Country Acres - April 15, 2023

Page 5


Small balls of fur bring joy, fun

BSTAFF WRITER ea pig, chinchillas have the right proportion to hold in one’s hands. They are balls of fluff with wiggling, whiskered noses and expressive eyes. Their tails are like shorter, thicker squirrels’ tails. The chinchillas Flugga and her daughter raise are comfortable with people and seem to revel in attention from them.

ELGRADE – Chinchillas are a threatened species in their natural, wild habitat of South America, but a small group of them are thriving in a home near Belgrade. There Christy Flugga and her daughter, Marlie Schlangen, snuggle with and care for 15 of the creatures that Flugga said are known for having the softest fur. Their fur is denser than that of any other land animal.

With a size and shape somewhere between a rabbit and a guin-

“They play games,” Flugga said. “They like to play tricks, kind of like tag, and they like to show off. They come up and give you kisses.”

Chinchillas are special rodents, she said.

“People say, ‘It’s just a rodent; come on,’” Flugga said.“But, chin-

chillas will bond with you; they are going to be your family and feel safe with you. They are social creatures and crave interaction.”

Flugga, a science teacher, applies genetics when buying and breeding her chinchillas, aiming for certain coloring, friendly temperaments and good health.

“It’s a preference; there are lots of different combinations,” Flugga said. “The standard gray is that of

Flugga page 2

This chinchilla shows off his whiskers and tiny fingers that work much like human hands April 12 near Belgrade. His owner, Christy Flugga, carefully selects and breeds her chinchillas to have peoplefriendly personalities.

Saturday, April 15, 2023 | Country Acres • Page 1
PHOTOS BY JAN LEFEBVRE Christy Flugga cuddles with Simon, one of her chinchillas, April 12 at her home near Belgrade. Flugga bought her first chinchilla, Church, when she was 15 years old.
April 15, 2023Volume 10, Edition 05
C ountr y ountry Focusing on Today’s Rural Environment
5 Crafting maple syrup, growing farm treasures Alexandria 7Memories in a tiestall barn Grace Jeurissen column 13Building better farmers through education Gashora, Rwanda 20When a scientist farms Mabel 21Country cooking Sauk Centre
Publications bliti The newspaper of today is the history of tomorrow.
22 Finding treasures Nancy Packard Leasman column
Watch for the next edition of Country Acres on May 6, 2023
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the wild ones in nature, which blends in with the environment for hiding and avoiding predation. I have brown velvets and white ebony mosaics. Both the ebony and white genes show in those, and they have unique striped and blotchy patterns.”

Personality also matters to Flugga.

“Before I buy them, I ask about the parents, if they’ve been held and that kind of thing,” Flugga said. “When I went into (pet stores), I would be a little bossy and say, ‘Leave me be. I want to put my hand in there and see who is going to come to me versus who is going to hide.’ I wanted the good temperaments because they are supposed to be a family pet.”

Flugga said that the closest thing she can compare to chinchillas are sugar gliders, nocturnal squirrel-like creatures of Australia, because both creatures are similar in size and have hands.

“Chinchillas have hands like ours,” Flugga said. “They are always messing with stuff, almost like a little monkey, and like to grab your cheeks and bop noses with you to show affection.”

Flugga has had two stretches of time in her life when she has owned chinchillas. The first began when she was 15 years old and working part time at McDonalds in Elk River, Minnesota. She wanted to use some of her money to buy a pet that would

be her own. Her mom happened to visit a pet store in town and saw a cage of chinchillas there.

“(My mom) told me, ‘I just saw the most unique thing; I think this might be the pet for you,’” Flugga said.

They visited the store together. Flugga fell for the little creatures, especially one in


“He came up to the glass, and he followed my finger around,” Flugga said. “I knew this was different because he was truly interacting with me, and there was an intelligence there that is unlike other rodent species.”

Flugga took a chance and bought him. She named him Church.

“Then, of course, I was nervous because I didn’t even know what this thing was exactly. I read books – this was before the internet – and I learned a lot.”

Just like with many other animals, there are chinchilla shows across the country where owners compete, but

Flugga never took part in those. However, she was in FFA, so she and Church began presenting for lead-

ership events, teaching about chinchillas and how to care for them and winning awards along the way.

