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Full circle farm boy

Dan Moe was born in the suburbs of Minneapolis and moved to southern California as a toddler.  One would think that Dan Moe was destined for life in the city. Not so. Childhood memories of Grandpa’s farm in Minnesota forged a deep imprint into his mind of what life was meant to be. A dream was born within Dan, and no city could hold him.       Today he lives as a full-time farmer, running “The Farm of Minnesota,” a Community Supported Agriculture operation. You might say,  you can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.   Growing Up     Dan’s mother grew up on 160 acres of rolling farmland, bordering 90 acres of shoreline of one of their two lakes. His dad’s career was in designing computers systems and lasers for military weaponry.  It was his job that took the family to Southern California when Dan was two years old.        Though they lived in the city, Dan longed for life on farm.  He heard the stories his mother would tell of her childhood, and for as long as he can remember, he knew he was destined to work the land.     When he was seven years old, his dream came true.  He was given the opportunity to come to Minnesota and spend the whole summer with Grandma and Grandpa on the farm. He’d wake up every morning to KDUZ  on the radio, with Grandma in the kitchen and Grandpa already out in the fields.          There were a few rules at Grandma and Grandpa’s house that simply had to be adhered to, remembered Dan.     “Grandma’s was that you could only have two things on your bread while making a sandwich,” he said. “You could have butter and peanut butter, or butter and jelly or even peanut butter and jelly, but not all three.”            Grandpa was a man with a flyswatter. He had his place at the kitchen table with the window at his back, spacious fields and double lakes behind him. But always within reach was his trusty flyswatter.       “His rule was that when you sat at the table, you had to have both of your feet planted firmly on the ground.”  With a smile and a nod, Dan said, “You could have anything you could reach, just so long as you kept your feet flat on the floor.  But, if you got up to reach for something, you found out what else that flyswatter was for!”      One morning, a neighboring farmer stopped by and told Grandpa he heard there was a grandson in the house who wanted to bale some hay.  Dan was so excited that he just about knocked over his chair getting up from the table.  He made it very clear that he was up for the job, but his cousin Ray was there and he was a year or two older. Dan thought for a moment that the farmer might pick Ray, but much to his surprise, they were both invited to join the adventure.     It was a fun-filled, hard working day.  They baled 700 bales and stacked them high in the farmer’s barn. When he got back to Grandpa’s house, Dan said, he was so happy that, “My feet hardly touched the sidewalk all the way up to the front door.” To add to the excitement of the day, the farmer told Dan that he wanted to pay him for all his hard work.       “We agreed on a nickel a bale.” Dan said, with a childish grin.  He was a rich young man with a whopping $35 dollars in his pocket that day!  Dan was so tuckered out from all the ‘fun’ that he went to bed early and didn’t wake up until 1 o’clock the next afternoon.     Another one of Dan’s favorite memories was sitting with Grandpa in his tractor, open sky above, dust, straw and chaff flying in his face.  He loved everything about the farm.  It was ‘that’ summer that he ‘fell in love’ with farming.       Dan knew that the end of summer meant having to go back to Southern California, but he kept the memories of Grandpa and Grandma on the farm very much alive within his heart. Education and Life Planning     When he was 16, Dan became bored with school.  All he wanted to do was farm. His dad wanted him to go to college, so he challenged himself to do both at the same time.  This was not common in the late 1970’s, but with his determination and intelligence, it worked.  He blended his love for agriculture with his dad’s desire for him to make a living through engineering, and sought out a degree in, “What else?”  Dan said, “But ag engineering.”       As if going to two schools at once wasn’t enough, at age 17, Dan’s sincere love for farming was growing stronger than ever.  His parents bought a farm, and together they planted an avocado grove.  Dan loved working with the soil and the trees.      At the same time, a young lady named Donna transferred into Dan’s chemistry class.          “It was my strength and her weakness, so I began tutoring her,” said Dan with a bashful grin.  It soon became apparent that their chemistry would last a lifetime. She too, had grown up in southern California, but knowing that Dan was a farmer at heart, she knew that one day, that’s what they would be doing together.       Dan and Donna had a mutual friend named Richard Lee.     “He had a charismatic way about him,” Dan said, “He made an effort to meet every new student who came on campus and welcome them.”       Dan and Richard held Bible studies after school, in the outside hallways, of their Southern California School, playing their guitars and singing.     Richard’s parents became like a second set of parents to Dan and Donna.    Dan knew what he wanted in life; God, farming… and Donna!  Just two months out of high school he made his intentions known…     With his peaceful smile, Dan looked at Donna and said, “On July 23rd, at 12:30am,”  “I asked Donna to marry me”.      He used a verse of scripture to propose to her.  It was Ruth 1:16, “Where you go I will go.  Where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God”.     And so it was that their plans were set to spend the rest of their lives together.  