Akkermans named ‘Farm Family of the Year’

Published 10:06 am Monday, August 10, 2009

John Akkerman points to a large, yellow-orange globe nestled in a garden in the distance.

“The pumpkin over there, if we get some heat, that will grow a pound an hour,” he said.

His family grew a 154-pound watermelon once, and their record pumpkin is 954 pounds.

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“That’s a small one,” John said. “That was only fourth place.”

The extraordinarily large pumpkins and watermelons at Evergreen Farm are a family affair, with John, his wife, Soly, and their three children — twins Christina and Brian, 22, and Ross, 19 — taking part in the growing process and competitions at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch. Like everything on the farm, the five have their hands in many different projects and duties, from Soly’s raspberry patch to Christina’s landscaping.

The Akkermans have been named Mower County’s Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, an honor that baffles them. They have no idea who nominated them, or why they were chosen.

“We have no idea!” John and Soly exclaimed in unison. “We got a call from the Extension office and (they) said, ‘You were named Farm Family of the Year,’” Soly recalled. “We thought we were one of several.”

After a second call from the Extension office, the Akkermans realized what had actually happened.

The Akkerman family is one of 73 farm families from around the state, one from each participating county, being honored by the U of M this year.

They were recognized in a ceremony Thursday at the annual Farmfest near Redwood Falls, Minn.

Families receiving honors have demonstrated a commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture and agriculture production and service to their community.

Officially, the Akkermans were honored as “Evergreen Farm,” a name they acquired after Christina suggested changing it a few years ago. What would happen when the two boys took over the farm, then called “John Akkerman Farm?”

The family agreed to a change, and the new name was the centerpiece of one of Christina’s award-winning 4-H landscaping projects in their yard.

“We’re the only one with evergreens around here,” John added.

All three children help out in some capacity on the 800-acre farm on 245th Street, where John grows corn and soybeans.

They have some chickens and a couple steers for eggs and meat, and got out of the hog business in the 1990s when that market crashed.

John’s father, Edward, bought their farm in 1950.

The father-son duo operated the farm for several years. John took over the farm in 1971, after he finished his service in the Navy.

All the children attended Hayfield High School.

Ross is going to college for machine tooling at Alexandria Technical College and rents a 10-acre farm, an experience his parents say helped him learn very fast about how the business works.

“It’s a start,” Soly said.

Christine is a landscaping student at Rochester Community and Technical College.

“It was a hobby at first, and now I’m going to school for it,” she said.

Brian is a foreman at Berg’s Nursery, and wants to pursue horticulture or ag business.

The three children were successful in FFA and 4-H in school.

“Both Brian and Christina got lots of Champions (awards),” Soly said, with Brian specializing in rabbits and Christina showing steers.

“He’s the rabbitman, and she’s the cattleman,” John said.

John and Soly also own shares in Alcorn, the farmer-owned ethanol plant in Claremont, and deliver corn four times per year.

John enjoys the outdoors as a deer hunter, deep sea fisherman and bow fisherman.

He is also a member of the Minnesota State Archery Association and teaches wildlife sports and safety at area schools.

Soly is active with Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Austin. When her children were at home, she was an active 4-H and FFA volunteer.

The Akkermans will be recognized at the Pride of Mower event on Tuesday at 7 p.m.. at the Mower County Fair.