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cres A


Friday, May 1, 2020

Volume 8, Edition 5


Focusing on Today’s Rural Environment


Brooke (from left), Chris, Leslie, Desirae and Colton Polzin are pictured at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair, where Brooke’s Hereford heifer, Lil Red, won her class at the 4-H Show. The Polzins are invested in elite cattle at their farm and embryo center in Darwin.

Polzins pursue elite genetics of various breeds By DIANE LEUKAM Staff Writer

DARWIN – At the Chris and Leslie Polzin household in Darwin, it’s all about cattle … and family, and connections. Now, like everyone else with kids, they are adjusting to school at home due to COVID-19. Each day begins with the Pledge of Allegiance. At 9 a.m. Central, they sit in with Neal McCoy, a buddy of theirs who for more than 1,560 consecutive days has recited the Pledge of Allegiance live on his Facebook page. Then, their school day begins. McCoy is a country music legend who has released 15 albums since the early 1990s, including three platinum and one gold. He is also an investor in cattle and well known to the Polzins. The Polzins have three children – Brooke, 13, Desirae, 9, and Colton, 6. Amidst discussions of homework, friends and sports, the family is just as comfortable talking genetic traits of various breeds of beef cattle, with a few goats thrown in for good measure. Each of the kids is involved in their own separate business. The Polzins own Polzin Cattle, paired with Polzin Embryo Center, and there is never a dull moment for this busy family. During a Facetime interview on April 20, the family gathered to talk about their life that centers around cattle. “Truthfully, my role is


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I drive around and talk on the phone and my wife and the kids do the bulk of the work,” Chris said with a smile. “I am not organized. We make a good team trying to meet in the middle.” The organization is primarily done by Leslie, who admits she prefers to stay in the background. She is most involved in the day-today operations of the Polzin Embryo Center, as well as the paperwork and registrations. Leslie is a transplant from California whose parents moved to Minnesota in 1993. “I had absolutely no farm experience,” Leslie said. Before the couple started a family, they both also worked off the farm. By the time Desirae came along, Leslie had enough, and wanting to be more available for her family, decided to work full time at the embryo center. Today, Polzin Embryo Center is the producer of more than 5,000 top embryos each year, for themselves and for their customers. On any given day, there are likely to be 50 donor cows on

hand to produce embryos, and perhaps another 50 recipients to receive the embryos. Those embryos have become some of the leading cattle in the industry. “I have always had a thing for elite quality cattle and our goal is making the best cattle in the industry even better,” Chris said. “We are involved in helping our customers make decisions, and it’s great to go to their sale [later on] and see them reap the rewards.” Chris grew up in the cattle business and made his way through college showing purebred cattle. “After college I switched to Charolais,” Chris said. “I made some college connections with Charolais breeders from throughout the nation, with South Dakota and Nebraska being the most influential. We owned and operated up to 400 cows at one time, but our focus now is more on embryo production.” He also joined the Form-a-Feed company in Stewart and worked there for 10 years, but eventually committed his time exclusively to his own family

This month in the

company. The Polzins also own many bulls for their genetics, but the bulls are housed elsewhere, and only frozen semen used. Their genetics are marketed through a partnership with ABS Global, formerly the American Breeders Service, as well as Genex and through some of their own marketing. At the embryo center, most of the cows taken in are from customers involved with Polzin Cattle, as well as friends and connections in the industry. For the Polzins, one Charolais cow stands above all the rest: Thomas Ms Impressive 0641, more commonly known as 0641. “I told people ‘if she walks around here like she owns the place, there is a reason,’” Chris said. “She is by far our foundation cow and has more registrants than any cow in the breed. She actually passed away on Christmas Eve. She would have been 20 years old this season and was working until the end. She died as unexpectedly as any cow who is 20 years old can.” Her legacy includes 10


3 4 7


Leslie Polzin speaks to students from Desirae and Colton Polzin’s elementary school in winter 2020. The students visited the farm to learn about the Polzin Embryo Center during a career day activity. national champions in the U.S. and Canada, highlighted by PZC Lily, who was selected as 2017 World Champion Female Overall Breeds. She has over 300 registered progenies, and many others unregistered. The Polzins feel her many daughters will continue to influence the industry for years to come. Ms Impressive 0641 will retain her place of honor in a pasture on the farm. “She’ll get buried in her favorite pen up on the hill, where she and her friends liked to be,” Brooke said. Though just 13 years old and a seventh grader, Brooke is well-spoken and knows

Pandemic Planting Diane Leukam Column Honoring Sons and Daughters New London Everything but the Ketchup Forest Prarie Township

her business. The Hereford breed is Brooke’s project. “I partnered with Express Ranches,” she said. “Dad and I went to their sale in Yukon, Oklahoma, to check it out and meet a few of the people in the Hereford breed and get to know them. We went down there and bought a cow.” Since then she increased her business and invested in more animals. Express Ranches is now one of the largest customers of the embryo center. “I purchased half interest in those donor cows,”

