Member Profile: Askegaard Organic Farm

January 28, 2024

Sixth-generation family farm near Moorhead, MN is committed to organic agriculture and healthy rural communities.

Photo by AGC member Seven Sundays

Father/daughter team Mark Askegaard and Beth McConnon farm in Moorhead, MN. You may recognize them from our recent Grain Chain Connections video, highlighting how Askegaard Organic Farm collaborates with Laune Bread and Baker’s Field Flour and Bread. We’re excited to share more of their story.  

The family and farm name means ash tree farm in Norwegian, and amidst 950 acres planted with wheat, flax, soy, and oats, there are indeed ash trees. The farm has been in production since Mark’s great-grandfather Peter arrived to Minnesota in the late 1800s. Today, Mark’s wife Barb and other daughter Claire, and Beth’s husband Tony, help, and also have full time off-farm jobs. Beth and Mark are the primary farmers.

Mark and Barb began to transition to organic in 1995, harvesting their first certified crops in 1997. The change was inspired by health concerns, for themselves and for people eating what they grew, as well as for the environment. “It didn't make any sense to me to keep going down the path of using chemicals,” said Mark.

At its inception in the 1800s, the Minnesota farm was like others in America at the time— diversified, to feed livestock and animals on pasture, with acres of hay and small grains grown in rotation. This was the convention until after World War II when chemicals used in the war were diverted to agriculture.

The intercropped clover is visible among the just-harvested wheat stubble. Photo by Beth McConnon

“My dad started using some chemicals back in the 1950s to control broadleaf weeds on small grains. Then gradually he started using chemicals on his soybeans,” said Mark. At first, his father wondered why Mark would want to do something that would be more work. After Mark started the transition, however, his dad had knowledge to share. One piece of advice was to incorporate a green fallow crop every 3rd or 4th year for weed control. Mark and Beth have found that to be helpful, especially to fight perennial weeds like Canada thistle. For fertility, they employ green cover crops as manures to feed plants and build and maintain the health of the soil.

Northern Minnesota winters are a bit too intense to bet on anything but spring-planted wheat, which is the crop that built the wheat and milling industry in Minneapolis. Still, Mark and Beth are experimenting with winter wheat to add variety to their crop rotation. This winter they have 35 acres of it, and they’re uncertain how the stand will fare because there’s currently not much snow cover, which further challenges the winter survival rate.

Winter wheat with a nice start at Askegaard in early November 2023. Photo by Beth McConnon

Their spring wheat production ranges from 220 - 350 acres each year, and soy is their largest planting. Flax and oats are smaller in acreage, and geared to direct sales. “We're growing hulless varieties of oats, one of which is a proprietary type for Row 7 Seeds,” said Mark. They also provide grain to several school districts as well as the local hospital, Sanford, which features Askegaard oatmeal, whole wheat flour, and ground flaxseed in cereal, muffins and pancakes.

Askegaard Organic Farm's golden flax and ground golden flax. Did you know that flax can be an egg substitute for baking? Learn more here.

Processing grains can be a puzzle, as is the case for many farmers who are incorporating direct marketing. Finding food-grade cleaning facilities that will take smaller, custom, certified organic batches is tough; meanwhile, milling and handling facilities are huge investments, not to be undertaken lightly. Askegaard has their oat cleaning done at an organic facility in Murdock, MN, and flaked at North Dakota State University’s pilot food processing plant; the oats come back to the farm for packaging. They also mill whole wheat flour on the farm for a small, but growing customer base. Contact them to order direct.

After initially working with North Dakota State University's pilot plant to mill their flaxseed, the Askegaards eventually sought and received a Minnesota Department of Agriculture Value-Added Grant to purchase their own Urschel cold-mill, allowing them to mill and package their flaxseed on-farm. Their flax is cleaned at Stengel Seed in South Dakota. "They're an organic approved facility and they do a really great job," said Mark. The farm distributes their organic flaxseed through grocery stores and food co-ops across four states, and they also ship direct-to-consumer. For delivery, they use a service that comes to the farm, choosing that over having someone on the road.

The Askegaards were recognized as 2023 Farm Family of the Year for Clay County, Minnesota. Photo courtesy University of Minnesota.

Beth graduated from North Dakota State University where she studied health science, but after a brief stint at a dermatology clinic, returned to the farm. “I was eager to get back outside and get my hands dirty,” said Beth. Seeing how the healthcare industry and insurance worked, and didn’t work, was disheartening. The farm, she realized, was committed to the values she had wanted to explore in healthcare. And their efforts are being seen. In 2023 they were recognized by the University of MN as the Farm Family of the Year for Clay County, became Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certified, and recorded a segment for Pioneer PBS in partnership with Minnesota Grown that will air later this year.

Mark and Beth are committed to strengthening regional grains, participating in farming conferences, and with groups like the Cass-Clay Food Commission, the Northern Crops Institute, and sustainability efforts through the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Agriculture. What's next? They're concentrating on improving upon what they are already doing, and hoping to experiment with different crop rotations and cover crops.“We need to get more people working together for the common good,” Mark reflected, adding that they’re glad to be a part of AGC, especially for members’ collective capacity to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of farming, the environment, and health.

Flax in bloom. Photo by Beth McConnon

Check out the links below for more about Askegaard Organic Farm, including the amazing photos Beth shares on their social media!

WebsiteFacebook | Instagram

Mark and Beth posed with Chris MacLeod at Laune Bread in April when they came to town to deliver flax, tour the bakery, tour Baker's Field Flour and Bread, and film their interview for the Grain Chain Connections video, The Farmer, the Miller, and the Baker. Learn more here.

Checking some winter wheat "ND Noreen" seed before planting in September 2023.
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