Accruing Benefits

Laverne and Arlene Nelson’s integrated farming system supports two families and inspires best practices around them.

LEFT: Laverne and Arlene Nelson. CENTER: One of the Nelson's five ponds. RIGHT: Managed grazing is part of the Nelson's farm plan.

LEFT: Laverne and Arlene Nelson. CENTER: One of the Nelson’s five ponds. RIGHT: The herd moves up through the paddock when the Nelsons appear.


On 365 rolling acres near Altura, Laverne and Arlene Nelson, son Ross, daughter-in-law Tiffany and three grandchildren milk 80-85 cows; keep a small beef herd, a flock of laying hens and some broilers; and grow what is needed to feed their animals year-round. Their goals are stable income and long-term health for the family, their animals and their land.

Soil health, water quality and their own well-being have been priorities for years, but in 2001 the Nelsons took an additional step to become certified organic. Profitability increased as a result. “We sell to Organic Valley,” says Arlene. “It’s worked out well for us.”

The Nelsons habitually observe the land and the impact of their actions. They study and connect with others to learn, and invest in practices that mimic nature. They’ve added three ponds to two built by Arlene’s parents in the 1960s. Grass waterways, contour strips, managed grazing and diverse, rotationally planted crops cover the land they work. Soil testing routinely informs planning for three- to four-year crop rotations.

Because their own acreage is not enough to support their stock, Laverne and Arlene also rent 160 adjoining tillable acres. In cooperation with their neighbors they’ve improved this land, too, adding contour and buffer strips and practices that improve the fertility of the soil. And last year, in a gesture of community service, they purchased the Utica elevator where they hope to provide livestock feed options to local organic farmers.



3 Satisfying Accomplishments

1) Providing a chance for their children and grandchildren to live on a farm and gather the values that come with it

2) Experiencing the freedom of watching nature perform well without chemical application, and seeing other farmers do likewise

3) Seeing perennial coverage keep the soil and all five ponds intact during a 500-year flood and subsequent heavy rains

The Nelson’s lifetime of commitment to developing a farm system that fits their values is now spreading naturally to benefit people around them. They’re also protecting the streams and drinking water we share.