POLZIN continued on page 2

10 Butch Mueller’s Mission Paynesville 10 What’s this? 13 Country Cooking

Page g 2 • Countryy Acres - Friday, May 1, 2020

Published by Star Publications Copyright 2014 522 Sinclair Lewis Ave. Sauk Centre, MN 56378 Phone: 320-352-6577 Fax: 320-352-5647 NEWS STAFF

Diane Leukam, Editor diane@saukherald.com Ben Sonnek, Writer ben.s@saukherald.com Herman Lensing, Writer herman@melrosebeacon.com Jennifer Coyne, Writer jenn@dairystar.com Evan Michealson, Writer evan.m@star-pub.com Carol Moorman, Writer carol@melrosebeacon.com Natasha Barber, Writer natasha@saukherald.com Sarah Colburn, Freelance Writer

Brooke said. “We can IVF them and have them here for a few cycles. All the cows came here to hang out. Dad brought them back and picked up some of their Angus. I own six of the Hereford heifers with Express.” On a daily basis, Brooke works with the heifers on the farm. “Today I will wash the heifers, two of them that I am managing that I can show this year, and work them and

make sure all the donors are doing well,” she said. Brooke has shown cattle around the country, and has taken part in many competitions, including taking second place in sales talk at the Red Angus National Junior Show in Grand Island, Nebraska. She is also involved in trap shooting, track, volleyball and hockey. Chris and Neal McCoy set it up that Brooke’s 12U B Hockey Team went to Medina to say the Pledge of Allegiance on Neal’s Facebook page. Before saying PHOTO SUBMITTED

Desirae (front, from left), Colton and Brooke Polzin are pictured with country music singer Neal McCoy, in Medina, Minnesota, March 6. Each morning at 9:00, the Polzin children start their school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance along with McCoy, which he has done live on his Facebook page for more than 1,560 consecutive days.

Story ideas send to: diane@saukherald.com



Kayla Hunstiger, 320-247-2728 kayla@saukherald.com Missy Traeger, 320-291-9899 missy@saukherald.com Tim Vos, 320-845-2700 tim@albanyenterprise.com Mike Schafer, 320-894-7825 mike.s@dairystar.com Warren Stone, 320-249-9182 warren@star-pub.com Jaime Ostendorf, 320-309-1988 Jaime@star-pub.com Bob Leukam, 320-260-1248 bob.l@star-pub.com

Pat Turner Amanda Thooft Nancy Powell Maddy Peterson CaraLee Feuchtenberger

Deadlines: Country Acres will be published the first Fridays of April, May, June, September, October and November, and the third Friday of every month. Deadline for news and advertising is the Thursday before publication.



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the Pledge, Neal met with parents, talked to the girls and took pictures with them. Neal was intrigued enough by Brooke’s hockey team, that he and Chris set it up for Neal to surprise the girls and cheer them on at the Girls 12U B State Hockey Tournament in Rochester. Unfortunately, Brooke’s team didn’t even get to take the ice and the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19. Although Neal didn’t get to watch Brooke skate, this didn’t stop them from being cattle business partners together. Brooke said, “I’m now partners with Neal on an elite Charolais cow and last week we invested in a Mini Hereford together!” He has become a family friend. “Neal has been so gracious with his time,” Chris said. “He has invited us to numerous concert venues in the past.” Taking a break from cattle and hockey is 9-year-old Desirae. “I mainly do the goats,” she said. “I actually got started in goats for 4-H. My mom wanted something else for me to do that is less sibling rivalry. The summer of 2018, we had an intern, Nick Pitlick, who raised awesome Boer goats. Mom and Dad asked him if we could lease one of his goats for shows. I started with Julia, and then she had a teats problem so then I got her sister, Jewel.” What happened to Julia? “We sold her on a sale and she went to an amazing family,” Desirae said. Desirae’s business involves part ownership of an elite Boer goat, PF Somethin’ To Talk About, who was selected as the 2019 Iowa and Minnesota State Fair Grand Champion Percentage doe. Desirae has been able to use embryo transplant with this great donor and now has several offspring recently born. “The first ones are just babies now,” Chris said. “We are looking at adding on facilities for Desirae, a small barn or something for her business.” When Desirae grows up, she wants to be a veterinarian. Colton, 6, is not to be left out, with his own unique

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Thomas Ms Impressive 0641 is the foundation cow for Polzin Cattle and the Polzin Embryo Center. She passed away at 19 years old on Christmas Eve, 2019, leaving behind an “impressive” resumé of 10 national champions in the U.S. and Canada. She had 300 registered progeny, and many others unregistered. She is buried in her favorite pasture on the farm.