Of course, as young love would have it, they wanted to get married right away.  But it didn’t quite happen that way.  Dan’s parents wanted him to go to college first.  So, he did.     It was during Dan’s third year of college, he realized that he was ‘not’ an engineer.  In his fifth quarter of calculus, he was given an assignment on the surface of a lampshade in relation to the switch on the wall.  He said to himself, “Who cares!  Enough is enough!”       He quit school, and bought a cactus and succulent plant nursery.     “I didn’t know anything about them, but within three months, I memorized 15,000 varieties of cactus and succulent plants with their botanicals names and spellings,” he said.       Dan and Donna looked for wedding rings for 18 months before they finally found the perfect set for them.  As Christ was the center of their lives, so too, their rings have a cross in the center.        Dan has a photographic memory.   The details of their wedding day are still fresh in his memory… “We were married on July 18, 1981, at 11 am,” Dan said, “And the ceremony lasted 22 minutes.”  Richard sang a song at their wedding.  With a chuckle in his voice, Dan said, “We both ran out the door carrying our shoes, because we were late!”     The guys were in each others weddings.  The couples still keep in touch.  Richard is in the ministry in Tanzania.     Dan worked as a carpenter for many years in California.  His strong hands, working with wood, but the dream in his heart was that someday he would be farming.     With excitement in his voice, Dan said, “In 2,000, we got a call from my aunt in Minnesota.”     “She asked if Donna and I would be interested in purchasing Grandpa’s farm.”  “I could hardly wait for her to quit talking so I could say, “YES!”     Coming back to the farm, where his childhood memories were made, was a dream come true for Dan.   The rich soil was there waiting for him to give it the care he had waited years to give it.       Just as the roots of a plant reach deep into the soil to find nutrients to grow, so is the commitment in the heart of a farmer to his land.  It’s not just a job, but a labor of love, an honoring of the land.     For Dan, “The Farm,” is an heirloom in the family.  A piece of heritage passed down from generation to generation.  There’s a silent satisfaction within a man to watch his fields grow from seedlings to full grown plants ready for the harvest, and the setting of the sun on the long rows of his labor.     The farm is a picturesque scene with 160 acres part farmland, part not. The land rolls in soft swales of dark brown earth. Down below, there is a bed of soft grasses and trees lining the edge of the lake with woods off to the right. As a child, Dan’s mother and twin sister took turns retrieving the cows from those woods to bring them back to the barn for daily milking.       At one time, every farm that touched the borders of Dan and Donna’s farmland was owned by a family member.  There were 12 farms in all.  The old silo has the year, 1911 carved into the pebbly cement of its day.     Currently, “The Farm”, as they lovingly call it, has 49 varieties, “Including vegetables, flowers and herbs – and, several varieties of each of those, as well.” Dan said.     Dan’s great love is his strawberry patch.  He has four varieties.  The 45,000 plants this spring grew from the 10,000 plants they planted last spring.  “This May, we had a frost and I was up all night watching my babies.”  He said.  “From 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., it hit 32 degrees. Thankfully, we didn’t lose any flowers.”     He keeps the deer out of the fields with 15 miles of electric wire around the perimeter of the land.     Their green house was full of baby starter plants — everything from squash to lettuce to herbs and flowers.  Dan announced, “Some flowers are edible!”  “Nasturtium and Johnny Jump-ups (a type of pansy), go nicely in salads,” “Donna has a wonderful recipe for Summer Flower Salad.”     Don not only loves farming, but he has such a deep respect for the land that he wants to learn ways to protect it.     Dan described a method of farming called Intercropping, “This is where a farmer will plant corn, vining green beans and squash together in the same field.  They plant the corn first and let it get knee high, then come in the same row and plant green beans then every third row, they plant squash.  The results are as the corn grown up, the green beans have a pole to grown on, and the squash vines out, shades the ground and protects it from weeds.  So, you get all three crops with a little bit of effort and harvest.”      Growing up in the Los Angeles basin of California, Donna, didn’t have a ‘summer on the farm’ experience or stories of generations on the farm.  She said, “I’m content anywhere, as long as they are together.”   “I love throwing birdseed out in my front yard – seeing the orioles, cardinals, woodpeckers and blue jays flying in for the feast.”       “And, nothing quite compares with waking up to find a mama doe with her babies nestled under the cedar trees in the back yard, to escape the danger of a pack of coyotes from down below. This is home”, says Donna, “It just is.”     Just as Richard’s parents mentored them, Dan and Donna have invited kids to be apart of their lives through the years.  Aleisha is the daughter of one of their friends here in Minnesota.       “It’s an honor for us to play the role of second mom and dad in Aleisha’s life, just as Richard’s parents did in ours.” Dan said.  “It gives us great joy to see this city girl discover the joys of farm life, whether it’s driving the tractor, or seeing the harvest from what she’s planted. We are here to give her unconditional love and support.”     Truly, the joy of the Lord is their strength, and they do love to sing! Since high school days, Dan and Donna have shared their love for God through song.  