For young farmer, growing up on Minnesota farm 'like a business playground'
KRAGNES, Minn.-Carsten Thomas is a fifth-generation farmer on his family's operation near here. "We've been harassing the Red River Valley for I think over 126 years," he said. The 22-year-old plans to one day take over the family farm and add an...
KRAGNES, Minn.-Carsten Thomas is a fifth-generation farmer on his family's operation near here.
"We've been harassing the Red River Valley for I think over 126 years," he said.
The 22-year-old plans to one day take over the family farm and add an apple orchard.
"I love apples so much I literally eat two bushels a week," he said.
He grew up on the farm, and said he started farming when he was 12 years old. He raised pigs for 4-H and later sold the meat to the HoDo in Fargo.
"Once he saw that he could have his own little business and grow it, he's just expanded it," said his mom, Noreen Thomas. "The farm has grown in different ways that I never saw coming, frankly."
Carsten grows mushrooms and sells them to local chefs.
"For the record it's legal mushrooms. I have to say that because I got a weird phone call at 3 in the morning," he said.
"One of the great things about mushrooms is it takes material and it breaks it down for plants to eat so it's actually a symbiotic relationship," he said. "When you take oat straw and you throw mushrooms on it and you put it back on the field, it's like a perfect full circle."
He also grows, grinds and sells rolled oats.
"Usually when you take oats from the supermarket, they smash them and steam them, which kills a lot of the nutrients, so they'll stay on the shelf for two years," he said. "These are just straight from the field. And I made sure there were enough micronutrients on the field. What you put in the soil is what you get out. So I put a lot in it and it's really good for nutrition and protein and fiber."
His oats are sold locally at Sydney's Health Market in Moorhead and Prairie Roots Food Cooperative. Several restaurants use them, including in Minneapolis, and Noreen said 11 school districts will be using his product.
"Some of the things he's come up with, rolled oats, that was never here before. It's interesting to see because it's almost like a business playground so to speak," she said. "He can try some things and if they don't work, there's some risk, but it's wonderful to have that ability to try different things."
Carsten was recently recognized for his work. In March, Family Farm Defenders awarded him the John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize for operating a diverse organic farm, honoring Native food heritage, and offering hands-on environmental education programs.
"I'm a very small fish in a very, very large ocean, but it was nice to have that many leaders around me so I could learn from them," he said.
Noreen said Carsten, who also helps feed and care for her sheep, has always been responsible.
"You'll find that kind of carries through with a lot of farm families," she said. "When you look at rural people, they're very hard-working, very independent, and they're also very, very community-minded."
Though he typically gets up around 5 a.m., Carsten said he doesn't mind because he's doing something he loves and he gets to be his own boss.
"Then you don't have to work," he said.