Happy Farmer Labor Day from the Iron Range

At 10:30 this morning they’ll hold the 100th Farmer’s Day Parade on the freshly repaved streets of Bovey, Minnesota. Bovey was bypassed in 2007 by the never-ending, never-complete expansion of the Cross-Range Expressway. City leaders have responded by installing a brickwork strip down the center of Old 169. Today they’ll break in that street with horses, classic cars, candy, kids and high-stepping.

Today marks a century of Farmer’s Day activities. Farmer’s Day is one of the bigger Labor Day activities on the labor-friendly Iron Range, which might lead you to ask “Why is it called Farmer’s Day?”

The western Mesabi iron range was settled under slightly different conditions than the central and eastern Iron Range. Loosely speaking, this is the part of the Iron Range located in Itasca County. Towns located along the iron formation in this area would remind you of most any Range town, from the age and proximity of the houses to the number of bars per capita to the ethnic names you might see on the businesses or commemorative plaques. While this is true, a large part of Itasca County was settled independently from Iron Range mining. Logging and paper making was and remains a big part of the culture and economy. Additionally, agriculture is stronger here than it is in the St. Louis County portion of the Range. Much of Itasca County doesn’t identify with the Range at all.

I’m writing this from my home in Balsam Township. Even though I have a Bovey mailing address, I stand some 17 miles from today’s parade route. There is a vast network of rural townships north of the western Mesabi that I am just learning after having moved out here six years ago. Balsam was once much larger and included modern Wabana and Lawrence townships, which now rest on the still-large Balsam’s southern border. The eastern portion of Balsam where I live is more Finnish, more labor-oriented (or, now, more retired) and more influenced by the Iron Range. The western portion of Balsam was settled by farmers from the Great Plains some 100 years ago, displaced by weather or economic conditions. This is the part of Balsam located just north of Bovey. Bovey was once a thriving trade center for a lot of these west Balsam and other nearby farms. To this day people who live in west Balsam say “west Balsam” when you ask them where they live.

So that’s why Bovey has Farmer’s Day on Labor Day. I think it’s a nice throwback to the state and region’s farmer-labor tradition. Happy Labor Day, everyone! And Happy Farmer’s Day, too.

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