Growing up on Mr. Ed’s Farm

A guest post from Mr. Ed’s son, Matt Nelson

When you grow up on a farm, your childhood is defined in senses, not words. What I remember most is the way a horse’s coat felt in January, when the soft hair was so deep it’d poke up between my fingers. And I’ve never forgotten that exact, precise smell of a quivering lamb just after he’s been born, when he was in my arms and I was trying to get him to nurse, how his life depended on it. And I can still hear the frogs calling at night, while I walked barefooted through the grass.
When each week on the farm wrapped into a month, and each month wrapped into a year, those experiences seemed so indistinct. Chores became chores. When extraordinary moments happen too close to one other, they become indistinguishable from the dull ones. Falling in love with a place is much like falling in love with a person: inevitably, you risk taking them for granted.During the dog days of summer, it was so hot I’d lay in the grass and try to count the stars. I’d always lose track because of the beacon from the airport. It rotated every few seconds. It was so dark I could see it pass through the sky. On Saturday nights, I’d listen to the cars ripping around the Hibbing racetrack, 10 miles away.I miss my home so much sometimes it makes me sick.

But it’s why — for all the reasons I listed above — you should go to Mr. Ed’s Farm this MEA weekend, and during fall weekends through Nov. 2.

It’s five bucks, free for kids 2 and under. And — take it from a kid who lived it — it will be the best five bucks you’ve spent in a while.

My dad isn’t doing this to get rich quick. During the two years he spent getting ready to open the farm, he rallied some wonderful people around him to deliver a world-class experience your family won’t forget. I’ve never seen my dad as driven and as motivated as the day he decided to go for it. I don’t know how he did it, but the chores never became chores for him. If there’s anyone that can make you experience and understand the powerful magic of a farm — it’s him, and the incredible group of volunteers who are working with him.

Get ready to get hands-on with the animals and play in the hay. Explore what my dad calls the old house — a mining-location home filled with vintage kitchen appliances and toys galore. There’s a reason we’ve nicknamed it the ‘Snoop House’ — we want you to open any drawer or cupboard you want!

It’s also the house where I grew up, where I first started to write and logged onto the Internet for the first time. I’ve got a lot of memories there, but they’ve all been replaced by new paint, and the carpets been ripped up. I’m not upset — it was time. It’s an old house ready for new memories — your memories.

Take pictures. Tweet them. Share them on Facebook. If I could be there, I would — but I’ll just have to live vicariously through you, and it will be wonderful to do so.

I grew up on Mr. Ed’s Farm, and then I moved away. But while I didn’t stay, the memories have. They’ll stay with you, too.

Have a great weekend,



 This post was originally published on Sept. 5, 2013 on

Categories: Mr. Ed’s Farm

Great people you meet and things you get roped into.

You never know when you will meet someone exceptional. Of course exceptional is in the eye of the beholder. This is about someone I met that makes me hope I can be like that when I grow up.

I had the great fortune to work at the Iron Range Research Center for over 20 years. During that time I was able to interview many people who lived really interesting lives. They shared their stories and reflections with me, a stranger. Technology allowed us to record those stories and archive them for future generations. Many, if not most of those people, have crossed over and left us behind. I am so glad we took the time to immortalize their lives.

My recent experience goes back a few years. I was on the St. Louis County Fair Board. I met some great people who really cared about agriculture. The Fair Board and IRRRB staff navigated the difficult process of relocating the Fairgrounds to Chisholm. Many people worked to make the Children’s Barn a reality. It is a place where children and animals can connect even if it is only for the “Five best days of summer”.

The grand opening was special. We worked up to the last minute and a few minutes more to get things ready. There were speeches, ceremony, accolades. What I remember most however was meeting Willard Pearson.. He is Marvin Pearson’s father. Marvin is a dairy farmer from Cook MN. He and I were on the board together.

Willard is the son of Swedish immigrants. His father came to the Cook area at the very beginning. Willard is 91 now but it really doesn’t matter because he was as young at heart now as he was when I met him at the Fair. His retirement passion, after a colorful career and life, is making ropes. Sometime after officially retiring, someone gave him a hand crank rope making machine. If you have never seen one, the best I can say is that they are magical.

