Familiar Ground

A farmer serves his country, then returns home to raise crops and a family.

By Tharran E. Gaines | Photos By Katie Knapp

For John Menssen, there is no place like home. After serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, he should know as well as anyone.

Today, that home is on a small farm near Sherburn, Minnesota, where Menssen is living the dream with his wife, Emily, and their 3- and 5-year-old sons, Kody and James. “From the time I was old enough to walk, all I ever wanted to do was be a farmer,” he says, noting that he started out by pushing his toy tractors through fields of dirt.

“I farmed with my dad and my grandpa near St. James, Minnesota, while growing up in the late ’80s and ’90s. Shortly after my first tour in 2003–2004, I moved down here to take a position with AGCO, and that’s when the opportunity came up to start farming with my father-in-law,” he says of moving to Sherburn, just less than 30 miles south of where he was raised.

At the same time, in 2005, the Menssens purchased the small farmstead they now call home. That proved to be a good move for a number of reasons. One of the biggest was that Menssen, while he served his second tour, was again able to call on the support of his in-laws, who live nearby.

Tours of Duty

“My first tour in Iraq was in 2003 to 2004, while I was working for a construction company near St. James,” he says, noting that he had joined the Army Reserves before moving to Sherburn. “I was a combat engineer, helping to clear roads and blow up IEDs.” Menssen’s second tour, though, took him to both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. The tour drew on his earlier construction background, as he became the leader of an engineering team that included electricians, carpenters and plumbers who were building military barracks in both countries.

While he was away the second time, Menssen says, “My wife did a lot of the tillage, since she also grew up on a farm and had plenty of experience with tractors. However, I had a two-week leave in the spring and was able to do most of the planting that year myself.”

While it’s hard to say how much his military experience has contributed to his farming career, Menssen says it did make him a better team leader and has helped him understand and interact with people from different backgrounds, religions and cultures. That experience, perhaps, has been of even greater value in his other career.

Remaining Connected

Emily and John not only appreciate the opportunity to work their own farm, but also are thankful they can raise their sons, Kody and James, in a rural setting.

Emily and John not only appreciate the opportunity to work their own farm, but also are thankful they can raise their sons, Kody and James, in a rural setting.

Like many farmers, Menssen always has worked another job off the farm, particularly since he and Emily decided it was best for her to stay home with their two boys, at least until they began school. “Shortly before starting to farm with my wife’s family down here, I also started working for AGCO at the Jackson [Minnesota] factory, building RoGator sprayers on the assembly line,” he explains.

However, Menssen soon worked his way up through customer service, technical support, and sales and marketing departments, which led to a 2014 move to Atlanta, where he worked as a marketing manager at the AGCO corporate office. Again, Emily’s family came to the Menssens’ aid by farming their small acreage while they were gone.

Nearly two years ago, though, Menssen and his family moved back to Minnesota, where he now works out of an office he built into a new machine shed on his farmstead. Today, after wearing several different hats for the company, he works as an AGCO account manager responsible for Ziegler Ag Equipment, a division of Ziegler Cat.

“Even though I farm an extremely small number of acres, it still keeps me connected with the things our customers deal with—whether it’s working with the co-op or buying propane for the farm,” he says. “I don’t deal with all the things a large farmer deals with, but even with a few acres, I can relate to the same challenges involved in planting a crop or weed control.

“Of course, I’m also a [farm equipment] customer myself,” he adds. “I buy cultivator shovels each spring, as well as oil, filter and lubricants, and parts for my tractors. I have warranty issues, and I call for service just like anybody else. So, I can relate to what our customers are looking for from a dealer.”

Menssen says he anticipates farming more acres in the near future as more of his wife’s relatives retire or cut back. Yet, he doesn’t plan to let farming replace his corporate career.

“While farming has helped me in my job with AGCO, it’s also been the other way around,” he continues. “As an example, when I was in product marketing, working with seeding and tillage equipment, I had the opportunity to go down to AGCO’s Hesston, Kansas, facility, work directly with the engineers, and learn more about how a planter works and how to set the planter, while discovering some of the tips and tricks from longtime experts [at the company].”

Menssen says his farm also has been the site of photo shoots for AGCO equipment and for field testing a few prototypes and product enhancements, which also gives him a unique insight into equipment operation. “Consequently, it’s worked both ways,” he says. “I get things out of my job at AGCO that help in my farming operation, and I deal with things while farming that help make me a better AGCO employee.

“Now, I look forward to my wife and me raising our two boys in the same kind of rural environment that I grew up in,” he concludes. Like him, they got an early start if they choose to farm someday. “They already have their own toy tractors.”