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MARCH | 2021

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Fall Magazine Publishing Saturday, November 6th, 2021

Table of Contents Farm diversification and creativity.............................5 High-tech poultry equipment growth....................10 Plant-based beverages and cows............................14 Farmers’ mental health and COVID........................16 A challenge for cattle producers...............................18 Student base growing in ag classes...................... 22 Field-to-pantry business success........................... 26 Cats and a new use for field peas...........................30 Road to recovery after farm accident.................... 32 Fight against food insecurity..................................... 37 PUBLISHER: Steve Ammermann EDITOR: Kelly Boldan MAGAZINE EDITOR: Sharon Bomstad AD MANAGER: Christie Steffel MAGAZINE DESIGNER: Jamie Hoyem

A publication of West Central Tribune, March 2021 2208 W. Trott Ave, Willmar MN | www.wctrib.com 320.235.1150 Content from West Central Tribune staff and Forum News Service.

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To advertise in our next edition contact Christie Steffel at csteffel@wctrib.com or 320-214-4317 West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 3


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Photos by Erica Dischino Gene Gatewood gives his dog a pet Jan. 13 on his family farm in rural Kandiyohi County.

OLD-FASHIONED FARMING

Rural Kandiyohi County farm features diversification and creativity of agriculture

By Carolyn Lange | clange@wctrib.com “Just a regular old farm,” is how Gene Gatewood describes his family-owned dairy, livestock and little-bitof-everything farm south of Kandiyohi. “We stay busy,” said Gatewood, with an easy awshucks-kind-of-grin. It’s clearly an understatement for the third-generation farmer, who milks nearly 70 cows in a tie-stall barn and raises beef, sheep and chickens for on-thefarm sales of meat and eggs in a side venture called “Grandpa’s Granary.” There’s also a couple goats, a donkey, a mini-horse and a pair of peacocks thrown into the mix, purely for fun. “Just plain and simple, it’s the enjoyment of having the animals is the biggest thing out of it,” said Gatewod of the menagerie. “Do we need some of them? No. But they’re fun.” The family brings the farm to town by selling their beef, lamb and chickens at the seasonal Farmers Market in Willmar, and they host a variety of unique activities that bring people to the farm. Every Memorial Day weekend, youth from Svea Lutheran Church help the Gatewoods sweep out loose hay from the massive haymow for a community square

Grandpa’s Granary is owned by the Gatewood family at their family farm in rural Willmar.

dance that attracts nearly 150 people. With a professional “caller” giving instructions for the Virginia Reel and line dances, the stomping of the dancers up above in the haymow doesn’t bother the content dairy cows in the stalls below, said Gatewood. “Getting the barn cleaned out for a dance is a lot of work. Continued on page 6

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 5


Continued from page 5

“But it’s fun,” said Gatewood. Because of COVID-19, they couldn’t hold the barn dance in 2020 so, instead, they tried something new and cooked up 50 pounds of their homegrown brisket and offered a one-day-on-the-farm-drive-through meal with a sandwich, chips and bottle of water. It was another way to have contact with people during the quarantine and another way to give people a farm-to-table experience. Hosting events on the farm helps create a sense of “community,” said Jordan Gatewood, who works fulltime on the farm with his dad. “It’s something we really enjoy doing,” he said. “We’re always thinking. Always coming up with something else.”

Expanding sideways

Given the farm’s modest size of 300 acres (200 tillable and 100 in pasture land), the variety of animals they raise and their diversified sources of farm income, Gene Gatewood is correct

Kristi Gatewood, left, and Gene Gatewood open the large refrigerator where they store their farm fresh meat products at Grandpa’s Granary on the family farm.

in calling their family operation a “regular old farm.” It’s a style of family farm that was plentiful 50 to 60 years ago. “Farms like this are few and far between now,” he said. “But there’s still small farms around.”

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With one full-time employee and another young man who helps occasionally with milking cows, the family does most of the work themselves. “We try to keep it so we can manage it on our own, versus relying

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on hired help,” said Gene. “My hope is that there gets to be more small farms versus bigger and Cows are just some of the bigger and bigger.” many animals that are at the Because it’s difficult to compete with large Gatewood family farm. farms when it comes to purchasing land and expanding with additional acreage, Gatewood said his family has opted to find ways to expand in different ways. “That’s why we started selling the meat,” he said. Besides raising their own heifer replacements for the dairy side of the business, they raise about 20 steers for meat. Using local processors, they butcher about one or two steers a month to ensure they have a steady supply of hamburger and different cuts of beef their customers like. Roasts are popular in the winter and steaks are big sellers in the summer. There was a stretch when they couldn’t meet the demand for cow cheeks and tongue. They have a flock of about 20 Dorset sheep, and butcher three or four every year into different cuts of mutton, which attracts a gradually increasing customer base in the region. Every summer they raise about 200 broiler chickens that are professionally processed and sold primarily as whole fryers.

Chickens are another one of the many animals at the family farm.

Continued on page 9

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 7


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Page 8 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune


This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for us. – JORDAN GATEWOOD

Jordan, left, and Kristi Gatewood share a moment with Gene Gatewood on their family farm. Gene is a third-generation farmer who hopes to pass the farm on to the fourth generation. Continued from page 7

A chicken coop with about 70 chickens that lay every shade of brown, green and blue eggs provides the farm with a steady supply of fresh eggs that are sold, but during times of surplus they are often given away as a bonus when a customer buys several pounds of meat. Because of the “panic buying” early in the pandemic, the Gatewoods sold so much meat off the farm they didn’t go to any Farmers Markets. “People like to come here,” said Gene Gatewood. “Half the fun of selling meat is talking to people. That’s the neatest part.” After people eat the locally raised meat for the first time, they’re hooked. “They come back and say, ‘Man, that was the best stuff we’ve ever had,’” said Jordan. “That’s the rewarding part. You can’t get that with these bigger farms.” Freezers in a building that has a “Grandpa’s Granary” sign hanging over the door, are currently stocked with a variety of cuts.

While there’s usually someone to fill orders for drop-in customers, calling ahead or placing orders online is preferred. Milking cows twice a day – at 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. – takes up the bulk of the work day. Keeping a touch of the oldfashioned farm style, the Gatewoods have several corn cribs filled with dried ear corn that’s incorporated into the ground feed mix. It’s more work to harvest, store and grind ear corn, but Gene Gatewood said the extra effort is better for the health of his animals.

