Preserving agriculture

Dornbusch, Beaver document farm life


PERHAM, Minn. — A camera and a farm is all Wendy Dornbusch and her daughter, Annalee Beaver, need to share the lifestyle of farming.

Dornbusch and her husband, Randy, live on a farm that has been in his family for more than 100 years. Randy, a third-generation farmer, milks around 50 cows in a parlor and farms 260 acres of corn, alfalfa and soybeans near Perham.

“Randy and I got married when I had two teenagers, Nathaniel and Annalee,” Wendy Dornbusch said. “He was pretty brave to do that, but I was, too, to marry a bachelor farmer.” 

Moving to the farm was an adjustment for the whole family.

“I was excited, and I wanted to fit in with the farming community,” Beaver said. “I helped milk in the stanchion barn and did a lot of the cleaning. I also helped feed calves. It’s surprising how strong they are when they are that little.”

Dornbusch was a videographer but dropped the career when she married Randy and began helping with the farm. Her passion for the work returned when the school their daughter, Carolyn, attended contacted Dornbusch to do a project for career day.

“I wanted to get back into video, and with farming, you have neither time nor money,” Dornbusch said. “Annalee suggested we apply for a grant. When we applied, we had to identify places to display our work. So, we had a show booked in Fergus Falls. We didn’t get the grant, but we did the display.”

To get the display ready, the whole family pitched in. While at the show, Dornbusch and Beaver were able to see the impact of their work on the community. They are looking for more venues to present farm stories to widen their outreach.

“There was this group of home-schooled kids and parents that came through, and the children had so many questions,” Dornbusch said. “Later, there was a grandpa with his grandchildren. After seeing the pictures, he was telling stories the kids never heard before, but those videos and images of the farm brought that alive for him.”

Beaver agreed.

“It really does help draw connections,” Beaver said. “It could help with the disconnection while growing connections within the farming community, communities as a whole, within families and generations, in a way that is meaningful, positive and strong.”

Thus far, the Dornbusch family’s farm is the only farm they have documented, but even that held meaning.

“To capture my family in a way that was meaningful and authentic and is a valuable memory they have for the rest of their lives and can pass down, and feel connected through the image is amazing,” Beaver said. “The barn is good for that.”

The two are hoping to document other farms.

“The next step is to have farmers that would like a videographer and a photographer to document their farm, because each farm is so unique, and to celebrate the daily life, tasks, skills, knowledge and the experience farmers have,” Dornbusch said. “You get to see the real liveness of it. We want to tell their story and validate that it matters what they dedicated their life to.”

The goal of documenting farms is to preserve the history of them. As more family farms disappear so do the stories of the family. Through photos and videos of the farm and the people there, Dornbusch and Beaver want to show the dedication of farmers, through good and bad, and have it in a form that families can keep.

“So much can go wrong (in a day) and farmers can be picking that up for a long time,” Beaver said. “Part of the project is to show that in a good light and not in the way of, we need to change because this is too hard. It’s OK to work hard, to live this lifestyle. Not only is it OK, but it’s good for the health of the animals and land.”

Coming from a farming background, the pair know the ins and outs of how a farm is constantly changing.

“We have that connection,” Dornbusch said. “I’m not just walking in to document something I know nothing about. I have experience so I can document what is meaningful. Every farm has changed how they operate over the years, and the story of that and family life is what we are capturing.”

Beaver agreed.

“Some people say they do it every day, like brushing your teeth, but it’s not like that,” Beaver said. “It’s amazing what farmers can do every day. Being able to capture … the environment is fun and meaningful to do.”

Farm families can expect a family photo session and a professional video intertwining family stories and daily operations. Dornbusch and Beaver will present the family with a photo book and edited video.


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