Willard grew up on a farm. Farm children usually grow up to be self sufficient and down right handy. Willard looked at the primitive rope machine and decided to make some improvements. Scrounging some pulleys, angle iron, hooks and a crank he soon fashioned a pretty sophisticated super duper rope machine. It wasn’t long before he added an electric motor. The rest is history.

I was fortunate to be there when he arrived with his van. I helped him unload his portable model and watched him set it up. The colorful balls of twine, moving gears and spinning rope is truly an attention grabber. Soon the children and adults were lining up to watch him work his magic. At the end he presented them with their very own rope. His gift is his natural ability to work and converse. Each rope has a little bit of Willard in it. His passion was inspirational. I remember Marvin telling me to make sure he takes a break once in a while. Each rope took about ten minutes. Willard never wanted to disappoint anyone. Amazing!

Last fall I went to the annual Fair Board Meeting. I asked Marvin and Peggy how Willard was doing. They said pretty good except he couldn’t get out to make ropes as much as he would like. Shortly thereafter I called him and set up a meeting in hopes he could show me how to make ropes. I told him what I was doing with Mr.Ed,s Farm and he graciously agreed to share his secrets. After a wonderful afternoon of listening to his stories and trying my hand at making a rope, he did something amazing. He asked me if I wanted to borrow his portable rope machine. He didn’t need to ask me twice! I loaded it up in my van and took it home. I set it up in the Welcome Center and after a few ugly ropes, I began to get the feel. I started making ropes for children and quickly realized why he was energized by it.

I returned his machine yesterday as promised. However, he provided me with some parts that I was able to build my own rope making machine. He asked me how old I was. Fifty nine. He smiled, “well you have a lot of time to make ropes”.

I guess life is what you make it. You never know when you will be inspired. I hope I grow old to be a Willard.

Willard Pearson in his basement workshop showing me a special trick to make a perfect two color rope.

School Field trips

Anticipating that mud season will have subsided by the end of April, we are taking reservations for spring field trips starting April 28 and running throughout May. Conditions permitting, students will be able to tour the animal barns, the Snoop House and greenhouse. We will also be preparing the fields and planting crops using the horses. Students may have the opportunity to help plant potatoes, pumpkins, corn and other vegetables. Cost is $5 per person. Allow a minimum of 2 hours. Welcome Center and MooTell available for picnics.

Horses seeding grain

Horse drawn ride to the field

Subterranean greenhouse

MooTell play area

Welcome Center

Birthday party update

We host birthday parties, family reunions, other groups. The cost is $5 per person, children 2 and under free. Includes full use of the Welcome Center for food, cake, opening presents etc. It comfortably seats 25-30. Has many outlets for crock pots. We supply tables and chairs. You furnish all the tableware, paper plates, food and party decorations. Tour the animal barns and play areas. Horse drawn hay or sleigh ride included. Groups usually book for about two hours. Portable restroom on site.

Welcome Center

Interior Welcome Center. Wood Pellet Stove

MooTell play area during snowless months

Horse drawn hay or sleigh rides

Many farm animals

Stalking the wild Christmas tree

It’s that time of year. Christmas has snuck up on us once again. The pressure to get a tree is Intense. T’was two days before Christmas Eve and time to get a tree. On the farm we go in search of wild trees partly because it is nostalgic, partly because I am cheap. The forest is full of trees, why spend big bucks just to get a perfect one?

Getting a wild tree is stressful especially if it is a hunt by committee. Committee hunting always includes at least one person who is searching for the perfect tree. A perfect tree is symmetrical, thick with branches, evenly distributed in the round. A “You know it when you see it. An HALLELUJAH tree .”

Wild trees are not perfect for a reason. They have not been pruned, pampered and groomed for ten or more years as part of a cash crop deal. They are by nature ugly. It’s probably nature’s way of protecting them from premature harvest by Christmas tree seekers.

Here is my strategy for a successful wild Christmas tree hunt. (Bear in mind I am ultimately responsible for getting the job done because it involves a team of horses and a sled). Wait until the last possible hour to set your plan in motion. That would be approximately 3:15 pm on December 23. It’s takes about twenty minutes to get the horses in the barn and harnessed. That puts you at about 3:40 for hitch to the sled time. Add an additional 5 minutes to find the saw. By this time the approaching dusk is almost noticeable. Load the committee on the sleigh and head out to the woods.