Next generation

As a third-generation farmer, Gene Gatewood hopes the farm will pass onto the fourth generation. “It’s just a blast to work with the kids, work with Shelly,” said Gene of working with his wife and family. “I’ve worked with my grandpa, I’ve worked with my dad, I’ve worked with Jordan and I think that’s really important. I like that part of it,” he said. Jordan, and his wife, Kristi, live on the other side of the pasture and

are hoping to become the fourth generation to operate the farm. “I don’t see why not,” said Kristi, when asked if she thinks there’s a future for them on the small farm. “It’s worked so far,” said Jordan, who has a degree in dairy management from Ridgewater College in Willmar. “I love the farm life and I don’t see us doing anything else.” The young couple, who got married in 2019, say the combination of working hard on the farm, doing things to create a sense of community that brings consumers closer to the roots of agriculture and the satisfaction of producing the food that they – and others – need makes it worthwhile. “This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for us,” said Jordan. Carolyn Lange is an agricultural and features writer with the West Central Tribune in Willmar.

Carolyn Lange

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 9


NOVA-TECH SEES CONTINUED GROWTH

COVID didn’t slow business in the global poultry equipment industry

By Carolyn Lange | clange@wctrib.com

A

ndrew Gomer’s well-used passport, which documented his frequent visits to places like Malaysia and Thailand, has been collecting dust since the COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel last year. The same is true for his co-workers at Nova-Tech Engineering, the Willmar-based company that develops, manufactures, leases and services poultry equipment around the world.

Known for their robotic equipment that administers vaccinations and hatchling treatments to day-old poultry for commercial markets, Nova-Tech does business throughout the United States and in 58 other countries. Before COVID, Gomer, who is the business development manager at Nova-Tech, typically spent about one-third of his work time developing new business markets and training existing team members throughout Asia.

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Aaron Madsen, the global business director at Nova-Tech, spent most of his time in China, and Photo courtesy of John Schlagel, the customer service manager, Andrew Gomer covered countries like Germany, Italy, Australia and As the business New Zealand. development manager at But during the pandemic they’ve been stuck Nova-Tech Engineering, Andrew Gomer’s passport working from the Nova-Tech offices, located on was well-used prior to the MinnWest Campus in Willmar, or from their COVID-19 as he visited home offices. customers around the globe. Even though the pandemic put a stop to NovaTech’s international travel visits, the tech-heavy company was able to use its existing technology to create a smooth transition to a virtual format to maintain constant communication with worldwide customers. Data connection While some companies decreased their workforce To service their equipment during the pandemic, Nova-Tech actually grew in 2020 and diagnose breakdowns, Nova-Tech has always had and continues to hire more people – locally and abroad. the capability of having someone in Willmar log into On top of that, the company is looking to expand its reach equipment at hatcheries on the other side of the world to from poultry to shrimp. resolve problems. Technology is a key component to that growth. “I’ve even done it from airplanes where I’ve logged in “We were really a connected company before COVID to a hatchery and did trouble-shooting somewhere over showed up,” said Schlagel. Russia years ago,” said Gomer. “So as long as we have “So for us to transition to being totally a remote a stable data connection you can log in and view our company was not a big stretch for us,” he said. “It’s just machines and their performance.” something that we were used to and we brought a lot of that technology to our customers.” Continued on page 12

Photo courtesy of Nova-Tech Josephine Hudoba and Pablo Rubio conduct a virtual training webinar from the Nova-Tech facility in Willmar with three clients, including two from Chile and one from Colombia.

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 11


Shelby Groen

Employee Development Specialist

Aaron Madsen Global Business Director

Continued from page 11

During the pandemic, they’ve increased their use of technology by creating a lab in the service tech department to create a studio with lights, multiple cameras, microphones and other “techy” equipment. The two-way visual connection is used to teach customers how to install equipment, said Schlagel. “We have multiple camera shots and they can see what we’re doing and they can emulate exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” he said. “It’s been a learning experience for us and our customers, and every time we do another installation we learn a little bit more,” he said. The company is exploring using “augmented reality” and “mixed reality” technology, which creates an interactive experience that makes it seem like you’re on location with the equipment right in front of you. Because it’s unknown when they’ll be able to physically return to other countries, Madsen said it’s hoped NovaTech can “leverage the more advanced technology that almost puts us there at our customer’s site.” Some customers are located in remote, mountainous areas where reliable internet service isn’t available, which requires delivering training in different ways, such as paper manuals and training videos that’s on the equipment. “We try to cover every possible angle and channel for communicating with people. We all learn differently. It’s very important,” said Gomer. “When you find a road block, you don’t stop, you just keep finding a path until you find something that works.” The company is also using the old-fashion boots on the ground method during the pandemic using their international employees. During the last several years Nova Tech has hired 21 international employees, including 16 in China. Page 12 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune

John Schlagel Customer Service Manager

Andrew Gomer Business Development Manager

Having international employees on one side of the globe is part of the growth at Nova-Tech, where there’s a growing number of employees being hired for every sector at the Willmar facility including people who engineer, build and repair the equipment and the account representatives who are in constant contact with customers in the U.S. and any one of the 58 countries were Nova-Tech has clients.

New growth

As the employee development specialist at Nova-Tech, Shelby Groen is constantly developing programs to enhance skills of existing employees and is looking to fill open positions – locally and globally – as the company expands its product lines and market areas. In March of 2020 the company had 235 employees.

Image courtesy of Nova-Tech Nova-Tech does business throughout the United States and in 58 other countries.


We try to cover every possible angle and channel for communicating with people. We all learn differently. It’s very important. When you find a road block, you don’t stop, you just keep finding a path until you find something that works. – ANDREW GOMER, business development manager, Nova-Tech Engineering

They’re now at 260. They need more. “We’re growing like crazy. We’re hiring,” she said. The primary challenge is finding people with the right skills. Nova-Tech has teamed up with Ridgewater College in Willmar and the University of Minnesota to create a new poultry program that includes a multi-level education for a variety of poultry careers and has donated manufacturing equipment for Ridgewater programs. They also offer internships and support a high school program that exposes students to manufacturing. During the pandemic, they’ve used virtual job fairs and interviews over ZOOM. With its partnerships with industries, such as poultry genetics and poultry pharmaceutical companies, NovaTech’s primary focus has been on improving the health of poultry. “A lot of our focus is what’s best for the bird,” said Madsen. But with a larger goal of enhancing agriculture and “feeding the world,” Nova-Tech is now on the verge of expanding into aquaculture. They’ve been working with local domestic shrimp producers, including Tru Shrimp, and are in the process of developing equipment for processing shrimp for consumption. That could include tasks such as deveining shrimp as part of processing domestically-raised shrimp for consumer sales. Adding shrimp to the mix is a different “language” for the company, but Madsen said it’s exciting to be “on the cusp” of what could be a significant domestic shrimp industry. “It’s really cool to be part of that timing,” he said. It’s anticipated that Nova-Tech’s shrimp technology and equipment would also be marketed globally. Madsen said more than 70% of Nova-Tech’s revenue from poultry customers comes from “outside the United States” and he expects that model to be replicated for the shrimp business. He said that revenue comes back to Willmar and has a significant impact on the local economy. Nova-Tech is also working on other first-generation technology for other agriculture sectors that Madsen

called “new-to-the-world-solutions” that could improve supply chains for other products. “This is state of the art, novel technology, that will change sectors,” said Gomer. “And with that comes immense opportunities for the employees of the company, as well as the community, to succeed.”