Dan made a record album with his traveling youth group, and Donna gave up a career of singing to be by Dan’s side, wherever that road may lead them. Currently, Both Dan and Donna are members of a local ecumenical group called, “God Gave the Song.” They hold services for vacationing pastors of local, smaller churches.       Life was good on the farm and all was well, that is, until May 22, 2006, when Dan came in from the fields, with his face as white as the walls in their farmhouse.  Gasping for air, Dan told Donna that he couldn’t breath.  She whisked him off to the hospital in Hutchinson, where they did several tests and ruled out what wasn’t wrong. They couldn’t figure out what was happening with him.  After a while, they went back home, only to receive a call shortly after their return.  It was from the doctor’s office stating that they needed to come back “Immediately!”  Dan didn’t argue with Donna.  He knew he was going back and that was that.  At the E.R., they did a Clotting Factor Test.  They did one scan down.  The volume in the room turned to hushed tones.  The doctors began whispering to one another.  The scan coming back up brought silence to the room.  They immediately put oxygen on Dan, told him to stay still and took Donna in the other room to tell her what was happening with him.     “I knew that whatever it was, it was going to be bad.” Donna said.  They told her that he had multiple clots in his heart and lungs.  They didn’t know where the clots were coming from.  He had no pain or swelling that usually accompanies clotting. They told her every second counts, and that he needed to moved to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in the Twin Cities.     At Abbott, they found the vein in his left leg was 2/3’s of the way blocked by a clot.  Donna said, “He could have a massive heart attack or stroke at any heart beat. “Dan’s body believes that he is allergic to one specific type of protein in his vein wall, and it forms clots against that protein. It clots the protein because it thinks the protein is bad, like a cut.”     “The doctors think that a switch gets turned on by maybe a genetic disorder, trauma or even stress.  It could be any number of factors. They really don’t know.”  Donna said.  “This could have been going on for a really long time and they would never have known it, until the day Dan had trouble breathing.”     The doctors at Abbott found the right medication to help Dan start to get a handle on thinning the blood and calming his blood pressure.     “It was the start of a very long year.” Donna said.  “He had lost 1/3 of his lung capacity and was very weak.”     It wasn’t easy for Dan to take so many pills.           “He hated even taking an aspirin if he got a headache.” she said. “Now, he is reliant on medication to survive.”       Donna has been there to nurse him back to health every step of the way.  She sees to it that everything he eats is right for his system.  “Everything he puts in his mouth affects his viscosity.”        Together, they made a conscious decision that if a ‘thrown switch’ caused this, then they can turn the switch the other way.  With that, Donna began a quest of researching every natural foods and vitamins and pharmaceutical she could find to help Dan recover his health.  Organic food became an absolute must for his diet.          Donna’s hard work paid off.  Dan has regained his strength and at his three year check up, the doctor’s were able to take him off two of his medications and lower the dose on another.   The lessons they have learned through Dan’s health challenges have brought them to a greater awareness of how beneficial organic foods are to the body.   This is the answer to the “Why Grow Organically,” question for Dan and Donna’s farm.       They have such a hunger to learn more about nutrition, that they have an intern, Noelle, living with them to teach them new things, like how to make an elixir blood tonic from beets.          “We recently learned from Noelle, that you can keep the enzymes in herbs alive by drying them at temperatures of 105-115 degrees, said Dan.      “The differences between conventional farming and organic farming,”  Dan said, “is that with organic farming, you are reclaiming conventional farmland, by beginning the transition to organic by inoculating the field with biology to “WAKE UP” the biology that’s in the field, to be able to consume the toxins in the field”.       He has a special solution diluted with water.  “I spray the field while I’m roto-tilling, so I don’t have extra fuel costs, because I’m doing two applications at once,” he said. “Organic farmers use cover crops to fertilize the soil in addition to manure.”       He tried dry farming, but found that there wasn’t enough water, so he built an irrigation system to work with the Minnesota rains.     Year after year Dan has experimented with different methods of crop management to help discover what to grow and the best way to grow it.     In 2008, Dan looked into running his farm as a Community Supported Agriculture farm and currently grows his crops to help families have healthy, nutritious food to be able to live the life they want.     Dan and Donna are on a journey of life together, a process of learning.  They are farmers.  Their advice to people is that it’s never too late to start eating healthy, and they know from experience that it can make a difference.     Their life verse from the Bible comes out of the book of Isaiah.  It is fitting to the path they have walked together and the faithfulness of the God they serve.        “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2     Its harvest time on “The Farm” with the strawberry patch in full swing.  Dan is healthy and life is sweet. Dan is berry happy, living his dream as a full circle farmboy.

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