Members in Focus: Romsdahl Family, Watonwan County
At the ripe age of 18, Watonwan County farm boy Harold Romsdahl joined Minnesota Farmers Union. Soon after, in 1954, he got married and bought a farm five miles east of the farm he grew up on. He served as the Watonwan County Farmers Union President, while running a diverse farm operation. He kept working until he was 85.
Now at 90, Harold can take pride in the Farmers Union legacy his descendants share in. His son, Brian Romsdahl, is in charge of the family farm now, farming 500 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and 80 acres of pasture for 24 cow-calf pairs. Brian is now the Watonwan County Farmers Union President, with his wife of six years, Therese, on as Secretary.
“As far as I know, I’ve been a member of Farmers Union my whole life,” Brian said. “I’ve been county president for I don’t even remember how long.”
‘It sure wasn’t anything like Brian’s’
The family, descended from Scandinavian immigrants, has been hard at work on the land ever since they set down roots. They’ve passed that work ethic down to Brian’s two daughters, Jennie and Laura, whom he had with his late first wife, Deb. She passed away from cancer.
“Brian and (Deb) started their part of the farming,” Therese said. “She was really instrumental in working on the farm with him and developing the cattle herd. She was very good at genetics. Their daughters took right after her.”
Both young women have stayed close to the family farm near Butterfield. Jennie is a registered nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Laura lives on the farm, in one of the two houses the Romsdahls own. Laura’s house had belonged to Brian and Therese, until Harold moved into assisted living, at which point the couple moved into his former house and Laura into the other one.
Laura farms part-time with her dad, when she isn’t working at a bank in town. She is an agriculture graduate of South Dakota State University.
“Her goal is to have her own beef herd,” Therese said.
“Part of working in town for her is to be able to get into farming,” Brian added. “Farming is a very capital-intense business.”
Growing up, the family had dairy cattle, sows, feeder pigs and feeder cattle, before moving into the cow-calf operation in the 1980s. Brian’s brother Randy raised hogs nearby until 1986, during the farm crisis. He quit farming, went to law school and served as a lawyer for Cargill until 2006, when he went to seminary to become a Lutheran pastor. He now serves a congregation in Crystal, near Minneapolis.
The beef raised by the family mostly goes to direct marketing. The herd consists of black and red Angus and shorthorn crossbreds.
“I want something that’s going to be tender and good,” Brian said. “So far I haven’t had anyone complain.”
Harold added, “People will say they had a hamburger in town, but it sure wasn’t anything like Brian’s.”
Why Farmers Union?
The Romsdahl family’s dedication to MFU is based on the work they see the organization doing.
“It’s our voice at the Capitol, and I feel they have the best interests of family farmers at heart,” Brian said. “I believe in the whole family farm system, and rural communities. Without family farmers, our rural communities wouldn’t survive.”
Brian has been on a few National Farmers Union Legislative Fly-ins, the last being on Sept. 11, 2001. When the plane flew into the Pentagon, he recalled seeing a huge plume of smoke coming up from behind the hotel.
“People were running up and down the streets. It was chaotic,” he said. “They had people with rifles sitting on the roofs of the hotel.”
The Romsdahls faced a steep challenge to their own farm’s survival in the 1980’s. Thanks to the help of Brian’s mother’s lefse-making, they made it through. Brian said she made about 800 pounds of lefse one winter. But he, Harold and Randy have never forgotten the experience.
Having been county president for so many years, Brian said he hopes to see young people step into leadership positions over time. But he’s willing to do the work while he can.
“I used to have the fire, but I don’t quite anymore,” he said. “But I still live and breathe Farmers Union policy. You do what you can with what you’ve got.”