Meet the Minnesota Farm Families of the Year in St. Croix River region

Farms with dedication to agriculture and community recognized for contributions.




4 minute read

(Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

The University of Minnesota-Extension Program recently announced the Farm Families of the Year for every county across the state. These agricultural producers often have long connections to their local lands and waters, usually live on site or nearby, and are important for food production.

The farmers below all operate in areas that ultimately drain toward the St. Croix River. The profiles were provided by Extension.

The 2021 Minnesota Farm Family Families of the Year will be recognized on August 5 at Farmfest.

Chisago County

Amador Hill Farm and Orchard, A Program of the Women’s Environmental Institute

In 2006, two years after the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) was started, organizers of the non-profit began stewarding 25 acres of farmland on Amador Hill in Amador Township in eastern Minnesota. The effort began as part of the Institute’s mission to advance environmental justice through farming. Amador Hill Farm and Orchard is an organically certified four-season operation that started as a small CSA but has since grown to a large CSA network. The farm is also used for demonstration and education purposes, advancing organic practices including composting, cover-cropping, reduced tillage and improved soil health.

Amador Farm and Orchard produces well over 150 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits, all distributed via a CSA, the Mill City Farmers Market, Veggie Rx, the North Circle On-Line Farmers Market, and other venues. In addition to growing organic produce, the farm supports diverse cultural heritage projects and educational opportunities as well as being a welcoming place for volunteers and community visitors.

Jacquelyn Zita is the farm manager and Kayla Pridmore is assistant farm manager. The farm crew is made up of Lauren Meister, Sarah Hunt, Rachel de Sobrino, Christina Zettel, Jeff Vitali, Hilary Sandall, and others, including many volunteers.

Kanabec County

Nielsen Farms

The first members of the Nielsen family came to America from Denmark in 1921 and moved to southern Minnesota to begin farming. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Nielsen family farming in the U.S.

Terry and Laneta Nielsen left southern Minnesota’s Martin County with their children in 1980 and purchased land south of Ogilvie in Kanabec County. Along with the help of their children the Nielsens began their new farming operation on a few hundred acres raising 400 head of cattle and 200 sows. Currently, the farm grows corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, alfalfa, and hay. It is home to many cow/calf pairs.

Terry and Laneta are the owner/operators of the farm. Their son, Darek, is a co-owner and along with his wife, Ally, takes care of a wide variety of daily and seasonal tasks. The Nielsens’ daughter, Mindy, drives semi and is the roller operator. Terry’s brother, Gary, contributes to the farm’s success by driving the semi-truck.

Pine County

Steve and Estelle Martin

Steve’s grandfather, Fred, purchased the original farm in 1920. He and his wife, Lydia, raised various livestock with their seven children. Steve’s parents, Arlan and Della, moved back to the farm in 1954 and purchased it. The couple ran a dairy operation with their six children. Steve moved back to the farm in 1986 after attending the University of Minnesota-Waseca and began dairy farming with his parents. Steve married Estelle in 1994 and they have a son, Joshua.

The Martins currently milk 51 Holstein cows in a step-up flat parlor. The cows are housed in a sand-bedded free-stall barn. The family raises their own replacement heifers and sells their bull calves. They own 320 acres and rent another 20. The land is used for grass hay and pasture; the Martins purchase grain from Munson Lakes Nutrition.

Steve and Estelle are the owner-operators of their farm. Joshua, who works off the farm as a security officer, helps when needed.

Washington County

Lutz Family

The Lutz family farm is a Century Farm that is operated by three brothers, John, Mark and Leo. The brothers’ great-grandfather, Joe, was the original owner. The brothers’ father and mother, Fran and Lucille, retired from farming in 1982. Mark and John took over the farm at that time. They farmed 350 acres and milked 60 Holstein cows. Mark and John also raised 60 sows and sold 1,200 feeder pigs annually from 1987 until 2000.

In 2010, the partnership between John and Mark split: John took over farming the land and raising steers and Mark continued the dairy. The farm was a dairy until 2018. John also currently raises 80 feeder steers and Mark raises 15 Hereford cows. The farm is 240 acres of owned land and 50 acres of rented land. The brothers plant corn, soybeans and hay. Leo operates a custom butcher shop on the farm: Lutz Cuts. He processes more than 250 head of cattle per year.

John’s wife, Carol, assists with the cattle and wraps cuts of meat in the butcher shop. John and Carol have five children and eight grandchildren. Their daughter  Jenny helps take care of the cattle. John and Mark’s nephews Luke, Mark and John as well as their niece Laura help a good deal on the farm. Mark and his wife, Denise, have five children and five grandchildren. Their daughters, Claire and Rose, are involved in raising the Herefords. Denise was involved with the dairy calves when the farm was a dairy. Other family members help whenever they are able.


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Meet the Minnesota Farm Families of the Year in St. Croix River region