After graduating from high school and starting college, Flugga met a teaching assistant who happened to have chinchillas for sale. Flugga bought a female friend for Church.

“I got Sid,” Flugga said. “She had a lot of attitude in the beginning, so I thought, ‘You’re like Sid Vicious.’”

After Church and Sid had a baby that didn’t survive, they had four successful litters.

Shortly after Flugga’s college years, Church died of old age. Flugga took Sid back to a breeder. 63 days later, Sid had seven healthy babies.

“That’s unheard of,” Flugga said.

It was the tiptop of chinchilla litter size. Usually, chinchillas average one to four ba-

Flugga page 3

Page 2 • Country Acres | Saturday, April 15, 2023
CA-A p r15-1B-WS
A baby chinchilla, only a few weeks old, fits in the palm of a hand April 12 at its home near Belgrade. Owner Christy Flugga said baby chinchillas are born with their hair in place and look like little furry golf balls. PHOTOS BY JAN LEFEBVRE Christy Flugga and her daughter, Marlie Schlangen, hold the only baby chinchillas they have April 12 at their home near Belgrade. Their herd consists of 15 chinchillas chosen and bred for color preferences, temperament and health.
from front


from page 2

bies, most often having two or three.

Now, Flugga had eight chinchillas, but life got busy for her with marriage and children. The eight chinchillas lived out their lives but had no more babies. The first chinchilla stage of Flugga’s life came to a close.

Five years ago, it was reborn.

By then, Flugga had earned a Master of Science and gone through a divorce, and she now lived with her fiancé, Aaron Sowa. The three oldest children had grown up. Flugga’s youngest daughter, Marlie Schlangen, then 8, was still at home, and Flugga shared stories with her about the chinchillas she had owned. It piqued Schlangen’s interest.

“Then I put my research into it,” Schlangen said. “I spent hours looking at YouTube videos and reading articles.”

Like her mother, Schlangen fell for chinchillas.

Flugga bought her daughter two chinchillas from a breeder in Wisconsin. Schlangen named them Lexi and Izzy. Flugga also bought other chinchillas at a pet store.

With five female and three male chinchillas, babies began to arrive. Flugga made a Facebook page called Chinchilla Karma with links to helpful information for those who were new to chinchilla raising or thinking about buying one.

“I always tell everybody, if you have questions just ask,” Flugga said. “I’d rather you ask the question so that you don’t do something wrong.”

People began asking her via Chinchilla Karma if they could buy a chinchilla from her. Flugga was also bringing chinchillas to her science classrooms when she taught about genetics. Students wanted to buy them as well. She started to sell some while continuing to guide owners about chinchilla care.

Flugga feeds her chinchillas alfalfa pellets and orchard grass or timothy hay because chinchillas need a low-calcium diet.

“This is all they ever really need,” Flugga said. “Now, do I ever give them treats? Yes.”

Treats include rosehips and sometimes banana chips, among a few other delicacies.

“Dandelions – oh my gosh, they go nuts over them,” Flugga said. “Their all-time favorite, though, is shredded mini wheats, but their diges-

tive system can’t digest sugars and all that other stuff, so they really shouldn’t get them on a regular basis. A mini wheat once a week, good, it’s not going to affect them. You give them a bowl of mini wheats every day, they will probably not live very long.”

Chinchillas need to clean their fur to remove oils from human handling and other particals they pick up even though, unlike most animals, they don’t secrete oils.

“They don’t have natu-

ral oils in their skin like other mammals do,” Flugga said.

“You’ve got ferrets, hamsters and gerbils – they all have oils in their skin which gives them that smell. Chinchillas don’t have that. They really don’t have much odor.”

They take baths in dust because they do not like, nor is it good for them, to get wet, and the dust provides a barrier to dirt. Flugga provides them with a little plastic tub that holds a special pumice sand she purchases. The Chinchillas roll around in it.

Since chinchillas are rodents, their teeth continually grow. They need safe things to chew on to file down their teeth. Flugga puts kiln-dried apple sticks and untreated pine in their cages that she buys in order to make sure they don’t have bacteria that could infect the whole herd. Cedar and treated wood are toxic to chinchillas, so they must be avoided.

Flugga said, if one follows basic instructions for chinchillas, they are easy to raise and make great house pets except with litter training.

