Wadena area farmers gather to harvest after the unexpected death of a local ag advocate

Mike Tuinstra (third from left) talks to other area farmers about the progress being made on his roughly 200 acres of corn. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

VERNDALE, Minn. — “It’s not supposed to be this way” was a phrase Shanna (Keskitalo) Tuinstra would tell her husband, Mike, anytime someone tried to return a favor or act of kindness.

Shanna was known to go out of her way to help others, but the thought of receiving help just seemed out of place. It was equally difficult for her husband to accept help when fellow farmer Chris Neal told him a group of farmers wanted to help him harvest his corn crop just days after Shanna passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, Nov. 2, at the age of 40.

Mike eventually accepted the help from the group of area farmers, many of them members of the Wadena County Farm Bureau. So Saturday, Nov. 7, the roads leading to the Tuinstras' farm filled with combines, tractors, grain carts and semis as over 20 farmers and more than 50 volunteers turned out to complete the harvest in short order.

With a half dozen combines on the move and a steady line of gravity boxes unloading the abundant corn kernels, the work was swift. The crew even had time to come in for a lunch served up with the help of Ag Country Farm Credit Services. After a quick bite, the farmers were back out to finish the job before dark.

“People used to do this all the time back in the day,” Tuinstra said of the farmers getting together to help complete the work. It was heartwarming for Tuinstra to watch. And that’s about all they let him do — watch.


The harvest and field work would have been completed by Shanna and Mike together. Her help allowed Mike to haul grain commercially to bring in additional income for the family of three, which includes their 13-year-old daughter Haylee.

“We’re a team together,” Mike said of their marriage and work relationship.

Mike and Shanna Tuinstra were a dynamic duo of farmers who devoted a lot of time outside of their farming operation to help future generations understand just how important farming remains in our area. Shanna, 40, passed away, Nov. 2, unexpectedly on the family farm. Photo courtesy Dana Cantleberry/WDC Schools

Farming was one of Shanna’s passions, and one she sought to share with future generations as she and Mike were instrumental in starting the Ag in the Classroom program in Wadena County. They traveled from school to school to talk about their farm and the importance of farming. The visit often included a slice of pizza for kids, which served as a good example of all the ingredients a farm supplies to make the popular food possible. Shanna wanted future generations to have a firm understanding of where their food was coming from and the work that goes into getting it on the plate.

“Shanna really took that and ran with it,” according to Wadena County Farm Bureau President Craig Neal. Craig was one of the many present on Saturday along with his brother Chris Neal, who served as the main contact for the farmers looking to help be a part of the day.

Nancy Roth serves up lunch to hungry volunteers Saturday, Nov. 7, in the Tuinstra Farm shop. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal


Pastor Vaughn White speaks to a crowd of farmers and volunteers before praying over the meal Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Tuinstra Farm northeast of Verndale. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Mike is realizing now more than ever just how much Shanna handled in their marriage. While losing her was difficult, Mike said he was quickly able to come to the realization that he was lucky to have had 13 years of marriage with her. Dwelling on the loss wasn't bringing him peace.

“I’m so grateful that he (God) waited as long as he did, that we could have 13 years together,” Mike said.

Mike said Shanna died of natural causes. She was at one point during the night having difficulty breathing, then with her husband and daughter holding her, helping her relax, she stopped breathing. Mike said she had an enlarged heart, which might have played a part. Emergency crews were on scene within 10 minutes but were unable to revive her. Mike takes comfort in the fact that she was in no pain when she left them.

While it was relatively short, Shanna no doubt lived a fulfilling life — one that she packed full of things she cared about. The generations of children she worked with will no doubt take with them a portion of that passion.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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