Photo courtesy of Nova-Tech Nova-Tech Engineering in Willmar uses technology to teach customers around the world how to use their poultry equipment. Despite not being able to travel because of COVID-19, the company’s use of technology is allowing Nova-Tech to grow during the pandemic.

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 13


PLANT-BASED BEVERAGES CUTTING INTO SALE OF COW’S MILK, REPORT FINDS By Johnathan Knutson | Forum News Service

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lant-based beverage alternatives are cutting into sales of cow’s milk, but aren’t a major factor in the long-standing decline in American consumption of traditional milk, according to a new report from the Economic Research Service, or ERS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Grocery store shelves and refrigerated cases offer a variety of nondairy beverages with package labels that include the word ‘milk.’ Industry statistics show almondbased products are the most popular. Also available are cashew, pea, soy and rice options, among others,” according to the report. Further, “Sales of plant-based milk alternatives are contributing to — but not a primary driver of— declining sales of cow’s milk,” according to the report, which also found that “cow’s milk remains a staple food item.” In 2013, American households consumed an average 0.4 gallons of fluid cow’s milk and 0.028 gallons of plantbased beverage per week. In 2017, the last year for which data was included in the ERS report, average household consumption per week stood at 0.359 gallons of cow’s milk, a 12% decline, and 0.038 gallons of plant-based beverage, a 36% increase. The report’s findings are not unexpected, said Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. “I don’t think it’s a surprise as people get more (shopping) choices,” he said. Unfortunately, some consumers mistakenly believe that nondairy products with “milk” on the label “is the same stuff” as dairy. “These alternatives are here to stay, (although) we would prefer them not calling themselves milk. They’re definitely a viable competitor, but so is bottled water, soda and many other things,” said Sjostrom, a dairy farmer himself. He noted that consumers “buying plant-based products are doing so based on health, special diet and environmental concerns.” In contrast, consumers purchase dairy for “reasons such as flavor, texture, quality, familiarity, affordability and health.”

Page 14 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune

“It is important to note that health is less of a purchase driver when comparing milk buyers to plant-based buyers,” Sjosrom said. He cited a recent survey with data on consumers who buy either dairy milk or plant-based beverages, but not both. In the survey, 56.4% of respondents said cow’s milk was a “habitual purchase” and 53.7% said Lucas Sjostrom “they like the taste” of cow’s milk, while 33.3% said they bought plantbased beverages as part of a vegan diet and 30.4% said they bought alternatives because of allergies/sensitivities. Though Americans have been drinking less fluid cow’s milk on a per-person basis since the 1940s, the rate of decline has risen in recent years, partly the result of plant-based alternatives. Between 1995 and 2009, ERS data show that the per-person U.S. supply of cow’s milk available for consumption fell at an average annual rate of 1%. From 2010 to 2017, per capita availability fell at an average rate of almost 2.5% a year, according to the report. Nonetheless, cow’s milk remains common in Americans’ diets. In 2017, 92% of American households bought it, and even 90% of households that bought plant-based alternatives also bought cow’s milk, the report found.

Other dairy products

Though cow’s milk sales are slipping, “I don’t feel we’re anywhere near falling off a cliff,” Sjostrom said. About 340 million gallons of plant-based alternatives are consumed annually, while about 3.2 billion gallons of cow’s milk are consumed, he said. Because the plant-based alternatives started off with relatively low sales, even a modest increase in consumption of them leads to a relatively large percentage increase in sales, he said. “You can gain a lot of market share on a percentage basis when you’re starting at low numbers,” he said.


Consumption milk continues to decline, but the decline is only partially due to increases in consumption of plant-based beverages.

Matt Gade / Forum News Service

Though many Americans are drinking less milk, “They’re rather than just an individual product (milk).” eating it through cheese and other items,” he said. “For us At the same time, the milk industry continues to look as dairy farmers and those who work for dairy farmers, it’s for ways to innovate and boost fluid milk consumption, going to be the total volume and the value of that volume he said.

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West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 15


COVID-19 TAKES HEAVY TOLL ON FARMERS’ MENTAL HEALTH By Carolyn Lange | clange@wctrib.com

C

OVID-19 is taking a toll on the mental health of American farmers and farm workers. According to a national survey of 2,000 individuals, conducted in December by the American Farm Bureau poll, a majority of rural adults and farmers/ farm workers said the pandemic has impacted their mental health and more than half said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were since the farm advocacy organization conducted its first rural mental health survey in 2019. “My takeaway from this survey is that the need for support is real and we must not allow lack of access or a ‘too tough to need help’ mentality to stand in the way,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“We are stepping-up our efforts through our Farm State of Mind campaign, encouraging conversations about stress and mental health and providing free training and resources for farm and ranch families and rural communities,” said Duvall. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture also offers access to free, confidential resources through the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline. The hotline, which is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, is available by calling 833-600-2670, texting “farmstress” to 898211 or emailing farmstress@state.mn.us “The pandemic added a mountain of stress to an already difficult year for farmers and they need to know that sometimes it’s OK not to be OK, that people care, and that there’s help and hope,” said Duvall.

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A recent national survey shows a majority of rural adult farmers and farm workers said the pandemic has impacted their mental health and more than half said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges.

Key findings from the survey: ► Two in three farmers/farmworkers (66%) say the pandemic has impacted their mental health. ► Half of rural adults (53%) say the pandemic has impacted their mental health at least some, while 44% say it has not impacted their mental health much or at all. ► Younger rural adults were more likely than older rural adults to say the pandemic has significantly impacted their mental health. ► Farmers and farmworkers were 10% more likely

than rural adults as a whole to have experienced feeling nervous, anxious or on edge during the pandemic (65% vs. 55%). ► The percentage of farmers/farmworkers who say social isolation impacts farmers’ mental health increased 22% since April 2019, a significant finding given the long hours many farmers work alone. ► Half of rural adults (52%) aged 18-34 say they have thought more about their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than other age groups.

