Farming Fathers: Father-son team tackle life’s challenges


Editor’s Note: Six regional farmers were selected as 2018 Farming Fathers. More stories, photos and videos will be posted as announcements are made. See more at

Drive through farm country in Minnesota and you’re likely to meet a number of Scandinavians. If you turn down Norwegian Drive near Milan, MN, you will find a father and son facing farming challenges together.

Farm Forum asked readers to share why their “Farming Fathers” deserved recognition. Nominations for these two men stood out among the nearly 60 well-written entries. Farm Forum’s crew honored the team as two of Farm Forum’s Farming Father’s this year. Several from the community gathered on a rainy day last week to celebrate with a meal provided by sponsors. Photos and stories are part of the recognition.

Writing for her siblings, Donna Hanson typed: “We would like to nominate our dad, Jerry Lee, for the Farming Father’s award. As a lifelong farmer, father of three, grandfather of seven, and cancer survivor he’s been an inspiration to us all. Growing up, he was custom swathing in high school and helped his dad and uncles with hay baling. He also helped milk cows which Mom says made him late for their dates in high school.”

Donna and her brothers Jason Lee and Jon Lee nominated their dad for the award.

The family farm is near Watson, MN, where Jerry, 66, farms with his son Jason who lives at Milan. Jerry’s wife Ruth Ann, said, “Jerry has a kind heart and a strong work ethic. He always has time for his grandchildren (ranging from 22 years to 4 months) and loves to share ‘dad’ jokes with them. Jerry is the president of both the Watson Lions Club and Watson Lutheran Church Council.”

Jerry trained at Crookston at the vo-tech for two years. He and Ruth Ann farmed with his dad Elton and his brother Kenny beginning in 1974.

When asked if she helps on the farm, Ruth Ann said early in their marriage, Jerry got stuck and asked her to help. “We drove the front-wheel assist tractor to pull him out. It worked and Jerry put up his hand with the five fingers extended. I thought that meant fifth gear and I almost jerked him off the tractor. To me, stop was shown by a closed fist. I didn’t get asked for help after that.”

Little fingers plucked M&Ms from Jerry’s cookies. Granddaughters Destiny, Hope and Madison said they liked to tease. Grandpa likes to tease them, too. Last week, they laughed a lot at the circus in Montevideo.

Donna shared, “When I was in high school, I did the Quaker Oats project through FFA. He helped a lot with that. My son James, 4 months, is waiting for his first tractor ride.” Donna’s husband Jeremy helps by driving the grain cart in the fall.

Donna’s daughter Jessie, 22, spent many weekends on the farm while growing up. With tears in her eyes, Jessie said, “I can’t put into words how special he is. I got to ride in the tractor with him and learned a lot. I remember sitting out in the sun on the bale trailer, and he helped me understand how things could bolt together. That started my interest in engineering.”

Jessie is getting a degree in mechanical engineering from North Dakota State University. Grandpa proudly noted that she took part in a robotics competition at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Jon Lee works for Butler in Fargo and is at the farm often with his wife Erin and their daughters Annika, 10, and Alexis, 8.

Long-time neighbor Jerry Weber likes to tease Jerry about his red machinery. One day during a snowstorm, he helped move snow. Jerry Weber said he parked his green tractor at the end of the drive and told people that Jerry Lee had finally come to his senses and improved his choice of equipment.

The father-son team works together, planting 1,700 acres to corn and soybeans.

“It was great when Jason came back,” Jerry said. “He’s way better on the tech stuff than I am. Farming together is special.”

Jason’s experience with equipment is essential to the operation. Technology changes improve the efficiency of the farm. Jason said, “I remember when we got the first light bar which dad loved for spraying. Now we have EZ Steer in the quad for tillage and auto pilot for planting.”

