Joyce Cordes knows no other life than the one she’s lived on her family farm, on Ibson Avenue in Richland Township.
From the time she was just a little girl, she followed her dad around in the barn and even played “farm” with her brothers.
“I was born in Faribault at the hospital, but they moved me here, and I stayed,” said Joyce.
Although she lives by herself, the Cordes farm keeps Joyce engaged in work and hobbies that revolve around her animals and garden. It's not a lonely lifestyle for Joyce, who considers the farm a special place.
Joyce’s grandparents, Henry and Sophia Cordes, purchased the farm in 1919. Originally from Germany, the couple met in Deerfield Township and initially farmed a mile and three quarters from the land where Joyce grew up. Henry and Sophia raised nine children on the farm, one of them Joyce’s father, George Cordes.
George bought his parents’ farm with his wife, Gertrude, on April 1, 1947. George’s brother Herbert had taken over the farm first but left to purchase a different farm in 1936. Joyce recalls Gertrude, her mom, saying there was no electricity or running water when they first moved to the farm. For many years, even Joyce remembers when Ibson Avenue was merely a dirt road without a name.
Joyce grew up with two older brothers, George Gary Cordes and Lawrence Giefer. She recalls playing under a big maple tree and going to country school. In the winter, they played where it was warm, behind an old cookstove. They rode tricycles and bicycles, and George Gary had a motorbike. There were always plenty of cats running around the farm along with the kittens and dogs, and Joyce had three ponies for several years.
In the early years, Joyce said the Cordes farm was quite diversified. Her dad milked cows and canned cream for shipment. The milk production operation lasted for 70 years — from 1947 to 2017.
George Sr. also raised pigs, and for several years, ducks and sheep. He even kept bees for a while and sold their honey.
Out in the fields, the Cordeses raised corn, oats, spring wheat, and later beans. George Sr. also raised certified seed oats for Warner Farm Seeds.
Joyce remembers her mom taking care of the chickens and sometimes the cows. As a farmer’s wife, Gertrude never worked off the farm. She kept a large garden, canned and baked. Joyce best remembers her mom’s homemade bread.
Being a farmer
Joyce began farming with her dad in 1974. She tried her hand working as an accounting clerk in town for six years, but in the end she returned to farm work. She continued partnering with her dad until he died in 2004. And while she believes two heads were better than one, she learned how to stand on her own two feet.
Her brother, George Gary, started helping Joyce out after their father died, keeping procedures basically the same as George Sr's. Although they rent out all the land, the siblings hay together and make small squares they mostly sell for horses.
“If I need something I just holler, and hopefully he comes across,” said Joyce. “He comes for breakfast and supper.”
When it comes to manual labor, Joyce said she and her brother are “kind of behind the times” as they stack and layer hay into a mound. But if anyone in the family experienced big changes in farming, she believes it was her dad, who grew up during an era when his father farmed with horses.
“[Dad] and his brother had one of the first balers around here,” said Joyce. “We still kept making small squares, and we don’t have a thrower either on the baler.”
Joyce said she’s not necessarily attached to traditional farming ways, but if something worked before, she finds it easiest to continue doing a task the way she knows best.
One farm relic from her childhood Joyce displays proudly near her driveway is a 1963 Allis-Chalmers tractor with a side rack. She thinks her dad bought it “for his little girl.”
“That little tractor ran every day of its life,” said Joyce.
Another piece of family history, a corn sheller Gertrude bought many years ago, is something Joyce now uses to shell corn for her chickens. Her dad mounted a motor on the machine, which removes the kernels off a corn cob with the crank of a handle.
The farmhouse is one farm feature that's changed since Joyce grew up. The house where she currently lives was moved on the land in 1991, and it’s slightly bigger than the first.
“It’s more house than one person needs, that’s for sure,” said Joyce. “But I’ll fill it with my plants come fall.”
Like her mother, Joyce also keeps her own garden with vegetables and flowers. She plants tulips and bleeding hearts in the spring, daylilies and other perennials. During the fall, she brings her plants indoors where there’s plenty of space.
Alone, but not lonely
After George Sr. died, Gertrude lived with Joyce until her death in 2010. Joyce said she’s gotten used to living alone since then, and cell phones make it especially easy to connect with people.
“I have friends I call, and they call me,” said Joyce.
For animals these days, Joyce has cats, dogs, chickens, baby chicks and two heifers. It’s not nearly as many animals as she used to own, but it’s enough to keep her company.
“You need cats and kittens on a farm, and you need a good dog,” said Joyce.
Her border collie, Jay Zee, eagerly greets guests who drive up the gravel driveway. Joyce bought him from an Amish family in Iowa and said he has a long time before he outlives her last dog, Jasper, who lived to be 15 years old.
With only animals inhabiting the farm and no descendants of her own, Joyce suspects someone outside the family will buy the land after she stops farming. And as long as she lives, there’s nowhere Joyce intends to go.
“I guess they’ll have to carry me away,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve had a good life here.”