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Table of Contents First District Association looks to next century of growth........................................... 4 Bison herd could mean food sovereignty on horizon................................................ 10 Job skills for kids grow alongside vegetables at MNyou........................................ 16 Non-white cultures still overlooked in food industry..................................................22 Is there a Minnesota market for earth-friendly grain?.........................................24 Moorhead woman inspires others to raise monarchs.....................................28 MPTL continues to provide frontline vigilance.................................................... 30 Fond du Lac Band submits formal elk proposal................................................ 33 Organic Valley farms grateful they made the turn................................................. 35 Rochester’s ear-of-corn water tower shines again..................................................... 38 PUBLISHER: Steve Ammermann EDITOR: Kelly Boldan MAGAZINE EDITOR: Kit Grode AD MANAGER: Christie Steffel MAGAZINE DESIGNER: Jamie Holte

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

Page 4 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune



uilding on the foresight and leadership of local dairy farmers from 100 years ago, a major expansion at the First District Association in Litchfield has prepared the farmer-owned cooperative for the next century. The co-op celebrated its 100th anniversary — along with a grand opening of the expanded processing plant — with tours, food, commemorative prizes and speeches during an outdoor event Sept. 18. While celebrating past successes, there was also a focus on the future of the dairy processing plant and the next generation of dairy farmers who sell their milk to the First District Association. “We truly are looking forward to making sure the 200-year anniversary is even larger and more special, and we’ll do everything in our power to make sure we continue to follow what our previous (leadership) helped build here,” said Bob Huffman, CEO. With 12 silos that each hold 70,000 gallons of raw milk, a three-story cheese belt that is the largest in the world and can produce 40,500 pounds of cheese an hour, a set of cheese block towers that makes 16, 40-pound blocks of cheese a minute, a barrel room with the capacity to fill a 500-pound barrel of cheese in 43 seconds and a new milk receiving facility that can pump 3,200 gallons of milk a minute, the cooperative is poised for the future. Josh Barka, chairman of the board, said the coop owes a lot to the “group of farmers who had the courage and the vision and the leadership to move things forward” 100 years ago.

Photos by Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune Michelle Fischbach, left, Anna Euerle, Dean Urdahl, Doug Anderson, Josh Barka, Bob Huffman and Keith Johnson pose for a photo during an event Sept. 18 honoring the 100th anniversary of the First District Association dairy cooperative.

“I don’t think they could have imagined today the size and scope that’s in the dairy industry, but I think they’d be proud that the co-op is still a great market, it’s farmerowned and it’s patron-controlled,” Barka said. “Just like them, it is up to us to plan and determine our future of where we want to be,” he said. Although the size of dairy farms in Minnesota is increasing, Huffman said a majority of the co-op’s 740 members have fewer than 400 cows and are the backbone of First District’s future. “They’re as resilient as they can be,” Huffman said of the region’s dairy farmers. Most of the milk processed at First District comes from within 120 miles of Litchfield. Securing the future dairy market for the next generation of farmers was the key motivator for decades of expansion.

FDA has a long history

First District Association, commonly known as FDA, was launched in 1920 when 11 area creameries joined forces to increase efficiencies, according to historical information provided by the co-op. Employees and patrons of the First District Association dairy processing facility in In 1926, they built a buttermilk drying plant. A plant to Litchfield celebrated their 100th anniversary Sept. 18. The event included a grand dry skim milk was later added in 1942. opening of their latest expansion, which helps position the plant for the next 100 years.