Walker Miss 4R 545 236 is a Hereford donor cow owned in a partnership between Brooke Polzin and Express Ranches. Brooke has her own business as part owner of numerous high-profile Hereford donor animals, including two she owns in partnership with country music singer and cattle enthusiast Neal McCoy. one can often find him conbreed of cattle. “We partnered on two sulting with the kids as they Speckle Park cows,” he do their homework, especialpiped up with a big grin. “I ly math. “I’m not good at it,” named the cow’s calf Oreo, Leslie said. “Distance learnit’s a heifer!” The Speckle Park beef ing has changed everything. breed is a white animal There is no typical day; we with black speckles. Colton live through organized chahas a share in a group from os.” When restrictions are throughout the U.S. and Canada that currently has lifted, they can go back to ownership of this top animal one of their favorite family pastimes. in the breed. “We look forward to “We enjoy getting involved in a lot of different getting back on track with our Sunday afternoon trail things,” Chris said. Of course, Dad and rides,” Chris said. “That’s Mom are helping with man- how we wrap up the weekaging his business, as they end, with trail rides and supper with friends, family are involved with the girls. They all enjoy one an- and neighbors. It’s tough not other’s company, and the to be able to hang out with cattle industry. those folks.” “Our work doesn’t totalThe Polzin family thorly define us, but it gives us oughly enjoys the livestock the opportunity to do some- industry and all the people thing we love each day,” they have gotten the opporChris said. tunity to meet because of it. Chris, who travels ex“We feel the livestock tensively for work, is on the industry is a great place road a lot this time of year. to raise a family and teach He appreciates the technol- them good and bad life lesogy at his fingertips – or on sons along the way,” Leslie the dash of his truck. As he said. “Some of the not-sodrives across the wide-open great life lessons are hard, expanses of the Midwest but the good ones can last a hauling cattle for customers, lifetime.”


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ountry o u Cou Acres

POLZIN from front

Friday, May 1, 2020 - Country Acres • Page 3

Pandemic planting There was once a teenager on a farm who practiced every social distancing and cleanliness routine he could to mitigate the spread of germs during the pandemic. He was going to make sure he and his loved ones didn’t get it; he already knew too many people whose lives had been lost to the virus, even those from his farming community. I talked to two of his daughters the other day. “The very first thing he did when he came home from town was thoroughly wash his hands. He didn’t want to pick anything up,� they said. These two women are now in their late 70s or early 80s, and the handwashing is one of the most vivid memories they share of their father. As a 13-year-old, he had lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. The handwashing had become so ingrained in him that, for the rest of his life, he probably had the cleanest hands of any farmer around. He told his daughters many stories, like one farmer he knew whose wife passed away, leaving behind a little baby – and seven more kids. There were stories of trying to get food across the Sauk River to families who lived on the other side. There were no telephones, so one man at the time was tasked with going from farm to farm, letting people know who had passed away, and he would milk the cows if farmers were sick. Finally, he himself got the flu and succumbed.

by Diane Leukam

There is a debate as to where the Spanish Flu originated, but some feel it came here with our soldiers returning from Europe after fighting in WWI. In this pandemic, 10,000 Minnesotans lost their lives. With technology we have now, I like to think we are better off today. In the meantime, farmers are making great progress on spring planting. People are also getting their gardens prepared. We had a big garden when I was growing up on the farm. I loved picking fresh peas for snacks or pulling a carrot, cleaning it off on my jeans and eating it right then and there. Kohlrabi was also a family favorite, and there was sweet corn that we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. A favorite treat I discovered as a teenager was to take a small, fully ripe cantaloupe out of the garden, cut it in half, clean out the seeds and fill it with vanilla ice cream. Crazy good! Those were the days. Now, those days are becoming these days again. Garden seed companies can’t keep up with the demand from people planting “pandemic gardens.� I hope this will

be a permanent change with more people finding the time and space to garden. There is something wonderful and healing about going out in the garden to get ingredients for meals on a summer day. It is real and life-giving. On a different note, last issue I mentioned we would love to see photos of your favorite animals, whether they be pets, livestock or something in between. Please send your photos to diane@saukherald.com, and we will include them in an upcoming issue of Country Acres. Finally, best wishes to everyone for health and safety, but especially to all farmers who are struggling because of today’s pandemic, with low prices, processing plant shutdowns, animals with nowhere to go and the like. The farm economy has been tough for years, and this has only exacerbated the problem. It is my sincere hope that everyone who has been affected so deeply from all of this is able to rebound once this craziness subsides. There is always hope. I once asked a woman who has lived through the tragic losses of several loved ones in her life, “How do you do it?� She looked me in the eye and said, “You have to look for the good in each day.� That was years ago, but since that time her life has turned around significantly and I see her smiling again. Here’s to better days ahead for everyone!

