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Farming the land for 150 years: Meadowbrook Farm marking sesquicentennial year

Maria Therres lives on Meadowbrook farm in Vermillion that celebrates 150 years of family farming in Dakota County this year. She is pictured with photos of her ancestors. Kara Hildreth / contributor 1 / 2
Maria Therres of Vermillion stands by the farm's original pump with her rescue dog Josie and cat Max. She remembers endless hours playing with farm cats and baby calves, exploring the hay barn and riding bikes through the crop irrigator showers. Kara Hildreth / contributor 2 / 2

Maria Therres enjoys the sights outside her window as she lives on her family's Meadowbrook Farm.

"The wildlife is amazing to see and the river is right out my window and in the winter you can see steam rising the morning, and you can see deer, turkey, pheasants and rabbits and we had two white squirrels this summer," said Therres, owner of a sesquicentennial farm in Vermillion Township.

Therres shares an aerial farm photograph taken in 1968 that shows the white, two-story square farm house with a corn crib that is still standing, a shed and pump house. A red barn stood for years before it was torn down.

German immigrants

The Meadowbrook Farm began as a German immigrant story with a family who in 1867 homesteaded land next to the Vermillion River. Johann Therres immigrated to the United States from Fliessem, Germany, with his wife Maria and children.

"Johann purchased the land from John Meier on Nov. 8, 1867, and Johann and Maria farmed the land together until Maria died in 1871," Therres said.

The family tree tells the story of how German immigrants made a life in Dakota County and how farming has sustained livelihood for more than 150 years.

Johann then married Eva Maria Schneider in 1872. Nine years later, the Village of Vermillion was incorporated just east of the Therres farm. Johann and Eva raised nine children on the farm. Their sons Peter and Joseph farmed the land after Johann died in 1906.

Joseph and his wife Bertha Niesen took over the family farm when they married in 1924. When Joseph died in 1954, Bertha and their son Joe continued to farm the land.

Therres' parents, Joe and Naomi Vetter, married in 1972. The couple founded the Meadowbrook Farm and Garden Center. They raised 3,000 chickens and sold eggs to many Twin Cities restaurants and bars.

"Mom would get up and deliver eggs all over on an egg route, and we always said Mom could get you anywhere around the Twin Cities, but it might not be the most direct route since it was an egg route," Therres said.

As an only child, Maria's family raised chickens, beef and cattle and her father hired many local boys as hired hands to help out throughout his years of farming. When her father died, she and her mother continued living on the farm and rented out land and buildings.

After her mother Naomi died in December 2016, Therres took over the farm. Of 180 acres, 120 acres are still farmed today.

While there is no livestock on Meadowbrook Farm today, the farmland has been home to beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs and chickens in the past.

"I remember endless hours playing with farm cats and calves and exploring in the hay barn and riding bikes through the irrigator showers," said 42-year-old Therres said.

Little physical remains are left from Johann's farm except for an original pump house that sits outside the farm house up the hill from the Vermillion River.

Meadowbrook Farm hosted a large sesquicentennial party for family and friends and former farm employees in July, and they all shared stories and food in an open house. Many locals who worked the land showed up to reminisce and celebrate.

Rewarding, hard way of life

Before moving to Minnesota, Therres' mother, Naomi Vetter, was raised on a family farm in Calamus, a small town near the Quad Cities in Iowa.

Farming can be a hard way of life, Therres said.

"It is also very rewarding in seeing crops begin as small seeds grow into plants used in food, clothing, fuel and more," she said.

Even as parts of Dakota County are developed, Therres said farm families who continue to make the county home carry a special relationship with the land. All farm families share the traditions of hard work and sacrifice passed on from earlier generations, she said.

Therres' closest relative today is her nephew who lives in Lakeville.

As a second-grade teacher for 20 years at St. John's parochial school in Vermillion, Therres also teaches piano lessons on her farm.

Sesquicentennial farm

A volunteer with Dakota County Historical Society Board, Therres is a history buff who researches, compiles and writes stories about the county and families who harvested the land. She also volunteers at the outdoor Dakota City Heritage Village in Farmington.

"Living on the farm, you are so closely connected to the land and many who live with a postage size lawn may not understand the community because the farming community is so amazing and so willing to pitch in and help out," Therres said. "It doesn't matter if you get help because the understanding is that next year someone else may need the help, and so everyone pitches in and does what needs to be done."

After her father died, Therres said her mother had a hard decision to make when she decided to stay in Minnesota and farm the land in Vermillion.

When asked if Meadowbrook Farm ever experienced tough times, Therres said: "I never knew about it when I grew up, and if we did I was never made to feel that way just growing up living on the farm and playing with calves and kittens."