September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Ruehlings maintain rural lifestyle even as city moves closer

The Ruehling family, from left, Curtis, Adam, Mary Ann, John and Maggie, lives on a farm located just a quarter-mile from the New Prague city limits. They are working to maintain their rural lifestyle even as the city approaches their farm. (photo by Chuck Kajer)
The Ruehling family, from left, Curtis, Adam, Mary Ann, John and Maggie, lives on a farm located just a quarter-mile from the New Prague city limits. They are working to maintain their rural lifestyle even as the city approaches their farm. (photo by Chuck Kajer)

By Chuck Kajer- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

NEW PRAGUE, Minn.- John and Mary Ann Ruehling have a unique perspective on farming. From their land along Naylor Avenue, it's just a quarter-mile from to northwestern city limits of New Prague. That's a concern for the Ruehlings, who operate a dairy farm with John's brother Marty.

"The city's getting closer to us all the time," he said. "Farmers can't just keep moving away from the city; we've got to make a stand."

Some of the land the Ruehlings farm has been in their family for four generations, and John hopes that his children will be the fifth generation to work the land.

In the last few years a handful of homes have popped up on the land north of Raven Stream Elementary school. John says so far, there hasn't been any conflict between city and country.

"We haven't had anyone in town complain about the smell of the farm," he said. He and Marty own about 1,500 acres and also rent some land where they raise crops.

But the Ruehlings are first and foremost dairy farmers. They milk about 200 cows on the Ruehlings' home farm, northwest of John's home.

John says farmers go through a lot of regulations, with a lot of environmental hoops to jump through now compared to when his father Caldwell Ruehling ran the operation. "So many things have changed. To be profitable, a farmer has to modernize. There's a lot of costs involved with that."

Mary Ann added that many people think since farmers are getting more for corn now compared to a few years ago that they're in good shape. "But our costs are going up too. We have to buy fuel, we buy food, we buy feed for our cattle and fertilizer for the crops."

John and Marty started farming together while John was still in high school in the late 1970s. "We started out small and just kept growing," he said. "We were fortunate enough to be able to buy the neighboring farm and keep all our operations together."

In the late 1990s they built a modern milking parlor that could handle 20 cows at a time and later expanded it so it could handle 28, 14 on each side. There is a pit in the middle for the operators to attach the milking machines without having to bend over and put strain on their backs, and the milking machines are computerized and have an automatic detacher that releases the cow when it is done milking.

There is no "typical" day for the Ru ehlings, who normally begin chores between 4:30 and 5 a.m., then start milking cows around 5:30 or 6 a.m.

"Cows can keep you up at any time of the night, especially when their calving. With so many cows, there's always some that are calving, and that can keep you busy."

"It's a physically demanding job that takes a lot of hours," he says.

John says that they do have some hired help that allows the family to take off on a short vacation each summer. "We get maybe three days off a year," he said.

Mary Ann is involved with the farming as well. She grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota and chose to live the lifestyle of a family farmer. The couple has three children Maggie, 14, Curtis, 12, and Adam, 7.

In recent months John has been vocal about the need to protect farmers and help keep them on their land. When the Scott County Planning Commission held a public hearing on its new comprehensive plan update, Ruehling spoke about how the plan seems designed to force farmers into selling or developing the land for housing.

"It's a problem nationwide," he said. "There has to be some kind of a balance. We need to keep good agricultural land in food production. It's too important to be taken for granted. There's not enough appreciation of what it takes to produce food. If you lose land, you lose food production."

Mary Ann says when land values rise like they have in recent years, "so many farmers see an opportunity and say 'why break our backs,' when they can get out and get a good price from developers."

She says there are long-range consequences that will affect the cost of food.

While the property adjacent to theirs has been annexed into the city, John and Mary Ann say they have no plans to sell.

"We plan to stay, and we're hoping that the kids plan to stay as well," John said. "They would be the fifth generation of our family to farm on this land." He notes that the land was originally settled by Henry Ruehling in the 1860s, and was later owned by Fred, then Caldwell and now John and Marty. John adds that part of the milking parlor is in a barn that was built by his grandfather in 1917.

Staying on the land will prove challenging as land values go up. "But as long as we stay in agricultural production, the Green Acres laws will stay in effect and we should be OK."

That doesn't mean there won't be difficulties.

"We've already seen more traffic this way, but there are some nights when we don't see more than a car or two. We still see and hear coyotes and owls, and there are some bald eagles in the area.

And if the future allows, John and Mary Ann hope their children will be able to enjoy those same sights and sounds, and the same lifestyle, for years to come.

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