‘Old World’ animal and vegetable products produced locally
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
In 11 years on her farm east of Ramey, Suzanne Peterson has experienced above-average rainfall every year. An added challenge this year was the cold.
“The soil was much colder this year,” she said. “The pasture is so far behind, and I can’t put the piglets where they belong. I had to plant forage turnips for the animals instead of corn.”
Peterson grew up near Anoka, and other than spending a year in Greece as a young woman, she has lived the rest of her life in Minnesota.
She is fluent in Greek and speaks Spanish and German. She makes sure to read a book or two in Greek every year.
“I have to do something with my mind during the winter,” she said. “Knowing about other cultures helps you understand other people and other societies. If I hadn’t become an engineer, I might have been a linguist.”
Peterson is a licensed professional chemical engineer. After farming for some years, she went back to professional life for about 18 months, driving to Hutchinson every day, but found that the money could not compensate for farm life.
“I farm because that’s where I’m alive, surrounded by life,” she said. “It’s my connection with life.”
Peterson raises a variety of animals, including Tibetan yak, Icelandic and Shetland lambs, cattle, goats, free-range chickens, guinea hens, European rabbits and pasture-raised ducks and geese.
Azariah Acres also supports a small number of community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares. In addition to produce, she offers medicinal and culinary herbs and wool products.
The farm operates organically, with non-genetically modified plants and without pesticides. The animals are pasture-grazed with hay and minimal grain during the winters.
“The CSA fits with the other things I do,” Peterson said. “I hire people from time to time and my dad helps with the field work sometimes, but the share owners hired me to do it. It has to be right — and I can’t sell something if I don’t eat it.”
Peterson enjoys raising yak, a breed known for their gentleness.
“They have been domesticated for 4,000 years,” she said. “That’s why I have yak and not buffalo. And they don’t have gamey-tasting meat.”
She also cites the slightly higher protein and higher iron content of yak meat, compared to buffalo and cattle.
Yak have proven easier to handle. When Peterson mistakenly left a gate open and the yak got out, she sternly told them to get back in their pen “and they did,” she said.
Four yak can be housed in the space needed for one cow.
“It’s much more efficient,” Peterson said. “But you have to be patient. Instead of butchering yak at 16 months like cattle, they are butchered at age three or four.”
Any aggressive animals at Azariah Acres are butchered.
“I don’t want that characteristic in my animals,” said Peterson. “I also get rid of any moms who don’t take care of their babies.”
Those are business decisions. With so much to do, Peterson doesn’t have the time to take care of numerous babies. She had more than 100 sheep, but now has 32 ewes, 31 babies and Grunewald, the flock’s ram.
Muscovy ducks are raised because their meat is not as fatty as other ducks’. Rather than quacking, they hiss.
Peterson’s chickens take care of themselves.
“My birds make a living for themselves in the summer because I don’t feed them,” she said. “The flock is starting to get bigger, but it will never be huge.”
Although Peterson raises rabbits, she now does it only on a custom pre-paid basis.
This is the first year that Peterson is raising her own grain for the animals — field peas, oats, corn and forage turnips.
“The price of grain is outrageous,” she said. “I want to know everything my animals consume.”
Help is often available from Peterson’s children David, 17, and Rebecca, 15.
“They both help on the farm in different ways,” Peterson said. “David just graduated. He’s as strong as an ox and helps with the electric fence and baling. Rebecca likes doing teas, and I just put in a strawberry patch for her.”
“People who are doing something they love understand why I farm,” she said. “Whether the money follows or not, it’s enough.”
Peterson knows all about life in the fast lane and is very certain that she is where she wants to be.
“I know the importance of an appropriate business model, so I understand farming’s value to my customers,” she said.
A recent customer didn’t bat an eye when told the price of a quarter of beef. Peterson later received an email saying how much the meat was appreciated.
“I live to my beliefs, and the customers appreciate that,” she said. “It’s nice being able to farm the way I do.”
Peterson also has a booth at the Central Minnesota Farmers Market in Sauk Rapids every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is located at 1480 Tenth Avenue N.E.