“Some people say that they can be litter trained,” Flugga said.

However, she said she is skeptical.

“Somewhat in their cage, yes,” Flugga said. “They do tend to urinate in a certain spot.”

She hasn’t, however, witnessed chinchillas being selective in where they release turds, which fortunately are

Flugga page 4

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PHOTO BY JAN LEFEBVRE Three chinchillas take turns in a dry dust bath April 12 at their home near Belgrade. These chinchillas share a multi-floor cage with ramps and platforms, which allows for the playing, climbing and running chinchillas crave and need.

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Chinchillas do not like to get wet, so they take dry baths by rolling in a sandy dust, which protects their fur from dirt and removes oils from human handling. The dust in this chinchilla’s

Flugga from page 3

smaller than those of a rabbit, dry and easy to pick up.

The chinchilla is named after the Chincha people of the Andes Mountains in South America. The dense, soft fur of chinchillas was used for Chincha clothing. After the quality of chinchilla fur became widely known, chinchilla numbers dropped drastically by 1900. Now considered a threatened species, they are still raised on farms for their fur. They are also raised for other reasons such as testing. Flugga knows of someone who raises chinchillas used for testing of hearing aids for children.

“The size of their (ear canals) is similar to the size of those of young children,” Flugga said. Chinchillas can also


“They have different noises,” Flugga said. “There’s a chirping when they are nervous or scared. There’s a screech if one of them gets hurt…or is having a baby.”

Although Flugga said she loves chinchillas, she sees that her second stage of owning them may have to come to an end soon. While raising chinchillas, the family has also been taking in rescue dogs and currently has seven dogs in the house and several cats, so the chinchillas need to be kept apart from the other animals.

Flugga has a special room set aside for them with several large, multifloored cages, each holding a few chinchillas. The animals run up and down the ramps, playing with each other, chewing on apple sticks or rolling in their dust baths.

As Flugga and Schlangen take them out of their cages, the chinchillas climb on their shoulders and put their

faces right next to those of their owners, comfortable with the chinchilla/ human relationship.

With all of the animals at home and a fulltime job, Flugga has also recently enrolled in a doctorate program in educational leadership. She said she has come to realize that her family’s home and busy schedules no longer allow for an ideal habitat for their chinchillas, and they must allow the herd to shrink, rehoming chinchillas when they find the right homes and keeping certain chinchillas apart to prevent more babies.

Today, only two babies are part of the herd, born three weeks ago.

“Chinchillas are born with their hair and their ears folded,” Flugga said. “They look like little furry golf balls.”

As Flugga faces a life with no chinchillas, she no longer gives the babies names because they will eventually be rehomed, and she doesn’t want to let her heart get too attached.

“I’d love to keep them, and it’s hard,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do without any because they have been such a love and a part of my life for so long. They bring joy to me.”

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Marlie Schlangen snuggles with Magnus, one of the chinchillas she helps care for, April 12 in the chinchilla room at her family’s home near Belgrade. Schlangen, 12, asked her mom for chinchillas after hearing her mom talk about the ones she raised as a teenager.
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Olberdings create a niche market


– At the end of each winter, before the season fades into spring, the four members of the Olberding family strap themselves into snowshoes and venture into the woods carrying equipment to tap the trees.

The tradition is 17-years in the making at Rustic Roots Farm in Alexandria where Julie and Chad and their kids Leah and Blake hand craft pure maple syrup. They also grow fresh garlic, asparagus and hay. They bale the hay into squares. They’re expanding their crops for the future, have inoculated logs to grow mushrooms and are working to put in a fresh strawberry patch.

Syrup though, is the foundation of the farm.

“It started as a hobby; it was our way of getting outside,” Olberding said. “The winters get too long out here. We were hurrying up spring.”

Through the years, the craft, Julie said, has turned into an obsession.

The family members banter back and forth deciding the exact day to begin tapping. They

have a rule: ignore the first couple nice days of what they sarcastically refer to as “false spring.”

They aim to put the taps out when it starts to get above freezing during the day but below freezing at night. Too early and the spigots get clogged; too late and the syrup gets an off flavor and color. The Olberdings pull their taps before the temperature gets too warm at night and before the buds of the trees start to swell.