‘IT’S OKAY TO TALK ABOUT THIS’ By Emily Beal | Agweek Staff Writer

T

he landscape of agriculture has been full of uncertainties and challenges. During the 2021 American Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual convention, a panel discussed the trying times seen in the industry, how they affect mental health, and how to respond to the challenge. “This certainly is an important topic in rural America right now. Trade wars, bankruptcies, coronavirus, weather disasters, low commodity prices. All of these added burdens are weighing heavily on the shoulders of America’s farmers and ranchers, a burden that too many of our friends and neighbors carry alone,” said Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of Colorado Farm Bureau. For a large number of farmers and ranchers, the fear of losing the farm takes a toll on their mental state and causes much anxiety, the panelists said.. For many ranchers and farmers, the operation they have taken over has been in the family for many generations, and they worry about being the one farmer, the one generation, that loses the farm. That is a terrifying and lingering thought that many producers must face daily, panelists said. Marshal Sewell, a field sales representative for Bayer Crop

Science, recounted his own experience of his father dealing with that very thought. “There’s a long history and a long legacy of farming in my family. As we were beginning to approach the harvest season during my senior year, we found out there was a disease outbreak in our strawberries. We ended up having a crop failure instead of a crop harvest. For my father, it felt like the best decision was to take his own life. In having so many years to reflect on it, I think there is a lot to do with the pressure of carrying on the multigenerational operation, knowing that that legacy was there and maybe not wanting to let his family down,” Sewell said. Another obstacle is the negative stigma around needing or asking for help with one’s mental health. “We have to feel like it’s OK to talk about this. That’s the problem I struggled with. My parents are in their early 80s, and this is a subject that you just don’t talk about. This is a subject that we have to talk about. We need to shut the stigma and that it is OK to talk about depression,” said Randy Roecker, owner of Roecker’s Rolling Acres LLC.

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 17


OPEN COWS A CONCERN

Another challenge for cattle producers already dealing with tough market conditions

By Michelle Rook | Forum News Service

S

outh Dakota cattle producers already dealing with tough conditions marked by the COVID-19 market meltdown have another issue with which to contend: their third year of low conception rates in cow herds. The rate of open cows just in the south-central part of the state is running from 20% to 50%, depending on the operation, which is much higher than normal. Cody Moore is a cattle producer and co-owner of Winner Livestock Auction. He says the poor breed back in the herds has been reflected in their sales the last couple of months, with more weigh-up cows being sold. He says it’s a trend they are finding at many of the sale barns in central and western South Dakota. “I don’t know if it was because of the weather the last couple of years, which took a toll on the cows, but it seems like there’s a lot more open cows. Maybe a lot of people didn’t sell their older cows last year, but it seems like we’ve sure had a lot of weigh-ups in the last couple months.” He thinks it may also be tied to more producers breeding heifers as he cites their heifer runs were much lighter than normal after the first part of 2020. Frank Volmer is also an owner at Winner Livestock Auction. He blames the poor conception rates on the cows being under more stress, tied to weather. “I still think it goes back to two winters ago. We had a terrible tough winter and them cows just didn’t make it through in very good and then last summer we got pretty dry at the wrong time and so cattle were not in very good condition,” he says. Moore concurs: “The last couple springs have been awful wet out in this country and I don’t know if that had a toll on them during the breeding season, then getting hot and it did get kind of dry out here in the later summer.” Volmer says it also has to do with the fall feeding program cows have undergone the last couple of years. With the open weather, producers try to save on feed costs by having cows graze on lower quality cornstalks as long as they can. He says that is contributing to their poor body condition as they go into the breeding season. “If the cows go downhill of course they don’t breed as well, and they don’t raise their calf as well. Page 18 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune

Now days, the combines we have are so good that they don’t leave much corn behind. So, I feel a person has to mange their cornstalks a lot more now than they used to have to,” he says. The tight margins in the cattle business the last few years has, according to Moore, forced more producers to put cows on stalks or pasture for a longer period of time. He says that is true even this year with abundant feed supplies in the Tripp County area. “There’s hardly any cows getting fed in this area. There’s a lot of feed, a lot of cows you see out grazing either on cornstalks or they got any roughage that’s out there you know they’re still grazing them out as long as they can,” he says.

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I don’t know if it was because of the weather the last couple of years, which took a toll on the cows, but it seems like there’s a lot more open cows. Maybe a lot of people didn’t sell their older cows last year, but it seems like we’ve sure had a lot of weigh-ups in the last couple months. – CODY MOORE, cattle producer and co-owner of Winner Livestock Auction

During the tough winters Moore also contends the hay probably wasn’t high enough in feed quality for the cows either. They needed more protein in the diet and so their body condition suffered. Moore says other areas of cattle country that are being affected by the expanding drought are likely to see more open cows in the future.

He says they have a shortage of feed in those areas, which is reflected in the large amounts of hay they’ve been selling at their auction the last two months and shipping to those areas. Producers in those areas are likely to see more open cows in the future. The end result will be a smaller calf inventory in 2021 and maybe beyond.

Michelle Rook / Forum News Service Winner Livestock Auction has seen more weigh-up cows come through the ring this year, a reflection of poor conception rates in cow herds.

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 19


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Photos by Erica Dischino A combine simulator is one of the many technologies used to train agriculture students at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

NON-FARM STUDENTS

Growing student base in ag program at Ridgewater College

By Carolyn Lange | clange@wctrib.com

B

ryce Thompson makes no bones about being a bonafide city kid. “I don’t come from a traditional farm family,” said Thompson, who grew up “in the heart of downtown Buffalo.” Other than occasional trips to his late grandfather’s small farm on the outskirts of Albertville, Thompson said he had no real exposure to agriculture. But after going to his first FFA meeting as a junior in high school, Thompson fell in love with agriculture. “I really enjoyed what they (FFA) had to offer,” he said. “I found my niche and just took off.”

A combine simulator is one of the many technologies used to train agriculture students at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Thompson enrolled in the ag program at Ridgewater College in the fall of 2019. He graduates this spring with a double major in ag business – with an emphasis in crops – and GPS/GIS technology.