Continued on page 6

West Central Tribune – November 2021 – Page 5

Continued from page 5

In 1950, FDA purchased its first bulk milk trucks, and by 1971 it had completely phased out milk cans Employees and patrons of the First District Association and built a new whey plant. By the mid-1970s FDA dairy processing facility in stopped making butter and converted to making Litchfield celebrated their cheese and whey products. 100th anniversary Sept. According to the co-op’s historical timeline, in 18. The event included a grand opening of their latest 1984 a new evaporator was installed, making FDA expansion, which helps the “most modern and energy efficient plant in the position the plant for the world” and, in the late 1990s, that modernization next 100 years. continued by adding robotics in the powder packaging line as well as other additions to the cheese-processing operations. In 2001, construction projects increased cheese, lactose and whey protein production, and in 2005 a state-of-theart laboratory and research center was constructed on site. In 2010, a new 42,000-square-foot addition increased capacity and Anna Euerle, the 2021 Princess Kay of the Milky efficiency, and by 2012 the plant was Way, stands with First District processing 5 million pounds of milk Association CEO Bob Huffman each day. By 2017, production was during the 100th anniversary of increased to 5.5 million pounds of the dairy cooperative. Eurle is from Litchfield. milk per day. In the fall of 2018, construction was completed on a new boiler plant and the board of directors commissioned construction of the latest addition. The three-part expansion project was finished this fall, just in time for the anniversary celebration. The project included construction of a new eight-bay drive-through milk receiving facility, an expansion of the lactose plant and a new cheese plant. With this latest investment, FDA can now Commemorative glasses noting the 100th anniversary process 7.5 million pounds of milk every day. of First District Association Huffman said FDA is the largest farmer-owned were given to co-op patrons dairy processing plant in the upper Midwest region, during the 100th anniversary celebration at the dairy and the quality of cheese produced here “puts us processing plant Sept. 18 in on the high end” of other major processors. Litchfield. Barka said the expansion is a new chapter in the co-op’s long history. “We need to continue our 100-year tradition of innovation, excellence and quality,” he said. “We can Residential houses were purchased and razed to create believe the generations before us are proud of the room for the sprawling plant, and a neighboring church strength of our co-op as we continue to work together traded parking lots. to strengthen our market stake while building for The city of Litchfield, which accommodated FDA’s future generations.” requests for road closures throughout the years and Barka said past FDA leaders and patrons “risked a lot, made numerous expansions to its municipal wastewater had a lot of foresight to start this co-op without a road treatment facility and power generation lines to handle map” and that the current team of employees and patrons the increased demands of the processor, was a “major “continue to uphold those traditions and go beyond the partner,” said Doug Anderson, FDA director of operations. standards set many years ago.” “They had to expand with us,” Anderson said. “It’s been

Partners in growth

Located nearly in the center of Litchfield, the 100-year expansion of FDA has not been without its challenges. Page 6 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

a long process, but it’s worked out great.”

Continued on page 8

Employees and patrons of the First District Association dairy processing facility in Litchfield celebrated their 100th anniversary Sept. 18. The event included a grand opening of their latest expansion, which helps position the plant for the next 100 years.

Aric Kleinschmidt, an employee at First District Association, holds a commemorative glass that was given to co-op patrons during the 100th anniversary celebration at the dairy processing plant Sept. 18 in Litchfield.

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Ava Gabrielson, 9, left, and Hayden Terning, 7, enjoy a little quiet time on a cow bench during the 100th anniversary of the First District Association dairy cooperative. Continued from page 6

Mayor Keith Johnson called the partnership between the city and FDA a “marriage” that has allowed the co-op to expand by processing milk from 47 Minnesota counties that’s sold around the world, putting “little Litchfield on the map.” Johnson also praised Rep. Dean Urdahl for spearheading past bonding requests to help the city pay for the wastewater and power generation upgrades, which Johnson said totaled about $13 million and helped FDA reach its current production capacity. Urdahl, who touted his own family’s early history with the dairy cooperative and read a resolution from the House of Representatives that praised FDA’s “100 years of changes in the dairy industry,” also emphasized the worldwide impact of the co-op.

Holding up a bag of Dorito chips, Urdahl said “every Dorito in the world is coated in cheese from here.” Barka confirmed that this statement was true. Other dignitaries weighed in on the value of FDA’s role in the dairy industry. “The co-op is really about the people. It’s about the management, it’s about the farmers, it’s about the members,” said Seventh District Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach, of Paynesville.“This is what strong communities are made of.” Thom Peterson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture, said, with all the challenges agriculture has faced with drought and food supply issues, it was good to “celebrate a positive thing that’s happening in agriculture” with FDA’s past successes and future growth. “Let’s look forward to another 100 years,” he said. You may contact the author at

FIRST DISTRICT FAST FACTS ▶ There are 12 silos that each hold 70,000 gallons of raw milk. ▶ After milk is pasteurized and goes through an ultrafiltration system, it moves to the cheese plant where curds are separated from whey. ▶ Liquid whey is made into whey protein concentrate and lactose powder. ▶ The three-story cheese belt at FDA is the largest in the world and is designed to produce 40,500 pounds of cheese an hour. Page 8 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

▶ Block towers produce 40 pound blocks of cheese, with 16 blocks made each minute. ▶ Cheese packaged into blocks creates new market opportunities. ▶ A 500-pound barrel of cheese can be filled in 43 seconds. ▶ The 8-bay milk receiving facility allows 3,200 gallons of milk to be pumped every minute. Source: First District Association









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Photos by Hannah Olson / Forum News Service A buffalo calf and cow lie in the sun in the pasture on June 24 on the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch.


