Princeton native Sandy Bronson and her husband, Richard Bronson, who arrived in Princeton in 1981 with a double-decker trailer full of pigs, are this year’s Mille Lacs County Farm Family of the Year.
They met shortly after Richard’s arrival, married in 1982 and subsequently raised three children: Jenny, Justin and Kristie.
The Bronson couple received their University of Minnesota-sponsored Farm Family of the Year award at this year’s Farmfest in early August near Redwood Falls. The couple also had a presentation on it at the Mille Lacs County Fair from state Rep. Sondra Erickson. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent a congratulatory letter.
Richard Bronson, besides farming, has worked at Hoffman Engineering in Anoka for 30 years, and Sandy Bronson has been a substitute teacher in Princeton Public Schools.
The Bronsons have always rented out the crop land on their 80-acre farm, but they have raised herds of hogs and beef cows (in latter years, purebred Black Angus).
The Bronson yard features three vegetable and flower gardens around the sides, an apple orchard in the center of the yard and shade from a number of trees, including some old white pines. The Bronsons sat on their long front deck last week and talked about their years of work in agriculture and the community.
Richard Bronson, whose resume includes logging and herdsman in the Northwest, came from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. At the time of deciding to move to Minnesota, Richard was raising pigs in Oregon. The location was too close to the grain export market and so grain was shipped in from the Midwest, making the cost of raising hogs there too high, he explained.
While looking at a hog management magazine one day, in anticipation of moving, he noticed a place for sale in Foley. But when he went there to check it out, he found the facilities in too poor of a condition, he said. A realtor in St. Cloud helped him find the place the Bronsons are on now, off Mille Lacs County Road 7, north of Highway 95.
After purchasing the farm, Richard decided to meet his neighbors, including the Clem and Emma Volker family, across the field to the south. That was where he met their daughter Sandy, who was finishing her first college degree in German and geography. She had seen some of the world by that time, having been in Europe and Washington, D.C., and was ready to settle when she met Richard Bronson.
“Timing was everything,” Sandy Bronson remarked.
“She put up with me for 30 years, which is surprising,” Richard Bronson responded.
Sandy corrected him, saying it was 31 years.
Asked if their meeting was a coincidence, since they met in that spot after being in far-off locations, Sandy Bronson said she wouldn’t call it that.
“God put us together,” she explained.
The Bronsons have produced SPF, or specific pathogenic free, herds of hogs for some years. The hogs are certified to be free of six major diseases plus free of parasites and worms. The certification requires testing in Worthington every three months, Richard Bronson said.
Focusing on the quality and health of animals is important, the Bronsons said.
The Bronsons use rotation grazing in their pasturing and have sold feeder pigs to 4-H’ers and assisted 4-H’ers for many years in swine and beef projects.
Most of the Bronsons’ beef cows are at the farm of Sandy Bronson’s twin sister, Sharon Moenkhaus, at Isle. The Bronsons no longer have enough pasture for them because of renting their land for crops.
Their volunteer/civic work
The couple is involved in St. Louis Catholic Church in Foreston, the East Central Pork Producers Association (where Richard Bronson is president), the Master Gardener program in Mille Lacs (where Sandy Bronson has been a member for 15 years and is now the volunteer coordinator), and assisting with 4-H livestock projects at county and state fairs.
Both have been longtime 4-H leaders – Richard Bronson for 20 years and Sandy Bronson for 25. Richard received the 4-H organization’s outstanding leadership award in 2010. Sandy has coached the 4-H General Livestock Bowl for four years, in which the team must be able to quickly answer questions about livestock. The livestock bowl team that she coached in 1999 won at region, state and nationals.
She was also a hospice volunteer for a couple of years.
The future of farming
Richard Bronson was asked what he thinks about the future of livestock farming and his answer reflected some longtime thinking about it.
The era of being able to make it with small hog farms is gone, with only large producers or those with niche markets, such as the medical testing industry, able to survive, he said. Right now, a packing house won’t contract with a hog producer unless it can consistently supply the packing plant with a full semi-truck load of hogs, he said.
A lot of the public doesn’t realize how the packing houses want volume and to keep their kill floors full, he said. It is common for a hog processing plant to work two eight-hour shifts back to back, he said.
Also, the hogs have to be much bigger now, at 270-290 pounds, versus the old days of 230 pounds, Richard Bronson said.
The hog-producing industry is not alone, he continued, citing the dairy industry as another big example of how little operations have mostly given way to the large ones. He said he visited his sister and brother-in-law in Jerome, Idaho, this summer and looked at a 120,000-cow dairy operation there, and noted how other large dairy farms were in the general vicinity.
“I just figure I’m fortunate to have a job at Hoffman or I wouldn’t have my farm,” Richard Bronson said.