Rengstorf family farm
Solar panels on the Rengstorf Community Solar Gardens
Under the auspices of the Experimental Geography Studio, Nicholas Bauch interviews Fred Rengstorf about his family farm in Courtland, Minnesota. The interview took place on August 13, 2018, and the audio-video was compiled on July 10, 2019. The interview is about the various ecological transitions the land has undergone since the 1950s until its current state today as a solar farm.
This was a subsistence and market farm in the Midwest United States when the interviewee (Fred) was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. He says there were small buildings for hogs, a big red barn with a hayloft, a chicken coop, a brooder house, a machine shed for butchering chickens, a granary, a garage, and a tool shed. There were many buildings for different purposes. There was pasture for hogs and cows. They raised oats for older sows to keep them from getting too fat. They grew and made straw for bedding. They grew alfalfa, corn, and soybeans. The Corn was mostly for in-house feed. Soy was the cash crop. The corn was used to feed hogs, chicken, cows. Also they made silage with the corn. The land was used in a variety of ways.
Fred’s father—Wes—got out of dairy when dairy farming became too industrialized. Wes didn’t want to make huge dairy barn; he saw it coming but didn’t want to change. Wes sold all the cows when Fred was 13, and instead focused on hogs. The chickens also were sold because Fred’s mom became a teacher. They turned the farm into a hog farm through Fred’s high school and college years in the 1960s and 1970s. When Wes retired, the land was rented out and there were no more animals. The tenants turned it into corn and soy exclusively. The entire transition took about 30 years; from a dozen species to two!
There was a damaging tornado after Fred’s parents retired. Everything was gone except two buildings and a bunch of cement slabs. Debris was scattered through fields, littered with metal and wood. People are still plowing up the pieces today.
There were lots of buildings with places to play and run around in for Fred and his siblings when they were kids. They climbed trees and played in the hay mound. The farm was just above subsistence farming when Fred was a kid. They raised their own food, steers were butchered for beef; hogs butchered; sweet corn patch; potato patch; rhubarb patch; they canned and froze food. But they also sold milk and eggs, hogs to market, steers, corn, and grain sold to market. It was subsistence farming with some income in the 1950s.
Since 2013 it has been a solar farm. Fred and his siblings were approached by a solar company in 2013, who wanted to lease the land to install solar panels. Fred had been renting the land to a soy and corn farmer. The solar company offered three times what the agriculture rent was, with a guaranteed 25 year lease. There was financial benefit, and also benefit to the soil.