Herd could mean food sovereignty on horizon for Red Lake Nation

By Hannah Olson | Forum News Service


en miles north of Gonvick, Minn., Cherilyn Spears looked around at a space that had been mere grassland two years ago. “This is called the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch,” she said, on a windy, hot day at the end of June. The area is now home to a starter herd of 11 “mashkodebizhikiwag,” or bison in Ojibwemowin — which are part of a multifaceted food sovereignty initiative for the Red Lake Nation. Currently, these bison roam in 86 acres of pasture, but one day, project leaders hope this will be thousands. As the bison herd grows, the animals will be able to serve as food, a source of education, a part of cultural ceremonies or maybe even protein bars. Spears, who serves as a project coordinator for the Red Lake Economic Development and Planning Department, oversees the ranch, along with Buffalo Farm Manager Fred Auginash.

Page 10 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

She hopes the ranch will function as a cog in the larger food sovereignty movement underway in Red Lake with a goal of cascading cultural, economic and health benefits for the band and its members.

Request granted

As Spears tells it, the idea for a buffalo farm sparked back in 2014 after the election of Darrell Seki Sr. as the Red Lake Chairman. He made the rounds of the different Red Lake Nation districts, holding community meetings to find out what band members were hoping to change in the future. One topic that just kept coming up was food. “He asked the people what they would like to see happen and pretty much every district said ‘Why can’t we have locally grown foods available to us? Why is everything shifting when we’ve got all this land?’ And someone spoke up and said, “Why can’t we have buffalo?”

This got the ball rolling. “I started looking into it,” Spears said. “It pretty much started out with the community requesting locally grown vegetables and buffalo be available.” Soon after, Spears talked with a friend who works in Indigenous foods. “My friends own Native American Natural Foods out of Pine Ridge. We were talking, and they said, ‘Well, if the tribe ever wants to start a tribal business, have them start a buffalo farm, we’ll buy up all your buffalo,’” she said. The company uses the buffalo meat to make “Tanka” bars — which means “large” or “great” in Lakota — cranberry and buffalo bars, turkey and buffalo jerky and other health-conscious offerings. The bars are high in protein, and in high demand. “The Seattle football team ordered a bunch of them from him. After the players would practice and play games, they’d eat a Tanka bar because there’s so much protein,” Spears explained. “We want to make a wild rice one.” In 2019, Red Lake received six “seed” buffalo from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. A memorandum of understanding between Red Lake Nation and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota provides Red Lake with disease-free, genetically pure bison. Red Lake Nation is one of 70 tribal nations that belong to the Intertribal Buffalo Council, which has restored more than 20,000 bison to tribal lands. In 2020, a fence was installed around an 80-acre pasture for the herd of one bull, five cows and one calf. In the time since then, four more calves were born, making it a total of 11 buffalo on the farm.

“Every two years, we can get as many buffalo as we want. We’re going to fence in 200 more acres this summer. And then in the fall, we’ll take in about 10 to 15 more (bison),” Spears said. Aside from some slight snafus — like losing a calf for a few months — the operation has been trodding along according to plan.

A lost buffalo returns

Though the ranchers didn’t plan to name the buffalo, some of the bison have found themselves with various monikers — “Renegade,” “Lady Gaga,” “Jumbo,” “Buffy.” “We’re not supposed to name them, but Fred gave them a couple of names,” Spears said. “(Fred) sent me a picture and I said, ‘Oh, is that Renegade?’ He said, ‘No, that’s Buffy.’ Buffy the Buffalo. Then he sent me another picture today and said, ‘I don’t know, it’s either Bull or Lady Gaga.’” One of the herd is a bit more famous than the others — and it’s not Lady Gaga. One calf earned the name Renegade after escaping, eluding capture for months, and eventually returning on his own. His triumphant return earned him a mention in the Red Lake State of the Band Address back in May. “We got one that ran away. Renegade, Renegade. Poor baby,” Spears said. The story of Renegade’s departure and eventual return was dramatically retold by both Spears and Auginash. Last year, Red Lake received two calves from Wind Cave, a few months after the initial group of six. Continued on page 12

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One of the bison at the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch looks through the pasture fence on a hot, windy day in June.