“It’s usually a debate in our house – are we going to tap or not,” Julie said. “Everybody’s got an opinion.”

It takes the four of them seven or eight

hours to set up 170 taps. Those taps garner 1,700 gallons of sap, hand carried out of the woods in five-gallon plastic pails.

Once the trees start running, Julie said they run so fast they have to switch the full buckets out with empty buckets so they don’t miss any of the sap. Everyone helps, and Leah and Blake, 14 and 12 respectively, do just as much work as their parents.

“It’s challenging with the snow this year, but it’s great family time,” Julie said. “We’re

all working toward a common goal.”

Two years ago when Julie had carpel tunnel surgery, the kids took over the process themselves as Chad helped a friend with chores.

“It was really fun to see them rise up to the challenge and take care of things,” Julie said. As the trees run, the Olberdings carry the buckets out of the woods to their rugged-terrain

Olberding page 6

Saturday, April 15, 2023 | Country Acres • Page 5 CAArp15-1B-RB
PHOTOS BY GRACE JEURISSEN Chad Olberding drills a hole in a maple tree while his daughter, Leah, helps prepare other tree tapping supplies March 29 near Alexandria. (Below) The Olberding family – Chad (from left), Blake, Julie and Leah – trudge through the woods to tap trees for sap. The weather needs to be cold in the evenings and warm during the day for sap to flow properly. of maples.


from page 6

With the evaporator they use today, they can boil down 30 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup in roughly an hour. With the turkey fryer method, even using a larger diameter pan to spread out the surface area, they could process a gallon or two an hour. They finish out the season with roughly 45 gallons of bottled pure maple syrup.

Those efficiencies of time are key as Julie and Chad both have full-time jobs off the farm. She’s an occupational therapist at a hospital and he works for Ellingson Plumbing, Heating, A/C & Electrical.

Despite their other commitments, in 2018, the couple purchased additional farmland 10 minutes away from their home farm filled with sugar maples, so they could grow non-traditional crops.

Though the farm isn’t organic, the couple doesn’t use pesticides and works on natural weed suppression. They have planted pollinator habitats on the land and a beekeeper has hives on the farmland.

They grow hardneck garlic on the land, which Julie said is different from what’s carried in a lot of grocery stores.

Before they put in the garlic, they put a cover crop down and use it to increase the organic matter in the soil. They also grow asparagus on site and focus on no-till seeding for the hayfields. They are returning to growing strawberries after rejuvenation of their fields, and in the future, they hope to provide strawberries to customers as well as shitake and oyster mushrooms from their inoculated logs.

“They take a year to overtake the log, but back-to-back droughts have slowed it down,” Julie said.

If they don’t see progress this year, they’ll start over on the mushrooms.

The Olberdings sell their products direct to consumers via their website. They also do popup sales at the farm and converted a building into a farm store. They host a few events each year at the farm, and regular customers can either pick up produce and syrup on site or Julie will meet them in town with their orders.

To date, she said,

they’re shipping garlic to 29 states. A lot of their garlic is shipped via the United States Postal Service or Spee-Dee Delivery Service, and customers often order anywhere from a pound to 100-pounds.

Julie said they also sell seed garlic to other growers, and most of their success has been through maintaining an active social media presence and word of mouth.

Last year, the farm was selected as the featured growers at Garlic Fest, which also drove traffic.

(Above) Rustic Roots Farm uses large Mason Jars for their maple syrup storage. Once the jar is filled, their farm name colors the top of each jar with farm branding.

(Below) Maple sugar is an additional enterprise on Rustic Roots Farm. To make maple sugar, the Olberdings continue to boil the sap down until sugar fines form.

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Chad Olberding pours fresh sap into a large storage container to be transported to bulk tanks near the Olberdings’ sugar shack. The family taps trees on their property each year. Olberding page 10 PHOTOS BY GRACE JEURISSEN The Olberding family – Julie (from left), Chad, Blake and Leah – gather outside their sugar shack March 29 near Alexandria. The Olberdings work as a family to produce maple syrup each spring.
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through education Building better farmers



Friesian cows come up to the milking parlor from grazing at the Rwanda Institute of Conservation Agriculture in Gashora, Rwanda. Most of the school’s 48 lactating cows are Friesians.

