Four generations break ground on family farm in Todd County

Kneisl's Scattered Acres now being operated by third, and fourth generation

Arnold and Darlene Kneisl were the second of four generations in the family to tend to the family farm. Darlene is holding their wedding picture. The two are retired and living in Wadena, as a son and grandson now farm the land.<br/>
Barbie Porter / Wadena Pioneer Journal

WADENA— Four generations of the Kneisl family have tilled the land in rural Wadena, tended to animals and made a living by putting food on others tables.

The legacy began when August “Gus” Kneisl moved from Compton Township to North Todd County in 1938. His son, Arnold, believes that his father purchased a farm, and added another one later that year for a total 160-acre farm.

“I was only 4 (years old) then,” Arnold said. “I have no idea how much he paid for the first one, but I believe it was around $4,000 for the second one.”

While farmland soil blended from one property to the next, the two parcels had very different soils.

Darlene and Arnold Kneisl's farmstead is show in an aerial picture that was taken years ago.<br/><br/><br/>
Barbie Porter / Wadena Pioneer Journal

Arnold said that one had “heavy soil” and the other, “sand.” Despite what the land offered, the Kneisl’s made due and grew bounties of grain, corn and hay. The hay was for the animals on the farm, which included a dairy herd.


Arnold recalled that in his childhood he walked to the barn with a lantern in his hand. While dim, the lantern provided enough light for him to complete his chores of milking cows.

When electricity was connected to the farm in 1941, Arnold went into every room and turned on every light.

“A 40-watt bulb has a lot of light compared to a gas lantern,” he said.

Just as lanterns were replaced with light bulbs, teams of horses were traded in for tractors. While modern equipment, and conveniences like electricity, made life on the farm easier, there were still plenty of chores to be done by Arnold, his older half-brother Donald and his parents. Together, they worked as a team.

Four generations of the Kneisl family have farmed in Todd County.
Barbie Porter / Wadena Pioneer Journal

Eventually, Arnold became the second generation in the Kneisl family to operate a farm on the family land. But first, he fell in love and married his wife Darlene in October 1955.

Arnold and Darlene made a living on one of the 160-acre family farm plots. Darlene recalled when they moved onto the land there was a log house on the property, and an old barn. The two added more land to the family farm after a neighboring property was repossessed by the bank.

“We bought it because the house and barn were better buildings,” Darlene said.

Years later they added even more land, totaling about 800 acres, Arnold estimated. Not all the property was adjoining, and the family decided to begin calling their farm, “Scattered Acres.”


As they added land, they also became a Grade A dairy farm. According to the USDA, Grade A milk can be sold or used as a fluid beverage or to manufacture cheese, butter, and other dairy products. Grade B can only be used for food products. As a farmer, to be Grade A, the farm must qualify and become certified through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Darlene said the transition to becoming a Grade A started in 1956, after they visited the creamery in Moorhead. They were told that, to get a creamery truck to pick up milk at their farm, they needed to get a few other farmers in the Wadena area to transition to Grade A, as well. Darlene said contacts were made and soon they were in business.

The Kneisl family also agreed, with a herd of about 20 cows, it was time to expand their milking parlor from four to six stalls.

While Arnold worked on the farm, Darlene went to nursing school and took a job with a doctor in Wadena, all while raising two children. (Eventually they had five kids – three boys and two girls.)

“Arnie told me, if I quit my job in town that we could double our herd,” she said, adding she had no qualms about leaving city life behind, even though she was raised a city girl. “I never regretted it.”

Gary Kneisl and his wife Kathy live on the original Kneisl farm purchased by his grandfather, August.
Contributed / Darlene Kneisl

Years after doubling the herd, more cows were added. The Kneisl family had many years of good fortune, but there were times when Mother Nature came knocking with a vengeance. Darlene recalled the worst of the incidents was when a fire started in a loafing barn.

“I was standing in the kitchen,” she said. “I looked out the window and saw changing colors that weren’t normal, and so I said, ‘Arnie, I think we have a fire.” He went out right away, and I ran over to the neighbors to call the fire department.”

She added they got their own telephone line a few years later. As technology changed, the farm bought tractors to replace horsepower and make farmwork more efficient, and added irrigation to improve reliability.


Danny, Abby and their son Leo Kneisl bought 10 acres off the original farmstead. He works as a diesel mechanic.
Contributed / Darlene Kneisl

While Darlene and Arnold loved working the land, they didn’t want their children to become farmers.

“We wanted them to go to college,” Darlene said. “But, Gary came home twice and both times he said he wanted to farm.”

Gary said he always admired his parent’s work ethic. With that same hard-work mentality, he purchased his grandfather’s land and has made a living off it since. Instead of dairy cows, he took to raising beef cattle and cash crops like corn and soybeans.

“Farming has always been a job where you barely get by,” he said. “It’ll probably always be that way.”

Jason Kneisl is the fourth generation to operate the family farm. He is pictured with his family: Zieden, wife Kayla, Julia and Liddia.
Contributed / Darlene Kneisl

Arnold and Darlene continued to farm as well. Eventually, they retired, but remained living on the land.

“Arnie and I thought we’d die there,” Darlene said.

That changed when Gary’s son, Jason Kneisl, asked to have a chat with them.

“He came and said, ‘grandma and grandpa, I'd like to buy your farm when you’re ready,” Darlene’s voice cracked. She set her hand on the kitchen table and repeated, “When you’re ready.”


After three months, the two decided the time had come to relocate back to town and let the fourth generation of Kneisl’s tend the land. As the younger generations get the same joy of working the earth and providing food for others, Arnold and Darlene are able to enjoy their golden years with their children: Gary, Mary Weber, Karen Marthaler, Ken Kneisl and Kevin Kneisl. They also have 15 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren and one step-great grandson.

Arnold added another perk of being off the farm had to do with gravel.

“Before we had 2½ miles of gravel road,” Arnold said. “Now, our car stays a lot cleaner.”

Four Generations.jpg
Four generations of the Kneisl family was captured in this picture: Danny, Gary, Arnold and Leo.
Contributed / Darlene Kneisl

With upsides, there are downsides. He divulged that he misses getting behind farm machinery, particularly the combine and driving into a field.

“I don’t do that now,” he said. “The machinery nowadays is, y’know.”

While they don’t participate in the planting or harvest, Arnold and Darlene do enjoy watching their son and grandsons work the family land. Gary even earned a Todd County 2022 Farm Family of the Year award, along with his son Jason.

“We are very proud,” Arnold said.

“And amazed,” Darlene added. “They are more advanced in farming.”

What To Read Next
Get Local