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Page 4 • Country Acres - Friday, May 1, 2020 PHOTO SUBMITTED

Aleah Clark Auge (from left), Rick Clark and Tracy Clark pause for a photo along the Glacial Lakes State Trail on May 18, 2019 as they take part in the Minnesota Fallen Heroes walk.

Honoring sons and daughters Clarks memorialize son, Ryane, other American heroes on Glacial Lakes State Trail By SARAH COLBURN Staff Writer


Ryane Clark is pictured in basic training. Clark was killed in 2010 during active duty in Afghanistan.

NEW LONDON – When his friend was killed at the age of 10 riding his bike along County Road 31, Ryane Clark started mowing a field along that same road. He wanted to make sure cars had a place to access the nearby bike trail and unload their kids and bikes safely, so no one else would get hurt. Now, more than two decades later, people walk

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that same trail every year to honor soldiers killed in action. One of them is Ryane himself, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 at the age of 22. His parents, Rick and Tracy Clark, began the Minnesota Fallen Heroes Walk in 2018. They wanted to find a way to remember and honor all of the Minnesota heroes who have died at the hands of hostile forces, or were killed as the result of a direct hostile attack, since Sept. 11, 2001. This year, though, the

Clarks have been forced to cancel the walk due to social-distancing efforts and the inability to get a permit for a public event. They still plan to erect the memorial biographies and flags, even without the official walk. There are 104 Minnesota heroes to honor. “They’re my sons and daughters now,” said Rick. “I make sure they’re looking good and well-presented. They’re part of our family now.” This year, the biographies of the soldiers should be up

for viewing along the Minnesota Department of Resources Glacial Lakes State Trail from May 2 to June 24, provided the permitting process allows for it during the pandemic. During that time, Rick will spend at least three days a week riding up and down the trail making sure there’s no damage to the memorial and that the grass near each photo is trimmed down. Biographies of the soldiers are placed each tenth of a mile along the trail and span 11 miles from Hawick, through the out-

Though this year’s Minnesota Fallen Heroes Walk has been cancelled due to COVID-19, Rick and Tracy Clark plan to place the biographies and flags in public. More details and location information can be found on the Minnesota Fallen Heroes Walk Facebook page as they are solidified.

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Tell us about some of the things you’ve done this year in FFA. Starting with this summer our officer team did a fundraiser; we had a tractor drive/hayrides around Lake Osakis and grilled pork chops for the public. The money we raised for the tractor drive went towards National Convention. National Convention was awesome! Some other fundraisers our chapter did were Fruit Sales and Softener Salt Sales. I participated in Dairy Evaluation for my second year; we went to a UMN invitational. Unfortunately, regionals was postponed on March 17 due to the coronavirus.

How would you encourage an inactive FFA member to become more involved? I would encourage an inactive FFA member to join by coming up with some fun chapter FFA meetings and inviting them to come. I think there are many kids that don’t know how much fun FFA can be once you are involved and have a positive attitude.

What is the greatest benefit you have received from being involved in FFA? There are a lot but I’d have to say responsibility and the friends I’ve met along the way. Being surrounded by people that have the same interests as you is so great and Name one current issue you believe will by going to State, National Convention, and competiimpact agriculture in the future. The biggest tions you get to spend a lot of time with new people.   issue I see in agriculture right now is the prices and how it’s impacting all of America’s farmers. It’s imWhat do you enjoy most about FFA? What pacting their families and their family farm. It’s sad I enjoy most about FFA is meeting new friends and to see how much work and money all the farmers put meeting people who have the same interests as me.  into their crops and get hardly any profit off of that crop when they go to sell it. It only takes one year What does leadership mean to you? To me, for a farmer to go under from a bad year of harvest leadership is being someone who helps others by and from bad prices. This will surely impact the next encouraging them or being someone they look up to. generation of America’s farmers. The next generation Leadership is also being someone who sees the poswill need to have a second job to just make enough itive in everything they do and being a person that money to keep going if something doesn’t change. others can rely on for help or who someone to trust.  This brings so much stress and pressure for the farmers now and for the farmers in the future. It’s hard to What other hobbies and interests do you say things will change and get better when this has have outside of FFA? Some of my other hobbies been going on for many years. Farming is all some outside of FFA are working on our family farm dofarm kids know and all they ever want to do and if ing fieldwork and pretty much anything else on the things don’t change the future generation may not farm. I love working with cows and doing the chores get to live their dreams of taking over the family that come along with having cows. I also enjoy playfarm.  ing volleyball and hanging out with friends. 