Upon approaching the harvest zone alert everyone to be watching for the perfect tree. The longer the shadows the better. To get things started, say “hey, that looks like a good one” making sure it is a really ugly one. Expect moans and groans. Continue the search, knowing full well the temperature is dropping with the setting sun. Test the mood by pointing at another. If things are on track, they will ask you to stop the horses for a closer look. No, too skinny, too crooked, too few branches. Not too worry, it needs to be a little darker, body parts number.

As the moment of truth nears, individual committee members will begin pointing out candidates. Trees will be rejected, scrutinized by the committee. Remain silent until the right moment. Sooner or later someone will exclaim “That looks like a good one!”. Without hesitation, jump in with “Wow! That is a beautiful one!” even while straining to see it in the diminishing darkness. Quickly toss the lines to the identifier(to keep them occupied while you grab the saw and cut the chosen one off at the stump). Add a little ” boy that is a nice tree” as you toss it in the back. It doesn’t hurt to remind the committee how cold it is getting as you swing the team towards home. Chuckling them into a trot increases the wind chill factor. There is nothing like a shared suffering to cement an agreement on the fact that “we” found the perfect tree.

If properly executed, the plan will carry through the setting up and decorating process. Once decorated and brightly lit, an otherwise “ugly” tree becomes a special tree.

Christmas is about shared memories and love. What’s more special than bringing a less than perfect tree into your home and making it the most special tree in the forest? Christmas is about accepting people and things for what they are. The end justifies the means right?

Merry Christmas 2013

Whisker freezing cold. Perfect

20131223-200426.jpg Lugging the wild beast into the house. Doesn’t hurt to review how cold and successful the hunt was.

All decked out and beautiful! Another wonderful memory.

Bitter bitter cold

The sound snow makes when the temperature drops into the depths of sub zeros, the fresh crispness of the air, the frost crystals on the sheep’s wool, the white vapor from the horse’s breath. Doing chores on mornings like this is special.

Nature has a way of looking after its creatures. The horses increase their hay intake, the pigs burrow into the straw and the sheep look especially comfortable in their woollies.

Being a farmer under these conditions makes one acutely aware of the fragility of life and the heightened responsibilities in making sure everyone is prepared to make it through. The best feeling of relief is seeing the waterers steaming but open and full. The worst is realizing the breaker tripped sometime in the night and everything is frozen solid. Double checking that the frost free hydrant is closed is a good idea. It will be a long time before spring comes if you have to carry water. Been there, done that.

As I pull down some square bales I remember the sweltering hot day I stacked them. Minnesota is truly the land of climate variety.

20131208-102017.jpg Mr. Ed self portrait, a few frosted whiskers.

20131208-102238.jpg Nothing, even cold, seems to damper Winston’s eagerness to help with chores.

20131208-102507.jpg Fonzie and Rosie love romping in the snow.

20131208-102706.jpg Joe and Vinnie digging into a big bale.

20131208-102835.jpg A steamy waterer is a welcome sight on a frigid morning.

20131208-103028.jpg Sheep all warm in their woollies.

20131208-103204.jpg Mick and Bud letting me know they are thinking a sleigh ride would be fun.

20131208-103506.jpg Sweetie covered in frost doesn’t seem to mind the cold as long as there is plenty to eat.

20131208-103729.jpg Sam looks good with a little “frosting” on his mane.

20131208-104023.jpg Casualty of the cold, a frozen, cracked egg. Sorry Miss Chicken, I’ll make sure to pick eggs at noon next time.

Horse drawn rides

We are offering horse drawn wagon rides on our public days included with regular admission. About 20 minutes long, a little bumpy but really fun. Today we saw four deer on the hay field.

20131018-195453.jpg Bud and Mick, shown on the grain drill, did the honors today.

Directions to the Farm

It’s pretty easy to get to Mr. Ed’s Farm. From Hibbing. Take Highway 37 east to Highway 5 South. Go South on 5 three miles and turn right (West) on Foss Road. For GPS enter 10796 Foss Road Hibbing 55746

School groups

Mr Ed’s farm is now taking bookings for school groups. Home school, Preschool and old students welcome. Call 218-966-1354 for available dates.