Hi! My name is Daisy, and I'm lead dog on the Downing Farm. All the humans are really busy now that pumpkin season is upon us, so they've asked me to show you around.
I live on a farm of 240 acres, so there's lots of room for me to play. The farm has fields, pastures, woods, and a spruce and tamarack swamp which is home to interesting creatures and unusual plants such as the insect-eating pitcher plant and -- some say -- the Minnesota state flower, the Lady Slipper.
Our farm is near Braham, about 60 miles north of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Have you ever been to Hinckley or Duluth? If you have, and you traveled on Interstate 35, then you've passed pretty close to me. We dogs have good hearing, so yell "Hi Daisy" next time you pass by.
When English immigrants Richard and Mary Downing (Generation 1) settled in east-central Minnesota at the beginning of the century, they couldn't have known that by the end of the century their farm would be supplying pumpkins to kids of all ages in St. Paul and Roseville. They also couldn't have known that the new century would find a fifth generation of Downings growing up in the very farm house they themselves had lived in. (But now with electricity and indoor plumbing!)
Richard and Mary's son Russell (Generation 2) was next in line to run the farm. Russell's brothers Leonard and Charlie each got their own farms nearby.
Late 1940s: Russell and children Marianne, Vernon and Harlan
a corn binder and a John Deere "B" tractor.
Late 1940s: Russell and Edna, with Vernon, Marianne and
Harlan, visit Como
Conservatory in St. Paul to find out how they grow things in the city. Many years later, Vernon would sell pumpkins just a few miles from here.
Next in the chain came Vernon (Generation 3), the Pumpkin Man -- but more on that later. Vernon and Diane raised four kids in the old farmhouse -- Bob, Dave, Dan and Michele.
1964: Vernon and Dave pose on the 620 John Deere with a Case combine behind.
1973: During oats harvest, Dave, Diane, Vernon, Michele, Bob and Russell pause for a photo.
Over the years, the Downing farm has been home to cows, horses, pigs, chickens and plenty of other critters. But Holstein dairy cows have been the chief residents. Until recently, my master, Dan, (Generation 4) milked about 35 cows twice each day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They never take a day off! (The cows, that is! The farmer can take a day off -- but he has to get someone else to do the milking for him.)
Dan still uses the same old barn, the original part of which is made of logs. The barn was built with sturdy post-and-beam construction. Up in the hay loft (where those pesky cats can climb, but I can't get 'em) you can see the big, square timbers notched together and held in place with wooden pegs. No air-powered nail guns in those days!
1998: Dan and Andrea show where milk comes from -- and it's not your grocer's dairy case! Generation 5 is visible in this photo only if you have an ultrasound plug-in for your browser.
1999: Another generation of Downings meets another generation of Holsteins.
But what about the Pumpkins?
Grandpa Downing (Vernon -- Generation 3) milked cows and raised hogs and crops for many years. He is now supposedly retired, but he stays busy helping sons Bob and Dan with crops and cows. (Bob has a farm nearby, while Dave and Michele went off to grow soft with cushy city jobs.) Grandpa decided to try growing pumpkins in 1994, and I think he didn't know what he was getting himself into. As a life-long farmer, he knew how to carefully prepare the soil, plant the seeds and cultivate out the weeds. By late summer, it was evident that a nice crop of pumpkins was on the way.
But what would he do with them all? He found a spot to sell them along the street in Roseville (Lexington & Roselawn) and gave it a try. Well, he found that lots of boys and girls in the city -- even some pretty old ones -- were eager to buy nice pumpkins from a real farmer in bib overalls.
Son Dave and Dave's wife Tammy decided to help, too. They live in the big city of St. Paul (Ugh! Leash laws and little baggies! Not for me, thanks.) They sold pumpkins in their neighborhood and had a lot of fun. They now sell at Snelling & Ford Parkway in St. Paul.
Well, all the pumpkins found homes, and everyone had so much fun meeting people and selling pumpkins that they decided to plant even more the next year. And things have continued to grow every year since. (That's a doggone pun!)
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