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

Seven decades of dairying

Pearson values connections with friends and neighbors
Merle Pearson shares a pleasant chat with Tim Newton, his First District Association milk truck driver. Pearson has milked cows for nearly seven decades and says that the social aspect of dairy farming is the main thing that keeps him going.
Merle Pearson shares a pleasant chat with Tim Newton, his First District Association milk truck driver. Pearson has milked cows for nearly seven decades and says that the social aspect of dairy farming is the main thing that keeps him going.

By by Jerry Nelson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CLARKFIELD, Minn. - Most would consider a career that has lasted 30 or 40 years to be quite an accomplishment. But that would just be a good start when compared with Merle Pearson's dairying career, which spans nearly seven decades.
"I started milking cows with my mom when I was five," said Pearson, who turns 74 later this year. "Mom and I milked up to 24 cows by hand, separated the milk and sold the cream. Dad and my brothers never liked dairying, so it was up to her and me."
One of the main things that has kept Pearson going is the social aspect of operating his 50-cow tiestall dairy. A near-constant stream of friends and neighbors stop in at the Pearson farm to chat, share a joke or use Pearson as a sounding board for their personal problems.
"There are always people dropping by," he said. "I have a lot of good neighbors and friends. We work back and forth with each other, but no money ever changes hands. We simply help one another out of friendship. I have 40 hens but I never sell any eggs. I give the eggs away. But those hens have been awfully good to me because now I've got things like cookies, cakes, pies and even some homemade canned beef!"
After operating his parents' dairy until he was a young man, Pearson leased a dairy farm located just 2.5 miles away from the Yellow Medicine County farm where he grew up. He rented the quarter section where he now lives for several years before purchasing the farm in 1970.
"I only farm this quarter section," he said. "I don't use any fertilizer and maintain soil fertility with cow manure and by rotating crops. I can usually raise enough to feed my cows and buy just a little hay. I get my hay from the Peterson brothers in Canby, and they always give me a square deal."
Pearson and wife, Dorothy, had been married for 43 years when she passed away in 2006 due to complications of diabetes. The couple had no children.
"I've always liked kids," Pearson said. "My wife and I have helped several troubled young people over the years by taking them under our wings."
One of the most recent examples of such a thing is Chris Oakland.
"Chris is related to me on the Johnson side of the family," Pearson said. "He's 30 years old now and we helped raise him since he was six. He has landed a good job working for the John Henry Foster company in the Twin Cities, but he's out here every Friday evening as soon as he can get here and stays until he has to leave Sunday night. Chris is like a son to me. He has been a great help."
With such a lengthy career, Pearson has experienced his share of tough times. Dairying is the common thread that helped him get through those trying periods.
"The winter of 1968-69 was a real corker," he said. "The snow was so deep, we couldn't get out for weeks. But we kept on milking our cows and separating the cream and feeding the skim milk to our hogs. We had ten cans of cream when we finally made it into town."
Pearson has also dealt with a number of droughts.
"The summer of 1976 was a bad one, but so was 1988. In 1988, a neighbor gave me 64 acres of corn. None of it was taller than the back tire of the tractor. I chopped it all and hauled it home, and there wasn't a single ear in that entire field."
The mid-1980s were a struggle for many farmers. Pearson was not exempt.
"The high interest rates in the mid-80s made things pretty tough," he said. "Carlyle Larson, my loan officer at the PCA, told me one fall that he didn't think I would get my corn picked, so I told him he should come out and help. He began to come out every fall and drive my John Deere 70 with the 227 mounted picker. We really enjoyed picking corn together and became great friends."
Pearson tells of a recent incident that illustrates how deeply valued he is by his neighbors and friends.
"I had to go to a funeral," he said, "And a friend of mine came over so that we could go to the funeral together. One of my neighbors stopped in while I was gone and couldn't find me. My pickup was still here, so he searched all over the farmstead. When I got home he was mad because he didn't know where I was or what might have happened to me. He said 'You could have left a note!' I chuckled and said he was right, so now I leave a note whenever I go somewhere."
It's common for Pearson's neighbors to phone him and invite him over to share a meal.
"The Kaatz brothers, who have a tiling company located a bit north of here, will call me up and say 'Come on over, lunch is on.' So I'll go there and bring something from my garden or some eggs or some cheese that I got from the milk truck."
As could be expected, the inexorable march of time has exacted a toll on Pearson's body.
"Those five-gallon pails of water are getting heavier every year," he said. "And I now have arthritis in my knees and in my hand. But I go to the doctor and that has helped. I'm still getting along pretty good."
At a time of life when most people are deep into retirement, Pearson is busily trying new things on his dairy.
"I recently bought a dozen bred Jersey heifers," he said. "I've never had Jerseys before, so we'll see how they work out."
After nearly seven decades in the dairy barn, Pearson has no plans to retire.
"I enjoy the dairy farm life and am going to keep milking as long as I can. It gives me an excuse to go to the elevator and shoot the breeze and share some jokes give them a hard time. Being a dairy farmer makes it so that people stop by to help out or to simply visit. That's what gives me more pleasure than anything."
After a lifetime of dairy farming, Pearson has one simple lesson he would like to pass on.
"You have to be good to people if you want them to be friends with you," he said. "And if you don't have friends, you don't have anything."[[In-content Ad]]


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