After seven years of teaching high school English and coaching drama and wrestling in Sleepy Eye, MN, and Madison, MN, Carmen Fernholz '65, awoke one morning in 1972 and told his spouse, "I am going to buy a farm today!" He went into town that morning and purchased a 400-acre parcel of land he still organically farms today.
"I've always had the urge to farm," Fernholz said. "At that time, I was also considering graduate school to become a high school guidance counselor, but I bought the farm instead. Looking back, I truly made the right decision."
Fernholz said back in 1972 he purchased a conventional crop farm, which he later worked into a feeder-to-finish swine enterprise producing about 800 to 1,200 butcher hogs per year. In 1973, Fernholz moved toward an organic system of crop raising - meaning he no longer used pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, and he studied crop rotation for weed management and improved soil nutrients. "In the last 10 years, organic farming has grown tremendously -somewhere around 10 to 20 percent per year," he said. Today, about three percent of the total food purchased is grown organically. Also, the prices charged for food grown organically are 25 to 100 percent higher than foods grown by conventional means. "I get excited about organic farming because I can grow a bountiful crop without the use of chemicals."
Fernholz said Saint John's taught him the value of being a life-long learner. It is obvious that this is a skill that has been an asset to him as an organic farmer. "I constantly have to tap into my past experiences to find creative ways to stay ahead of weather, weeds and insects," he said. 'With organic farming, the timing of my decisions is crucial."
Fernholz' father, Armand, attended Saint John's in the '30s. "Fr. Virgil Michel impressed my father while he was a Johnnie. I always respected my father, so I came to Saint John's on his recommendation. Our family has always valued a Catholic education.
"Looking back, Saint John's always challenged me to look at things differently and seek out the broad picture. I learned from the Benedictine presence at Saint John's to have the courage to try new ideas and have no fear," he said. "I guess that's why one morning I gave up my teaching and coaching career and bought a farm. No one else in this area was doing organic farming at that time, so I thought I'd give it a try." What were some of Fernholz memories from his experience at Saint John's? "I remember Saturday morning classes and Saturday afternoon football games," he said. "More importantly, I remember, appreciate and cherish the camaraderie and community, and I especially remember the Benedictine philosophy of worship and work."
Fernholz said the people he remembers most from his Saint John's experience include Fr. Alfred Deutsch, OSB; Fr. Pat McDarby, OSB; Fr. Don Talafous, OSB; and Stephen Humphrey. "I learned a great deal from Fr. Alfred. I liked the way Fr. Pat challenged his students. I always enjoyed the company of Fr. Don, and we always make it a point to see him when we're back on campus. And, Professor Humphrey was a legend. It was truly a privilege to be taught by him. He was also one of my advisors."
Fernholz and his wife, Sally, have four grown children. Their eldest son, Christian, attended SJU for two years before earning an engineering degree from Northwestern. Daughter, Constance, is a '95 CSB graduate. Daughter, Kathryn, attended CSB for two years before earning a forestry degree from the University of Minnesota. Their youngest son, Craig, graduated from Saint John's in 2001.
What does the future hold for Fernholz? "I plan to continue to push the envelope on finding new and improved ways of organic farming! (article written for the St. John's magazine)