A harvest of his own
STEPHEN, Minn. – Leonard Will, a displaced California farm kid, has received a rare opportunity in the Red River Valley of northern Minnesota. He’s determined to make the most of it.
“I know how fortunate I am. And I’m excited,” he says.
Will, 25, was hired this spring by Hvidsten Farms of Stephen, Minn., to manage its equipment, a full-time, year-round position. He also serves as what Will describes as “an all-round farm hand.”
What makes the arrangement unusual is that Will, in addition to receiving regular pay, is farming 80 acres of Hvidsten land. In farming the 80 acres, he makes planting and marketing decisions, uses Hvidsten equipment, pays input costs and receives the income from the crop raised on it.
“This way, he can try it and see whether he hates or loves farming,” says Pete Hvidsten, who’s part of the family farming operation. “We want to make it a fairly good representation of what farming is like.”
Just about everyone involved in modern agriculture agrees that it’s virtually impossible to enter farming without help from an established farmer. Finding land to farm and securing financing almost always requires help from someone who farms already.
Bruce Aakre, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Crookston who taught Will in several classes, knows the difficulty of starting farming from scratch.
Will “was one of those people you think won’t get a chance at farming on his own. But he’s making a run at it,” Aakre says.
Will, 25, grew up on a family farm in California near the Oregon border. It raised barley, alfalfa, sheep and cattle.
His grandfather, also called Leonard, started the farm in 1947 after serving in World War II. Wade, the older Leonard’s son and the younger Leonard’s father, took over the farm in the 1970s.
In 2001, however, the family lost its irrigation rights, which made farming the land impossible, and had to sell the farm.
“That was the last thing my grandpa wanted to see. He was pretty tore up about it,” says the younger Leonard Will.
Will, then in his early teens, didn’t fully realize the loss at the time. “But the older I got, the more I realized how much agriculture meant to me. So I had this drive, this desire, to seek out farming any way I could,” he says.
“What I like most is farm equipment. When I see it, I just have to try operating it myself. And I love maintaining it so that it keeps on running,” he says.
Will tried several things after high school, including studying chemical engineering and working for a California custom-hay producer. Nothing quite clicked for him. Then he decided to come to the University of Minnesota-Crookston to study agriculture.
“I wanted to see a different part of the world. And I had — still have — a passion for agriculture,” Will says.
After coming to Minnesota, Will met Tim Hvidsten, Pete’s father, in church. Eventually, Tim approached Will and, as Will recalls it, “asked me if I knew anybody at college who would be interested in an internship (working for the summer on the Hvidsten farm).
“I said, ‘Yeah, maybe I know a few guys.’ Then later I thought, ‘Maybe he (Tim) wants me to work for him.’ So I approached him a few minutes later and said I’d be interested. He said, ‘Great, we’d love to have you work for us,'” Will says.
He interned last summer on the Hvidsten farm before returning to college for his final year. He graduated this spring with a degree in farm and ranch management.
The Hvidstens liked Will and his contributions enough that they decided to hire him