Going Places. Here at Home: Tyler and Kimberly Carlson

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Kimberly and Tyler Carlson with children JoElla, Boyd and Leo

Couple is invested in bringing people to Clayton County

This is one in a series of articles highlighting the latest generations of innovators making a difference in Clayton County.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


If ever there was a scenario where “as American as apple pie” came to life, embodied in a live-action performance, it would be difficult to overlook Tyler and Kimberly Carlson. They are both northeast Iowa natives, with the former being a lifelong resident of St. Olaf, while the latter grew up in Farmersburg. Both opted to stay in Clayton County out of loyalty to the area and family, and mostly because “there was no reason to leave.” 


Tyler is a third-generation farmer and now runs Carlson Farms with his father, while Kimberly has spent the last 11 years as an elementary teacher. She recently started at Central Community Schools, working with the preschool students. 


On the farming side, Tyler became an official partner in 2008, the same year he was named Clayton County Pork Producer of the Year. Then, interestingly enough, Tyler initiated a transition that took the 5,000-acre operation away from a combined livestock and crop farm into becoming just a crop farm that is heavily involved in the ethanol industry. 


The decision to move away from livestock and into crop farming was predicated on several factors, including market utilization and trends, overall maintenance costs and diversification. Most importantly to Tyler, though, he simply “didn’t enjoy it.” He wanted more time with his family, more time for hobbies and more time for traveling. So, out with the hogs and cattle and in with the corn, soybeans, wheat and rye. 


Tyler has also been instrumental in implementing cover crops and researching what’s in the best interest for the health of the fields, in an effort to preserve and conserve the resources and land. This conservation attitude is a recent trend on the farm, arriving about a decade ago with the planting of rye. The idea behind cover crops is continuous cover all year round, which holds soil together, controls erosion and assists in nutrient uptake. 


Kimberly, who was crowned Pork Queen in 2008, has always enjoyed working with children, and loved being a teacher’s assistant and even student taught at Central. While getting to Central took over a decade, the decision was made with family as the motivator. She just wanted to teach where her three children were and spend more time in the community where they were growing up. 


The joy of being a teacher and choosing the younger children rests on those “ah-ha” moments they have. It’s the “excitement of learning something new,” Kimberly explained, that attracted her to educating the little ones. 


Outside teaching, Kimberly served on the Elkader Day Care Board for about four years, spending her last year as president. She joined because she wanted to make some changes, support the center and show the staff appreciation for all their work. While she recently stepped away from the board due to other career opportunities and to spend more time with her children who are getting older and becoming more involved with activities, Kimberly emphasized how vital the center is. 


While running the family farm, being a teacher and raising three kids aged seven, six and four in your early 30s seems daunting enough, the Carlsons are always looking for a new challenge—a new way to diversify their assets or simply to incorporate something they enjoy into their daily lives. That new thing was purchasing Deer Run Resort in 2021. 


Becoming the new owners of the resort started with a casual conversation with previous owner John Moyna. After about a week of negotiating, the Carlsons took over the campground in the middle of a global pandemic, but Tyler was undeterred. 


“I knew instantly it was something I wanted to do. I’m always up for a new challenge. I like to step outside my box and make it my box,” he said.


Any concerns over Covid-19 were quickly shelved, as the campground actually saw an increase in travelers. With the pandemic shutting down indoor places, outdoor activities such as camping became more popular, and the resort certainly benefited. It was a fortuitous stroke of business fortune. 


One thing about owning the resort that is important to the Carlsons is the fact it allows them to promote the community and bring new people to the area, who end up going downtown, spending their time and money and spreading the word about the quaint little town on the Turkey River. 


“I’ve always loved this area, and growing up in this area, I knew I never wanted to leave it. So to bring more people to see that is how we give back to the community,” Kimberly said. 


One way these efforts give back to the community is through job creation. Between the family farm and Deer Run Resort, the Carlsons employ over a dozen part-time and full-time workers throughout the year. They are usually young people in the community, providing job opportunities for the youth. 


But when it comes to the over-arching emphasis of the resort, which is bringing in new people, Deer Run hosts numerous events during the year to attract campers and travelers. That includes Christmas in July, Ribilicious Meat Fest Cook-off and Halloween Weekend. The Carlsons also plan to add music to this year’s calendar of events, put up a pavilion, stock the lake and expand the number of weekends campers can fish. They will potentially open up select events to the public.


“We want to bring people from the surrounding communities to our community,” Tyler said. “If we get people into the campground, they’re going to walk uptown and spend their time in our local shops.” 


Tyler noted there is a synergistic relationship between the campground and the local businesses, stating, “if we didn’t have the local shops, we wouldn’t have campers.” 


One would think that, at this point, the couple would be inundated with commitments, but like a quality infomercial, there’s more! Along with the farm, teaching, Clover Kids and the resort, Kimberly recently got involved in the bounce house business. She purchased four of them and set up a rental business called JBL Equipment. The company initials represent the names of the three Carlson children: JoElla, Boyd and Leo. 


“It was a deal I couldn’t pass up,” Kimberly said. 


Not to be overlooked is that, through the resort, the Carlsons have also sponsored several events, including Sweet Corn Days and Ducks Unlimited. They’ve let Central students install a can bins at the campground, the proceeds of which have gone into multiple programs. 


The question is, what will be the next challenge? Whatever it is, the couple reiterated on numerous occasions their dedication to the community and the beneficial relationship that exists between all they do and the town where their “roots are planted.” 


“We are very grateful for the surrounding businesses that keep the local farmers going in busy times of the year. Whether it’s the dealerships around supplying parts, mechanics doing late night repairs, the co-op supplying fertilizer, late night fuel deliveries, just the simplest of having a restaurant to grab a meal. The list of these businesses and individuals that help this farming community is extensive. We could not accomplish what we do without their dedication,” they said.

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