Suhonens named 2011 Farm Family of the YearThe Suhonen family, this Farm Family of the Year walks the walk.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
The beef show at the Carlton County Fair is controlled chaos. Mooing and showing signs of occasional rebellion, cows of all ages and sizes are led from barn to show ring with the assistance of a halter and a show stick. Once in the ring, the thoughtful judge studies the animals from all sides and quizzes their handlers before announcing his decision in each category.
From outside the ring, a person might not hear 18-year-old Derek Suhonen as he rattles off the names of the 4-H kids and the adults displaying animals, or notice as he facilitates a smooth “cattle crossing” from the grassy area next to the beef barn to the ring. Unless you were watching, you’d be unlikely to notice how he tousles young Bertie Korpi’s hair and offers words of encouragement after a calf starts acting up.
On the other hand, it was hard not to notice 15-year-old Samantha Suhonen this year, as she walked away from this year’s beef show with a slew of trophies and ribbons. In the ring, she shows the poise and smile of a beauty queen, all the while stroking her animal with the tip of the show stick, calming it and making sure the feet are in just the right places.
Little sister Jennifer, 11, has the same dazzling smile and shows the same promise in the ring with her animal while mom and dad, Theresa and Jeff Suhonen, watch intently (that is, when they’re not in the barn helping one or another kid determine which category is up next, or where exactly to place the next trophy).
Watching them, it’s no surprise the family from rural Wright was named Carlton County’s “2011 Farm Family of the Year.”
However, it was a surprise for them.
“I don’t even know how they picked us,” Theresa said. “It’s a great honor, especially living on [Jeff’s] folks’ place where they raised nine kids. They all did chores, from milking cows to haying. Now it’s the same and different. We actually hay with his brother Roger, who lives a mile up the road; he’s the one who gave Derek his first bottle calf to take care of.”
Derek now owns eight cows and eight calves, as does his sister Sami. They also hay with Roger’s son Brandon.
According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, 76 families from around the state – one from each participating county – were selected by their own local county Extension committees.
“These farm families are a major driver of Minnesota’s economy and the vitality of Minnesota’s rural communities,” said Bev Durgan, dean of University of Minnesota Extension. “The University of Minnesota is proud to recognize these farm families for their contributions to agriculture and their communities.”
One of the criteria for selecting each farm family was that they should have “demonstrated a commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture and agricultural production.”
The Suhonen family certainly demonstrates that commitment. After all, it’s a family tradition.
Jeff and Theresa bought their family farm in 1988 from Jeff’s parents, Niilo and Vera Suhonen. The farm had been in the family since 1913. In the past, Jeff and Theresa have raised chickens, rabbits, pigs, horses and pygmy goats. Today they have registered and commercial Simmental beef cattle as well as registered Hampshire Sheep. They own 355 acres and have about 80 head of beef cattle.
Both parents agree they can’t imagine life any other way.
“I wouldn’t have changed my childhood for anything, so I’m glad we were able to stay on the farm,” Jeff said.
While Theresa didn’t grow up on a farm, she fell in love with farm life as she was falling in love with Jeff during their long courtship (they dated for seven years).
Because Jeff works full-time as a construction foreman for Northland Constructors, and Theresa works part-time as a postmaster relief, the kids are even more involved. All three children own their own cattle and sheep and have been buying and selling their own livestock, making hay, doing daily chores, and showing their livestock with pride at the county fair, the
Minnesota State Fair and Northeast
The entire family is also very involved in the local 4-H club, named “Family Pride.” They helped found the club and have been a huge part of its success in recent years, as was evidenced by Derek’s subtle facilitation of the beef show Aug. 18.
It’s not every 18-year-old who goes to the beef show the night he’s leaving for college.
“He’s been in 4-H for 12 years, and he’s always been president or vice president of the club,” Theresa said, when asked about her son’s behind-the-scenes involvement with the show, “so he tries to help the other kids when he can.”
Kids like Bertie Korpi, the 9-year-old boy that Derek was encouraging earlier in the evening, who leased a heifer from Jennifer Suhonen (for $1) to show at this year’s fair.
“We didn’t know if he would be serious, so we leased it from the Suhonens,” explained his mother, Theresa Korpi. “But it was his responsibility to go up and walk and feed it and wash it. They worked with him
Young Korpi won a blue ribbon for his heifer and was awarded Junior Showmanship grand champion.
“They [the Suhonens] trained him very well,” said his mother, laughing.
The Suhonens also walked away with a good share of the prizes at the beef show. Sami took home best overall female and male animal in the open class as well as 4-H champion overall beef animal and the Senior Beef Showmanship Champion trophy while Jennifer came in second to her sister, getting a reserve champion 4-H trophy for her beef animal. In addition, Jennifer was awarded the Junior Showmanship Champion trophy at the sheep show later that week.
When asked what they love best about growing up on a farm, all three of the Suhonen kids talk first about the animals.
“Just being able to go outside and play with the animals and look at them and stuff,” said Jennifer, who is going into sixth grade.
Sami agreed after pondering for a minute while she sat on a hay bale inside the
“Just how you get to witness animals being born,” she said. “We’ve gotten the chance to purchase our own animals and raise them and stuff. The cow could be good or bad; you learn it’s not always going to be good.”
Sami revealed that she got the money to buy her first animal by taking out an USDA FSA youth loan.
“You build your credit,” her brother chimed in. “When Sami was 10 years old she got her first loan and she was already building her credit.”
He also agreed that watching animals being born, watching a calf grow into something is an amazing experience.
“I love the learning,” said Derek, who plans to double major in farm and ranch management and animal science at the University of Minnesota Crookston. “You learn how to adapt quickly – if something doesn’t work, you fix it somehow and get it done.”
As Sami noted before, not every story has a happy ending either.
“There are random deaths, a lot of speed bumps,” Derek added. “You’ve just got to get over them.”
Jeff, who is a quiet cheerleader for the kids, is obviously proud as he listens to them elaborate on the things they’ve learned growing up on the farm.
“I’m very proud of all their hard work and dedication,” Jeff said. “They have a very good attitude. They have learned how to appreciate things. They not only appreciate animals, they have learned to appreciate advice from other adults. It’s a very good setting to raise kids. They have a lot of responsibilities.
“They’re really good kids,” he added.
The family also talked about how they spend a lot of time together, not all of it on work either.
“I am almost always with them,” Derek said. “Sometimes I’d rather be with them than my friends. We understand each other. There’s a lot of hard work, but then there’s time for relaxation and joy.”
Theresa smiled at her son.
“There’s a lot of laughter and silliness,” she said.
After the beef show was over and they’d enjoyed a barbecue with other 4-H families, Derek headed off to his first year of college and Samantha headed to the Minnesota State Fair, where she took a red ribbon, Mom said, adding that Jennifer can’t compete until
One thing is guaranteed: the Suhonens will be back at the Carlton County Fair next year. You can find them at the beef barn … or the sheep barn … or simply enjoying themselves at the annual event.
“The fair has been a family tradition since I was a kid,” Jeff said. “It was a big event to come here and look at all the cows.”
Some things change, some things stay