Rooted in local agriculture March 2022

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MARCH | 2022



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Table of Contents Murdock goat farmers develop plans for on-the-farm creamery......................... 4 Regenerative agricultural practices can be used at any latitude.............................. 11 Minnesota hog producers market ‘the Black Angus of pork’...................................... 14 Wanted: Young farmers seeking farmland to rent....................................................... 20 Some Minn. rural co-ops embrace renewable energy, keep rates flat.................24 Lazy J Bar Ranch offers colorful boer goat genetics...................................................28 Former Faribault dairy farm finds a new purpose................................................................ 30 Moorhead cricket farm pivots to selling live insects............................................................... 35 PUBLISHER: Steve Ammermann EDITOR: Kelly Boldan MAGAZINE EDITOR: Kit Grode AD MANAGER: Christie Steffel MAGAZINE DESIGNER: Jamie Holte

A publication of West Central Tribune, March 2022 2208 Trott Ave SW, Willmar MN | 320.235.1150 Content from West Central Tribune staff and Forum News Service.

Page 4 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune



armen Maus had no intention of having a goat on her rural Murdock farm. And yet, when she and her good friend Theresa Smith went to a livestock auction in 2017 in Benson, there she was, buying a goat. “He was so stinking cute, so I bid on it,” said Maus, of rural Murdock. “I hugged him and I loved him and I named him George.” It was her “gateway” goat, she said. Now, Maus, her husband, Ryan, and Smith have about 100 dairy goats in their limited liability partnership — and that was at the beginning of this year’s kidding season that could bring the total number of goats to nearly 300. For the last couple of years, the three-person team began using the milk from their goats to make handcrafted soap and lotion that they then sell at farmers markets and craft shows. As the herd quickly grows, the partnership, which operates under the name C-R Farm, is preparing to take the business to the next level. If everything in its business plan falls into place, by this time next year, C-R Farm will be operating an on-the-farm micro-creamery to bottle its own goat milk and make goat cheese that will be sold in retail outlets in a region stretching from Murdock to St. Cloud to Marshall. The partners used time during the pandemic to research creamery requirements — including licensing with state and federal agencies — and have sought construction bids and financing. They further tested cheese-making recipes and courted markets to sell their goat milk and cheese.

Photos by Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune Every single goat on the C-R Farm in rural Murdock has a name. The farm currently has about 100 goats, but that was at the start of the 2022 kidding season and there were about 70 bred does yet to give birth, meaning that more more names will have to be found for more goats. This doe is named Toppy.

Carmen Maus, one of three partners in C-R Farm in rural Murdock that has plans to open a micro creamery to make cheese and bottle goat milk, snuggles with a newborn goat Jan. 5, 2022.

Based on their product research and one-on-one visits with potential vendors, the team is confident there’s a ready market for locally produced, made and bottled goat milk and goat cheese. “There is a market for it,” said Ryan Maus, who will take on the role of cheesemonger. “If we could sell cheese today we would sell out every day.” When the three friends first teamed up with the LLP, the primary goal of raising goats wasn’t to just make money but to “try to make money with what we enjoy doing,” said Smith. “We have our hearts in it,” she said.

Kidding around with goats

Acquiring goats is like eating potato chips, said Smith. You can’t have just one. For years Smith had a few dairy goats that her daughters showed at fairs for 4-H. When the family went on vacation Carmen and Ryan would take care of Smith’s goats. “Hated them,” said Carmen. “I said I’d never have goats.” But then there was George, and now there are well over 100 goats on the Maus farm. Continued on page 6

West Central Tribune – March 2022 – Page 5

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Smith, who has a vet tech degree, has the primary role of herd health; Carmen (who is the only one currently without an off-the-farm-job) does a majority of the feeding and twice-a-day milking; and Ryan has maintenance covered. The herd includes a variety of breeds: Nigerian dwarfs, Oberhasli, Alpine, Nubian, Saanen Lamancha and some mixed breeds. Raised primarily on pasture grass in the summer, the goats consume a considerable amount of hay in the winter, along with supplemental grains. With the drought last summer reducing hay cuttings, C-R Farm was forced to purchase hay. Smith’s expertise with herd health included giving a doe with milk fever this winter a good dose of “goat magic,” which is an elixir of molasses, corn syrup, canola oil and antacid tablets dissolved in hot water. “It brought her back,” said Carmen of the doe. “She was on death’s door.” All three partners are in the barn for the 5:30 p.m. milking, which includes does prancing up a ramp to a platform that brings the goat’s udders to eye level.

Theresa Smith, left, and Carmen and Ryan Maus, take a break after the evening milking of goats at C-R Farm in rural Murdock on Jan. 5, 2022. The three business partners currently use the milk to make soap and lotion. They plan to open a micro creamery by the end of 2022 to make cheese and bottle goat milk.

Carmen Maus feeds newborn goats bottles of fresh goat milk at the C-R Farm on Jan. 5, 2022, as business partner Theresa Smith looks on.

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The barn, which had been used for dairy cows in the past, is still equipped with a pipeline system that’s now used for the goats. They can currently milk four goats at a time. It’s all hands on deck during kidding season, which started in early January this year. The kids are separated from their mothers shortly after birth and are fed bottles of fresh milk from the daily milkings. Sitting on a hay bale in the middle of a pen full of hungry kids is a blur of activity as baby goats scramble onto the lap of whoever is holding the bottle of milk. The kids are given milk for about three months. Because all the babies are bottle-fed and handled every day, they “want to be in your pocket all the time,” said Carmen. That one-on-one interaction with the babies makes it easier to handle the goats when they’re adults, especially those that will be milked. Raising goats on the C-R Farm includes bestowing unique names to each one as soon as they’re born. The names of the kids typically correlate with the mother’s name. So when Truffle had five babies, her kids were named Peppermint Patty BonBon, Coco Bon, Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Cup and Tootsie Roll. There’s also Reba McEngoat, who gave birth to Patsy Climb and Tammy Whynot, and Twix had a kid named Kit Kat. Continued on page 8

Theresa Smith, front, and Carmen Maus milk goats at C-R Farm in rural Murdock on Jan. 5, 2022. The two women and Maus’ husband, Ryan, are business partners who currently use their goat milk to make soap and lotion.

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West Central Tribune – March 2022 – Page 7

Carmen and Ryan Maus pour warm liquid soap, made from goat milk, into trays Jan. 5, 2022. After the soap hardens it will cure for three weeks as part of the chemical reaction called saponification that allows the lye and fat to become soap that’s gentle on skin.