Page 22 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune

That’s the latest in Global Positioning System and Geographic Information Systems technology. Using photography skills he honed at Ridgewater, the city kid spent last fall capturing the local harvest in photos. Attracting students without a farm background is becoming more common for Ridgewater’s Ag Department, said Tammy Howe, who was hired late last year to fill a newly created position as coordinator for the ag department at Ridgewater College. In the past, the ag department typically drew students with a strong farm background. But Howe said there is a growing number of


students who didn’t grow up on farms, don’t have the skill-sets acquired with that background and yet want a career in agriculture. A model pig displays various There’s “great potential talent” in students muscle groups for agriculture who didn’t grow up on a farm and may not students to learn about at the Ridgewater College campus have the basic knowledge of farm life, yet love in Willmar. agriculture and want an ag-based career. “That’s the student we want to look at,” said Howe. That means redesigning curriculum and developing innovative programs to provide those skills to students so they can fill jobs for industries that are “craving” well-trained ag students. “I’m excited to take a look at the programs we’re offering here and see how we can expand them,” said Howe. Howe said, for example, a combine simulator is now part of the program’s teaching tools to let students have hands-on experience with operating new harvest technology in a safe environment, she said. “We’re always looking into innovations and new programs for our students,” said Howe, including giving students who didn’t grow up on a farm the classes and hands-on opportunities they need to acquire the type of skills that may come second-nature to farm kids. Morgan Mandel fits that bill. The graduate of Annandale High School didn’t grow up on a farm and didn’t know the lingo when she began taking classes in Ridgewater’s ag Tammy Howe, agriculture department in the fall of 2019. department coordinator at “I didn’t know what a bushel was,” said Ridgewater College, poses Mandel. And “anything involving a tractor” was for a photo outside of the department on the like a foreign language. “I was completely lost in Willmar campus. shop class.” But Mandel, who’d helped a family member on their dairy farm when she was a kid and decided she wanted a hands-on career in agriculture, enrolled in the ag department at Ridgewater.

A hydraulics training system is used for agriculture students to learn about hydraulics used in farm equipment at the Ridgewater College campus in Willmar.

Continued on page 25

Photo courtesy of Liz Drevlow Bryce Thompson, a selfdescribed “city kid” from Buffalo is graduating this spring from the agriculture program at Ridgewater College in Willmar with degrees in ag business and GPS and GIS science.

Morgan Mandel

Bryce Thompson West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 23


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Tammy Howe, agriculture department coordinator at Ridgewater College, poses for a photo inside an agriculture classroom at the Willmar campus. Continued from page 23

“I made it clear to all my teachers I didn’t come from a farm, but it was my interest as a career,” said Mandel. She said the teachers were available for private help and made accommodations for projects – like assignments that involved a student using information from their own family farms – for her and other nonfarm students. “I absolutely loved it,” said Mandel of Ridgewater’s Ag Program. Mandel graduates this fall with degrees in dairy management and ag business. With internships at a dairy farm and artificial insemination co-op under her belt, Mandel said her goal is to stay in the Willmar area and work at a large dairy, possibly managing a calf barn.

Recruitment and partnerships Besides working to tailor ag classes to meet students where they are at, the Ridgewater College Agriculture Department is also putting a new focus on recruiting students and building relationships with ag industry partners. As coordinator for the department, Howe will also help organize ag department events and develop innovative programs to meet the changing needs of students and the ag business community.

Howe comes to the job with a long career history in ag communications and marketing and a strong personal background in boots-on-theground agriculture. She grew up on a dairy farm near Willmar and she and her husband currently operate a dairy operation near Hutchinson, where they milk registered Holsteins. She’ll use her experiences as a farmer and an ag business communicator to fill out the responsibilities of the new job, which she said will continue to evolve as more needs are identified in the department. Some of the initial responsibilities include recruiting students and organizing events hosted by the ag department, such as the regional high school FFA skills competition and the annual ag business fair that provides opportunities for students to explore ag education and ag careers.

Ag careers

Howe said the value of a two-year ag education continues to be strong, whether it’s a degree in handson farm operations that prepares students to go back to the family farm, or an ag business degree that equips students for a wide range of jobs, like agronomy, precision agriculture and ag sales. “There are so many opportunities and so many careers out there,” she said.

Despite COVID-19’s impact on education, Howe said Ridgewater’s ag department is strong, with high student interest and a demand from ag businesses looking for trained employees. Howe said COVID-19 caused a “slight decline” in student enrollment but the numbers are on par with what other colleges are experiencing. The vet tech program, which is also part of the ag department, is seeing robust enrollment with students on a wait list, she said. Thompson has high praise for Ridgewater, the education he’s getting and his internship with a seed company. “Ridgewater’s ag program is great,” said Thompson. “Our teachers are just flawless.” Using his ag business education — and desire to be an entrepreneur — Thompson said he plans to open a nutrition club business after he graduates but he hasn’t ruled out a future career in seed sales. With an eye for the art of agriculture, Thompson said he’ll also continue taking photos of farm families at work. Carolyn Lange is an agricultural and features writer with the West Central Tribune in Willmar.

Carolyn Lange

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 25


TAKING THE WHEAT FROM FIELD TO PANTRY By Katie Pinke and Jenny Schlecht | Forum News Service

G

rowing up, the Sproule sisters didn’t necessarily spend a lot of time in the tractors on their family farm in northeastern North Dakota, though they spent some summers working as “gofers” or helping move equipment or bringing meals to the fields. But the farm was always close to their hearts and minds. After time in Minneapolis-St. Paul for college, all three gradually moved back. “I think, when you grow up in North Dakota, you always have a connection to the farm,” said Grace Lunski, 25 and the youngest of the three sisters. Lunski and sisters Annie Gorder, 31, and Mollie Ficocello, 29, now play a variety of integral roles on the farm, not the least of which is a new effort to market crops from “field to pantry.” The sisters recently launched Three Farm Daughters, which takes the GoodWheat variety grown on the farm and transforms it into products like flour and pasta. The company’s tagline, “No fillers, no dyes, no lies,” explains how they want their products to be seen. “These are the attributes and the nutrition that we want to eat and feed our families,” Ficocello said. But even more than that, the sisters see their business

and story as ways to show the picture of modern agriculture and provide consumers the transparency they’re looking for about their food. “This was grown on our field. We put the seed in the field,” Gorder said. “This is what we did to bring it and raise it, and then we brought it to the elevator, the North Dakota Mill, and and we milled it, and now we’re bringing it to your pantry.”

One quarter at a time

Paul Sproule grew up working on his uncle’s farm in northeastern North Dakota, and he built Sproule Farms from scratch. “He started one quarter at a time,” Gorder said. In that time, Sproule wasn’t just raising crops but also his daughters. All three left Grand Forks to attend Bethel University in St. Paul. Gorder focused on finance and real estate, and she got a Master of Business Administration. Today, she and her husband run The Farm Agency, a farm auction agency. After Bethel, Ficocello completed law school at the University of North Dakota. And Lunski focused on human resources, communication and entrepreneurship; she started a cosmetics company at age 19 and also received an MBA. All three brought their skills back to the farm as they married and started their families.

