Harris farm receives Century distinction

Warren and Mary Ann Johnson honored by 2012 Century Farm recognition

By Jon Tatting

For 134 years, a certain farm in Harris has withstood the test of time and is now being rewarded for it.

The farm, owned by Warren H. and Mary Ann Johnson, is among the 144 Minnesota farms being recognized this summer as 2012 Century Farms by the Minnesota State Fair and Minnesota Farm Bureau. It’s located on the 43000 block of Forest Boulevard, just south of town, where the now seldom used train tracks stretch north-south across the front drive and yard.

Warren and MaryAnn Johnson of Harris are set to be honored for their 2012 Century Farm on Sunday, July 15, at 2 p.m. at the Chisago County Fair. Photo by Jon Tatting

“It’s an honor to be recognized,” said Mary Ann while sitting with Warren and son Butch in their front yard last week. “We love it here. We can go outside, walk around and don’t have a whole lot of neighbors. We got married right out there, by the lilac bushes, and we’ve been here ever since.”

The Johnson farm, as others statewide, qualified for the Century distinction because it has been in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years and is 50 acres or more. The farm in Harris has been in the family since 1878 and consists of 77 acres — though it originally sat on 160 acres.

The Johnsons will be honored at the Century Farm and Senior Citizen Awards program at the Chisago County Fair in Rush City on Sunday, July 15 at 2 p.m.

Meantime, at the State Fair (Aug. 23 – Sept. 3), all century farms are recognized in a listing at the Minnesota Farm Bureau Building.


The farm began with Warren’s great grandparents, Eric and Carolina Johnson, in 1878. By the time Warren was born in 1922, it remained in the family when his grandpa Charlie Johnson took over the operation. Next was Warren’s father, Henry Johnson.

As for the next generation of Johnsons, Warren and Mary Ann have done their part, too, as they have kept the farm up and running for 56 years over 63 years of marriage.

Warren and Mary Ann raised five children who also grew to love the country life. Timothy, the oldest, is an auctioneer in Willmar, Minn., while his siblings live just a stone’s throw away in the Harris area.

Daughters include Sandra and Diane, who holds office as mayor of Harris yet remains in close touch with the horses she keeps on the farm.

Son Richard also lives nearby, while Warren Jr. (also known as Butch) still lives on the farm and helps out where he can.

Stories on the farm

Warren and Mary Ann said the original farm house burned down in the early ‘30s, when it was owned by Warren’s grandpa, Charlie. A presumed chimney fire, the blaze may have had more drastic results had it not been for an alert neighbor or passerby.

“The family was eating dinner when someone knocked on the door and said, ‘You know your roof is on fire,’” Mary Ann shared.

Well, no, they didn’t know and probably didn’t mind the interruption. “By the time the fire department got here, the house was a total loss,” she continued. “Then the tornado came and took the farm.”

Backing up a bit, Charlie immediately started to build a new house after the fire. Underinsured, they lived in the chicken coop where they likely slept on some mattresses. Meantime, a tornado touched down and blew a 2-by-4 — “like a spear” — through the door of the chicken coop, while the barn was blown into the exposed basement of the new house that was under construction.

“It’s a good thing they weren’t living in the barn,” said Mary Ann.

In 1932, with everyone intact, Charlie finished the new farmhouse, which is where the Johnsons call home (with a few additions made since) to this day.

Warren recalls the creamery days when milk and goods were delivered by teams of horses. He used to go to school where Schoolhouse Park now sits in Harris. After school, he would trek across the field to help grandpa Charlie with the farm. “It was something to do,” he said.

He remembers the day when a runaway horse became spooked (probably from one of the trains that regularly passed by on the nearby tracks) and injured his great grandpa. That was when Charlie really started helping out at the farm.

On the day Warren was born, during a blizzard in 1922, the doctor from North Branch arrived by train and was retrieved by his uncle Robert who worked for the creamery in town. Robert brought the doctor out to the farm with the creamery’s horse team.

“Everyone had to work together back then,” said Mary Ann.

Protect those turkeys

Warren raised and sold turkeys, especially around Thanksgiving, for many years. He even took them to store in the Twin Cities. But it was work, as he faced problems with the fox that wanted the birds for dinner.

On some occasions, Warren slept with a .22 in the body of an old car in the field to keep the fox from his turkeys.

The Johnsons were involved in vegetable truck farming, with such goods as sweet corn and watermelon. The family sold vegetables at the end of their driveway, but when the freeway came, they took their goods to Duluth.

As a boy, Warren showed his green thumb abilities through a Sunday school class project. The class was asked to plant tomato seeds and bring back the results. Instead of a plant to share, he brought back the money he made in selling it, smiled Butch.

Warren served in the Army from around 1944-45. He was in Japan at the end of World War II. “They dropped the A bomb when we were half way there,” he recalled. Though he got a deferment because of the farm, they (U.S.) really needed men, Butch explained.

— Century Farm families receive a commemorative sign, along with a certificate signed by the State Fair and Farm Bureau presidents and Governor Mark Dayton. Since the program began in 1976, more than 9,100 Minnesota farms have been recognized as Century Farms.

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