Friday, May 1, 2020 - Country Acres • Page 5

skirts of New London and through the town of Spicer. Each biography contains a photo of the solider and information on how they died serving their country. On the day of the walk, Rick and Tracy, and in a normal year without a pandemic, anyone who is willing and able to join them, place the American flag and the Honor and Remember flag next to each photo as they read aloud the details of the solider. The Clarks had stands created especially for the walk, to hold the plastic weather-board photos and the flags. Pro Color Graphics in Willmar printed all the photo boards for a small price and now replaces them for free as they’re damaged. The flags are donated by friends of the family. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has also helped with the expenses for the walk, though the Clarks funded it in the beginning and never dreamed of it becoming a fundraiser. The walk is free of charge to participants and the

For Tracy, the annual Clarks fundraise every year, sending the proceeds to walk, and this year just putMinnesota Gold Star Family ting up the memorial, is a Event, a non-profit created chance for healing but also a stark reminder of the lives lost to conflict. “I think my mind wanders every time we go out there,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching to know that all these families (represented in the walk) are hurting.” In addition to soldiers killed in action, the Clarks said they typically welcome families of soldiers who died of suicide or an accident to bring information about their loved one to be read during the walk. The idea for the walk - Rick Clark came from a conversation Rick had with his then 5-year-old grandson, Conto provide honor, hope and ner Auge, who’s now 14. healing to those grieving a military loss through active duty service. The family has created T-shirts to support the walk mission and has visited American Legions and other organizations to raise money.

“They’re my sons and daughters now. I make sure they’re looking good and well-presented. They’re part of our family now.”

“He said something to the fact that we should do more for Ryane,” Rick Clark said. “Then I started thinking, ‘why not do more for all these soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice?’” Though the Clarks don’t have confirmed details for exactly when and where the memorial will go up this year, they know it will go up and they’ll place the flags and read the stories aloud themselves, including that of their son Ryane, who attended two years at Alexandria Technical and Community College studying in the law enforcement program. “He was our hero, he was just a really good kid,” Tracy said. When Ryane started mowing a field for bicycle riders


This memorial site honors Ryane Clark and his friend, Cody Berg, who as a child lost his life while riding a bike on the county road. The memorial includes not only the flags but a statue, plaque and bench. all those years ago, he started to dream of creating an actual parking lot there for families to unload bikes and

CLARK continued on page 6



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Page 6 • Country Acres - Friday, May 1, 2020

CLARK from page 5 kids safely. At first, Tracy said, she didn’t know he was mowing a field – she thought he was doing some work on the ditches. When he turned 15 he turned the mission into his Eagle Scout project and though he wanted to build a parking lot, settled for building a kiosk box at the local Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center for activities at the center. Ryane went on to work at Many Point Scout Camp to lead other campers; he spent his whole summer there through high school and his first year of college until he went to boot camp, hoping to return to eventually work at the camp. He never got the chance. After Ryane died, the parking lot of his dreams finally came to fruition and



Walkers gather on May 18, 2019 for the annual Minnesota Fallen Heroes Walk along the Glacial Lakes State Trail. today, it holds a memorial ors the memories of so many for Ryane and his child- others, sons and daughters hood friend. For the Clarks, who paid the ultimate price the memorials and the walk for their country. honor their son, a young The Clarks hope it’s an man who cared for others inspiration for others who and gave back unselfishly. have lost a beloved soldier. Along with a stretch of Min“Do not forget your friend, nesota Highway 23 between share their stories. Stories Spicer and New London are so powerful and that way being dedicated the Ryane they’re truly not forgotten,” Clark Memorial Highway Rick Clark said. “If this enin September 2019, they are courages just one solider to ways to keep Ryane’s mem- share a story of their battle ory alive. The walk also hon- buddy, it’s worth it.”

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“We tend to like to try new things,” Ann said. “We enjoy eating the food and sharing it. We grow much of our own food in a way that treats the land well and gives us some variety and some pleasure.” The Lemkes have taken advantage of what nature has to offer. When they purchased the property two decades ago the first thing they did was collect 50 bushels of seeds. They visited everywhere from farms to parks collecting seeds and acorns of trees they enjoyed, such as oak, black walnut, elm, ash and maple. They dumped the bushels into a broadcast spreader and covered four acres of land with their harvest. They controlled the weeds for a few years as the seedlings rose from the earth and today that land now holds more than a thousand trees. “We had more time on our hands than resources or money,” Todd said. Three more acres create a wildlife passage to their woods, a safe place for animals to live and eat in an area that’s typically dirt as far as the eye can see. The passage also acts as a windbreak. Thirteen years ago, the Lemkes turned half of their tillable land into a Conser-

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Lemkes have tried a little bit of everything including raising bees. Some years their hives haven’t survived the winter and others they’ve been able to split the hive into two and introduce a new queen, creating two working hives. To support the pollinators as well as the area wildlife, they’ve planted plum and cherry trees on the property and this year will add a row of flowering trees along the pasture to provide shade for the cows as well as nectar for the birds and the bees.

LEMKE continued on page 8


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Friday, May 1, 2020 - Country Acres • Page 7

Page 8 • Country Acres - Friday, May 1, 2020



A young Gretta, now 15, with the Lemke family’s first hogs.