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Photos by Trevor Peterson Annie Gorder, Grace Lunski and Mollie Ficocello created Three Farm Daughters, a food company that uses ingredients from their family farm in Grand Forks, N.D.

Today, the Sproule operation is a large Red River Valley farm that grows sugarbeets, wheat, durum, hemp for grain, soybeans, corn, edible beans and potatoes. The farm has received Global Good Agricultural Practices certification, a designation that means they’ve had all aspects of their farm, from their agronomic The Three Farm Daughters practices to how they treat employees, audited line of pastas are made of semolina flour and water. and approved. A recent addition to the lineup is GoodWheat. Ficocello explains her father learned about GoodWheat and the company that created it, Arcadia Biosciences. She flew with him to Davis, Calif., to learn about the company’s approach to wheat and about its GoodWheat varieties that featured lower calories, higher fiber and lower gluten. “We are the only farm in North Dakota that has been growing this wheat,” Ficocello said. After Sproule Farms started growing GoodWheat, Sproule suggested that his daughters could take the crop and turn it into more. Working with their parents and other advisers, the sisters developed a business plan and went to California with their dad to pitch it to Arcadia Biosciences. Though confident in their idea to market products from their farm to consumers like them — regular people who wanted to feed their families naturally healthy foods that they could trace — they were nervous to take the step.

Three Farm Daughters wheat flour is made with GoodWheat varieties, which offer lower calories and gluten and higher protein than other flours.

Continued on page 28

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 27


Continued from page 27

Gorder was pregnant at the time and Ficocello had recently had a baby. Their father, Gorder said, talked them through it and calmed them down. He stressed that getting their idea turned down wouldn’t be the end of the world, in keeping with the way he’s always pushed them to go after their dreams and to remember that “failure isn’t fatal.”

Building for the future

The presentation with Arcadia Biosciences was a hit, and the sisters believe it was, in part, because they are building their company to be transparent and open, not just about their farm but also about who they are. “They were like, yeah, this is great,” Gorder said. “And they said, this brand is just like you three girls.” The business takes GoodWheat from Sproule Farms and from other farms in Idaho and turns it into flour and pasta with fewer calories and gluten and more protein. Along with the support of Arcadia Biosciences, Three Farm Daughters

also has received ample support from North Dakota institutions. They received a $68,800 grant from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and a $500,000 loan from the North Dakota Innovation Technology Loan Fund. The products so far are being sold on a small scale, on the Three Farm Daughters website, in Hugo’s stores and soon in Hornbacher’s stores. As demand grows, they want to expand into the Midwest. And with that will come the ability to market not just their own wheat but that of their neighbors, too. “If 100 million people are buying flour,” Gorder said to laughs from her sister at the far-flung goal, “we’re going to need a lot more farmers to grow this wheat. So we’re hoping we can really launch our seed platform and we can contract with growers. And we’d love to have it in the Red River Valley and kind of go from there.” They’re working with local chefs to develop recipes and find ways to use the products. The low gluten means the flour doesn’t work for traditional

bread recipes, but it can be used in things like pull-apart rolls, pizza, naan, cookies, cakes and brownies, Lunski said. They also want people who use their products to message them about how they use it and their recipes. Also important to them is the small list of ingredients on their products. The pasta is just semolina flour and water, Gorder said. “We’re trying to show that this natural wheat is actually nutrient dense and is actually good for you,” she said. And they’re also trying to highlight all the things they know and love about agriculture, things like technology and the family connection, as well as to show people that modern agriculture doesn’t necessarily look like consumers’ images of farmers. Instead, it might look like three well-educated daughters finding ways to help diversify their farm and add value to what is grown there. “Ag is near and dear to our hearts. I know it’s near and dear to many others,” Ficocello said.

Mollie Ficocello, Annie Gorder and Grace Lunski are sisters who are raising families, staying involved in the family farm and creating markets for that farm through their business, Three Farm Daughters.

Page 28 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune


Three Farm Daughters flour is best suited for things like cookies, as it has a low gluten content that is not ideal for bread baking. Pictured are Mollie Ficocello and Annie Gorder, two of the three “farm daughters.”

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LIFETIME NEIGHBORS, FRIENDS FIND NEW USE FOR FIELD PEAS WITH PEA PAWD CAT LITTER By Tammy Swift | Forum News Service

T

hose darned cats. Chad Blaser just couldn’t keep his farm kitties out of the peas. At the time, Blaser was raising sheep near Fosston, Minn., and was giving field pea chips to his lambs as an affordable, high-protein feed. But the resident felines weren’t sheepish about using the legume-filled feed bunks as their own custom litter boxes. Blaser was frustrated to see his feed getting ruined, but he also couldn’t help but notice how the pea chips automatically encased the kitty calling cards in a hard, scoopable clump. Then he got to thinking: If his own cats were attracted to field peas for bathroom breaks, maybe that commodity could serve another purr-pose for cats across the land. After mulling over the idea for a while, he called an old friend and neighbor, Wayne Olson. “That intrigues me,” Olson replied and the two men started bouncing ideas off each other: What texture should the litter be? How would they make it? Kitties can be persnickety; how would they know for sure if all cats would like it? From there, they created Pea Pawd Litter, a completely natural, sustainable litter made of yellow field peas, milled to the consistency of cornmeal. “It’s a legume plant. They are very efficient with nutrients. They add nitrogen back into the soil.

Richard Sigurdson

Special to Forum News Service Rather than hiring out a fancy marketing firm to come up with the Pea Pawd name, Chad Blaser turned to his Brainerd nieces, age 14 to 18. “We had four of them all brainstorming. They actually came up with the label design too.”

It’s renewable and sustainable,” Olson says. “The cats could literally eat this.” While it’s unlikely that Fluffy will be trading in salmon for pea soup anytime soon, Pea Pawd does seem to be

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receiving “two paws up reviews” from its cat clientele. The partners donated multiple bags to the Humane Society of Polk County at around Christmastime, after the Crookston-based organization put out a call for donations. So far, so good. Humane Society staff reported that cats with gastrointestinal problems didn’t need to have their litter changed as frequently, because Pea Pawd was so effective at odor-control. Cats who didn’t normally practice good hygiene by covering up their waste started doing so, possibly because the soft litter is easier on kitty paws — even declawed ones, Olson and Blaser say. Pea Pawd is also a healthier alternative to clay litters, which need to be strip-mined, can generate a carcinogenic silica dust and can cause intestinal blockages in some cats. So far, their product is available in grocery stores, a hardware store and a pet-supply store in Fosston, Brainerd and towns throughout western and central Minnesota, although they would like to make it available to cat lovers in Fargo-Moorhead. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has shut down the types of trade shows that can expose a new product to multiple distributors.

