Saturday, November 27, 2021

Selling home, sweet home

| July 4, 2021 12:00 AM

My brothers and I gathered on our computer screens via Zoom a couple of weeks ago to begin the arduous task of deciding what to do with our 350-acre farm in Minnesota.

The land and accompanying homestead dating back to 1882 have been in a life estate for many years, and more or less in legal limbo until our mother passed away. Now that she has passed, we’re faced with making the decisions about how to move forward.

My oldest brother had supplied us with a long list of bullet points to consider prior to our online meeting. He’s thorough to a fault. The idea was to figure out what to ask the attorney when we meet with her via Zoom.

What’s the best strategy to protect our shared assets? If one of us wants to sell their share of the land, how is that done? (“A farm can’t be just sliced up like a pie,” brother No. 1 commented.) How do we structure the ownership, what type of bank account should be set up, do we need to survey the property, is it possible to subdivide the land?

The questions became a blur for me, and I kept thinking about the legacy of this precious land we’ve inherited. These are difficult decisions. We’ve tentatively agreed to sell the homestead — the farm buildings and surrounding couple of acres — and keep the crop acreage in a lease agreement with two neighboring farmers. And we'll continue to lease the wetlands to duck hunters, as my family has done for many years.

We’ve been renting out the farmhouse for 11 years, with brother No. 2 as the landlord since he lives a mile down the road. None of us want to deal with the realities of the ongoing maintenance of a 132-year-old house and and the 1907 barn that’s in disrepair. Selling the place is the pragmatic thing to do, but the heart strings attached to the homestead pull hard.

My great-grandparents, Andreas and Mina Heiberg, came to America from Norway in 1881 and homesteaded on our place, in Section 10 of Skree Township, Clay County, the following year. Their first home was a log cabin with a sod roof.

In a family history book put together by my mother, it notes how my great-grandparents often were visited by Native Americans who brought them wild game in exchange for tobacco and bread. They had nine children, including twins who died in infancy. I can only imagine the hard work and heartache they endured as they carved out a better life for themselves in a new land.

In 1889 the log home was replaced with a wood-frame house, the home in which I grew up. My great-grandfather farmed the land, followed by my grandfather, my father and my brother No. 2.

During my childhood, most of the homesteads in our neighborhood were dairy farms operated by the generation of first-born Americans of these many Norwegian immigrants. My dad was one of them. But now, most of those original homesteads have been sold off to the highest bidder.

I have thoughts now and then of moving back to Minnesota and living on the farm when I retire (spoiler alert: it’s coming sooner than you think), but they’re fleeting moments. Do I really want to put up with the harsh winters and humid summers just to keep the homestead in the family? Probably not.

I keep telling myself that selling home, sweet home is the practical thing to do. If only my heart would listen.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or