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The father of most of the 2022 crop of kids is officially named Hay Creek Ahna Honey I’m Good. “We call him Andy,” said Carmen. Each goat has such a distinctive personality that it only seems appropriate to give them each a name, said Carmen. She scoffs when asked how she remembers each goat and each name. “If you have two dogs you don’t forget one of their names, because you know them so well,” she said.” We spend every day with these guys, so we know them really well.”

Smooth operators

In a demonstration, Carmen Maus puts frozen goat milk in a kettle and slowly stirs in white powdered lye. As she steadily stirs, the lye heats up the milk so much that the outside of the kettle gets hot to the touch. The chemical reaction is normal in making homemade soap, she said, and the lye must be added slowly and steadily stirred to prevent the milk from scorching. On another kettle she heats up a kettle of lard, which Continued on page 10

Page 8 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

Powdered color is added to a kettle of goat milk and lye that’s used to make soap at C-R Farm in rural Murdock.

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Everything — from how the bottles are mechanically sealed to what the labels look like — must be approved by regulatory agencies before the creamery can be launched. Ryan has been testing out different varieties of cheese, including sweet and savory chevre and a feta-like cheese. He eventually intends to add mozzarella and hard cheeses to the menu. They intend to make cheese on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, bottle milk on Tuesdays and Thursdays and use the weekend milk for lotion and soap. “We want to have all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed and put milk in a jar by the end of the year,” Carmen said.

she rendered from hogs that were raised on the family farm, along with coconut oil, olive oil, cocoa butter and castor oil that’s added to the goat milk and lye mixture. Different colors and fragrances are added to each batch of the liquid before it’s poured into decorative molds. After the soap hardens, the four-ounce bars are popped out of the molds and left to air dry on racks for at least three weeks in a process called saponification, which creates a chemical reaction to turn the lye and fat into soap that’s gentle on skin. Goat milk lotion is made by heating up fresh goat milk and distilled water in one kettle while almond oil, Carolyn Lange retired from the West Central Tribune in wax, shea butter, avocado oil and vitamin E are melted February 2022. in another.. After the ingredients cool and essential oils or fragrances are added, an immersion blender is used to “whip it until it gets all emulsified,” said Carmen. Smith had been making soap and lotion on a small scale before teaming up with Carmen and Ryan. They created the LLP in 2019 and in 2020, as the pandemic started to take hold, they increased the number of goats they milked and began producing larger quantities of soap and lotion, which has proven to be a profitable aspect of their business. “We think our product is great, so we wanted to share it,” said Carmen. “We have done very well at farmers markets.” A bar of soap sells for $7 and the lotion ranges from $7-10.

Creamery dream

A thick notebook with regulatory, licensing, financial and construction plans provides an outline for C-R Farm to build an on-the-farm micro creamery. They intend to retrofit existing buildings to meet regulatory requirements. There are layers of inspections and approval needed before grants and loans can be pursued and before construction can begin, but the partners are hopeful they’ll be making cheese by the end of the year, followed by bottling goat milk. “We’re waiting on some numbers so we can get funding,” said Carmen. They have plans to add a public viewing area behind glass in hopes of meshing the goat creamery with agri-tourism. The name of C-R Farm (C is for Carmen and the R is for Ryan) creates a clever invitation to “come see-our-farm,” Carmen said. “It’s a play on words.” When they’re at full milking speed, they anticipate generating 40 gallons of goat milk every day. Because goat milk is “naturally homogenized,” it’s usually sold as whole milk, she said, adding that goat milk contains magnesium, selenium, vitamins A-E and, because it has smaller protein molecules than cow milk, it can be easier for humans to digest. Page 10 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

A variety of soaps and lotions, made from goat milk produced on C-R Farm in rural Murdock, is on display at the on-farm store Jan. 5, 2022.

Soap made from goat milk is set to dry and harden Jan. 5, 2022, at C-R Farm in rural Murdock. A bar of soap sells for $7 and the lotion ranges from $7-10.




utside the Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, howling winds ushered in sub-zero temperatures and stirred up the snow, which swirled against the church windows with every new gust. Inside the church, a screen showed images of cattle chomping on cacti, a thermometer recording a 154-degrees Fahrenheit temperature on bare ground, and other scenes from the sun-seared landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico, where an average year’s rainfall usually totals only 10 inches. Eight inches has been the norm in the last two years on the Rancho Las Damas ranch, located in this desert about 150 miles south of El Paso, Texas. The ranch belongs to Alejandro Carrillo, who brought the images to his guests at the Willmar church on Feb. 1. While the images of the 30,000 acres that comprise his

ranch contrasted sharply with the world of his guests, it mattered not. What Carrillo is doing to raise livestock on the desert can be done on Minnesota’s landscape with the same results: More production per acre and a better environment for it. The same principles of regenerative agriculture apply in livestock production no matter the latitude, according to Barbara Sogn-Frank, organizer with the Land Stewardship Project’s soil health program. She introduced Carrillo to an audience including area producers who graze livestock. Carrillo’s management strategy is all about improving soil health through regenerative agriculture. His operation involves no chemical or other inputs, with the exception of sea salt sourced in the region for its minerals. Continued on page 12

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune Pictured above: Alejandro Carrillo has increased revenues more than three-fold by implementing regenerative agricultural practices on his 30,000-acre ranch in the Chihuahua Desert of Mexico. While the landscape and weather could not be more different than what we know, Carrillo and his hosts emphasized that the principles of regenerative agriculture are no different, and the rewards no less. Carrillo is shown as he spoke as a guest of the Land Stewardship Project at the Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar on Feb. 1, 2022. FREE CONSULTA TIONS

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He began implementing regenerative agricultural practices in 2006. He’s seen revenues increase by 350%, according to information provided at the meeting, as the number of livestock on the ranch grew three-fold. His father started the ranch in 1985, and followed traditional practices. In Mexico’s desert country, a rancher needs anywhere from 150 to 200 acres per cow-calf unit, and that includes the use of supplemental feed. Today, Carrillo averages 42 acres per cow-calf unit. He relies entirely on the grazing land to feed the livestock. He keeps a herd of cattle, sheep and a few donkeys. “There is no formula,” Carrillo told his guests at the onset. He began by adding fencing to divide the ranch from the original three large units — each grazed by separate herds — to many smaller units. He’s added permanent (one strand, high-tensile wire) fencing and portable cross fencing to divide the ranch into over 500 paddocks today. Along with all the new fencing, Carrillo invested in upgrading the water infrastructure of the ranch. He developed 21 water reservoirs and 38 permanent troughs to make this approach work. There is one larger herd today in place of the three smaller herds. The cattle graze intensively on a given paddock and are moved, or actually led, twice a day to as many paddocks. “You have to work the grasses,” said Carrillo of the intensive grazing. “Take as much as possible.” The cattle work up the soil, and the manure they drop is moved in a few days’ time into the soul by dung beetles. The dung provides the nutrients and water needed by the