‘Two peas in a pod’

It makes sense that Blaser and Olson would become business partners, as they’ve been like two peas in a pod their whole lives. They grew up on neighboring farms and were the same age, riding the bus together and arranging meetings at their favorite culvert so they could set out on Tom Sawyerly adventures like building rafts to navigate the Poplar River. As they grew up, they became busy with their own families and lives. But then the two men realized they had both been targeted by the same rare disease: GuillainBarré syndrome, a serious autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system. This leads to weakness, numbness, and tingling, and can cause paralysis. Guillain-Barré affects just one in 100,000 people, yet Olson contracted it when he was 17 and his next-door neighbor did so in his 40s.

The syndrome paralyzed Blaser, making it impossible for him to raise sheep or farm. But it also revived an old friendship, as Blaser had to look no further than his neighbor’s house to trade information and experiences about the disease. Blaser’s health has slowly improved through immunoglobulin plasma-based treatments, but the kitty litter project also kept him focused on a promising project at a time when he needed it.

Pea Pawd’s appeal

One of their first challenges was figuring out how to make the stuff. Through trial and error, they discovered a way to retrofit a roller mill to create a finer-ground product. They also found major support at the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute in Waseca, Minn., where senior scientist Alan Doering turned out to be something of a cat litter expert. “They were a huge, huge help,” Olson says. Doering used diluted ammonia to test how different consistencies of the field-pea material performed in areas such as absorbency, clump strength and ammonia control. Doering says Pea Pawd is especially effective at ionic bonding, or attracting liquid to adhere to its surface. “In the case of Pea Pawd, this created an extremely durable clump,” he says. Olson and Blaser don’t seem to view themselves so much as entrepreneurs as farm kids who know how to innovate and adapt. “You’re always trying to come up with something a little different, a little better, in day-to-day life,” Blaser says. With the exception of the scientific help provided by the research institute, Pea Pawd has been a largely homegrown enterprise. They’ve built a “small, little plant — nothing big” for producing the litter. The two men still make up their entire workforce. And rather than hiring out a fancy marketing firm to come up with the Pea Pawd name, Blaser turned to his Brainerd nieces, age 14 to 18. “We had four of them all brainstorming. They actually came up with the label design too.” They’ve produced about 1,000 bags of Pea Pawd to date, and are selling it for $14 to $15 for a 14-pound bag. (Find retailers at www.peapawd.com.)

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Colburn Hvidston III / Forum News Service file photo Little more than six weeks after his farm accident, John Thompson is released from the hospital and returns Feb. 25, 1992, to his home in Hurdsfield, N.D.

NO ‘WHAT IFS’

Man whose arms were ripped off in 1992 farm accident focuses on the good

By Tracy Briggs | Forum News Service

I

t’s pretty clear John Thompson is a guy who doesn’t get rattled by much. But today his cat, Toby, is getting on his last nerve. The 10-year-old rescue cat keeps hitting the phone where Thompson is trying to have a Zoom call with Forum News Service. “I have my phone sitting on his cat tree, so he’s trying to play,” said the exasperated Thompson while trying to reposition the phone Toby knocked over. But Toby’s interruptions are small potatoes for this 47-year-old survivor — a man who, 29 years ago Jan. 11, had both his arms ripped off in a farm accident. The subsequent surgery to reattach his arms garnered

Page 32 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune

international media attention — all a little daunting for the then 18-year-old farm kid from Hurdsfield, N.D. The media attention has long since quieted down. So what is Thompson up to now? Have the years been good to him? Can he still use his arms? Were there drawbacks to his instant fame? And what brings him joy today?

‘I didn’t know what was going on’

On Saturday morning, Jan. 11, 1992, Thompson was unloading pig feed with a grain auger and playing with the dog when he somehow got too close to the power takeoff shaft (PTO), which didn’t have a safety shield on it.


“My shirt wasn’t tucked in, and they figure my shirt got wrapped up in the PTO shaft. And yeah, I still remember spinning on the shaft,” he said. Thompson blacked out and awoke to his dog licking his face and the realization that his arms were gone. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he recalled. “I’m sitting there trying to figure out how to get up. Then I just put my back against the tractor tire and pushed myself up.” Thompson says at that point he just kind of “shut down.” No one else was home, so he walked 100 yards to the house to call for help — turning the doorknob with his mouth to get inside and using a pencil to dial the phone. Then he sat in the bathtub to prevent blood from getting on his mom’s new carpet. He says the only pain he really felt was when the exposed nerve hanging down his right side knocked against something. But he was starting to get dizzy. “I was bleeding out,” he said. “By the time I got to the hospital, they said ‘You shouldn’t be alive because

there’s no blood in you.’” Despite the dire situation that day in the emergency room, Thompson remembers carrying on normal conversations with people, worrying that he left the tractor running, and even getting angry at the medical staff for cutting off his brand new cowboy boots. He was still fuming about his wrecked boots when he noticed the staff carrying a trash bag. “They laid it beside me on a table, and they pulled my arms out of it. As I’m laying on my bed in the emergency room, my arms are laying a couple of feet from my head,” he said. Thompson and his arms were eventually loaded onto a plane for Minneapolis where the arms would be reattached. He remembers the trip well. It was his first time on a real plane, and he argued with the crew to let him sit up so he could look out the window. Continued on page 34

Submitted photo John Thompson wrote a book about his ordeal in 2002. It sold well and he’s hoping to revise and rerelease it in the next year.

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Forum News Service file photo John Thompson, right, is pictured with Dr. Allen Van Beek, the surgeon who reattached his arms in January 1992. The two men met again in 2012 when Van Beek was given the Sioux Award by his alma mater, the University of North Dakota. Continued from page 33

But then he remembers telling the crew how cold his arms were. “The crew member was like, ‘John, you don’t have your arms anymore.’ I said, ‘I know, but they’re freezing,’ and he said, ‘Well they’re on ice in the front of the plane,’” Thompson said with a big laugh. He can look back and laugh now at some of it, but it was a harrowing ordeal. After getting his arms reattached by surgeon Dr. Allen Van Beek (a 1966 University of North Dakota graduate) at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn., he was put into a coma for four weeks so he could heal. Thompson nearly died of a blood infection and endured more surgery and intensive rehabilitation. And then there was the media attention — so much media attention from local to national and international talk shows and news teams. He was invited to the White House, featured in People magazine and was even invited to sing the national anthem at a Minnesota Twins game, where he got to meet Kirby Puckett. At his high school graduation in May of 1992, just five months after the accident, it was easy to see that the soft-spoken Thompson was

pretty uncomfortable with the dozens of news crews that showed up for the ceremony. Unfortunately, he can’t remember everything about his 15 minutes of fame because doctors believe his massive blood loss affected his memory. “I’ve been to Washington three times. I met the Clintons, and I have no memory of it at all. I’ve done some really cool things. And I don’t remember any of that. I just had no memory,” Thompson said.