LEMKE from page 7 The Lemkes have 10 cows and they rent a bull every year to give them roughly 10 calves. They have six ewes that are grain- and grass-fed and their kids compete at the county and state fair with their sheep. Though Todd said some parts of the farm are self-sustaining, he does purchase hay from the neighbors to add to his stock. Lemke takes care of the

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cows while most of the ewes belong to his oldest son, George, who’s 20 and studying at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus in the pre-veterinarian program. George has been home since the campus has been closed due to COVID-19. When he’s gone, the family cares for his sheep. The Lemkes also have 20 laying hens, four turkeys and another 20 in the incubator. They raise roughly 30 to 40 meat birds and the kids show laying hens and meat birds at the fair each year. Todd said in an age where parents struggle to connect with their teens, there’s nothing quite like cleaning out the chicken coop side-by-side with his 15-year-old daughter, Gretta. Henry, 13, helps around the farm, too, and shows animals. The chickens belong to the kids, though Todd admits he does the morning chores because the teens prefer to sleep in before school. The kids do the

afternoon chores and Ann takes care of the herb garden. “The kids can do everything with the animals,” Todd said. “It helps them grow and learn some responsibility and how to care for things.” Additionally, Ann said it’s good for them to get educated. “They learn where their food comes from and eat better because they understand where it comes from,” she said. The Lemkes not only feed themselves with what they produce on the hobby farm, they share with family and friends and also sell beef and lambs direct-to-market. The meat often finds its way to the University of Minnesota as George scours the freezers at home to bring meat back to campus to provide for his fraternity brothers when it’s his turn to cook. In addition to the beef, lamb and poultry, they also have pigs in the summer and fall and have pork stocked up.



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Friday, May 1, 2020 - Country Acres • Page 9 For Todd, the hobby farm is a dream. During the day he leads the pharmacy departments in the CentraCare-Paynesville and CentraCare-Melrose hospitals. Ann, who hasn’t worked outside the house in recent

years after putting Todd through pharmacy school, just recently went back and got her Masters teaching degree and hopes to teach Family and Consumer Science next fall. At the end of a busy

workday, Todd finds the farm to be a place of refuge. “The farm is my relaxation, my break after work at the hospital,� Todd said. He grew up next to his grandparents’, Margaret and Earl Zoldahn’s, farm in Independence. They allowed him to work there, t and he worked on other nearby farms as well until college. Ann grew up in St. Cloud. The hobby farm has been a way for them to try new things on a whim. One year they had an abundance t of apples so Ann said her dad, Joe Bettendorf, made them an apple press and they pressed 20 to 30 gallons of cider. One year, it t was an abundance of wheat PHOTO SUBMITTED Henry (left) and George Lemke move a “chicken tractor,� one of the so they got a grinder and many things Todd Lemke writes about in his blog chronicling the ground their wheat to flour. They’ve processed tomat family farm.

toes and apple sauce and harvest vegetables from the garden. They grow corn to feed the animals and they’ve built every

The Lemkes online The Lemkes have their own blog that gets quite a following. Follow Todd’s blog on everything from chicken tractors and pigs on ice to butchering chickens Lemke style. Find them at: https://lemkefreshairfarm.blogspot. com

building on the property themselves except for the machine shed, constructing multiple chicken coops, portable hoop barns and even a greenhouse constructed of windows from Todd’s father. They start their own seeds in the greenhouse and sow some directly in the ground. This year, Todd’s goal is to grow the state’s biggest carrot, after getting beat by a 22-inch carrot grown by a 5-yearold at last year’s Minnesota State Fair. The challenges and the ever-changing desire to try something new keep the family dynamic changing. “It makes us strong as a family,� Todd Lemke said. The end result is they work hard, enjoy the land and eat well. “We get some really


May is calving season on the Lemkes’ family farm.

premier food we probably wouldn’t purchase,� Ann said, recalling a recent dinner of lamb shanks. For Todd, the farm is a source of pride. “When everything on your plate but the ketchup came from your farm, that’s pretty cool,� he said. Ann laments that the only reason the ketchup doesn’t come from the farm is her husband doesn’t like her homemade version.

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Page 10 • Country Acres - Friday, May 1, 2020


This is a typical old makeshift stove in a Guatemalan home. These stoves pump cooking smoke into the living and sleeping areas of the home, greatly impacting the quality of the air.

Butch Mueller’s

mission By SARAH COLBURN Staff Writer


This family stands next to the new stove created by one of Butch Mueller’s crews. The attached stovepipe guides cooking smoke out of the home, reducing the amount of smoke-filled air the family breathes in.

