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U of M friends stay close together on dairy farms

By Carol Stender

cstender@agrinews.com

SAUK CENTRE, Minn. — A combination of coincidence and circumstance brought Tom Peterson and three of his University of Minnesota friends to central Minnesota.

They are starting dairy farms within 30 miles of each other in Stearns County.

The four are Peterson, Alicia Thurk, Mike McAndrews and Tara Sammon, who is marrying area dairy farmer Nick Meyer later this year.

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Thurk is from Villard and had an opportunity to buy her family’s dairy herd. She was working for Genex in southeastern Minnesota when her parents, Ken and Jackie, decided to semi-retire and sell the herd. She moved back home and started milking in October.

She’s working for a wage from her parents for one year, but says she’s here to stay.

Her college friends get together often and the conversation invariably turns to dairy farming.

"The four of us are all trying to do this in a way that will be more financially sound," she said. "Tom is renting a barn to get his cows paid for faster. Michael did the same thing, starting out by renting a barn south of the Twin Cities. Nick and Tara purchased the farm from his parents and I will rent a barn here. We are all about to farm in a way that will be more successful without going into debt up to our ears."

McAndrews grew up in Jordan on a 50-cow farm. His parents sold the herd when he was a junior at the U of M. He is milking near Sauk Centre, choosing the location to be close to Stearns County’s dairy infrastructure. It was also close to his college friends’ operations.

"Tom Peterson pushed for us to come up here," McAndrews said. "One of our goals was to be around other people. I wanted to be around people my age. It worked out better than I thought."

Peterson is thankful that his friends live close together. He was the first to move near Sauk Centre.

"We joke about it all the time," said Peterson of the friends’ close proximity. "It’s really terrific to have that...you are so near and can call each other. We get together often and, when we meet for dinner, the conversation eventually turns to dairy. It can get pretty lonely some days, but you know you have someone that you can call."

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Sammon will move near Sauk Centre in November when she marries Meyer. Sammon grew up on a dairy and hog farm near Faribault. She’s worked for the Farm Bureau and will be starting a new job with the Farm and Food Coalition.

"We could talk to each other about our farms and tell each other what we are thinking," Sammon said. "We all respect each other’s opinions. It’s really amazing that we are all farming so close to each other."

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