Farming and Harvest Parties are this Family’s Traditions

Growing pumpkins has become a tradition for the Johnson family of Groton, SD. Brian and Jamie's kids enjoying painting these.

Growing pumpkins has become a tradition for the Johnson family of Frankfort, SD. Brian and Jamie’s kids enjoying painting these.

Nestled among the rolling hills along the James River near Frankfort, South Dakota, lies a picturesque farmstead and the cutest little pumpkin patch you can imagine. Black Angus cows graze in the pasture behind the house as corn is being harvested across the road. This is where Alan Johnson’s family has farmed since 1906, and it’s where his wife recently hosted her 31st annual pumpkin party.

“I started hosting these parties when my children were young,” says Mickie. “Now Al and I enjoy seeing our children’s friends return with their own children. It’s fun seeing three generations of families enjoy the afternoon together as many of our friends attend now with their grandchildren.”

Although the pumpkin party is held during fall harvest, it’s well attended on a Sunday afternoon. As many as 100 children have attended in past years; this year johnson-6about 50 kids participated. The Johnsons invite friends, family and fellow congregational members. No party is complete without games and good food, so Mickie bakes several batches of cookies and bars.

“My kids are fortunate they get to make so many great memories with my parents on this farm,” says the Johnson’s son, Brian, who graduated in 2004 from South Dakota State University with a degree in Ag Business. He and his wife, Jamie, met while interning at the South Dakota Legislature and were married in 2005. Today they’re raising their family just a few miles away. “My kids love seeing the cows and the playing with the cats. During the harvest season, they’ll ride in the equipment with us for hours. It’s fun being able to share this with them.”

Johnson's 3 big kids with their chickens, Auto & Steer

Johnson’s 3 big kids with their chickens, The two black chickens are named Auto & Steer.

Farming is a family affair. In the fall, Jamie and Mickie take turns driving the combine and operating the grain cart. In the summer, Jamie and the two oldest girls help with the cattle. Ten-year-old Ella earned a purple ribbon 2016 Spink County Fair with her commercial heifer. Lila, who will turn 8 in December, is looking forward to joining 4-H this summer. Their infant daughter, Evelyn, was born on August 31. Leo, who will turn 5 next month, already is a farmer at heart. He’s excited about the four laying hens that his mom purchased during a trip to the farm store. He named them two of them Auto and Steer.

“There’s nothing like living on a farm,” says Brian. “You see how things grow and mature. I enjoy watching crops progress through the summer. Our kids learn the importance of doing a job correctly, and they feel a sense of purpose by helping.”

Brian Johnson has farmed with his parents, Alan and Carol, since 2005

Brian Johnson has farmed with his father, Alan, and mother, Mickie, since 2005.

This fall many farmers in Northeast South Dakota harvested record crops for the second year in a row. Brian says no-till has been a real game changer because it builds soil health and helps retain water. He also credits the use of cover crops to providing nutrients in the soil and for breaking up soil compaction. Plus, the Johnson manage their fields by zone and apply variable rates of fertilizer and seed.

“One thing I admire about Dad is that he’s always looking for ways to improve,” says Brian. “Thirty years ago, he planted corn at 18,000 plants per acre. Now we’re averaging 37,000 in 20-inch rows, and it’s taken our yields to the next level. With improved plant genetics and soil fertility, I don’t think we’ve hit the top yields yet!”

In honor of all the farmers bringing in this year’s harvest and in celebration of Halloween, today we’re sharing a recipe from Mickie Johnson for M&M Bars.

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Oatmeal M&M Bars

2 c. oatmeal

1 1/2 c. flour

1 c. brown sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

1 c. butter, melted

1/2 c. peanut butter

1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 c. mini M&M's

Combine oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, soda & salt. Mix well. Add butter and mix well. Remove 1 1/2 c. and set aside. Pat into a greased jelly roll pan. Bake 12 minutes at 375 degrees. Combine sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter with spoon. Combine 1 1/2 c. crumbs and M&M's. Spread milk/pb mix over crust. Sprinkle with crumbs and M&M mixture over crust. Press down lightly. Bake at 375 degrees for 19 minutes.