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Continued from page 11

because it was the day before hunting season. They thought he was gonna get shot, right the next day,” he said. Auginash approached the buffalo, standing out in a field as darkness fell. “I walked out there halfway and I said, ‘Hey, they want us to harvest you tomorrow.’ I said, ‘We’ll give you one more day. Cherilyn and her son are going to open that gate. You better go over there because you’re gonna get shot tomorrow.’ The next day, I come look for him over there. He wasn’t over there, I come driving over here, and there are tracks going right in the gate. I closed that gate right away. I went in there and he was standing on this side and all them other ones are standing on the other side looking at him.” Renegade was home.

One had died in transport, and the crew was trying to shoo the other calf away from the dead one and into the pasture. “We had to shoo the calf that way so they left the other buffalo,” she said. “We had the (electric) fence off. So when we shooed him that way, he must have gotten out of the fence. Then it starts thundering and lightning, raining and blowing trees,” she said. “It knocked out the power.” “They say (the bison) try to go back to where they came from. We didn’t know ‘til the next morning. They said ‘calf’s not here.’ I said, ‘What?!” Spears recalled. “He was only... March, April, May, June, July, August, September... He was only seven months old when he took off, but he was big.” Renegade eluded the ranch staff for a while, but Caring for thousand-pound critters passersby saw him occasionally roaming in fields. Though bison and buffalo are both used “There were sightings of him over by Berner. We heard interchangeably in North America, bison is the correct that people would be going by scientific name. American bison and saying, ‘Is that a buffalo?’” are covered in shaggy brown fur Spears said. “He was over in and can weigh from around 880 Berner eating. I thought he was to 2,800 pounds. The massive eating the horseradish, and I mammals are nomadic grazers was like, ‘He likes horseradish?’ that travel in herds. According but here they had a winter crop to the Red Lake staff, they of wheat growing in there, I My friends own Native American are generally mellow, but not didn’t know that, and that’s particularly friendly. Natural Foods out of Pine Ridge. what he was eating.” Caring for the buffalo has We were talking, and they said, After failed attempts to been a learning experience for ‘Well, if the tribe ever wants to wrangle him, Spears hired all involved. The idea is to keep Auginash, and a few others, to start a tribal business, have them the Red Lake bison as wild as get it done. start a buffalo farm, we’ll buy up all can be, so the care of the herd “She hired me to catch him is pretty hands-off. The herd your buffalo and we went way that way, will stay in their fenced-in area looking down all them roads – CHERILYN SPEARS, as long as they have access that way where we last seen project coordinator for the to water. Auginash makes him. We finally located him with Red Lake Economic Development and sure water is filled, and in the the binoculars, way out in this Planning Department winter, food and shelter are also one field, way out there, and we available. were trying to figure out how “We try to stay hands-off, we to catch him. They hired this just make sure they’re fed and other guy too, he come out walking out there with a rope. He come walking back and I said, ‘What?’ he said, ‘He took they have water so they’ll stay. We have supplemental off like a wild deer.’ He thought he was gonna put that rope food for them — hay for winter. Otherwise, they’ll just keep eating on the grass,” Spears said. around him and bring him in,” Auginash said with a big According to the U.S. National Park Service, bison laugh. typically live for 10-20 years, but some live longer. Cows The tango between the buffalo wranglers and Renegade begin breeding at 2 years old and only have one baby at played out for weeks. Sometimes they would go long a time. For males, the prime breeding age is 6-10 years. spans of time without spotting him, and then a chase Bison calves are usually born between late March and would take place. May and are orange-ish red. In a few months, their hair “Me and Cherilyn were following and he was running turns dark brown and their characteristic shoulder hump right along the road. We were driving I said, ‘Hey, you get back to the farm.’ He blazed through this farmer’s field and and horns appear. Auginash recalled discovering the first bison calf born to right through a fence,” he said. the herd. Auginash recalled one day in the fall, after Renegade “I saw that brown thing and I thought it was — what do had been spotted in a field near a deer stand, there you call that — a mountain lion. ‘Oh! That’s a baby buffalo were talks of killing him. People were worried as deer — our first one,” he said with a laugh. season approached that he would get caught in the Spears recalled with excitement the birth of the crossfire anyway. “It was almost dark. They wanted us to shoot him, first calves. Page 12 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

From left: Danielle Hernandez, Cherilyn Spears and Fred Auginash look out at the herd of buffalo gathered near the fence June 24 on the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch.

