Karolyn Zurn’s passion for agriculture runs deep. She may not have grown up on a farm, but once she got a taste of the farm life she was hooked. Whether it’s spending time in the tractor or traveling to Washington D.C. for ag policy and leadership opportunities, Zurn never stops advocating for agriculture.
Zurn lived in Ogema, Minn. the first few years of her life. “When I was three my parents moved out to California.” It was the gold rush for aerospace and her dad went out west to find career opportunities. When Zurn was 20 she visited relatives back in Minnesota. It was then when she met her husband, Bill.
They soon married and began farming together in the Callaway area. “I always hated the term farm wife. I drove combine, tractor, I loved working in the field.” Zurn and Bill raised five children. In addition to the work on the farm, Zurn was a hairdresser when the kids were young. She also volunteered with 4-H and FFA. After the youngest daughter was born in 1985, Zurn went back to college.
After graduating with a degree in marketing, Zurn worked for a variety of different foodservice companies, she retired from Proctor Gamble. After retirement, Zurn became focused on her talents to be an effective voice for agriculture and became involved in a multitude of ag organizations. “I never liked to be appointed just because I’m a woman.” She searched out opportunities in ag that allowed her to utilize her skills in advocacy.
Zurn has lent her time and abilities to so many ag-related organizations, one of those is Common Ground North Dakota. According to their website, “Common Ground, North Dakota is focused on starting a conversation between farmers who grow food and the people who buy it.” Zurn was involved for four years. “I got to sit in on the planning on how they were going to start common ground.
She serves on the University of Minnesota Crookston Campus Advisory and Advancement Board. The role of the board is to strengthen the connection to the college and the region. She is also on the Northern Crops Institute council in a six-year term.
She is currently the president of American Agri-Women, which deems itself as the largest group of agribusiness, farm and ranch women whose mission is to promote agriculture. Her time as president ends in November after that Zurn plans to focus on fundraising as that’s an important part of the AAW past president’s role.
Zurn has 13 grandkids. When she travels to Washington D.C., she tries to take at least one grandchild with her as there’s so much there to learn and she wants to allow her grandchildren to experience first-hand ag-advocacy in our nation’s capital.
Zurn farms with her husband and two sons Eric and Nick and their families. They raise wheat, corn soybeans and alfalfa. She believes that her experience on the farm differs from her husband. “We have a different view of the farm.” Each partner is important in the success of the farm and having those voices heard is vital.
Zurn has felt a calling to step up and be a part of the ag leadership providing the opportunity to lend her enthusiasm for agriculture to these organizations that are crucial to her. “I don’t know if there were as many women being heard.” Zurn’s leadership has been integral in so many organizations, giving voice to vital issues. “My advocacy will help my sons keep farming.”