native, perennial grasses to take hold. Each paddock is usually rested for as much as a year, but Carrillo insists on being adaptive, and not following a script. Never graze the same spot at the same time each year, he advised. Do not keep the same pattern every year. He culls, culls and culls his herd to improve the genetics for his environment. He takes his bulls from the top 10% of the cows. The rancher emphasized the importance of allowing the animals to adapt to their environment, in place of what he called “pampering” them with inputs such as hay. He said the reason his livestock can be seen chomping on cacti is because they’ve adapted. These animals have learned to rough the cacti into the soil to knock off the needles before devouring the leaves. At the start of his presentation, Carrillo told his audience that regenerative agriculture can be as much art as science. It’s important to learn what works best on your landscape, he explained. For him, the proof of the approach is the string of images he took over the years showing how the grasses on his ranch have taken hold as the soil improved. The photo of the 154-degree soil temperature came from the bare ground of a neighboring ranch. The more extensive spread of perennial grasses on his ranch minimizes the bare ground exposed to the hot sun. Most important, Carrillo said healthy soil allows more water to infiltrate, which is critical. “It’s not really how much rain you get, but what you are doing with that water when it rains,” he explained. Carrillo said his approach is focused on working with nature, rather than in competition. “We are mimicking nature,” he said.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune A local audience heard Alejandro Carrillo of Aldama County, Chihuahua, Mexico, (at right) describe how regenerative agricultural practices have benefited his ranch in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert. The Land Stewardship Project hosted his presentation at the Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar on Feb. 1, 2022.

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Mikkel Pates / Agweek Compart Family Farms sells its premium products through restaurants, and to online customers through a store based on one of their farmsteads. Photo taken Dec. 14, 2021, at Nicollet, Minnesota.


Minnesota hog producers market ‘the Black Angus of pork’

By Mikkel Pates | Agweek


hile COVID-19 nudged many livestock producers into branded meat marketing, one family — the Comparts of Nicollet — have been at it for 20 years. Compart Family Farms Premium Duroc Pork Inc. moved into marketing as a result of earlier production and market shocks. The Compart family over the years has shifted from a cropping to the purebred seedstock, expanded into commercial hog production, and finally into a branded pork program that today accounts for 50% to 60% of the family’s farm revenue. Shortened to “Compart Family Farms,” they sell branded meat cuts online, to restaurants, and through distributors, marketing a whopping 2,400 pigs a week (125,000 animals per year). They proudly label their products the “black

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Angus of pork.” They are among the elite pork producers in a state that ranks in the top three in hog production. Along with their pig enterprises, the Comparts raise about 2,900 acres of crops in Nicollet County and near Princeton. About 60% is corn and up to 40% soybeans. They feed almost all of the corn to their pigs. They sell soybeans to CHS, about 25 miles away in Mankato, where they also buy soybean meal. The Comparts have faced challenges along the road to becoming a supplier of premier pork, now marketed as Compart Duroc. “A lot of times you come out stronger than when you went into them,” said Jim Compart, one of the partners in the business.


Ottomar and Alma Compart farmed in Minnesota and ran a typical diversified farm that included pigs. Their first introduction to Duroc pigs came in 1942, through their son Richard’s 4-H project. Rich and his wife Bonnie would return in 1957 to the farm at Nicollet, where they milked Jersey cows and raised purebred Durocs. The Comparts in 1965 added Hampshires, known to be lean and muscular, producing larger pork chops, as a second breed to go with the Durocs, known for rapid growth rate, a good appetite and good quality pork. Three years later, the pork enterprise was successful enough that they sold their cows. In the early-1970s, Compart sons came into the operation. First Marc, now 64, and Jim, 60, came home to the farm. The young brothers traveled the country, showing Duroc pigs at state fairs in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. Dean, now 62, graduated in animal science from the University of Minnesota. Chris, now 54, eventually joined.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek Compart Family Farms touts its Duroc breeding basis, and have selected for premium meat color and marbling standards that are constantly improving. Photo taken Dec. 14, 2021, at Nicollet.

Continued on page 16

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They had the champion boar at the National Barrow Show in 1974 — a Duroc. The Comparts grew to be among the four or five largest among about 30 purebred swine breeders in the state. In 1987, the Comparts suffered a huge shock. The farm was hit by pseudorabies, a disease that causes hog abortions and deaths, and crosses into dogs, cats, sheep and cattle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture quarantined their farm for 25 months. “It made Black Monday on Wall Street look like a walk in the park,” Dean recalled. “We were completely devastated and crippled.” Pseudorabies forced many hog producers out of the business. But the Comparts — with four sons in their 20s — were determined to claw back. “We purchased animals from Ohio that were very high-health — all Yorkshires and Landrace. Mikkel Pates / Agweek Dean Compart shows a chart that indicates the trend toward increased desirable intramuscular fat, or “marbling,” None of our genetics,” Dean said. Continued on page 18

which makes Compart Family Farms pork products desirable for “white tablecloth” restaurant markets across the country. Photo taken Dec. 14, 2021, at Nicollet.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek A chart shows increases in intermuscular fat in Compart Family Farms breeding stocks over the past 20 years, measured by ultrasound. Photo taken Dec. 14, 2021, at Nicollet.

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They created a new herd by taking sows from their infected farm to an Iowa laboratory where a veterinarian took the pigs out in a “sterile bubble” cesarean section. Marc took those baby pigs home in boxes to a Lehigh, Iowa, farm, where Marc’s father-in-law raised swine breeding stock. There they “cross-fostered” them with sows that had farrowed the same day. “That’s how we established our genetics into that Iowa farm,” Dean said. The Comparts started selling breeding stock out of Iowa in 1988 and resumed providing conventionally-raised hogs at the home farm. They had 400 sows that had been through the disease and used a high-quality, effective “marker” vaccine to verify immunity. And they formed alliances with other pork producing families to raise and market more cross-bred gilts, eventually supplying genetics for about 300 commercial farms, throughout the Midwest and beyond. The Comparts also have run into market shocks, like a national low-fat and “lean craze” in the 1990s. Pork packing companies implemented “carcass-based buying systems,” which paid primarily on leanness — the “absence of fat,” Dean said. American Duroc hogs were fast-gainers, but not known for leanness. In 1992, Jim Compart traveled to Denmark to buy leaner Duroc boars. Compart pigs became “dramatically lean.” But then consumers were saying they didn’t like superlean pork. In the mid-1990s, the National Pork Producers Council completed a National Genetic Evaluation study of hog breeds. Among other things, the study found Duroc — the Comparts’ main breed — had more fat marbling (juicy strains of fat within the meat), better meat color and desirable higher-pH pork than other breeds. Some of the breeds that were leaner, notably, were “terrible for meat quality.” The NPPC also had a “Quality Lean Growth Modeling Project,” which looked at meat quality characteristics of various breeds and crosses. The Duroc breed won the taste tests. In fact, the Duroc breed association tried to capitalize by branding purebred Duroc meat as its own brand. Marc participated, but the effort fizzled for logistical reasons.

