The Nestberg Farm near Alvwood has been recognized as a Century Farm and will be honored at the Minnesota State Fair beginning next week.
The Nestberg family was presented with a placard to identify the property — and Flora Nestberg's nephew Blayne Tuey carved a beautiful wooden sign upon which to display it. The accompanying certificate identifies the Nestberg Farm as a Minnesota Century Farm as defined by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society and the Minnesota Farm Bureau designated in 2019, signifying more than 100 years of contributions to the community, state, nation, and world — and signed by the president of each as well as by Gov. Tim Walz. In order to qualify a farm must have been in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years and consist of 50 or more acres.
The current owners of the Nestberg Family Farm are Wesley and Becky Nestberg. The matriarch, Flora Nestberg, is its longest continuous owner, moving from her own family’s 40-acre farm upon her marriage to Orville Nestberg in 1957, and running the farm’s day-to-day operations with her children following Orville’s death. She’s seen many changes over the last 62 years and earlier as her family had been a part of the farm and accompanying saw mill operation since she was a child.
The journey began when 16-year old Daniel Herman Danielson, known as Herman, left his family in Sweden and travelled to the United States in 1908 with only a plan to meet his sister Frieda Johnson in northern Minnesota. He made his way to the Twin Cities through Canada, discovering there that the number of Danielsons served to make things very confusing. His uncle, already in Minnesota, had changed his family name to Nestberg for a village in Sweden, combining its name “Nesta” with “berg” for village. Thus, Daniel Herman Danielson became Daniel Herman Nestberg (known as Herman) and began working as a logger in Itasca County near his sister Frieda’s home on Dunbar Lake.
In 1912, Herman Nestberg married Annie Peterson and was able to purchase 40 acres of land through the Homestead Act in Itasca County for $200. He and his new wife moved to their land with a team of oxen and he finished paying off the original debt in 1917. Their first three children were born in the house they built on the original homestead, with Orville, the youngest born in their new home built closer to the new county road in 1926. In the early and intervening years, Herman farmed and logged, walking six miles a day to the saw mill in Alvwood. He saw the continuation of lumber and need for another sawmill in the area and added a sawmill to his farm in the late 1920s. With the power of a steam engine, he and his crew sawed and hauled to Deer River where the lumber was loaded into boxcars destined for Chicago. His decision and hard work proved prophetic as the addition of the sawmill saw his family and others through the lean years of the Great Depression.
The Old Bena Trail, cleared as a supply route for northern farmers, crossed the Nestberg Farm, and Herman would walk 18 miles from his farm to the shore of Lake Winnibigoshish and then ferry across the lake twice a year for supplies. Parts of that trail, including the entrance from the Nestberg farm still exist today.
Since the original homestead, the family has bought another 40 acres four times to build up a 200-acre farm. Over the years, Flora’s parents, Levi and Susie Lundstrom, had become very good friends with the Nestbergs and lived on a 40-acre farm four miles west, currently owned by Blayne and Sharon Tuey. Levi and Susie had moved to the farm in 1932 driving their Graham Page automobile, and both worked for Nestbergs, with Levi helping in the sawmill and logging enterprise and Susie helping to cook meals for the lumbermen. Flora’s early memories are of their two families often together in the beautiful farm and woodland of northern Minnesota.
After Annie Peterson Nestberg’s death in 1953 and Levi Lundstrom’s death in 1955, the farms continued on and the families became one with the marriage of Flora Lundstrom to Orville Nestberg on June 8, 1957, followed just four days later with the marriage of their remaining parents, Daniel and Susie who then moved to the Lundstrom farm, leaving the Nestberg farm under the care of Orville and Flora.
Orville and Flora began their dairy herd with just three to four cows which grew to 25, which they milked by hand until the late 1960s. Their field crops were all for the support of the animals, and Orville became the fire warden as well. In those days Flora and Orville sold cream to the Blackduck Creamery every week and that sale supplied enough cash to pay for their groceries for the week. Much of that history continues in 2019, although Orville and Flora made the decision that they would trade the dairy cows for beef, and in 1965 they started with 40 Hereford beef cows. After Orville’s death, Flora invested in black angus cattle — a herd which has now grown to 70 head, owned by Flora’s older son, Wesley.
Flora was widowed at age 40 when Orville succumbed to leukemia, leaving her with a debt-free farm and three teenage children to care for. It was a heartbreaking and back-breaking time for the young widow and she was forced to go into debt to buy equipment that she could handle for the farm work in order to keep the family’s legacy alive and thriving for her children. With the help of Blackduck State Bank, she purchased a tractor, baler and haybine. With the equipment and the help of her children, Wesley, Dean and Sue, she could manage the farm herself, but times were hard.
“When I would sell the cows I’d just sign the check over to the bank, and when that wasn’t enough I went to work cooking at The Hill,” she said. Flora farmed all day and cooked all night, working for the Leinos and then the Greigers for 27 years, and managed to keep her home and farm running smoothly.
“I sold calves for a dollar a pound in 1979,” Flora said, “then they dropped in value to 43 cents a pound in 1983. At the same time fuel prices went way up and the interest rates skyrocketed.”
Throughout the struggle, she continued to work with Blackduck State Bank, paying off her original loan in 1999. “I couldn’t have done it without Bud Olson and Delmer Anderson,” Flora said. “They were wonderful bankers. They worked with me and they really cared. With their help and patience I saved our home and farm in the ’80s and ’90s.” During that time she also sold her original family homestead to Blayne and Sharon Tuey.
The barn from the original Nestberg homestead was taken apart and moved to the property along the county road and has since been used as a wood shed, while a log cabin graces the front lawn — and was rented to the district for the teacher to live in, giving them just a mile and a half trek each day to teach at the township school. Flora still lives in the house where Orville was born, with all of her children nearby. Her sons Wesley and his wife Becky live in Squaw Lake, Dean and wife Cindy live in Hines, and daughter Sue Korpela lives in Squaw Lake.
“I have wonderful kids,” Flora says, “and the best grandkids. They’ve all graduated from college now and Scott has the original 40 acres.” Scott is the elder child of Wesley and Becky Nestberg who took over the farm in the early 21st century. The beauty of the land surrounds them and the hard work it has taken to build and maintain the family farm is obvious. The legacy passed from Herman to Orville and Flora to Wesley and Scott is one for Itasca County to be very proud of.
The Nestberg Family Farm is one of 136 Minnesota Century Farms that will be recognized at the State Fair for 2019. Information on all Century Farms will be available at the Minnesota Farm Bureau exhibit at the State Fair from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2.