Nearly 100 years of wind power
The years spread between five generations are numerous, and when a family shares the same passion throughout those years, a truly beautiful vision can be accomplished. This is evidenced by the Carlson farm sprawling over 2,600 acres of land; it is fully outfitted with fields, silos, barns, storage buildings, various farming equipment, a semi truck, and a wind turbine. Five generations of farmers built the farm from the ground up and continue overseeing it to this day.
The story starts with Christian Strohbeen, who emigrated from Germany with his family and settled in Iowa. The family arrived with a farming background, and in 1860 migrated north in search of more plentiful land. Later that year, a son, Henry, was born. By 1864 the family made their home in Star Prairie Township, purchasing the land that the family’s first turbine would reside on. Thirty years later, in 1894, Henry purchased the land from his father.
1917 saw the first generation of the Carlson family graduate from the old Osceola school building. Just four years later, in 1921, that same graduate built the electric wind turbine that would power a feed mill, providing the farm and its neighbors with milled grains. The turbine was the first of its kind in the area at a time when such technology was fairly rare.
“They were quite innovative people,” Lee Carlson recalls of his grandfather’s family. “They were some of the first in the area to have a combine harvester. He was just a go-getter.”
The farm that inspired the original turbine was much different than the family’s farm today. The farm was much more livestock-focused, capping out at about 50 milking cows, a thousand hogs, and a few thousand laying hens. Corn was their only crop. Before trucks, they would herd cattle 12 miles to New Richmond, load the livestock onto rail cars and ship them to market in Chicago. The farm would average two to six rail cars of livestock per week until they could truck cattle years later.
In 1994 the Carlsons sold all of their cattle in favor of crop-focused farming. They now produce corn, soybeans, and rye.
Thirteen years ago, when the Carlsons started growing non-GMO soybeans, they were looking for a niche market. Today the beans grown at their farm are taken to Bloomer for cleaning before being loaded onto cargo ships where they will travel as far as Japan to be turned into tofu.
The modern wind turbine stands at 132 feet with 30-foot blades, a midsized model. Comparatively, the turbines seen in wind farm fields have blades closer to 130 feet. Based on where the wind is coming from, the base of the turbine will adjust itself to best collect wind energy.
Energy collected from the turbine is not used directly by the farm. Instead it is supplied to an electric grid co-op where it is stored, net metered, and returned in the form of energy credits. However, when the farm’s irrigation system is running, power is designated directly to it. In the off-season, power is banked at the grid and then given back to the farm when it’s needed.
Regionally, there are two other turbines like the one owned by the Carlons, located in Turtle Lake and Ellsworth. With the push towards clean, renewable energy growing stronger each year there’s an increasing demand for these midsized turbines, as well as other alternative energy sources such as solar panels.
Asked how he found himself drawn to farming, Scott Carlson said that he always knew it’s what he wanted to do. In five generations, each iteration found a born farmer with the passion needed to continue the family business. His sons have already expressed interest in carrying the Carlson family farm on for generations to come.