Defining value

The Comparts in the mid-1990s started doing their own meat quality research on their own genetics. They documented and selected for meat color — dark reddish pink. They documented and increased marbling from an average of 1.7% to 3%-5%. In 1997, the Comparts coordinated and invested in a co-op of producers that built two sow farms — Steamboat Pork, a 1,250-sow farm near Klossner, (north of New Ulm) and Precision Pork, a 2,400-sow barn at Alden, (west of Albert Lea). Both facilities eventually added sophisticated HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that remove airborne particles. The co-ops raised their own replacement sows as well Page 18 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

as the Duroc-sired market pigs that are weaned and taken to nursery farms at about 13 to 14 pounds. The Comparts sold gilts to their “customer base” of pork producers who could quickly produce numbers to meet the market for premium meat. Their pork finishers liked that they could tie into a premium market without shifting into becoming contract producers. In 1998, the Comparts started Pinpoint Research to do research on the best way commercial farmers would feed the leaner, faster-growing pigs coming out of the sow farms they owned cooperatively. The first results came out in 1999. Significantly, they specified levels of dried distillers grains, a byproduct of ethanol production. Feeders were moving away from feeding based on crude protein values and increasingly replaced soybean meal with synthetic amino acids. Now, they could finish pigs with high-quality meat two weeks faster than they did only a decade earlier.

The ‘Angus of pork’

In 2001, the Comparts were ready to launch their “branded pork” program under the Compart Family Farms brand. In 2003, they actually trademarked the catchphrase “the Black Angus of pork.” “That quickly made the (consumer) association of Black Angus as a purebred animal, like Duroc is a purebred animal,” Jim said. The Comparts specified a high-protein diet to anyone supplying pigs for their brand. “They were going to incur a higher expense. Because to feed the pig the way we wanted it fed wasn’t the cheapest way to feed them,” Dean said. In 2003, the branded meat program started at 75 animals a week. In six years, they went to 400 a week, having them processed “custom-toll basis,” initially through Sioux-Preme Packing Company at Sioux City, Iowa. In recent years they’ve increased to 2,400 head a week and now account for one day’s slaughter at Premium Iowa Pork, at Hospers, Iowa. Initially, the Comparts sold their branded pork through small, family-owned distributors, starting with Swanson Meats Inc., a Minneapolis-based distributor serving the food service industry. “We thought we hit the big time — selling pork in Minneapolis,” Jim said They quickly learned that if they identified a customerdistributor, they had to build other clients in an area to make the freight cost work. In about 2005, they went to the National Restaurant Show in Chicago and have been going there ever since. “That’s what really opened our eyes up to the rest of the country,” Jim said. At the start, Jim was doing the sales and traveling. They added a western sales representative and an eastern sales rep and now work through distributors U.S. Foods, Sysco, Ben E. Keith Foods, Shamrock Foods Distribution and Food Supply. Prior to COVID, about 85% of their products were sold through restaurants. Their forte is the “white table cloth” trade. Their products are on restaurant menus from

Contributed / Compart Family Farms The Compart Family Farms management includes two generations in one of Minnesota’s most prominent hog families. Photo taken in 2021.

Disney World to Delmonico’s Steak House on Wall Street to Manny’s Steak House in Minneapolis. Since COVID, they have increased product sales to other manufacturers, including some additional retail. They have created a significant online distribution system, based on the farm. Among other things, the Comparts offer “dry-aged” pork, which is something typically associated with beef. Jim said the process is done at about 33 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks, breaking down connective tissue for greater tenderness. Of course, there is a premium. Wholesale products to grocers are roughly 30 to 50 cents a pound more than for conventional animals, depending on the cut and specifications. Retail customers pay 60 cents to $1 a pound more than for conventional. While the future looks sunny for Compart pork, change is always coming. In the meat business, the Comparts are keeping an eye on Proposition 12 in California, where voters voted

Contributed / Compart Family Farms The Comparts of Nicollet promote their red-colored Duroc hog breeding and feeding program as providing the “Black Angus of pork” in meat quality, and have the trademark on the term. Photo taken in 2021.

that animals must be in open pens with 25-square feet, which could force livestock producers to rebuild or go out of business. “It’s unfortunate for the people of California because it’s going to drive their food costs way up,” Jim said. “It’s an issue with interstate commerce.”

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West Central Tribune – March 2022 – Page 19

Photos by Macy Moore / West Central Tribune Farming brothers James, from left, and RJ Orsten are looking to expand their cattle farming operation through renting land for crops, pasture and haying from surrounding community members.



ith farmland locked up tight — and expensive to buy or rent even when land is available — it can be tough for young farmers to get into the business. Securing land can depend on who you know or who you’re related to. Along with having the financial means, convincing a retiring farmer or unrelated landowner to lease property to a young farmer can oftentimes hinge on cultivating a relationship. A landowner wants to be assured that a young farmer just getting their start in the business knows what they’re doing and that they’re a good risk to bet on. RJ and James Orsten, two brothers who raise cattle north of Willmar under the name Cardinal Creek Cattle

Page 20 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

Company, are trying to get the message out that they are looking for land to rent and that they do, indeed, know what they’re doing. RJ, who is 25, and James, who is 21, mailed cards to 75 landowners in northwest Kandiyohi County and northeast Swift County this winter that includes the brothers’ credentials, goals as young farmers and a request to be considered as a future renter. “We’re just trying to get our name out and try and show them we have the experience to run the land ourselves,” said James. The attractive notecards, which features their logo of a cardinal on the front, includes a testimonial to let landowners know who they are and that they have the education and experience behind their dreams.

“We are writing to express interest in renting cropland, pastureland and hay ground. We grew up in the Willmar area on a farm and have been passionate about the family operation ever since we were young,” reads the cards. “After attending college and graduating in 2019, we have returned to the area to pursue farming full time.” The idea to reach out to landowners came from their dad’s banker, said RJ. Because farmland rental contracts usually last for several years, the brothers were advised that it can take 2-5 years to see results from initiating a relationship, he said.

