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Sawyer, Wright farms honored with century status

The Mike and Jen Olesiak farm of Sawyer and the Dahl farm in Wright - owned by Cindy Dahl Jokinen - are both being recognized as Carlton County Century Farms for 2023. Qualifying farms have been in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years and are 50 acres or more. The two family farms will be recognized at the Carlton County fair at noon today, Friday, along with this year's outstanding senior citizens. They join a long list of century farms in the county.

Barb Olesiak Dahl shared the story of the two farms. She is the link between them: born and raised on the Olesiak farm in Sawyer, Barb married into the Dahl farming family. Cindy Dahl Jokinen is her sister-in-law and Mike Olesiak is her nephew. Barb's husband, Tim, still hays the Dahl family farm.

What is now the Olesiak farm was established by a Finnish immigrant, Andru Kamunen, in 1915 with a 40-acre purchase from the railroad. Kamunen married and, with his wife, raised a daughter, Lydia. She married Ray Olesiak in 1938 and they moved onto the Kamunen farm to care for aging parents.

The farm grew in acreage and included three 40-acres plots on the Lind Road for hay. Nine children were raised on the farm and helped with the farm work. Ray Olesiak became a successful livestock dealer.

"We learned how to work hard on that farm," noted Barb. "Our parents showed us a good work ethic. I thought everyone worked that hard until I went out in the world and saw how the rest of the people lived and worked."

Barb thinks about those days on the farm as good ones. Her oldest sister, Virginia, would go with a horse to find newborn calves in the surrounding forest. Milk inspectors came quite often and covering the concrete floor with lime was done regularly. She said it had to be spread so the floor was completely white.

But farm life was not without problems. The original house burned after being hit by lightning in 1966. In 1983-84, a new barn was built when the old barn was also lost in a lightning storm.

The family continued to grow.

Rick, the middle son, married Sue Iverson and, with the youngest brother Fred, took over the milking on the farm in 1975. By 1995 milk prices dropped so low that they sold the milk cows and changed to raising beef.

During those years, Lydia was a strong advocate for 4-H in Carlton County and an active member of AMPI and Farmers Union. Barb noted that her mother was selected as an Outstanding Senior Citizen of 1987. Barb is a member of the SWCD district board and an avid local volunteer.

When Ray and Lydia were too old to run the farm, grandson Mike bought it. Today, he runs a herd of 70 black Angus cows and works construction. His wife works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and they have three children, Micah, Hayden and Paige. The children help her with the goats and chickens and have show animals at the fair.

"Grandpa always had a Ford pickup in the yard and cattle in the fields," Mike said. "Seventy Angus are now on the farm. I wanted to do what Grandpa Ray wanted for the Olesiak farm."

Dahl family farm

Peter Dahl immigrated with his brother Ernest from Sweden and came to Minnesota in 1910. Peter was 23. He bought 80 acres from the Winona St. Peter Brown Land Company in 1916 and started a farm with his new wife. The house was a two-room building, small for the four children born there.

They built a large barn first. The family's livelihood came from there, after all. A new larger house was built in stages. Finally, the family moved into a new house and the small, old house became a chicken coop.

One of the Dahl boys, Lawrence, got married and started a farm 6 miles north of Cromwell. Peter retired in 1954. Needing more room for six boys and one girl, Lawrence exchanged his farm for his father's.

Lawrence continued to farm and supplemented farm income by logging. In time the cows were sold and beef were run on the land. Lawrence went to work at the Red Wing Peat Bog in Cromwell.

Today, their daughter, Cindy Dahl Jokinen, owns the farm, and her brother Tim Dahl still works the land. There is talk about a grandson buying it, upgrading the buildings and continuing to farm the land.

Barb, a former dairy princess who was recognized with her husband, Tim, and their children as the Carlton County Farm Family of the year in 2017, said "there are few family farms left and soon the corporate farms will completely take over working the land."

Century Farm families receive a commemorative sign, as well as a certificate signed by Minnesota State Fair and Minnesota Farm Bureau presidents and the state governor. Since the program began in 1976, more than 11,000 Minnesota farms have been recognized as Century Farms.