The Heusinkveld family of Cherry Grove was chosen as the University of Minnesota's Farm Family of the Year.  In front are cousins Christiana Heusinkveld and Kenzie and Lucas Heusinkveld. In the second row are Cleon and Bonnie Heusinkveld, Darla and Jeff Heusinkveld. In back are Steve and Ruth Heusinkveld and Nate Heusinkveld, Jeff and Darla’s son.  Not shown is Nate’s wife, Misty.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
The Heusinkveld family of Cherry Grove was chosen as the University of Minnesota's Farm Family of the Year. In front are cousins Christiana Heusinkveld and Kenzie and Lucas Heusinkveld. In the second row are Cleon and Bonnie Heusinkveld, Darla and Jeff Heusinkveld. In back are Steve and Ruth Heusinkveld and Nate Heusinkveld, Jeff and Darla’s son. Not shown is Nate’s wife, Misty. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
"I like the farm. I want to farm someday," said Lucas Heusinkveld, whose younger sister, Kenzie, likes to "drive the Ranger" and likes the animals grazing on Heusinkveld Farms, where four generations of Heusinkvelds work and play, milking cows and planting alfalfa and corn.

Their great-grandmother, Bonnie Heusinkveld, noted that the family is proud to have been chosen as a Fillmore County University of Minnesota Farm Family of the Year. She and her husband, Cleon, have spent their lives on the plot of land just north of Cherry Grove, and they've instilled in their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren the importance of making farming work and keeping a sense of humor as they face challenges, because the farm was begun during pioneer days and has flourished over its 160-year history.

Bonnie's great-grandfather homesteaded this farm in 1856. Her father farmed it and Cleon started farming there in 1949 when he married Bonnie. Luke is the fourth generation on this farm.

Bonnie and Cleon's sons, Steve and Jeff, may have imagined life off the farm, but not for long - Steve has been milking the farm's dairy herd since 1971, and he and Jeff bought into the farm operation in 1973. When Cleon retired, grandson Nate - Jeff's son - joined the partnership in 1998, as he had spent his high school career in FFA and gone to school to study farming, and a limited liability partnership (LLP) was formed.

Currently, Jeff and Nate milk up to 350 cows in the parlor, with up to 320 replacements, as they raise all their own heifers. They estimate that they have "probably 550 acres in hay and corn...or more like 600 if you count what we rent."

Steve retired from daily milking chores, but he's available every day to handle bookwork, haying, chopping and fencing when Nate and Jeff need a hand, and Cleon keeps busy mowing alfalfa when the crop is ready.

The farm employs five to seven local dairy farmhands annually - they're most often students from the Kingsland or Fillmore Central school districts who are interested in dairy production, and more often than not, students who are also siblings.

Cleon, a former president of the Fillmore County Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA), also served on the FHA board, was Fillmore County Farm Bureau president, helped form the Fillmore County Forage and Grassland Council, and has been a member of the church board at Greenleafton Reformed Church. Bonnie was a member of the Farm Bureau Women's Committee and participated in various church committees, is a church choir member and volunteers as part of the Mayo Clinic Hospice Program, giving 27 years to those in need.

Steve has been busy over the years as a Farm Bureau member, a 10-year Fillmore County Agricultural Society fair board and a Kingsland School Board of Directors member, and part of his church's board of trustees. He and his wife, Ruth, have embraced farming as a way of life, and they appreciate all that it affords them - such as chances to be on the Farm Bureau Minnesota State Young Farmer Board and for Steve to take mission trips to Honduras, Uganda, Nicaragua, Mexico and even within the United States to places such as Mississippi. Steve and Ruth volunteer at the local food shelf, and they enjoy being able to give of their time.

Ruth, who is also a certified personal care assistant, stated, "It's a way of life that you can't pay for. We're our own bosses pretty much all of the time."

Her brother-in-law, Jeff, countered jokingly, "That's until you walk in the house and your wife tells you what she needs done."

The "honey-do" list may grow long, according to Jeff, whose wife, Darla, operates the Gateway Inn Restaurant they've owned for the past 20 years in Wykoff, but they, like Steve and Ruth, are glad to have the blessings of farm and business, children and grandchildren.

Ruth and Darla quipped that they "married the guys first, and the farm came later." Ruth elaborated, "We were too young to know better. Actually, I'd always lived on a farm, so it was a natural progression."

The "natural progression" of farm life that encompasses Heusinkveld Farms has led Nate, a seed salesman, and his wife, Misty, a library assistant at Fillmore Central High School, to become involved in various agricultural organizations such as the Fillmore County American Dairy Association board. Their children, Lucas and Kenzie, spend time with them in the tractors during harvest and planting, and when the sun is shining and the fields are plowed, seeded or harvested, the children are out exploring the farm's green corners as the grownups do the milking and field work.

"This is a lifestyle," said Steve. "It's not a nine-to-five job, five days a week. It's seven days a week, and you do it whether you're sick or healthy, but it's good."

Ruth and Bonnie summed up what being recognized by the University of Minnesota's extension office is like - the family attended Farm Fest near Redwood Falls, Minn., and were among at least 60 families from around the state who were thanked with a banquet and expressions of appreciation.

"It's an honor," said Ruth. "We're just a normal farm family."

Bonnie agreed, "It's an honor to be picked."