Farm background

RJ and James are third-generation Kandiyohi County farmers who grew up raising hybrid turkeys and hatching eggs for Hendrix Genetics alongside their dad, uncle and grandparents on their Kandiyohi County farm, where they grow poults that became layers that produced fertile eggs that were hatched into new poults. The family raises row crops on about 850 acres of land and, in the 1990s, added a few beef cattle as a hobby. While growing up, RJ took an interest in the cattle and James started tinkering with the equipment and gravitated towards row crop farming. After finishing college the brothers began working on the farm full time in 2019. While still working in the family’s turkey operation, RJ and James are trying to branch off on their own. Continued on page 22

Light from the setting sun illuminates the breath of one of James and RJ Orsten’s cows Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, north of Willmar.

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Cattle farmers James, from left, and RJ Orsten check on young calves at their farm north of Willmar on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. The pair are looking to expand their cattle farming operation through renting additional land. Continued from page 21

Cardinal Creek Cattle Company

“We have been taking on more responsibility with the crops and cattle since returning to our family’s farming operation and are looking to expand our operation over the next few years,” reads the card. “Together, we believe our combined strengths will benefit the farming community and we aspire to continue the legacy set before us, being good stewards of the land God created.” The request concludes with a request that the landowner “keep us in mind if you are ever looking to rent your land.”

The family operation had been run by the brothers’ dad (Robert) and uncle (Ross) under the name R & R Family Farms before RJ and James took over the cattle business. The brothers renamed the operation the Cardinal Creek Cattle Company. The cardinal was a favorite first of their dad’s grandmother, said RJ. “And we wanted to make a fresh start.” Their cattle herd, which is primarily raised as breeding stock for other growers, has grown to 150 registered Hereford cows that will all be calving this spring.

PASTURELAND FAST FACTS The average cost to rent pasture land in Minnesota has ranged from $24-30 per acre, according to statistics from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, which had data through 2020. According to that report the average price per acre of pasture land in the state peaked in 2016 at $30 an acre and dropped to $24 an acre in 2020. The 2020 rental rates for pasture land in area counties includes: Page 22 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

▶ Chippewa County: $40/acre ▶ Lac qui Parle County: $39/acre ▶ Pope County: $29/acre ▶ Swift County: $35.50/acre ▶ Kandiyohi County: Not available for 2020 but was $60/acre in 2019 ▶ Renville County: $39.50/acre Source: University of Minnesota Extension at https://extension.umn. edu/farmland-rent-and-economics/ pastureland-rental-rates

The brothers don’t own any pasture or cropland of their own but rent about 350 acres from neighbors, which they heard about by word-of-mouth. They’d like to rent another couple hundred acres of pasture land for their cattle to graze as well as additional hay and cropland to generate feed for the cattle and to sell as a cash crop. The extra land would allow the brothers to increase their herd and eventually develop a production sale for their cattle to be sold through their own company’s online auction. They currently take their cattle to consignment auctions in Minnesota and South Dakota as a way to establish their reputation and make commercial and registered cattle buyers aware of their breeding stock. The brothers also shoot videos and photos of their cattle and utilize social media to promote them to buyers. Marketing through social media is an important part of getting their cattle and the company’s credentials exposed to cattle breeders. So far they haven’t had any responses to their cold-call cards looking for land to rent, but they know it could be a start to building a future relationship. If they can’t find additional land they’ll “just have to continue to work with what we have” and new ways to be efficient, said RJ. “But we’ll keep looking, and searching and asking,” he said.

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Cattle line up to feed at James and RJ Orsten’s farm on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

James Orsten moves equipment across the farm to prepare for feeding cattle on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

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Courtesy of Connexus Energy via MPR News A solar plus-battery storage project in Ramsey, operated by Connexus Energy, shown in a recent photo, began operating in 2018. The system allows Connexus to collect and save power generated by the solar panels to use at times when electricity demand and prices are high.



n a field in Ramsey north of the Twin Cities, a solar array is producing power from the sun. What’s unusual about this array are the large white boxes connected to it that are the size of shipping containers. They’re batteries that store energy when the sun is shining, to be used when electricity cost and demand are high. Connexus Energy, the state’s largest electric cooperative, built the Ramsey project and another in Athens Township three years ago. It was the first largescale, solar-plus-battery storage project in Minnesota. Greg Ridderbusch, CEO of Connexus Energy, said it’s one the reasons Connexus is able to keep its electric rates flat for the fifth straight year.

Page 24 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

“It’s saving our membership a lot of money every year by being able to time shift the use of energy to very expensive time periods,” he said. Connexus’ members are interested in greener electricity, but most don’t want to pay more for it, Ridderbusch said. “Our solar arrays that we put in are less expensive than the cost of electricity that we buy from the grid,” he said. “So we’re doing both things that our members want.” About one-third of Minnesotans get their electricity from a rural electric cooperative. While Minnesota’s largest investor-owned utilities, including Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power, are increasing electric rates this year, some rural electric coops are holding rates steady.

And although rural co-ops in the past have depended heavily on electricity generated by fossil fuels, some are now embracing renewable energy, driven by the falling cost of wind and solar as well as the demands of their green-minded members. “We are moving to a much more green, sustainable grid, just like the rest of the energy industry is, and in many ways we’re leaders in doing that,” said Darrick Moe, CEO of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, which represents the state’s 50 rural electric co-ops. “At the same time, we’re keeping an eye on affordability.”

Bottom-up model

Rural electric cooperatives were formed back in the 1930s to bring electricity to rural areas, where 90% of farms and homes didn’t have it. Farmers joined together to purchase generators, transmission lines and other equipment to connect their homes and farms to power, said Gabriel Chan, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Unlike investor-owned utilities, rural electric co-ops are not-for-profit. They’re owned by their members, who elect a board of directors. What makes the co-op model unique is that its owners are also its customers, who are directly impacted by its decisions, Chan said. “I think what this has done is it’s created a real natural incentive to do things like install energy efficiency or demand response,” he said. Continued on page 26

Courtesy of Connexus Energy via MPR News Greg Ridderbusch, CEO of Connexus Energy. Connexus, Minnesota’s largest electric cooperative, recently announced it would be keeping electric rates flat for the fifth straight year. Minnesota has about 50 rural electric cooperatives that provide electricity to about one-third of the state’s residents.

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Evan Frost / MPR News file photo

The sun shines on a solar array owned by Connexus Energy in Ramsey in June 2019.