Rwanda Institute of Conservation Agriculture blazes a trail

GASHORA, Rwanda – When most farmers think of agriculture, Rwanda might not be the first place to come to mind, but agriculture, and dairy in particular, play an important role in filling the nutritional needs and generating income for many of the country’s population.

The Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture was established in 2019 to allow students the opportunity to develop knowledge and learn skills in applying conservation practices to their agricultural pursuits.

The school is home to over 250 students, all of whom live on campus, along with approximately 50 staff members.

While attending RICA, students spend most of their first two years of study learning the basics for all areas and specializations of agriculture and working on all aspects of the farm before identifying one specialization they will focus on for their final year of study. One of those specializations is dairy.

At the conclusion of the three-year program, students graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation agriculture. The school’s first class of 78 students will graduate Aug. 8, with 10 of those graduating with a specialty in dairy. Those students will

move on to become dairy farmers themselves, work in extension education roles or work in other related industry fields.

“All students learn farm management,” said Dr. Celestin Munyaneza, the school’s dairy enterprise lead. “We also train them to work in any area of input procurement, such as livestock feed and things like that.”

The school’s campus is home to a herd of 48 lactating cows, which are primarily Friesian. The herd is multi-purpose, Munyaneza said.

“The first purpose of our dairy herd is to generate profit,” Munyaneza said.

“The second purpose is for education for our students. The third purpose is for extension education, for the community. The cows have been here on campus for the past three years.”

Much of the milk produced is consumed by students and staff in the cafeteria. Some is processed by students specializing in food processing, and any remaining milk is sold through a collective market.

The cows are milked on one side of a parlor, using bucket milkers. The other side of the parlor was constructed to milk a herd of dairy goats which will be coming to the school in the near future.

Rwanda page 14

Saturday, April 15 2023 | Country Acres • Page 13
Third-year RICA student Prince Kwizera measures milk production at the school’s dairy farm. Kwizera grew up on his family’s dairy farm and would like to continue in the profession.
The parlor is the only one of its kind in Rwanda; it is a special design and was made for the purpose of teaching.
-Dr. Celestin Munyaneza

“The parlor is the only one of its kind in Rwanda,” Munyaneza said. “It is a special design and was made for the purpose of teaching.”

The dairy industry in the country of Rwanda is very different from the dairy industry in the western hemisphere, largely because of the region’s climate and geopolitical factors.

“There are many dairy farmers, but they are small farms with only one to three cows per farm,” Munyaneza said. “A large dairy farm here is one our size with about 50 cows. There are only a couple of those in the country.”

Despite those limitations, Molly Wilson, RICA’s director of communications, described Rwanda as a milk-loving country.

Rwanda is a very small country, just over 10,000 square miles, with a population of nearly 13.5 million people. It is located in the Great Rift Valley of central Africa, 2-3 degrees south of the equator and has a tropical, semi-arid climate. Temperatures average around 80 degrees, year-round, with the lowest temperatures being in the upper 50s and the highest temperatures being around 90 degrees. The region experiences two rainy seasons, from March to May and from September through November.

“Rwanda is about half the size of the country of Switzerland in square mileage,” Wilson said. “The average farm here is only maybe a half acre to an acre in size, so instead of growing forages to feed livestock, families will grow high-value crops such as vegetables that they can sell at market for income.”

The lack of land to grow forages complicates things for the farmers to feed their animals.

“It is not unusual to drive down the road and see a farmer taking his couple of cows to graze alongside the road,” Wilson said. “Or, you will see them walking, carrying bundles of grass on their head, that they have found to bring back to their cows.”

Munyaneza said the land shortage and climate are the greatest challenges facing the dairy industry.

“There is just not enough land to grow live-

stock feed or forage, and grass for grazing can be scarce,” Munyaneza said. “Supplemental feed is very expensive. That is a very limiting factor to dairy production.”

Another challenge to dairy farmers in Rwanda is the prevalence of disease, particularly tick-borne diseases.

“Many farmers struggle with diseases like anaplasmosis, heartwater, East Coast Fever and Rift Valley Fever,” Munyaneza said. “You can vaccinate, but many local farmers do not have the resources to vaccinate their animals.”

