November 23, 2022 at 5:02 p.m.

Urban farming

Kroenings honored as Washington County Farm Family of the Year
Robert and Beth Kroening relax at their farm Nov. 1 near Stillwater, Minnesota. They were named the Washington County Farm Family of the Year.  PHOTO BY TAYLOR JERDE
Robert and Beth Kroening relax at their farm Nov. 1 near Stillwater, Minnesota. They were named the Washington County Farm Family of the Year. PHOTO BY TAYLOR JERDE

By Taylor Jerde- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

STILLWATER, Minn. – Robert and Beth Kroening hop on their tractor well before sunrise knowing they need to wrap up before the sun sets for the day so they do not disrupt their neighbors in housing developments that border their land.
They begin the day planning when it might be best to move equipment.
“We like to be good neighbors,” Beth said.
The Kroenings’ 45-cow dairy farm is located just a few miles from interstates and cities like Stillwater and Lake Elmo. Not only are they cognizant of their neighbors in the urban community but are also active in the community.
The Kroenings were named the 2022 Washington County Farm Family of the Year.
“We’re honored to have been selected,” Beth said. “We couldn’t have done any of this without the support of both of our parents.”
Although being near town has its conveniences, the Kroenings also experience challenges. They are mindful when they move machinery and try not to drive on the roads during rush hour, even if it may delay their plans. They also keep in mind how the environment of their farm may affect others nearby.
While the area where their farm is located has changed, their roles on the farm have remained the same. Robert enjoys milking cows while Beth is fond of feeding calves.   
Beth also has a full-time off the farm job at a local greenhouse.
“Skills that you have learned on the farm help flow into skills off the farm,” she said.   
The Kroenings volunteer with Washington County 4-H and help youth with their projects.
“We’re always open to helping out,” Beth said.
Robert and Beth are active members of their church. Beth served on the Washington County American Dairy Association board, and Robert served two terms on the Baytown Township board.
Beth said staying active in their community helps keep strong relationships with their neighbors and peers. She said they value these relationships because they are located in an urbanized area.   
Baytown Township has not always looked like it does today. Like many other towns, there used to be many dairy farms. Robert and Beth’s farm is the last one that is currently milking.
Robert’s family moved to the area 145 years ago from Niagara, New York, and settled at the farm’s current location.
“My family liked it here because it looked like and reminded them of home in New York,” Robert said.
Robert and his grandfather began farming on the homestead in 1984 when they purchased heifers. When Robert and Beth married, they added Beth’s 4-H show heifers to the farm. The couple then began milking in 1986.
The farm has evolved, and the Kroening family has learned to adapt. When Robert and Beth first began milking, they used Robert’s grandfather’s Surge milker. Their milkhouse was also yards away from the barn. Beth had to carry the milk up the hill to the bulk tank. The old barn also had no barn cleaner, which forced Robert and Beth to pitch the gutter each day.
In 1989, three years after beginning to milk, they made their first investment, a barn cleaner. In that same year, they also added tie stalls.
In the following year, 1990, they invested in a step-saver system to help pump the milk to the milkhouse.
Once again, the Kroenings knew they wanted more upgrades. In 1991, they built a milkhouse attached to the barn, and a few years later, they added a pipeline.
Just nine years ago, they re-did their silo, and in 2016, they added an unloader.
Many improvements have been made on the farm, but Beth said they would not have been possible without the help and support of their friends and family. These improvements have helped them build up to what they currently have.     
The Kroening family manages 375 owned and rented acres including pasture. They grow corn, soybean, alfalfa, oat and Sudan grass.
The Kroenings’ herd consists of Holsteins and a few Jerseys. They also raise their heifers and youngstock. They rotationally graze their herd during the summer and feed grain, corn silage, haylage and dry hay year-round.
The Kroenings sell their milk to Ellsworth Creamery.
“We like to tell people that we ship our milk to Ellsworth, because most people know where that’s at and say they like the cheese curds there,” Beth said. “It brings me so much joy knowing the products we’re producing puts a smile on the consumer’s face.”
As for the future, Beth hopes their family farm can continue.
“It’s a good place for kids to grow up,” she said.
Robert said they do not think of dairy farming as work.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I like working with cows, and there’s always something different.”
Their cows know how to keep the farm interesting; Beth was surprised when they had a 17-year-old cow freshen with twins this year.
Beth said they enjoy the surprises of dairy farming.
“It’s very calming and centering in the barn,” Beth said. “There’s just something about hearing the milk pump and chains click that brings us joy.”
Robert and Beth said they feel fortunate to be part of such a welcoming community. They enjoy sharing their passion with others around them and are humbled to have won such an honor.
“Dairy farming is in our blood and an extension of who we are,” Beth said. “We’re lucky to continue farming and be a part of this legacy.” 


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