Telling the whole story

Following his high school graduation, Thompson attended the University of Minnesota for a while, but he says it was “not a good experience.” He started getting busier with speaking engagements around the country and donated proceeds to United Blood Services because blood donations saved his life. In 2002, on the 10th anniversary of his accident, he wrote a book titled “Home in One Piece.” The book sold well and, for a while, he was in discussions with actress Victoria Principal about turning it into a screenplay and film. As he approaches the 30th anniversary of the accident next year, he’s hoping to revisit the idea of the screenplay and

Page 34 – March 2021 – West Central Tribune

add more detail to the book’s story. “When I first wrote it, times were much different. They’d say ‘You can’t say this, you can’t say that. This is gonna make you look bad.’ So we left a lot of stuff out of it. I’d like to write a more open book.” Thompson could write at length about the tough times. He says while he’ll get the occasional hug from someone who recognizes him and remembers his story, he’s also been taken advantage of and harassed by people. “One thing that people don’t realize is how much me being disabled, people are like ‘You know, whatever, you can’t do anything about it anyway,’” he said. Thompson says he had to take people to small claims court and was even threatened by someone who was offended that Thompson wouldn’t shake his hand. His reattached hands are unable to fully open. “They want to literally fight me because they think ‘You’re too good to shake my hand?’ I’m like, dude, I can’t.” Thompson says he’s experienced depression for years and is very open about it.


“I want everybody to know about it. And it’s something everybody goes through, not to be ashamed of it,” he said.

Finding joy

Thompson currently splits his time between his home in Minot and an apartment in Minneapolis. He worked for a time as a real estate agent, but is not currently able to receive a regular paycheck because of the disability insurance he gets. “It’s frustrating. It’s one thing I hate the most. The government won’t let me do anything,” he said. But Thompson still stays busy, including a recent remodel of the home he initially bought to flip but ended up keeping for himself. “There’s not a whole lot I don’t do from shingling, raking, mowing, painting,” Thompson said. “Holding a nail is a pain because I don’t have the fine motor skills.” In addition to working on his house and on the book, Thompson lifts weights, trying to rehab after recent knee surgery. He’s also working with a friend to patent a new prescription bottle design that makes it easier to get just one pill out of the bottle. “Being as stable as I am, when I try to get one pill out of a bottle, I usually end up with 50 of them or drop the whole bottle,” he said. “This is a whole new design which only allows one pill at a time.” But Thompson’s real passion remains singing — something he started doing as a kid. “It’s just something that always brought me joy. I mean, even growing up on the farm, I always looked forward to Continued on page 36

Submitted photo John Thompson is pictured with his niece Jamie Stoudt recently in Minneapolis. Thompson survived a devastating farm accident that received international attention 29 years ago.

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West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 35


Continued from page 35

when the grain bins were empty and go inside the grain bin and sing because the acoustics were just unbelievable.” He got to use his voice shortly after the accident, including that national anthem at the Twins game and singing at high school graduation, but these days, he mostly sings at weddings, funerals and karaoke. He also recorded a Christmas album for his parents and has a YouTube Channel with some of his music.

No ‘what ifs’

As Thompson, the reluctant teenage hero, looks back on the three decades since that awful day in January 1992, he refuses to think about what his life could have been like if the accident never happened. “I try not to think about it. It’s not going to help me to think about the ‘what if?’ “ he said. Instead, he’s trying to focus on any of the good things that have come from living the life he’s led, one of which includes a story about a boy in Arkansas. “He was 11 or 12, and he was in a chicken coop grinding up chicken feed, when he got both hands stuck in the grinder and lost both of them,” said Thompson. “And he couldn’t get out of the chicken coop, and he just sat down because he had no way to get out of it. He was just sitting there dying when he remembered my story of biting the doorknob, so he went to bite the doorknob and got out. Yeah, you can’t help but feel good about something Bruce Crummy / Forum News Service file photo like that.” John Thompson signs his book to benefit United Blood Services.

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MINNESOTA NON-PROFIT PERSISTS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST FOOD INSECURITY By Emily Beal | AgWeek Staff Writer

S

eeds Feeds, a St. Louis Park, Minnesota-based nonprofit organization, is persistent in its effort to combat the rising issue of food insecurity, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has been a whirlwind since the pandemic hit. Those in need of food assistance have skyrocketed, and we have been doing our best to make sure their needs are being met,” said Ariel Steinman, operations director of Seeds Feeds. With a focus in urban agriculture, Seeds Feeds has been an integral part in fighting the hunger crisis seen in its St. Louis Park community. They focus on building wellness and resilience in the Twin Cities neighborhoods, empowering and engaging marginalized groups and urban agriculture farmers, and providing education, job training and advocacy for food system change. Seeds Feeds has a variety of vegetation areas that are utilized for growing their produce. “We are growing outdoors and indoors to provide people in our communities with food all year long. It really stemmed from a vision of wanting to help people in our own backyard,” Steinman said. One key element in Seeds Feeds’ offense against hunger is providing information and education to those in surrounding communities on how to raise their own food. Seeds Feeds helps individuals grow their knowledge, with

the goal that those who receive the education can grow their own garden or micro garden in the urban landscape. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of this learning has had to shift online. These workshops include a garden club series, cooking classes and nutrition classes. “We are passionate about urban agriculture and food advocacy. We also love helping people through education,” Steinman said. In addition to helping communities, Seeds Feeds is also committed to taking care of the soil it uses to grow its produce. “We are dedicated to growing food to nurse people, community and the Earth. A lot of our organizational elements are based on permaculture. So, making sure that we are doing well for others and the Earth, while thinking about the future,” Steinman said. During the pandemic, Seeds Feeds is offering more education, nutritional resources and food than ever before. “By the middle of the summer season we were making 30 community supported agriculture bags every week and still providing for the farm stand, which is something that we had never done before,” Steinman said. If you would like to volunteer, donate or learn more about Seeds Feeds, visit https://seedsfeeds.org.

Urban agriculture is one of Seeds Feeds’ main focus areas.

Contributed photo

West Central Tribune – March 2021 – Page 37


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