Rwanda page 17

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PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RWANDA INSTITUTE OF CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE Dr. Celestin Munyaneza, Rwanda Institute of Conservation Agriculture’s dairy lead, explains how a milking machine works. The school’s first class of 78 students will graduate Aug. 8, with 10 of those graduating with a specialty in dairy.
Rwanda from page

Rwanda from page 14

Also, farmers there often lack skills and knowledge in conservation farming methods, Munyaneza said, as well as have limited access to technology.

Prince Kwizera is a third-year student, specializing in dairy. He works as an intern at the college and as a teaching assistant. When he graduates this summer, he will return to his home area to begin working toward his dream of owning his own dairy farm.

Kwizera chose to attend RICA, a four-hour bus ride away from his home, because of those issues that are limiting dairy farmers in his country.

“I grew up on a dairy farm, and my family depended mostly on milk,” Kwizera said. “I wanted to grow my skills, so I came to RICA and I found this specialty and so much knowledge. It made me grow more passionate and my love for animals grew, and I knew this is what has the potential for income to provide for my family and my village.”

Kwizera has the goal of attending graduate school to further his education and has been researching obtaining funding to pursue that. He said if he could choose anywhere in the world to attend graduate school, he would choose the University of Nebraska, which is affiliated with RICA.

“I want to learn more of the scientific knowledge and the new technologies in dairy and animal production,” Kwizera said. “That is necessary for me to be able to contribute to the animal production sector in my country.”

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Mocha Cheesecake

• Crust:

• 26 Oreo cookies

• 1/3 cup butter, melted


• 5 ounces dark chocolate 50-70% cocoa

• 1 cup whipping cream

• 1-1/2 teaspoons instant coffee powder

• 24 ounces full-fat brick style cream cheese, room temperature

• 1-1/4 cup granulated sugar

• 1 tablespoon cornstarch

• 4 large eggs, room temperature

Chocolate Ganache:

• 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

• 1/2 cup whipping cream

Coffee Whipped Cream:

• 1/2 cup whipping cream

• 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder

• 1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter the inside of a 9-inch spring foam pan. Crush Oreos finely and mix with melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom of the pan, creating a slight lip around the outside edge. Bake for 5-8 minutes.

While crust bakes, begin making cheesecake. Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat cream until almost boiling. Pour half of the heated cream over the chocolate and add coffee powder to the other half. Let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the sugar and cornstarch until combined. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides to ensure there are no lumps. Beat in eggs one at a time; scrape down sides. Stop mixing once egg is no longer visible. Divide the batter in half. Whisk melted chocolate in one half of the cheesecake batter and coffee into the other.

Wrap spring foam pan in tinfoil. Set spring foam pan in a roasting pan. Pour chocolate cheesecake in spring foam pan. Carefully spoon the coffee cheesecake batter onto the top of chocolate cheesecake batter. Place pans in oven and pour 4 cups water into roasting pan. (This prevents cracking.) Bake for 50-65 minutes, or until top looks set. Turn oven off and let cake sit for 20 minutes. Crack oven door and let cake sit 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let sit on a cooling rack until room temperature. Place pan in fridge overnight or for minimum of 6 hours. Unclamp outer ring of spring foam pan and remove cake off pan bottom. You may need to trace bottom with sharp knife. Set cake on decorative plate.

To make the ganache, heat whipping cream until almost boiling and pour over semi-sweet chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth and pour over top of the cake. Smooth over the top with flat knife. Place cake in refrigerator for 10 minutes.

To make coffee whipped cream, place ingredients in bowl with high sides. Beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer whipped cream to piping bag with rosette tip. Decorate the top edge of the cake. Slice cake with thin sharp knife. Wipe knife between cuts for clean slices.

