Tag Archives: Agriculture

Hard Times in Hollandale

Today’s post comes from Jim Tjepkema

Hollandale is a small town in Southern Minnesota that came into being in the early part of the last century when a large wetland area was drained. The organic soil that was exposed when the land was drained was sold off as small vegetable farms. In it’s early days there was a very large number of small farms that produced a wide variety of vegetables. By the time I moved to the area in the early 80s, there were less than 30 vegetable farms and they were primarily devoted to growing potatoes with some of them also devoted to producing onions, carrots, and sweet corn. Most of the families that purchased the original small farms were of Dutch heritage and many of the ones I met when we moved there were descendants of those families.

Within any ethnic group you can often find people who are proud of their heritage. That is certainly true for many of the Hollandale area residents. I asked one of the older members of the community if he agreed with the saying: “if you aren’t Dutch, you aren’t much”. He told me that he might think that, although he never says it out loud. Both of my father’s parents were born in the Netherlands, so I know a little about the pride of the Dutch.

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My first job in Minnesota was at a small agricultural research company located near Hollandale. When that job ended I started a crop consulting business and soon found out that there was a big need for a consultant who could help vegetable growers keep on top of production problems. Two of the best growers were willing to try my services and they made it clear that the other growers should also use my services. As a result, I spent 10 growing seasons checking Hollandale vegetable fields for diseases, pests, and other problems along with providing advice on dealing with what I found. Due to the high production costs for vegetables and large risk of losses due to production problems, I was able to show that my services were needed. Unfortunately, the farmers were not willing to add very much to their costs by paying me a high salary.

During the years I worked with the Hollandale growers the number of farms gradually decreased until there were only 5 of 6 left and now there are only 2 or 3. I’m sure some of them quit because the strain of operating a vegetable farm became too great, as they got older. There is a tremendous amount of work involved in planting, growing, harvesting, storing, packaging, and marketing vegetables. One grower, who also grew corn and soybeans, referred to corn and soybean farming as a hobby because the amount of work needed to produce those crops is very much less than is needed to produce vegetables.

There were a number of other factors that led to farmers calling it quits. A big one was the problems they have with flooding when water from higher ground filled their low lying fields following heavy rainfall. Also they had a big problem with soil loss because organic soil can blow away during dry weather and burn up during hot weather. In addition they had difficulty competing with the very large farms that dominate vegetable production in the United States. The drop off in the number of growers brought my work in Hollandale to an end. However, I have many good memories from the years I spent working with those farmers.

What’s the toughest job you ever quit?