre farm that’s home to a 100-head Red Angus cow and calf operation in Cook has earned former Hibbing native Karen Brodeen, and her husband, Pat Brodeen, the honor of being named St. Louis County’s Farm Family of the Year.
The University of Minnesota’s Farm Family Recognition Program has been annually giving out the award to families for more than 30 years. The distinction is designed to highlight those who have made significant contributions to state communities and agriculture, and the Brodeens have more than earned the title.
“It certainly is an honor,” Karen told the Hibbing Daily Tribune in a recent interview.
The Brodeens were formally recognized last month at St. Louis County Fair and were awarded a certificate and an American flag, the latter of which was presented on behalf of state senator and presidential-hopeful Amy Klobuchar. A larger presentation was also made last month during Farmfest in Redwood Falls, Minn., where all the county families were recognized.
Life on the farm
The cattle operation the Brodeens run today has seen its fair share of changes over the years. Originally purchased by Pat’s parents in 1951, the farm received a few updates and eventually became ground zero to a Holstein milking operation in 1977. In 1991, Pat and Karen purchased the place and continued the dairy business until 2010, and in the meantime, they added a small herd of beef cows that has since expanded into the 100-herd they now tend today. It’s work from sun up to sun down, but Karen loves it that way.
“Every day is different, every season is different,” she told the HDT. “Spring is calving cows and planting crops. Summer is harvesting hay. Fall is hauling hay home, fall field work and getting cattle and machinery ready for winter. Winter is feeding and bedding cattle.”
And though the rewards are great, like enjoying the freedom of being her own boss, Karen maintains that there plenty of unforeseen challenges that sometimes accompany that privilege. That their biggest challenge as of late has been weather.
“This summer has been extremely dry,” she said. “We’re short of hay and short of pasture. We’re going to have to do a combination of buying some hay and probably sending cows out for someone else to feed and culling a heavier.” Karen continued, “That doesn’t happen very often, so it’s kind of a drastic measure.”
She also noted that because the cattle business “is not very profitable,” it’s imperative she and Pat do the best job they can, paying close attention to every little detail. Pat’s brother, Curt, also pitches in to help during calving season. And while Karen supplements their income with a home-based business, she says she has no complaints. Life on the farm requires her to stay healthy and active in order to keep up and so far she says she’s been able to do just that. “Raising and breeding cattle is a passion and being good stewards of the cattle and the land is rewarding,” she reflected.
Serving their fellow farmers
Though the latest honor of being the county’s Farm Family of the Year is humbling, the Brodeens are no strangers to the limelight. In 1988 they were dubbed the Minnesota Holstein Association Distinguished Young Couple and were also honored in 2011 as one of the state’s Purebred Dairy Cattle Association Breeders of the Year.
The pair has also served the farming community by being part of multiple boards. Karen has served organizations, such as the Northeast Minnesota Holstein Association and the St. Louis County American Dairy Association. Meanwhile Pat has served on boards for the St. Louis Valley Livestock Association, Minnesota Holstein Association, Northeast Minnesota Holstein Association and Minnesota Beef Council.
And every year, the Brodeens host an event called the Fall Feeder Calf Round-up. “It’s a meeting me and Pat started five years ago where we invited area cattle producers and had guest speakers and lunch,” Karen explained. “This event has grown a lot in the last five years. It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun.”
Last year the round-up, which they now host in partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension, drew in about 70 people. With the next one slated for Sept. 21, they’re hoping to meet or exceed that number. As for future plans, Karen couldn’t help but let out a little laugh: “For the foreseeable future we’ll maintain that size herd. Eventually we want to slow down a little bit.”