“Oh gosh, it was really exciting. It was awesome, just totally awesome. We just didn’t know what to expect because we’ve never taken care of buffalo before,” Spears said. “First, there was one, and then we rode by and I was like, ‘There’s another one. We have two!’ Then pretty soon, (Fred) sent a picture of the third. They must be going in there to have them — in the woods. I don’t know if they fixed up a little spot in there. All of the other bison have come from South Dakota. The herd at Wind Cave National Park, where the Red Lake buffalo came from, is unique. As one of the few bison herds that is genetically pure — not bred with cattle — the herd has helped start other herds all over the continent.

Richard Sigurdson

Auginash rattled off his daily tasks involved in the care and keeping of ungulates. “Check their water. And make sure that water pump’s working, turn on the water. In the winter, make sure it ain’t froze up. In the winter, we got to clean their pen there. Check the fences,” he said. “He checks for wolves because the babies were just born. One day, we came here early, and we saw like three sets of bear tracks and it looks like one of the bears was walking along the road and came up to the electric fence and then just walked back away,” added Danielle Hernandez, agriculture assistant. Continued on page 14

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A line of buffalo forms as the herd makes its way toward the woods June 24 on the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch.

Continued from page 13 Project Coordinator Cherilyn Spears smiles as she watches the herd of buffalo interact with the young calves June 24 on the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch.

Page 14 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Bison on the market

Spears said the No. 1 priority for the bison herd is to eventually feed people locally in Red Lake. The nation has been pursuing a goal of food sovereignty for the past few years. The notion of food sovereignty refers to a system in which the people who grow, distribute, and consume food control the policies and mechanisms of food production and distribution. Specifically in Red Lake, there are goals to be self-reliant, not needing to drive to Bemidji or elsewhere for fresh food. The buffalo ranch could make it easier for band members to get ahold of healthier and more traditional fare. A customary Ojibwe diet is mostly foods like fish, wild rice, corn, potatoes — and bison. But reinforcing or reintroducing traditional Indigenous practices is one of several benefits the ranchers anticipate. Beyond that, the herd can serve as a learning and tourism hub, an economic benefit and business opportunity. “They’re working on a business plan right now. Before we even thought about really seriously doing this, we had to make sure we have a buyer,” Spears said. Right now, plans are to sell the meat both locally and to the Native American Natural Foods out of the Pine Ridge Reservation, an Oglala Lakota community in South Dakota.

The buffalo aren’t ready to harvest yet — the tribe wants to ensure a sustainable herd, so it will need to grow larger before selling bison is on the table. “When we get to that point, we’ll have a buyer,” Spears said. “We’d (also) like to introduce it into the schools and substitute buffalo for beef when they cook.” “We are looking forward to the first harvest,” Seki said of the bison during the Red Lake State of the Band Address back in May. “We’re just in the first two years, it’ll be all about training and learning about them and just letting them be, and then in a couple years or so we’ll get serious about bigger herds and being able to sell them,” Spears said. “Everybody’s asking, when?”

Buffalo Farm Manager Fred Auginash walks the path the bison take from the pasture toward an electric, heated water pump June 24 on the Red Lake Buffalo Ranch.