Continued from page 25

Clean energy future

Across Minnesota, rural electric co-ops vary greatly in size, geography and their willingness to adopt Those efforts include installing smart meters that allow renewable energy. members to track their energy use, or control water Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric built the state’s heaters so they operate at night, when electricity demand first community solar garden at its Rockford headquarters is lower. back in 2013. It’s since added more gardens, along with Connexus, for example, offers its members incentives to more options for members to participate. use less electricity during times of peak demand, like hot Bob Sandberg, Wright-Hennepin’s vice president of summer days. power supply and business development, said co-ops Connexus member Danika Peterson signed up for are able to move more quickly to develop new programs the program when she moved to Andover three years without having to get approval from the state Public ago. She gets a text alert notifying her when there’s an Utilities Commission, as investor-owned utilities do. upcoming peak time. “You’re able to create it, and the direct feedback is right The next day, she logs into her Wi-Fi-connected from your own membership — whether they are on board thermostat from work and adjusts the air conditioning a with it, they like it, are they participating,” Sandberg said. few degrees warmer. The following day, she gets an email Most rural co-ops get the majority of their electricity from Connexus telling her how much money she’s saved. from larger wholesale cooperatives. Those contracts Peterson likes the program because it saves money on typically limit the amount of power they’re able to her electric bill — about $200 over the past three summers generate themselves. — and it’s up to her to decide whether to participate. Connexus is one of 28 member co-ops that own She said her family members have experimented with Great River Energy, the state’s largest generation and unplugging different appliances to see how much they can transmission cooperative. reduce their electricity use. Great River Energy allows rural co-ops to self-produce “Sometimes it’s fun to see if we do this, how much will up to 5% of their energy, but Connexus would like to do more, Ridderbusch said. we save?” Peterson said. Page 26 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

Great River has a committee studying whether to increase that 5% cap, said spokesperson Therese LaCanne. In the meantime, Great River is moving away from electricity produced from fossil fuels — including selling its Coal Creek Station power plant in North Dakota — and seeking more renewable energy sources, said David Ranallo, director of communications, culture and member services. Ranallo said Great River is on track to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 80% by 2025. “Those sometimes difficult decisions to close plants or sell plants and reduce our output from them have (put) us on track to meet those carbon emission reductions ahead of many other utilities, and also are returning in spades with our rate forecast,” Ranallo said. But not all rural electric cooperatives have been able to stave off rate increases. Many are facing higher wholesale electricity costs and supply-chain issues related to COVID-19. Lake Country Power in northeast Minnesota is raising its electric rates for the first time in six years. A typical member will pay an extra $10 to $16 a month. General manager Mark Bakk said equipment is costing a third more on average than before the pandemic. “Copper wire that we have to buy is over 100% more than it was,” Bakk said. “A big item like a substation transformer that used to be $350,000 is over $500,000 now.” Bakk said other rural electric cooperatives are likely to

feel similar inflationary and pandemic-related pressures, if they haven’t already.

Seeking reforms

Because rural electric co-ops aren’t regulated the same way as bigger utilities, they’ve sometimes faced criticism for not engaging members enough, or being transparent about business decisions. Duane Ninneman is executive director of the Montevideo-based nonprofit Clean Up the River Environment, which has lobbied for rural co-op reforms. He said many members don’t even know they get their electricity from a co-op, or that they have a say in how it’s governed. But increasingly, co-op members are going to demand greater say in where their power comes from, and what they pay for it, Ninneman said. “The world of power generation is changing rapidly and dramatically,” he said. “And co-ops need to keep up with both the technology, but how they relate to the people that they serve.” And with the coming growth of electric vehicles, there’s a “huge opportunity” for co-ops to invest in the delivery of electricity for those vehicles and make sure rural residents aren’t left behind, Ninneman said. “Co-ops cover 85% of the geography in Minnesota,” he said. “They ought to be the drivers in creating that infrastructure and selling the electricity that powers transportation in Minnesota.”

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Photos by Emily Beal / Agweek John and Stephanie Jung have made both genetics and color a priority in their registered full-blood boer herd. Photo taken Jan. 18, 2022, in Mina, South Dakota.



ohn and Stephanie Jung have an eye for color in their livestock, raising a uniquely colored herd of boer goats as well as Red Angus cattle at Lazy J Bar Ranch, located in Mina, South Dakota. Stephanie Jung grew up around both sheep and goats and had a close connection to them all her life, prompting her and her husband, John, to buy a large commercial herd of boer goats in 2010. “In 2004 I was exposed to the boer goats and kind of fell in love with them and took the dive in 2010,” she said. Since that initial purchase over a decade ago, the pair have been steadily upgrading their herd by adding in cutting-edge genetics. They quickly began to fill their barns with boers and currently have a herd of 130 mature does as well as an array of bucks used in their breeding

Page 28 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

program on the ranch. Most of their does are full-blood registered boers. Stephanie knew she wanted to incorporate color into herd, but in the beginning found it difficult to do so without losing genetic soundness when purchasing colorful boers. However, after searching, the Jungs were able to find a source to purchase from that had exceptional genetics along with intriguing color. “I like to go against all odds I guess and have color. We raise Red Angus cattle as well, so having a red goat was probably at the top of my list,” Stephanie Jung said.“But, it was hard when we first started to find the quality in the goat.” The color is hard to miss when looking at their 2022 kid crop, from full red wethers to black spotted does, Lazy J

Bar Ranch is bursting with color. “Most of my herd has some color behind it … I always tell them it’s kind of like breeding horses, you never quite sure what flavor or color you’re going to get,” Stephanie Jung said. “It makes the kidding season a lot more fun.” The Jungs had quite the kidding season thus far in 2022, with around 120 kids hit the ground. Stephanie said this kidding season has been going extremely well, despite the challenging cold temperatures and vicious winds. The wethers and does that were born will be candidates for their annual sale, is held on the ranch each April. Most of the herd is marketed toward other registered or commercial breeders, but they keep a few does back to remain in their breeding program. The Jungs also sell their stock for youth to show in various circuits and their children have excelled in the fullblood registered classes and divisions around the state. “I think any time you can get kids involved in agriculture, it doesn’t matter if it’s playing in the dirt, in a barn full of animals or if you’re in the show world … get your kids involved,” Stephanie Jung said.

Lazy J Bar Ranch has an annual sale where they offer premium genetics along with their noteworthy color, as seen in this spotted doe kid. Photo taken Jan. 18, 2022, in Mina, South Dakota.

A black-and-white patterned kid from the 2022 kid crop cuddles up with its mother for warmth. Photo taken Jan. 18, 2022, in Mina, South Dakota.



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West Central Tribune – March 2022 – Page 29

Photos by Noah Fish / Agweek Andy Olsen and Tiffany Tripp on their farm in Faribault on Feb. 9, 2022.