Serving size: 12-15 slices

Saturday, April 15, 2023 | Country Acres • Page 21
Want your favorite recipes to be featured in Country Acres? Contact Grace at Country Cooking WWW.BELGRADECOOP.COM Belgrade Office: 320-254-8231 Melrose Office: 320-256-4615 Belgrade Co-op Association Agronomy • Propane • Refined Fuels CAApr15-1B-JO E-MAIL YOUR FAVORITE RECIPES to Grace at SUBMIT YOUR FAVORITE RECIPES on our website at countryacresmn. com Know someone who wants COUNTRY ACRES? Scan this QR code with your smartphone camera to make your payment today! Subscribe TODAY NAME: ADDRESS: CITY: STATE: ZIP: PHONE: E-MAIL: Please return this form along with check or money order for $40.00 payable to: Fill out the form below and mail in to receive your copy NO REFUNDS COUNTRY ACRES 522 Sinclair Lewis Ave. Sauk Centre, MN 56378 Call 320-352-6577 or email A cres C ountr y ountry Featuring stories and photos on several local farmers, recipes and more OR CUSTOM FARM SERVICES Primary & Secondary Tillage Planting (variable rate/ liquid fertilizer) Land Rolling Baling: Cutting, Raking, Stacking Harvesting, Yield Mapping & Data Collection Crop Land & All Types of Hay Land & Grass Land to rent or put up on shares WANTED SHOP SERVICES Truck & Trailer Repairs DOT Inspections Farm Equipment Repairs 320-815-8484 | HAY & STRAW FOR SALE All Types • Large Inventory Contract Pricing Available CAApr15-1B-JO

Back in my rock-picking days, I always hoped to find a treasure. Something like gold, or diamonds, or some ancient artifact…all unlikely in a farm field in Ottertail County. But, it kept me going, kept me picking up those hateful orbs, unlike my brother who just rebelled, climbed a tree, and stayed there. He did come down eventually and picked more rocks another day.

Working out –outdoors, that is by

I think it’s that same attitude from all those years ago, along with my fitness goals, that keep me going back to the woods day after day. The treasures I find tend to be very small, and some might question the value. But, value has many forms.

There’s the black walnut perched in the Y of a sapling. The half-chewed golf ball. Squirrels were most likely responsible for both of these, but they were small woodlot surprises.

Then there’s the restaurant chain T-shirt. Only a small bit of black and white was showing under the leaves. I thought maybe it was a misplaced batting glove, but as I pulled on the damp fabric, it just kept coming until an entire shirt appeared. I could speculate on how it came to be mostly buried in the woods. My oldest two children worked for that particular restaurant more than 25 years ago, but the shirt could also have been handed down the family chain. I’m sure no one will remember.

Small recent finds included natural objects: three forms of unusually small mushrooms or fungi. The colors were what were unusual.

There were the tiny turquoise ruffles I’ve tentatively identified as green elfcups. The fruiting bodies are seldom found although the colorful blue-green wood infected with Chlorociboria aeruginascens is sometimes used in marquetry. I’d never seen that color before in the natural world, except in watery reflections. It surprised me when I pulled up a piece of decaying wood and saw the streaks of color.

The school-bus orange fungi on another stick may well have been yellow tree fungus. That’s not a very imaginative name although it could have been, more specifically, a jelly fungus. There are many kinds of yellow fungus, but this was particularly brilliant.

The startling red interior and light-colored exterior of a ¼-inch cup fungus are distinctive of the scarlet elf cup. Red cups are fairly common in the woods, but this one was so tiny. It looked so fragile. I learned that this variety is produced in cooler winter months and has been used medicinally as well as decoratively.

Then there were the pure white acorn caps that I unearthed while pulling buckthorn. They looked like they were covered in almond bark. It’s possible that a form of white rot fungi was responsible. I see the same thing above ground sometimes, on dead branches. What seemed unusual was that the fungus had completely covered the acorn caps, yet the caps retained their shape and texture.

Ah, yes, treasures of a Todd County woods.

Page 22 • Country Acres | Saturday, April 15, 2023
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from page 20

she hopes to graze the sheep among hazelnuts in the late fall as well.

“I wanted to get the sheep because I have semi dwarf apples in my orchard,” Wiegrefe said. “Mowing under that … you have to be suicidal.”

Keeping the vegetation down around the hazelnuts is important as well. A clear area deters hazelnut predators, pocket gophers for example, who she said enjoy stockpiling hazelnut roots during winter.

“You start to realize how many biological entities are your enemies,” Wiegrefe said.

If the grass and vegetation are kept down via grazing or mowing it makes the area less inviting, and the hawk’s job easier to keep the pocket gopher population down. Wiegrefe hopes to be able to graze some of her oldest hazelnut bushes in two years.

On the farm, she owns two breeds of sheep: Baybdoll Southdown and Babydoll Southdown Finnsheep crosses. The Babydolls are what she uses to graze her orchard.