Paynesville man devotes life to impoverished Guatemala community

PAYNESVILLE - There are a special people that Butch Mueller works with, side-by-side. He prays with them, serves them, raises money for them and devotes his life to helping them. They are the people of San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala and Mueller

has been doing mission work there since 1972. The Paynesville man raises $75,000 to $80,000 a year to help construct clean-burning stoves for residents of Guatemala. He helps pay for food for the poor, covers the cost of cancer pain medications for the dying and gives


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students money to attend school so they can do better for their families. “This is the direction God wanted me to go and I keep listening, so I keep doing it,” Mueller said. Through tears and over the phone, Mueller, who’d quarantined himself at a second piece of property he and his wife, Beverly, own in Paynesville, talked about being forced to leave Guatemala this year. He has health issues and with the threat of COVID-19 lurking, his family begged him to come home. He spent two weeks in quarantine, making sure he had not contracted the disease on his flight home. Mueller was in Guatemala this year from mid-January through mid-March, but he wasn’t able to finish all of his work. He vows to go back, hopefully as early as July if the pandemic slows. He left the people there – the crews he gives work to building stoves and houses – enough money to feed their families for a month or more. Additionally, he continues to raise and send money to pay a crew that now, because they’re unable to work in his absence and because of the COVID-19 lockdown, gets food and delivers it to the people in the mountains who have nothing. They deliver rice, black beans, salt, sugar, coffee, corn and eggs. “I couldn’t have my men working so I said I’d pay them until this is all over, and gave them enough



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These are the Minnesota State Mushrooms, the morel. They are a hard-to-find delicacy among mushroom hunters. According to the University of Minnesota, they are found in hardwood forests, and “occasionally with conifers.” They have a short season that often coincides with the blooming of lilacs and dandelions. Since they are difficult to find, they can be very expensive to purchase. They can be deep-fried, cooked tossed with pasta, in omelets and on pizza, or whatever creative ways people enjoy eating mushrooms. The University cautions that they are often confused with other poisonous mushrooms and therefore, no mushrooms should be eaten without proper identification. There are estimated to be more than 5,000 different mushrooms that grow in Minnesota and The Mushroom Hunting and Foraging in Minnesota Facebook page has more than 6,000 members.

Friday, May 1, 2020 - Country Acres • Page 11 money to buy corn and beans and rice to live,” he said. From the minute Mueller came up with the idea of building stoves for families, he knew he had to hire local crews. He hires three crews a day as well as a foreman and said he pays them two to three times the going wage of $6 per day. He usually has enough work for them until May. He and the crews build 200 stoves a year. The stoves, he said, are crucial to the health and safety of families in Guatemala. In addition, he has a crew that helps put kitchen additions on people’s homes so when cooking is driven inside during the rainy season they’re not forced to cook in a bedroom. His crew constructs 40 kitchen additions a year. That crew also builds 10-15 homes a year, complete with a solid roof and walls, windows and a door. The homes typically cost around $2,000

but sometimes more if Mueller deems it necessary to build two or three bedrooms. Typically, twoor three-bedroom homes house six families. “They are so desperately poor, it’s unbelievable,” Mueller said. Many of the residents in the area where he works don’t have houses but instead may have some plastic tied up to make a little shack to sleep in. Those who do have makeshift homes have dirt floors, leaking roofs, and oftentimes, no beds. They cook on an open fire inside the house and sleep in the same space. “The smoke, it creates a tar that drips down from the ceilings, and the walls are just black, it’s almost like liquid,” Mueller said. To combat the ever-present wood-burning fires blackening the insides of the homes, Mueller’s crew

MUELLER continued on page 12


Firemen in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala are pictured with Patty (Lieser) Schoenberg, whose son-in-law is on the Cold Spring Volunteer Fire Department. Jackets, pants and boots were donated to help the department in Guatemala, which was without protective gear.

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Page 12 • Country Acres - Friday, May 1, 2020

MUELLER from page 11 makes stoves of concrete and steel with a chimney. Mueller’s crew can build one in seven-and-ahalf to eight hours max. Each stove is roughly $300 but sometimes, if Mueller can make a deal, he can get supplies for $200. When he’s not in Guatemala he’s working for the people of Guatemala. During summers in Minnesota, Mueller works 12- to 16-hour days in his garden growing vegetables and baking bread to sell at the local farmer’s market. All the proceeds go straight back to Guatemala. “I live as simply as I can,” Mueller said. This year will be the first time Mueller steps back from his home garden. He’s opting instead to help a local resident, whose wife has cancer, sell produce. “There are a lot of other charity things I can do around here,” Mueller said. “[It is said] charity begins at home and it does. There are poor people here, too, but most of us have enough money that we can help others generously. We can’t take this money with us.” In addition to the money he makes at the farmer’s market, Mueller raises funds on Facebook and his website. He’s also done PHOTO SUBMITTED some innovative things. Butch Mueller poses with some children he helps support in a family that lost their father. The mother can’t earn enough money to support At one time, nearly the kids so Mueller helps pay for their expenses so the kids can go to school and eat.

