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Family to offer look at their farm this weekend as part of Dairy Days

Gene Gatewood can imagine no better place to do business. There's something intoxicating about alfresco work, he says, the way the wind whispers through the overgrown trees, the creaking barn as its warped timber shifts with the land, the declama...

A look inside
Gene Gatewood will open his family farmstead to the public for Dairy Days. The Gatewoods operate a 350-acre dairy farm south between Willmar and Big Kandiyohi Lake. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett

Gene Gatewood can imagine no better place to do business.
There’s something intoxicating about alfresco work, he says, the way the wind whispers through the overgrown trees, the creaking barn as its warped timber shifts with the land, the declamatory chimes of the livestock as they patrol their tract of open prairie.
Gene has been farming for more than three decades, raising a family in the only house he’s ever called home, overlooking land cultivated by three generations of ancestors. And, on Saturday, he, his wife, Shelly, and their three children, will proffer their story when they open their farmstead to the public during West Central Dairy Days, a yearly celebration of the region’s dairy industry.
Their goal: to edify on the merit of family farms, a critical point, Gene says, as the concept of generational farming continues to fall prey to urbanization.
According to the Census of Agriculture, a USDA report revealed the number of U.S. farms fell from 6.8 million in 1935 to about 2.1 million farms in 2012.
“People need to see and understand what farmers do,” Gene says. “Often, in the news, you hear all about the bad stuff. But you never hear about the good stuff. We’re in a position to talk about and for people to see what we do as a farm. I think it’s important.”
Gene’s farm is primarily a dairy operation, with a 70-head herd. The family also raises bull calves up to 500 pounds for auction, sheep and lamas, and has a couple of horses.
“I suppose we’re a little bit of an Old MacDonald farm,” Gene says.
Additionally, the Gatewoods grow corn, oats and alfalfa. The spread is interspersed amid lush groves across some 350 acres and is a blend of nostalgia and novelty.
The operation remains a family affair, with Gene and Shelly handling the business side of the day-to-day operations, while the kids continue to learn the trade.
Jessica is the eldest. She is employed full time as a home health care professional and farms part time when needed.
Julie is the middle child and Jordan the youngest. Both have studied agriculture at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Jordan plans to shoulder a larger role at the farm, while Julie will tend to acreage in Perham, some two-plus hours north of Willmar, where she’ll move following her forthcoming nuptials.
During the Dairy Days event, the public will have full access to the farm and the family.
It’s the second time the Gatewoods have played host: the first was six years ago.
They anticipate a crowd in the multiple hundreds.
“It’s a great event,” Gene says. “The (visiting) kids always make it interesting, too. They have no inhibitions. Whereas an adult might not want to ask a question from fear of sounding silly, children just ask away. They’re so intrigued. For some of them, they never get to see farms at play. I think our favorite question has to be ‘does chocolate milk come from chocolate-colored cows?’”
A benefit will also be held at the farm through Svea Lutheran Church. Members of the congregation will serve a pancake and sausage breakfast beginning at 9 a.m., with freewill donations collected for the family of Mark Rew, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
The farm will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The farm is located at 7130 90th Ave. S.E., between Willmar and Big Kandiyohi Lake, off County Road 8.

 

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