Wirtanen Festival Preserves Finnish Farming Heritage

By KBJR News 1

September 15, 2013 Updated Sep 16, 2013 at 11:26 AM CDT

Markham, MN (NNCNOW.com)

With the age old command of haw, the Belgian draft horses of Palo's Strawberry Fields Farm turn left and pull into Eli Wirtanen's farm.
The farm is a few hundred yards off the old Vermilion Trail that led immigrants from Duluth to the Anishinabe territory of the Vermilion Range over a hundred years ago.
Wirtanen pulled into Colvin Township near Markham and Makinen in 1904.
He worked the land for the next 53 years.
The site is now home to the annual Wirtanen Farm Festival.
The festival's organizers are unsure how the old Finnish bachelor would feel about the crowd it draws.

"I can't imagine what he would think. We even had some squirrels chatter at us that were upset when we started coming in here and doing things. So, I'm sure he would be shocked." said Darlene Saumer.

The square hewn logs of the 109 year old buildings still stand thanks to volunteers.

"To keep up the Finnish heritage and preserve it for young people to learn." said Saumer.

The festival's learning experiences include stone tool making and how to work the land with just a horse and a plough.
After Eli Wirtanen passed away years ago, this farm became a St Louis County Historical site.
About ten years ago, the farm was almost sold so residents of the region banded together to take over its upkeep and put on this gathering.
For at least ten years, kids keep coming back to play with Scott Christensen's baby animals.

"There are kids who have been coming here for the last ten years playing with them. They came when they were tiny and now they're teenagers." said Christensen.

As with anything humans build, nature tries to pull it back into the earth.
The Wirtanen farm still stands thanks to the restoration work of volunteers.
More volunteers are needed for the next step of the work.

"We have a shingle mill that is pretty well gone and we want to find somebody who knows about it to rebuild it." said Saumer.

Darlene Saumer of the Friends of the Wirtanen Farm says that volunteer would be paid in pride rather than cash for his or her work.

"It's fun. It's challenging. It's rewarding!" said Saumer.

In Colvin Township, Dave Anderson, KBJR 6 and Range 11.

Eli Wirtanen was born in Finland in 1870 and lived to be 87 years old, passing away in 1957.