While he works hard, Jerry said, “I make it a priority to attend events for my grandkids. I should have attended more for my own kids. It was harder to get away then. Now we have a 16-row, 30-inch planter and we can get over a field pretty quickly. When I started, dad had a 6-row, 30-inch. I thought it was really something when dad went to 8-row, 30-inch.” With a shake of his head, he said, “Can you imagine? Now they make 32-row and even 48-row planters.”

Makin’ memories

Autumn Lee, writing for her three daughters in their nomination of Jason, typed, “We’re makin’ memories. That’s exactly what our farmer, Jason Lee, says with every adventure and unexpected situation. When life is full of twists and turns and throws curve balls, we face it with ‘we’re makin’ memories.’ ”

Jason is the fourth generation to plant crops on the Lee/Peterson land. Jason, who has a daughter Madison, 8, is married to Autumn, who has twin daughters, Destiny and Hope, age 10. All enjoy living on what was the Peterson farm, where his mother Ruth Ann grew up.

When he was a senior in high school, Jason worked for the Case/IH dealer in Montevideo. He moved within the company several times, including working in Aberdeen from 1995 to 2000. No matter where he was, he’d come back to help. He returned to farming in 2009.

In the farmyard, ducks happily splash and quack in their own little pool. The young girls raise show calves for 4-H. Excitement mounts as Sitka, a female Great Dane, will soon have her first litter. And there is a unique structure in the yard.

Ruth Ann’s father loved sharing stories of his Norwegian heritage. Bonds of friendship stretched across the ocean to Halvard Pettersen. To show appreciation to Americans for kindnesses shown during WWII, Halvard built a Norwegian Stabbur building in Norway, took it apart, shipped the pieces to America and reassembled it on the Peterson farm. It includes a bell tower, a sod roof, ornately carved woodwork and names of towns in Norway.

The nomination continued, “With great honor, we nominate our farmer, Jason Lee, who has farmed since age 8, for the ‘Farming Fathers’ award. When he wasn’t helping dad or grandpa disassemble or reassemble a piece of equipment, he was packing silage, helping with hogs, or doing whatever needed to be done. And now, 35+ years later he’s still making memories; but with three little girls of his own.”

“He’s taught the girls at an early age the value of hard work and a strong work ethic. They’ve learned that nothing comes easy. Hope, 10, will tell you a ‘farmer’s work is never done’ right after she fixes her wagon with a piece of fencing wire, and proudly exclaims she ‘Farmered it.’ ”

Autumn wrote, “From changing wheel bearings, checking tire pressure, moving feed bags, and shoveling manure, he’s right beside them, as a father, friend, protector, and role model. He’s taught them respect, responsibility, gratefulness, and most importantly faith. With empowerment and emotional investment, he’s taught the girls confidence and advocacy. Jason gives the most important gift he can to his family: his time. With every sunrise, sunset, birth and death, our family is always ‘Makin’ Memories,’ thanks to our farmer. We are very grateful and proud that he is part of our lives.”

Autumn went to school for ag business and works in town for public health. “I would be here every day if I could. I help when I can. I roll the beans and help with the grain cart at harvest time. I handle the livestock: ducks, chickens, calves, and Great Dane dogs. We bought our first bred cow and bred heifer to start a registered Hereford herd, as Jason’s grandparents ran one here many years ago.”

Hold your loved ones close

A seven-year survivor of prostate cancer, Jerry has done well since his treatment. He had surgery in February of 2011. He was by Ruth Ann’s side as she battled ovarian cancer in 2000 and breast cancer in 2013. The experiences left them with a renewed appreciation for their family.

“Farming is tough in itself. Getting through cancer treatments takes a lot of strength for everyone in the family,” Ruth Ann said. “The kids are so supportive, they were at our bedsides when we were in the hospital or they picked up whatever needed to get done.”

Working together on planning, planting and harvesting with his dad is pretty special. Jason said, “I didn’t realize how much I missed farming with dad until I had moved away. I’m thrilled to be part of the operation.”

Connie Sieh Groop is a freelance ag writer. She can be reached at

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