Wendelin Grimm, the Famous Farmer

Hennepin Parks honored the birthplace of America's Dairy Belt during the Grimm Farm Open House on Saturday, October 6th, at Carver Park Reserve in Victoria.  The Park District celebrated the completion of the Grimm Farmhouse' restoration project as well as the accomplishments of Wendelin Grimm, a German immigrant farmer who, during the late 1800's, developed North America's first winter-hardy alfalfa.  Numerous Grimm descendants attended the Open House, including Clarence Kelzer of Victoria, great grandson of the famous farmer.

With the farmhouse restoration complete, Hennepin Parks is developing a cultural history program for school groups and the public.  Its goal is to make everlasting the story of how a modest immigrant farmer changed the world.

Open House activities included wool spinning ...

… and carding demonstrations …

… and children dressed in bonnets … (Hi, Elise!)

… and sisters in old fashioned dresses.  They are billed as the Whittemore Sisters, and they sing at many events.  Left to right, they are Linda, Ruth, Carol, and Debra.  Carol is Carol Vadnais from Victoria.  She writes historical columns for the Victoria Gazette.

The Open House also included banjo players …

… and smiling faces ...

… and young boys walking on stilts ...

… and young girls walking on stilts …

… & folks preparing for the program.  Hi, Julie Marie Schmieg of Victoria and niece and nephew.

Ron and Harriet Holtmeier of Victoria cuddled on the sunny but cool afternoon.

Clarence and Dorothy Kelzer got to wear name tags and "descendant" ribbons.

And then Clarence spoke to the large crowd that had gathered.  He told the story … "One spring, Grimm had driven three animals to Victoria, and his neighbor came out and observed that his cattle were in very good condition.  'You must feed them a lot of corn,' he said.  'No, only ewiger klee.'  Alfalfa will put on pounds.  It's the number one feed for dairy cows.  All the nutrition is in there.  He turned this whole area into dairy farms with his alfalfa, and this is a thing that should not be forgotten.  The farmers homesteaded here and they built schools and churches.  He knew what strength there was in this crop.  He knew what it took to survive.  And it didn't take long for neighbors to notice that his alfalfa survived the winters and that his livestock were sufficiently plump from foraging on its nutritious hay."  Thank you, Clarence, for your work in saving the day.

Grimm Alfalfa eventually established Carver County as the largest dairy-producing county in the state and was considered the most important development in American agriculture until the development of hybrid corn in the 1930's.  It continued to be popular until the 1940's when it was replaced with bacterial wilt-resistant varieties.

It was back in 1924 that more than 700 farmers, seed dealers, relatives, university scientists, newspaper reporters, and locals gathered at the Grimm Farm to erect this monument, thanks to the promotional efforts of a neighbor who reported the plant's success to the University of Minnesota.   

Hennepin Parks acquired the Grimm Farmhouse in 1962 as part of the Carver Park Reserve.  The two-story Chaska-brick farmhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but was in such bad shape that it was nearly torn down.  In 1993 the Minnesota Historical Society concluded that the state was losing its historic agricultural sites at an alarming rate and identified the Grimm Farm as one of its highest priorities for restoration.

When Wendelin Grimm immigrated from Kulsheim, Baden, Germany, in 1857, he brought with him his wife Julianna, three children, and the small chest of "ewiger klee' or "everlasting clover" seeds.  With rented oxen he moved his family to this 160-acre farmstead in Victoria.  Over a period of 15 to 20 years, Grimm religiously saved seeds from the everlasting clover plants that survived Minnesota's harsh winters and replanted them the following seasons.  Wendelin Grimm died in 1890 without ever realizing his impact on American agriculture or sharing in the wealth of what is now a $10 billion a year industry. 

Hello, Kathy Heidel, staff member at Carver Park Reserve.  Thank you for telling stories about the house and home of the famous farmer and his family.

The family was actively involved in the restoration project and contributed many of the historical items and prints and paintings on display.  Hello, Jo Mihelich, Scandinavian historian and author from Waconia, who is not wearing a Grimm "descendant" ribbon.

Hello, area quilts and quilters.  Is that you, Lillian Reich, on the left?

It seemed to be a step back in time as old-fashioned board games captured the attention of many of the kids who attended  the Open House festivities.

Other outdoor demonstrations included old farm tools, especially this hand held corn planter.

This "farm tool" was mainly used by farm women intent upon getting the grease and grime out of farm clothes on wash day.  A washboard lay nearby.

This tool continues to be used to make fresh apple cider.

Is that  Mr. Orsen giving a hand at cidering?

Thank you, Mr. And Mrs. Wendelin Grimm, for contributing to the wealth, welfare, and heritage of Victoria, Carver County, Minnesota, and the Great Upper Midwest.

Thank you,  Hennepin Parks, for making the day, and the days ahead, possible at Grimm's Farm.

Both the editor and her husband grew up on farms in southwestern Minnesota and learned about cutting, baling, and hauling alfalfa hay.  Notice the rail fence behind us, and the twigs woven in and around the logs.  Such a fence was probably used by Mr. Grimm for smaller animals -- such as lambs -- that wouldn't then be able to squeeze through the openings. 

The End

Love, Sue

E-mail:  Sue@PrintsPublishing.com

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