50 years ago, he joined Fr. Greg Schaffer and walked to Guatemala to make people aware of third-world plight. They walked 3,252 miles. Mueller occasionally took a break in the Winnebago that followed along for safety and to serve as sleeping and eating quarters, but he said Fr. Schaffer never entered the vehicle other than to sleep at night. Along the way they stopped and did speaking engagements, raising

“Show them that you love them, work side-by-side with them and leave the rest up to God.” - Fr. Greg Schaffer to Butch Mueller at age 22

money for the mission. They left from the St. Paul capital Oct. 18, 1972 and arrived in Guatemala on Jan. 28, 1973 having raised $100,000. They had blisters after the first day, logging 35 miles. When they left St. Paul, it was 18 degrees and sunny in the morning. The second day it was 16 degrees and sunny in the morning. Every single day

MUELLER continued on page 14


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• • • • •

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This is the home of a Guatemalan family. Many people in Guatemala create their homes from makeshift This home was constructed by one of Butch Mueller’s crews in Guatemala. Mueller raises funds to build materials including tin or metal panels and old wood. A portion of this home is lined with black plastic these homes, each costing roughly $2000. Some of the homes are constructed with two or three bedrooms and those homes house as many as six families. to protect the family from wind and rain.

MEULLER from page 12 after that until they reached Arkansas on Thanksgiving Day, it rained. They were accompanied on the trip by two Guatemalans and a Franciscan sister. Fr. Schaffer was the reason Mueller first stepped foot in Guatemala. Mueller was living on the farm helping his dad when a woman called on a wintery Minnesota day and asked if he’d give her a ride to a women’s convention. Mueller obliged and at that convention he heard Fr. Schaffer speak for the

first time about the work he was doing in Guatemala. He showed pictures of the children and their living conditions. Mueller approached him afterwards and asked if people could visit the place and help. He was 22. Mueller travelled to Guatemala with the priest and made arrangements to stay for two weeks. He left for Guatemala not realizing the people spoke Spanish. Having never even eaten pizza, his Midwest stomach was completely unprepared for tortillas, black beans and guacamole. But, they had

beer – even though it was warm because there was no electricity. “I was just naïve, I hadn’t left Stearns County,” Mueller said. “I just believe all this happens because it’s God’s will. We always ask: ‘I wish God would speak to me and tell me what to do and I would do it.’ Well, he does, he does speak to us. Why did I go there? Why did I watch the slides? Why did I go down there for two weeks?” A week in, he faltered and told Father he didn’t think he could do it; he couldn’t eat the food, he couldn’t speak the language. The

priest’s response sealed Mueller’s destiny. He said: “Show them that you love them, work side-by-side with them and leave the rest up to God.” Mueller stayed three years, coming back only a few times – to pick up a sawmill in Maine, rabbit cage materials in Boston and medicine in Coon Rapids. He headed back to Guatemala in February 2009 and has returned every year since. He takes people with him from the states and it changes their lives. “They see how poor they are and they go right back

home and send a check,” he said. “They’ve seen how bad it is and see the work I’m doing. I’m in love – with the place and I’m in love with the people. It was very, very hard for me to leave this time. It just tore me apart.” During the decades Mueller did work in Guatemala, he also did work in Minnesota. He’s called Paynesville his home for 30 years. It’s where he and his wife, Beverly, raised two sons. He lived on a farm just west of Paynesville where he raised hogs and feeder pigs and then eventually,

only grain. In the winter he started making things out of wood, something he’s liked doing since grade school. His hobby soon progressed as he used a jigsaw from his grandfather. He started making cabinets and then people asked him to make things for their homes. He became so busy he opened a cabinet shop which employed as many as 22 people. He retired from the shop and shut it down six years ago. For Mueller, the work in Guatemala has been a God-given mission. He gives up three to four months a year with his


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Friday, May 1, 2020 - Country Acres • Page 15 grown to be fine with that. He summed up his personal theory this way: “My policy was if you bought something that was for fun, something you really didn’t need to live comfortably, you have to save up that same amount of money to give to the poor, that way you could justify your spending.”


When Butch Mueller had to leave Guatemala early this year because of COVID-19, he left money for his crews to feed their families and he continues to raise money so his staff can also feed families in the mountains who have nothing. Mueller’s crews deliver this food to the people most in need.

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family to do the work, but said he has no choice. “If I had a hundred million dollars, I’d spend a hundred million dollars to help as many people as I could,” he said. “I’m just so in love with them. I see their poverty, I see their misery. Many visitors down there don’t see them like I do in their homes. They’re so sad, they don’t have anything for their children; no food, no place to sleep, but they are so grateful for everything.” When he returns to Minnesota, he said he understands people here live comfortably and he’s

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