DUCKS AND PIGS Former dairy farm finds a new purpose

By Noah Fish | Agweek


hen Tiffany Tripp moved back to the farm she grew up at in 2011, she didn’t realize just over a decade later she’d be running her own successful operation on it. Tripp and her husband, Andy Olsen, run Graise Farm in Faribault, where they raise a few hundred ducks for eggs, chickens for eggs and farrow-to-finish pastured pork. The couple started the farm in 2015. After pursuing a college degree in agricultural economics and Spanish, Tripp traveled the world before she returned to her family’s farmstead in 2011. From 1944 until 1998, the land where Graise Farm operates now was ran by Tripp’s family as a dairy. “My grandparents, and then my dad farmed here with my mom,” said Tripp.

Page 30 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

At the time she moved back, the farm was not being used for any operation, as her parents had retired from running the dairy in 1998. “Besides a couple of years of renting it out, it had sat empty for 15 years,” said Tripp. Tripp and Olsen, who didn’t grow up on a farm but was always passionate about animals, started their own operation in 2015. Tripp said they started farming initially to raise their own food. “We started with chicken eggs, because that was a natural kind of food that we were consuming,” she said. “We got our first laying hens actually at the end of 2014, right at the beginning of winter — and we started meeting with a fellow farmer to create our farm plan.”

MINNESOTA COUPLE BUILDS DUCK EGG AND PASTURED PORK OPERATION ON FORMER DAIRY FARM The following year, they started raising more laying hens, along with three feeder pigs, to raise and sell for meat as well as eat themselves. In 2016, Tripp said they started to branch out more, and became curious about also raising ducks on the farm for eggs as a protein source, along with the chickens and pigs. “We really knew very little — and it’s been a really exciting adventure, I would say,” said Tripp. They started with 30 ducks the first year, and today they raise about 450 laying ducks per year. The couple sells the duck eggs to people directly from their farm, occasionally at farmers markets but primarily at food co-ops across the Midwest.

Laying ducks at Graise Farm on Feb. 9 in Faribault.

Ducks for eggs

The 400-something flock of ducks on Feb. 9 became a bit more animated as Tripp entered the barn which they had built over the pandemic. Graise Farm ducks are fed certified organic grains, and the farm’s duck eggs are typically jumbo sized. Continued on page 32

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Tiffany Tripp, co-owner of Graise Farm and manager and founder of the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market, looks over their flock of a few hundred laying ducks on Feb. 9 in Faribault. Continued from page 31

The farm is exempt from licensing eggs under the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Eggs are collected daily, and then washed and inspected by the couple in a room inside of the barn which used to house a herd of dairy cows. Compared to chickens, ducks tend to be a bit more of a hassle to raise, said Olsen. But they also produce more. “They’re a lot messier,” he said. “They consume way more feed, consume way more bedding.” But he said, ducks are considered to be “prolific layers” and lay more eggs than chickens do. “They seem to have a longer season, and their lifespan for laying — and this is all just what we have witnessed— seems to be quite a bit longer than the chicken’s lifespan of laying an egg,” said Olsen. “There’s some pluses and minuses, but it’s all work in progress.” The ducks may be prolific layers, but not so much in the winter, said Tripp, when they “mostly stop laying eggs.” “Currently our ducks of about 400-plus are laying only three duck eggs a day,” she said. “By April, that number will be closer to 400 eggs per day.” Tripp said that people look for duck eggs for all different types of reasons. “There are people that look for duck eggs out of curiosity — some are curious cooks, and they’re looking to make something different,” said Tripp. “People that are looking for a high protein product will seek out duck eggs, because they’re higher in protein.” Page 32 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

Tiffany Tripp pets a pig at Graise Farm on Feb. 9 in Faribault.

She said that duck eggs typically have about 30% more nutrients than chicken eggs do. Tripp added that culturally, there are some areas in the world that eat more duck eggs. But a large number of their customers seek out duck eggs because it’s the only kind of egg they can eat. “Really the thing that we’ve learned the most in the last five or six years is people that are allergic to chicken eggs can sometimes eat duck eggs,” said Tripp. “So a large number of our customers are people that are seeking out other egg options.”

Pigs on pasture

Graise Farm raises pigs on the wooded pasture on their land, feeding them certified organic feed. The pigs currently being raised by the couple were born right before Christmas, so outdoor winter is the only life the herd knows, which Tripp said works well for them. Pigs can also take shelter in one of the insulated huts located on their paddocks.

Pigs at Graise Farm in Faribault on Feb. 9.

As Tripp stepped over a single strand of electric polywire on the afternoon of Feb. 9, an easygoing sow exited one of the huts to greet her, lifting its nose for a pet. Graise Farm pigs are accustomed to the same kinds of daily affection as their beloved pets get — belly scratches, pats and head rubs. Olsen said that raising pastured pigs requires collusion between the farmer and animal. By giving pigs at Graise Farm space to roam, shelter and daily checks on water and food, the couple has confidence the animals won’t break out from the fenced pasture. Even the highest capacity electric fence serves as no more than a psychological barrier for pigs, said Olsen, so it’s all about giving them the right environment, so they don’t want to leave. The couple sells hogs directly to consumers by the half or whole, and the price is based on the hanging weight. Olsen said the land they are farming is coming back to life through the animals they raise on it, particularly the pastured pigs. “We subscribe to the belief that with animals on the land, we can leave more biology behind, and actually maybe regenerate soil growth biology, instead of just take, take, take,” he said. “That was life changing — we never experienced it, and were never on a farm that had it.” Continued on page 34








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Andy Olsen stands in front of the old dairy barn now used to wash and package eggs at Graise Farm in Faribault on Feb. 9. Continued from page 33

He said before they started farming the land, it wasn’t being used to its potential. “There were no cows eating saplings, there was nobody cutting down trees and taking care of sumac,” he said. “(The pigs) go in, and they get rid of the buckthorn, they get rid of the sumac, they take down saplings that should be taken down.”

Becoming more efficient

Tripp said businesswise, since the beginning of their operation, they’ve experienced steady growth. “Now we’re looking at just probably leveling off, I would say, and really working on efficiency,” she said. “Just trying to make the farm sustainable for us as humans, and make it easier to farm versus having us do a lot of manual labor on a regular basis, because we’re not young anymore.” Olsen said that aspect is important because the land is still set up to be a dairy farm. “We don’t own a cow, so things are much more physically demanding than necessary,” he said “And we feel we can alleviate that issue, and so that’s what we would like to work towards, before any sustainable growth.” Tripp, who is also the founder of the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market, said the couple is happy to be part of such a vibrant agricultural region. “It’s a really lush area with a lot of really great products,’’ said Tripp of the Cannon Valley region. “I always tell Page 34 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

people if they are looking for a product that they can’t find, give me a call, because we’ll help you find somebody that’s raising or growing it.”

