By DAN MARTENS Extension Technical Advisor
By DAN MARTENS
Extension Technical AdvisorLeRoy and Lorraine Novak and Greg Novak represented Benton County at the University of Minnesota Farm Family Recognition program held at Farmfest on Aug. 3. They were one of 56 families selected from around the state. The Novak family enjoyed traveling to Farmfest with the Farm Bureau charter bus group hosted by John and Jeff Mastey.
The Benton County Extension Committee nominates a family each year that represents the good things that many farm families add to the Benton County community. A visit with the Novaks quickly reveals their appreciation and commitment for all of their family and for the community connected to their farm enterprise. The Novak family and farm offers a good lesson in learning and trying new things to accommodate family needs and interests.
Greg Novak started growing vegetable crops in 1993 but there is a longer history within the Novak family of growing vegetables. LeRoy’s grandfather bought the farm originally. LeRoy’s parents, Tom and Rose, cleared most of the land and started farming when Tom returned from World War I. They raised cattle, hogs, chickens, cucumbers, and bees at one time. In 1938, he bought a new car with the money made growing cucumbers for pickle processors in the area that summer.
LeRoy and Lorraine married and began their farming adventures in 1957. They continued with dairy, hogs, chickens, corn, small grain and hay crops. To supplement their income, LeRoy worked construction and hand-dug wells on occasion for about 10 years. The deepest well he worked on was 136 feet deep. Most wells were around 60 feet deep and they could dig about three feet per hour, hoisting the dirt out in a milk can or pail with a winch. They grew to the point of having 45 dairy cows and 25 sows, along with some poultry and the crop land. They started growing sweet corn and tomatoes for Jerry’s Market in St. Cloud. This gave their children an opportunity to earn spending money and gain from the experience of growing up on the farm. Lorraine worked as a cook at the St. Scholastica Convent and continues to do volunteer work there. They also provide some of their vegetables to the Convent. The family has made use of gravel resources to supply neighborhood needs.
Greg bought the farm in 1993 and continued dairying until 2000/2001. Greg developed a direct marketing network to a variety of stores all the way to Ely and Silver Bay with help from his brother, Danny, and other siblings. As many as 500 miles would be logged on delivery days.
Greg currently farms 260 acres of owned land and rents about 130. He buys Holstein calves and feeds them to slaughter weight; and farrows sows ounce a year in hoop shelters. With help from family members, he raises corn, soybeans, small grain and a wide variety of vegetable crops. There is variation each year that might include sweet corn, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, beets, onions, squash, pumpkins and dill. The Novaks maintain connections with select markets in northern Minnesota and two local farmer’s markets. Greg recently bought 40 acres of irrigated land. They are experimenting with growing carrots, cantaloupe, watermelon and other crops on this land. 12,000 plants of various kinds are started in a plastic hoop greenhouse early in the spring. Greg also does some landscape and construction work.
Lorraine and LeRoy are proud of all their children and their families and appreciate having their eight children and nine grandchildren living within about 10 miles. Mike, the oldest, works as a computer programmer and raises bees and lives on a 160 acre farm. His wife,Vickie, recently volunteered for six weeks of rebuilding work in Sri Lanka, cleanup work at Ground Zero in New York City, and other places. She also has an interest in growing herbs and native plants and knowing their health benefits. Greg is the second child.
Joan has had a licensed day care at their home over twelve years. She now works at Quebecor as a machine operator. Her husband, Jack, is a salesman for Rienhart Restaurant Supply. Their children are Jonathan and Jay.
Julie is a supervisor in the Human Services Department for Benton County. Her daughter, Kendra, has helped with the vegetable enterprise this summer, along with cousins Jonathan, Tanner, and Jay.
Lori is a machine operator at Quebecor and her husband, Ronnie, farms with two of his brothers. Their children are Tanner and Morgan.
Karen is a bookkeeper at Home Depot.
Danny, an electrician, works in the Twin Cities for Master Electric and his wife, Jenny, is a mental health practitioner for REM in St. Cloud. They have a hobby farm and Danny has helped with delivery routes for vegetables. Their children are Davin and Ethan.
Steve is a concrete block layer, working in the Twin Cities and his wife, Tennelle, is now a stay at home mom with daughters Olivia and Ava. They live on a small farm in the neighborhood.
In the community, Greg, LeRoy and Lorraine and most of the family are members of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Gilman. Greg is a member of the Knights of Columbus. LeRoy is a lifetime member. Lorraine belongs to the Christian Mother’s Rosary Society. Greg served three years on the township board and the church council. The children have belonged to 4H and LeRoy and Lorraine are past 4H leaders. Several of the Novaks are part of the Gilman Park and Recreation Association that has tarred trails recently and maintains other recreation areas in Gilman. They provide vegetables and work with other families on a summer picnic that is held jointly with the parishes in Gilman, Morrill, and Brennyville.
One of the highlights of the Novaks’ farming experience has been to see the appreciation people show to them in communities where they have sold produce. As they have cut back on their routes in recent years, they continued in one community strictly because of the appreciation the people expressed for their produce. Good friendships have grown out of their contacts in selling produce. The Novaks have really enjoyed having their children and grandchildren working together with the vegetable markets. Children, and now, grandchildren have always enjoyed newborn critters around the farm. One year they bottle fed a couple of baby raccoons that apparently had lost their mother. Following the Halloween snowstorm in 1991, Greg set out to build a huge snowman that ended up being about 29 feet tall and attracted visitors from around the St. Cloud area and surrounding states. The snowman story reached national news media.
The Novaks’ goal has been to make the farm work to meet the needs of the family and to give family members a chance to be part of it. They enjoy the adventure of trying new things and seeing how things will grow. Family members have worked together to give each other time to do other things. LeRoy and Lorraine have spent some of the winter in Texas for the past eight years and would like to slow down a notch to enjoy life a little more with a little less work.
The Novaks speak with a noticeable measure of appreciation for the things they have been able to do over the years as a family on the farm and in the community; and it means a lot to them to continue to be connected with family and friends in the community. Congratulations to the Novak family.
The Farm Family Recognition Program is a joint effort of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, the U of M Extension Service, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, and the College of Veterinary Medicine in cooperation with Farmfest.