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Willmar bison producers open farm to students, public

By Carol Stender
Agri News

Date Modified: 01/29/2010 4:03 PM

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WILLMAR, Minn. — John and Leila Arndt's life-long dream came true when they retired in 1992 and went into farming.

The two had successful careers in the Willmar area before retiring. John taught junior high industrial arts for 12 years and another 20-plus years at Willmar's Ridgewater College, where he started the carpentry program. Leila was a legal secretary.

But farming had always been their goal, John said.

When they left their careers, the two purchased a farm northwest of Willmar and began raising Charolais-Angus-Hereford cattle. But, when John attended the Blue Mound State Park bison sale, their operation changed. He brought home five bison heifers and phased out the beef.

They grew their bison herd. At one point they fed out 100 to 120 bison per year. The Arndts were among the founders of the Minnesota Buffalo Association. They've had bison processed with the North American Bison Cooperative and locally at Carlson's Meat Center in Grove City.

Their herd is rotationally grazed on their 120-acres of pasture. Travellers traversing the county highway near their farm often stopped to take a look at the majestic bison.

"Everyone was curious about the bison," John said.

They recognized a great educational opportunity in their midst.

The couple renovated their family room into a gift shop to sell gift items and bison meat. They offer tours to the public, informing them not only about the bison but also about farming. And, to fellow bison producers, they sell breeding stock.

They are active in Willmar's Farm to School program. Every year Willmar fifth graders travel to the farm for a tour. John describes the bisons' history in the area and the students, riding in the school buses, get a closer look at the majestic animals in the pasture.

At the school cafeteria, the students receive a sample cup of bison roast followed by a meal including bison hot dogs the next day. Last year they served 4,000 hot dogs, Leila said.

The Arndts' J and L Bison Ranch is one of several area farms participating in the Farm to School program in Willmar.

Food service directors feature a "harvest of the month" where students are offered a featured food item from a local farmer.

For more information on J and L Bison Ranch, check out their webpage at www.jlbison.com