Minnesota State Fair recognizes Rush City ‘Century Farm’
When Arnold and Joyce Johnson look out over the expanse of their 172-acre farm off Old Government Road in Rush City, the sight of that land brings back memories of a life well lived.
The farm has been in the Johnson family for generations; Arnold’s grandmother, Ellen, purchased the land in 1914 after she and Arnold’s grandfather, Sven, emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s.
This fall, the farm will be 100 years old, and the Minnesota State Fair recently recognized the Johnsons’ farm by giving it a “Century Farm” distinction.
The couple received a certificate and a metal sign in the mail from the State Fair to acknowledge the anniversary.
Changes over the years
Arnold and Joyce, both Rush City High School graduates — Arnold in 1951 and Joyce in 1967 — have seen many changes on their farm and in town over the years.
Arnold said his father, John, took over the farm in 1923, which has been used for dairy farming and growing crops such as hay, oats and corn, and he handed off operation of the farm to his son 30 years later as his health started to fail.
Arnold said he hadn’t planned on becoming a lifelong farmer, but he felt someone should stay home to take care of his parents, so he was the one of his siblings to do just that. Arnold’s mother, Agnes, and father didn’t live long into his adulthood.
“Both my parents were buried before I was married,” he said.
He and Joyce met in 1970 and were married not long afterward. They started their lives together in the family house that was built when Arnold graduated from high school, and they later put an addition on the home.
They had three children together: Mike, Anders and Martin.
Arnold, remembering his childhood in the Rush City area, noted just how much the town has transformed since he was a young man.
“Rush City was a going town,” he said. “We had car dealerships here — at one time there were five. We had farm implement dealers here and two creameries.”
Joyce added, “We also had gas stations, probably twice as many churches and taverns.”
Arnold said until the 1960s, Rush City was the biggest city in Chisago County.
“North Branch wasn’t much, and Lindstrom wasn’t real big,” he said.
Arnold said he used to sell milk to the creameries before they closed.
“In 1948, the most butter made in one day was made in Rush City at the two creameries because they covered such a big area,” he said.
Reflections on farming
Even though Arnold hadn’t planned to become a farmer, he took pride in the work and found enjoyment in it.
He had cows on the farm until 1979 and grew crops on the land for decades.
After selling the cows, Arnold went to work at a flour mill north of the Grant House for 18 years, but he kept growing crops on the farm.
Now he rents out the land.
“The only thing I do now is mow the grass around the buildings,” he said with a laugh.
He said there were good and bad times on the farm — crops produced varying results from year to year and cows sometimes contracted illnesses that affected milk production — but there was a certain appeal to working with the earth and animals.
“Some of those animals could be just so nice,” he said. “With some of them, it was just like having pets.”
But, he noted, there were certainly some “ornery” ones.
“If they were ornery, they’d wait until you walked up in-between two of them, and then they’d pinch you between them,” Joyce said.
A source of pride for Arnold and Joyce is the pristine barn on the Johnson farm.
All a person has to do is drive around Chisago County for a while, and he or she will see an array of dilapidated barns that have been neglected for years. That’s not the case with the Johnsons’ barn, which Arnold’s father built in 1928.
“You can go out there and put a level on the wall, and that barn is still perfect,” he said.
Arnold’s had to do some construction work on the barn to keep it in good shape, but most of the timber is original.
Reflecting on the life he’s lived on the family farm, Arnold put it simply: “It’s been a good place to live.”