New solar panels and that stately oak in the field at Lone Oak Farms are the perfect analogy for Greg Schwarz. He comes across as a comfortable blend of new and improving with a respect for old and proven ways.
“On my grandmother’s side, one of our fields can be traced back to 1875,” Greg says pointing to a deed in a handsome wooden frame. That deed and others on the wall of his office are touchstones of his family’s farm over the last 144 years. The wood in those hand-made frames came from a sister tree that once stood near the Lone Oak. When Greg’s grandfather sold him his land, he had made one ask–that the remaining tree not be cut. He wanted to enjoy its view in retirement from his nearby home.
In addition to corn, soybeans and turkeys, Greg and his wife Joan raised their children, Tom and Allison, on this land outside Le Sueur, Minnesota. They are involved community members and Joan works off the farm for Scott County, a half-hour commute north in Shakopee. And Greg’s 88-year-old father is active and still helps out during planting and harvest. He, too, built a life here, returning in the 1950s to farm near his father.
Greg draws direct correlation between past generations raising alfalfa and bedding crops to run their horse-powered operations with today’s corn and soybeans used in producing renewable-based ethanol and biodiesel fuels for our modern engines. Lone Oak Farms corn crop is delivered 30 miles to either Guardian Energy’s Janesville ethanol plant or to Winthrop and the Heartland Corn Product, where Greg has been a member since its inception.
He sees another comparison from the past to modern agriculture’s precision technologies. “Dad tells a story of driving a team of horses with his father in the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. They traveled east toward the old rural school to rescue a young teacher. But on the return trip with all three wrapped in heavy blankets, the horse-drawn wagon turned into the total blindness of that monster.” He adds, “They depended on the horses and their innate ‘GPS’ to lead them through the storm.”
The six modern solar panels at Lone Oak Farms are symbols of the recent development in renewables. While tracking the sun’s movements across the sky, the array supplies enough electricity to power the Schwarz home, shop, equipment and one of their four turkey barns for 11 months of the year. But he’s not done.
Greg’s goal is to eventually become self-sufficient. It’s a lesson he’s learned over decades of work in farming and in renewable fuels. “Control the process inputs, and you increase your chances of success,” he says with a grin.