by Dennis Dalman
Kelly Haws loves to do certified-organic gardening. She loves it as much as she enjoyed her 34 years as a special education teacher in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.
And that is why she decided to invite Sartell High School students in summer school to her farm to experience organic gardening. This summer, they had a blast growing a huge patch of zucchini and summer squash at Haws’ 27-acre farm near Cold Spring and Rockville. They also had lots of fun creating bouquets from the farm’s flowers.
Twenty-four students and eight school staff members (professionals and paraprofessionals) made four trips to Bannockburn Farm, as it’s called. A school bus brought the working group to the farm twice in June (for planting) and twice in August for weeding, watering and some harvesting.
“We (she and husband) are open to ideas and we really want to give back to the community,” Haws said. “The Sartell-St. Stephen School District was such a great place for me to work for 34 years, we decided to invite students and staff to our farm so students could experience working in the fresh air on the farm.”
And the students did indeed have a wonderful experience, even enjoying the hardest times – working in the soil under the hot sun.
Bannockburn Farm is owned by Haws and her husband, Dan Stark, a retired St. John’s Prep middle-school social studies teacher, who also taught other elective courses. He was also the school’s head boys’ soccer coach and Nordic ski co-coach. Just recently, he agreed to mentor new teachers at the prep school. In 2017, he was named “Coach of the Year” by the Minnesota High School Coaches’ Association. Stark grew up on a hobby farm and, according to Haws, hobby farming was always “in his blood.”
Haws grew up in St. Cloud, the eldest of four children of the late Larry Haws, a St. Cloud legend, and his wife Faye. Larry Haws was for many years director of the St. Cloud Parks and Recreation Department, coached soccer, served as a Stearns County Commissioner and later as a state legislator in St. Paul.
Haws and Stark lived in a house for many years, but one day in 2000 they had a hankering to go to a farm by Cold Spring that was being auctioned off. They kept bidding on the farm, and all of a sudden no new bids were forthcoming from the crowd.
“Dan and I both realized at that point that we’d bought the farm,” Haws said. “Bought the farm. Literally.”
It’s not just students who enjoy Bannockburn Farm. There are families that work “family plots” of 10 feet x 40 feet each, and between the family plots are plots for community gardening, each 6 feet x 40 feet. Families registered for the plots via St. John’s Prep School. Those family and community plots Haws and Stark started just last summer. They wanted to share the rewards of organic gardening with others and teaching people how it is done.
Haws’ family and her mother sold organically grown products for 20 years at the St. Cloud Farmers’ Market, everything from A to Z, including produce as well as eggs and meats such as chicken and lamb.
In 2007, Haws and Stark became “certified organic” growers via the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was a very rigorous process that required even a certain kind of organic soil and organic seeds, but they are glad they did it. Before that, they grew products organically but without all the rigid standards and requirements that “certified” mandates.
For years, Haw’s and Stark’s two boys were both hard-working helpers getting everything ready for farmers’ market sales. But as they became older, they had just too many of their own pursuits to work on, and so the farmers’ market tasks became a bit too much for Haws and her mother. It was at that time they decided to quit and concentrate on growing on the farm.
Environmental concerns are what led Haws and her husband to grow produce organically, free of herbicides and pesticides.
“We want a world safe for our sons and for everyone,” Haws said. “It’s a way of being kind to the environment.”
Stark’s and Haw’s two sons are Connor Stark Haws, 28, who is a speech-and-language pathologist for the Robbinsdale School District; and Kevin Stark Haws, a biology major and soccer player at St. John’s University.
Kelly Haws graduated from Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, then earned a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in educational leadership and administration from St. Cloud State University where she completed her dissertation on the subject of dyslexia. Dyslexia is an overall term for a person who has difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and symbols, but the condition does not affect that person’s general intelligence.
Though now retired after 34 years as a special education with the Sartell-St. Stephen School District, Haws still works half-time as a dyslexia specialist in the reading program at Stride Academy in St. Cloud.