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Photos: He ditched med school, became organic farming pioneer

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Steve Schwenn leans out of the goat pen.
Pausing while milking a goat, Schwenn leans out of the pen to check on the commotion of a llama and the dog having a disagreement. "People think llamas spit at you when they're upset, but they actually vomit. It's kind of gross," said Schwenn. He keeps a half dozen goats on his farm to produce milk and cheese.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

Forty years ago, Steven Schwenn was a third-year medical student at Mayo Medical School in Rochester when he felt a different calling. It was spring planting season, and Schwenn bought 14 acres of land and began organic gardening. 

As one of the first organic farmers in the state, Schwenn began educating people as he sold his herbs and and vegetables out of a five-gallon pail to stores and restaurants in the Twin Cities.  

Soon, other like-minded farmers became interested in producing crops without insecticides and other chemicals.

  Schwenn thought there was a need for a collective effort and founded the Full Circle Organic Growers Network cooperative. Needing a common place to sell their produce, Schwenn approached the city of Rochester and became instrumental in forming the first farmers market in the area.

  Along with the farm, Schwenn also got an abandoned turn of the century store on the property that still looks much the same as it did in the early 1900s. Inside, he sells produce, canned goods and an eclectic mix of merchandise. A throw back to a different era, a note left on the counter reads, "I'm probably out in the fields working, please just figure the amount owed and leave on the counter top."

  The Oak Center General Store and farm is located on U.S. 63 about five miles south of Lake City.