The breed stands at 24-inches or less at the shoulder, and are good at grazing on ground level and not foraging among the branches of the fruit trees. Finnsheep, however, are foragers but have much longer wool. Crossing the two breeds gives

Wiegrefe more options for processing and selling her wool since Babydoll sheep have shorter wool that not all processors have the technology to process. Currently, her goal is for her crosses to be 5/8 Finnsheep and 3/8 Southdown

Baby Doll.

Wiegrefe lambs approximately 28 ewes. During lambing season days are filled with check-ins every two hours, feedings every four hours and a daily weigh-in of newborns to check that they are gaining properly.

She is also raising a livestock guardian dog. The 10-monthold Great Pyrenees puppy is already starting to defend her hazelnuts via a daily walk around the farm to help deter deer.

Wiegrefe page 25

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PHOTOS BY AMY KYLLO (Above) Sue Wiegrefe shares about her hazelnuts March 24 on her farm near Mabel. Wiegrefe, who is a plant geneticist, is working to develop hazelnut seed genetics. (Left) Wiegrefe adjusts the coat on a baby lamb March 24 on her farm. Ewes and lambs are checked every two hours during lambing season. Two baby lambs rest in the greenhouse March 24 on Sue Wiegrefe’s farm near Mabel. Lambs are weighed daily to ensure they are experiencing proper weight gain. A greenhouse stands March 24 on Sue Wiegrefe’s farm near Mabel. Wiegrefe uses the greenhouse as a nursery for
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from page 23

“We did determine that even as modest as the deer pressure is, the furthest row of hazelnuts has been reduced by two years’ worth of growth,” Wiegrefe said.

She is working towards making her hazelnut operation independently profitable.

“I’m trying to make it pay, I really am,” Wiegrefe said. “It will be a while, though, with all of these juvenile plants yet to begin bearing.”

As her hazelnuts mature, and she continues to develop her plants, she hopes to see the farm become more profitable.

Developing the hazelnuts is a good financial decision. She said that the pay for hazelnuts sold for human consumption is about $1.30 a pound. This makes selling them on the straight commodity market less profitable than selling them for seed, she said.

Wiegrefe page 26

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PHOTOS BY AMY KYLLO Baby lambs rest on a ewe March 24 on Sue Wiegrefe’s farm near Mabel. Wiegrefe raises Southdown Babydolls and Southdown Babydoll and Finnsheep crosses.
Ewes sniff at the camera April 12 at Prairie Plum Farm. Sheep are curious farm animals that Sue Wiegrefe enjoys having
on her
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from page 25

bachelor’s in horticulture, her master’s degree in ornamental horticulture and her Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics.

She did plant research for 10 years at The Morton Arboretum in Chicago. She taught four years at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and finally, did research on nut crops, including hazelnuts, with Badgersett Research Corporation for five years in southeast Minnesota.

At Badgersett Research Corporation they were looking for ways to make nut farming a viable alternative to planting corn and soybeans. As part of her work there, Wiegrefe became a co-author of the book, “Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts: The New Resilient Crop

for a Changing Climate.”

One of the biggest challenges of raising hazelnuts is purchasing equipment to mechanize harvest and processing. Wiegrefe hopes to eventually be able to collaborate with other producers as other farms in the area start adopting hazelnuts.

“Specialty crops is one of the ways that we can keep more people on the farm,” Wiegrefe said. “It doesn’t require large acreage and commands a higher unit price.”

Wiegrefe sees other advantages to hazelnuts as well.

“I consider specialty crops as a way of contributing to the local food movement,” Wiegrefe said. “And also as a way of stewarding the land and the water due to the continual ground cover. With their more than six months per year of photosynthesizing and their deep roots, they are also fixing more carbon than annual crops do – yet another bonus.”

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Sue Wiegrefe holds Southdown Babydoll wool in her hands. Southdown Babydoll sheep are good grazers for orchards. (Below, inset) A ball of wool from Sue Wiegrefe’s sheep is displayed March 24. Wool is one of many different products that Wiegrefe produces on her farm. A lamb and a ewe stand in the greenhouse March 24 on Sue Wiegrefe’s farm near Mabel. Wiegrefe originally got sheep to help with grazing her orchard.

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