The flock of a few hundred laying ducks at Graise Farm on Feb. 9 in Faribault.



nside the rented garage of an unremarkable concrete-block building in a Moorhead industrial park, summer never ends. The interior temperature hovers at 80 degrees, even as piercing winds blow outside. The air smells earthy, organic and, to the untrained nostril, unidentifiable. (Spoiler alert: It’s cricket droppings.) And a symphony of male crickets — all sounding like tiny, off-key violins — keep creak, creak, creaking in their hopeful efforts to attract a willing mate. Welcome to Revier Family Farms. Here, Pat Revier and his nephew, Thomas Theilen, run what is arguably the community’s first and only cricket farm. Their days are filled with incubating, feeding, watering, packaging and shipping European household crickets, ranging from tiny “pinhead” babies to plump and stately adults. Last February, Pat and his wife, Madeline, first shared plans to raise crickets to be dried and ground into a

cricket “flour.” The high-protein, nutrientpacked flour is gaining popularity among high-performance athletes and some customers with gluten allergies. Just over a year later, the Reviers’ operation has grown to the equivalent of a bug bonanza farm, with over 1 million jumping Jiminies chirping, eating, mating and laying eggs in the 300 or so storage bins stacked atop three towering rows of wooden shelves. Wanted, dead or alive: crickets News of the Reviers’ new venture had already brought in pre-orders for cricket flour. But for them, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword, Pat says. On the one hand, it created the ideal opportunity for them to quit their jobs and set up a cricketopia. But on the other, the drying equipment needed to dehydrate crickets comes from China, which is already bogged down by material shortages and transportation jams. Continued on page 36

Photos by Tammy Swift / The Forum

Pictured above: Pat Revier shows off one of the European household crickets from Revier Family Farms.

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The Reviers want a specific type of insect-dryer that’s designed for high-speed results and smaller operations. They’ve now found a manufacturer in Canada to build a small-scale “microwave dryer” for them. In fact, cricket processing has grown so popular lately that the Canadian company told the Reviers they had received multiple requests recently to manufacture smaller dryers. The wait, they hope, will be worth it. The huge ovens that bigger companies use to dehydrate crickets can take 5-plus hours to complete the process. But a microwave dryer takes less space and can dehydrate a veritable heap of hoppers in 15 to 20 minutes. “We don’t have many people, so we have to use something that saves as much time as possible,” Pat says. Although their new manufacturer is closer to home,

it could take many months to build the specialized equipment. “We’ve got over a thousand pounds of crickets in the freezer right now that we can’t do anything with,” Pat says.

Leaping lunch for lizards

For now, the Reviers have pivoted by selling live crickets — either as live food for pet reptiles or as bait for fishermen. Pet geckos, bearded dragons, iguanas and axolotls are just a few of the pets that love a good cricket casserole. “We just kind of stumbled into this,” Pat says. “We had no intention of selling them live. But we had people coming to us because there’s a nationwide cricket and other feeder insect shortage. Pet stores are always running short.” Also, cricket farms often won’t ship crickets to Upper Midwest reptile-owners for fear they’ll freeze.

Pat Revier (left) and his nephew Thomas Theilen stand before the three towering wooden shelves that hold crickets of varying ages. Each bin is marked by birthdate so they can track where the insects are in their life cycle. Cricket farming may involve tiny livestock, but it requires lots of hands-on labor and oversight.

Page 36 – March 2022 – West Central Tribune

The storage space where the Reviers keep their crickets is kept at a balmy 80 degrees (or higher) in the wintertime. If temperatures get too cold, the insects won’t reproduce as much.

The Reviers are hoping to fill that niche and ship their crickets across the Upper Midwest. So how do they prepare their crickets for winter travel? Rather than invest in tiny earmuffs, the Reviers have perfected their packaging to include longer-lasting heat packs and ample room for air circulation. In fact, the Reviers have received rave reviews from pleased customers about the healthy hop in their hoppers. “If they have enough ventilation, space, food and water, they will stay healthy,” Pat says. Their crickets are fed a carefully balanced diet of soy, corn, wheat, blood meal, bone meal, brewer’s yeast and powdered milk, Pat says. It’s designed to not only raise chipper chirpers, but to also create a healthy food source for the reptiles who eat them. “This is one of the things that Madeline researched extensively,” Pat says. Their chirpy merch is also priced to move: A box of 100 live adults sells for $9, which is significantly below most retail prices. Pat estimates they fill about 10 orders per week, but have capacity to fill many more.

Pat Revier with one of the cricket bins. Each bin contains stacks of egg cartons, where the crickets like to retreat to hide. Crickets are actually territorial creatures: The males will fight if they don’t have enough personal space.

Continued on page 38

Thank you to our loyal customers & Welcoming new ones. We Appreciate Your Business. Kim's Electric has been providing quality work, fair prices and prompt service for 41 years. Our services include residential, agricultural, commercial, underground repair, digging, aerial work & 24 hour emergency service.

Eric: 320.894.3987 Kim: 320.894.5244 Office: 320.978.6841

West Central Tribune – March 2022 – Page 37

Continued from page 37

Initially, the couple relied on word-of-mouth for their sales, but plan to grow name recognition and increase revenue via a new website with online store, created by Pat’s brother-in-law, Shawn Hagen of Simple Website Creations. Yet another family member is lending them marketing expertise: Mike Brevik of CyberDogz, who is married to Pat’s niece, has connected them to a Google Ads expert who is helping develop an online strategy to drive more traffic to their site.

Settling the bait debate

In efforts to create another revenue stream, Pat is working with a local fishing guide to see if they can popularize the concept of using crickets as bait for winter fishing. One reservation among bait sellers is that crickets are great for catching crappies and other panfish in summer, but aren’t something fish would naturally consume in the winter. But Pat points out that wax worms are consistently used for wintertime fishing, even though they wouldn’t be naturally available to fish when the coldest season hits. Now the Reviers are waiting with baited breath to see how the guide’s wintertime fishing with crickets turns out. Pat says he would love to prove first hand that fish crave crickets year round, but he’s been too busy caring for and corralling the jumpy critters.

The family pet, “Tammy,” looks on with interest as Pat Revier shows off a batch of his wife’s popular chocolate chip cookies. Madeline Revier replaced about 1/3 cup of the flour in the recipe with high-protein cricket flour with no discernable difference in taste, appearance or texture.

“I haven’t had a whole lot of time to go fishing lately,” he says, wryly. Orders can be placed through or @revierfamilyfarms on Facebook.

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