Steve & Christy Earley - Cedar Grove Farm - Internatonal Falls

Late summer in the early 1930s, Margaret Earley, Steve Earley’s aunt, had a dilemma. For her 4-H calf to show at the Minnesota State Fair, rules required a farm name. Inspiration was an upland cedar stand just north of the farm house, and Cedar Grove Farm was her choice. Margaret is gone but the cedar stand, now over 130 years old, still stands. When Steve’s family started selling garden produce and custom Christmas wreaths the business name was a “no-brainer“. After 80 years, Margaret’s Cedar Grove Farm name was revived and the fourth generation of the Earley family to earn a wage at Cedar Grove Farm began.

Steve and Christy are both retired, Steve from the Boise paper mill in International Falls, and Christy from Minnesota Extension Service. They have two teenagers, Eric and Anna who get an equal share of revenue from Cedar Grove Farm as long as they do equal work.

Christy and the kids make and sell 60 to 70 Christmas wreaths each year. Harvesting of balsam fir, spruce, pine, cedar and red-osier dogwood begins after the second hard frost and, if lucky, ends before deer season. A double frost assures the greens remain green for a long time. All the greens are locally harvested from the Farm or a friendly neighbor’s woodlot. Wreath making is Christy’s specialty, handed down from her mother, a national award winning wreath maker.

Beginning in early July, the family sells produce from the garden such as spinach, sugar snap peas, rhubarb, celery and pumpkins. The gardening is tough work and not as popular with the equal partners during the hot summer. Work begins in April with the starting of seeds inside, even though snow piles remain outside. Garden planting is done by Memorial Day. Several days each week are devoted to weeding, fertilizing and, in dry years, watering the garden.

Cedar Grove Farm covers 100 acres south of the Canadian border. The farm is mostly clay soils with 30 acres of aspen, balsam fir and white spruce and 70 acres of fields. While the first and second generation of Earleys toiled clearing the land of trees so crops could be planted and dairy cows pastured, the subsequent generations have been planting trees in those same fields and pastures.

The woodland has been enrolled in the Tree Farm Program since the 1980s. Steve is active in Tree Farm’s Grass Tops program which advocates for better policies and laws that benefit private woodland owners, in Minnesota and across the country.

Steve was recruited for MFA membership in the early 1980s by Mike Latimer. To include Christy and the children, they now have a Family Membership. Recently, Steve served on MFA’s Board of Directors in 2012-2013.

Will there be a fifth generation to live and work on Cedar Grove Farm? Only time will tell but one teen already is looking at a career in forestry.