Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Sustainable farmers honor Carl Ziebarth

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 03/11/2010 9:09 AM

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NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Don't let the title of the award fool you — Carl Ziebarth isn't retired.

The 93-year-old Faribault farmer received the Sustainable Farmer Emeritus Award at the Feb.20 Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota annual meeting.

"I'm pleased to be one of us, thank you very much," he said in his acceptance speech.

Ziebarth didn't know his daughter, Anne Ziebarth, and his neighbor, Kathy Zeman, had nominated him because he wouldn't have agreed, they both said. But they nominated him anyway to honor everything he has done to help nurture other farmers and sustainable agriculture.

"I want to be Carl Ziebarth when I grow up," Zeman said. "93 and still at it."

Ziebarth was born and raised on a dairy and vegetable farm 50 miles from Duluth. They grew potatoes, cabbage and carrots. He remembers hauling cabbage to a railroad car and being paid $5 per ton in the 1920s.

In spring 1941, Ziebarth was drafted. He was supposed to serve for one year, but it was nearly five years before he returned to Minnesota. He served in the 34th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard during World War II.

It was a tough time, Ziebarth said. He earned three Purple Hearts and was told upon his return that he better not plan to do hard labor. He had the opportunity to go to college and decided to be an ag teacher.

He spent his life teaching. He taught at Benson, Mapleton and Medford high schools and in 1970 began teaching at the vo-tech in Faribault. It was then that he and his wife, Betty, bought 80 acres along the Straight River.

"It's a really beautiful place," Ziebarth said. The township road is on one side and the river on the other.

They planted black walnut trees and raise barley, wheat, corn, oats and alfalfa. Half of their land is wooded, the rest are cropped.

"Kathy Zeman buys anything I can raise," Ziebarth said.

"When we first moved up here, he kind of found us," Zeman said. He knew she raised a menagerie of livestock and she decided to buy feed and forage from him. They settled on a price between conventional and organic.

Ziebarth isn't certified organic, but he hasn't used chemicals on his land for the last 10 years. He uses crop rotation to manage weeds, with alfalfa following oats, corn following alfalfa and summer fallow where he plants winter wheat in the fall.

"I believe that this land is precious and it needs to be cared for," Ziebarth said.

Zeman gained so much more than feedstocks for her chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys, ducks and geese when Ziebarth drove into her yard. He has been a wonderful teacher, she said.

When she was at a loss on how to measure the corn piled in the back of her pickup, Ziebarth brought out a yardstick to determine the length, width and depth of the pile. He talked her through what equipment she needed to run a five acre market garden.

He's full of common sense tips that no one knows anymore, Zeman said. Sustainable farmers are said to farm as their grandparents did, but their grandparents aren't around to ask for advice. Ziebarth is among those who remember and are willing to share what they know.

"I think our generation needs to do a better job harnessing their knowledge," Zeman said.

Ziebarth is also a founder of the Cannon River SFA chapter, the organization Zeman now coordinates. The regional chapters served as the foundation for the statewide chapter, said Mary Hanks, SFA secretary.

"Carl was one of the founding members and has really been there since I've known him over the last 20 years mentoring new farmers and passing on his land ethic," Hanks said.

Ziebarth is still an active member, Zeman said.

He is also still raising vegetables. He and Betty have a big garden, harvesting and storing their produce in a root cellar they built themselves.