James Thompson

x2011 Production Agriculture

Fifth-generation farmer James Anthony (Tony) Thompson takes his role as an agricultural producer very seriously, adopting innovations and technologies that enhance his Windom-based farm’s productivity while reducing negative or unintended impacts on the natural ecosystems.

Thompson was raised on Willow Lake Farm four miles east of Windom. After graduating from Windom high school in 1974, he enrolled in a zoology curriculum at Montana State University but at nearly the same time began working as a farmhand for neighbor and mentor Bud LaMaack. Thompson mixed his academic and applied interests in agriculture and ecology by farming with LaMaack, renting a farm from his father and attending winter and occasional spring and fall quarters at Montana State University. In 1981, he received his bachelor of science degree in Agriculture, Plant and Soil Science. During the 1990s he farmed in partnership with his brother, Mark, and today farms with employees Tom Quiring and Fred Henning. 

Thompson’s operation has grown, prospered and diversified: he now owns or rents nearly 3,500 acres of row crops and almost 1,000 acres of remnant prairie, managing the land in ways that simultaneously produce bountiful crops of grains and prairie seed while protecting soil and water resources, and generating a profit. Thompson firmly believes that a farm is like an organism or community: It cannot be insensitive to the lives and processes that surround it, nor can it be inattentive to its own needs. Human and ecological health and welfare are inseparable. A farmer’s job is to be attentive to the broader ecology and economy while doing daily what most likely assures a future for the farm. 

Thompson is eager and adept at sharing the knowledge he has gained by using Willow Lake Farm to foster experiential learning. Over the past 30 years, thousands of students have visited the operation including entire college classes from the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University. Individual students come and stay to pursue independent projects and over the past 10 years, Thompson has hosted five international students from the University of Minnesota’s MAST program. He also hosts an annual summit where for two days farmers, conservationists, researchers, consumers and educators explore ideas and approaches at the nexus of agriculture and ecology.