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Aged 14-23, they are paid an hourly wage while learning y 8:30 a.m. on a hazy August day, the three-acre MNyou Youth vegetable garden near Willmar is new life skills at a project that provides locally-grown buzzing with activity as one crew of kids harvests vegetables to people who purchase subscriptions to the peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and kale while another farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. crew packs the fresh produce into boxes and loads them With the farm’s “buy one, give one” initiative, each box into a trailer for the delivery route. of paid CSA membership vegetables is matched with Meanwhile, yet another crew of kids plants cabbage an equal number of boxes that are given to west central and broccoli seedlings for a late-season harvest, and Minnesota families experiencing hardship. there’s activity in the deep-winter greenhouse that’s being This summer there were 85 paid subscriptions, which prepared to grow lettuce and tomatoes during the bitter means 85 additional families also received boxes of food winter months. either once a week or every other week. Throughout the buzz of activity, there’s good-natured “We give away a lot of stuff,” said Larson. chatter as one of the young adults, who is supervising the Garden growth crews, leads by example to make sure all the necessary Both Larson and Erickson have long histories of working tasks get done by those under with youth in volunteer and her watch. professional capacities. “These kids pretty much run Erickson currently works the farm,” said Ben Larson, with the 4-H program with the who started the MNyou Youth Kandiyohi County Extension Garden with his friend and We’re training them on how to get Service and Larson is an fellow volunteer, Nate Erickson, occupational skills instructor at along with different people, that they five years ago with the goal to Ridgewater College in Willmar. have to show up on time for work, give kids new skills and give When they first teamed up, area residents access to locallywhat it’s like to stay busy at work and the garden project involved a grown produce. handful of kids and land and how to get along with your supervisor The unique program an old greenhouse on the continues to evolve as the – BEN LARSON, MinnWest Technology campus amount of land planted to founder of MNyou Youth Garden in Willmar. The produce they vegetables, the number of kids grew was sold at a farmers who work in the garden, the market in Willmar. types of services offered to the In 2019, MNyou moved to the CSA model and the youth and the number of people being fed with locallygarden is now located on a scenic former horse pasture grown vegetables steadily increases. owned by Larson’s parents, Brent and Debbie Larson, “We try to come up with something new each year,” just north of Willmar. Currently, about three acres of land Erickson said. “That’s one of the most fun parts of this is used for the gardens — with plans to expand and add whole experience.” another two acres next year by building terraces on the There can be 20-30 kids working on the farm every day. sloping hills. “We’re going to expand the heck out of it,” said Larson, Most come from diverse backgrounds, including the Karen community, and some have economic or family hardships. looking ahead to 2022. Most of the vegetables are grown in 50- to 100-foot-long For many, this is their first job. rows, with mulch and constant weeding by youth negating “They can do all the harvesting and planting,” Larson said. “I send them a list of things to do in the morning and the need for chemical control of weeds. they roll on it.”

Continued on page 18

Page 16 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Photos by Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune Ben Larson, left, and Nate Erickson started the MNyou Youth Garden program five years ago as a way to give youth job skills while providing locally-grown vegetables to the community. Since then, they’ve expanded the scope and goals of this program.

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Wah Soe, front, plants a late-summer crop of broccoli at the MNyou Youth garden near Willmar.

New seedlings are ready to be planted for a late summer crop at the MNyou Youth Garden near Willmar. Continued from page 17

Large hoop houses on the property allow for extended seasons for crops like tomatoes. Crop rotation is constant and quick at the farm. As soon as one crop is harvested from the beds and hoop houses, compost is added to the soil and new seeds and seedlings are planted, including those planted in August and September that can tolerate cool temperatures. “We just never know when that frost is going to come in Minnesota,” Larson said. They hope to keep tomatoes growing in the hoop houses into November. A new deep winter greenhouse is helping the MNyou Youth Garden make the transition from a seasonal 18week CSA program to a year-round program. The greenhouse will be used to raise lettuce and other leafy greens during the bitter winter months that will be Continued on page 20

Page 18 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Wah Soe, (far back), Ket Htoo and Than Tim, who are all from the Karen community, work in the MNyou Youth Garden near Willmar.

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rock that stores the daytime heat that’s used to warm the greenhouse at night. included in the winter CSA subscription boxes, which run At one end of the greenhouse there’s a large PVC pipe from mid-November through March. Plans are being made with a fan that draws the daytime heat below ground to also grow hydroponic tomatoes in the deep winter and into a series of drainage tiles that are embedded in greenhouse this year. the river rock. The rocks serve as a storage battery, said Deep winter gardening Larson, and provide the bulk of necessary winter heat. Designed by the University of Minnesota and built in There is a secondary heating source for extra-cold days 2020 with the help of grants from partners, including Blue but it only kicked in twice last year. Cross/Blue Shield and the Bernick’s Family Foundation, “It actually gets too hot in here,” Larson said. the deep winter greenhouse is 16-by-20-feet. They used the deep winter greenhouse for the first time Attached to a heated building where the produce is in 2020 with great success but are altering the method washed and packed into CSA boxes, the south-facing of raising leafy greens this year. Instead of using raised greenhouse features a slanted, triple-layer polycarbonate garden beds that take up considerable space, greens will roof that captures passive sunlight without letting be grown in rain gutters placed on stacked shelves, which heat escape. Underneath the greenhouse, there are four feet of river will make room to grow hydroponic tomatoes.

Continued from page 18

Ket Htoo, 15, attaches string to posts to secure a 100-foot row of pepper plants growing at the MNyou Youth Garden near Willmar.

MNYOU FAST FACTS ▶ There were 85 subscribers during the 18-week summer CSA program. ▶ The winter CSA program is expected to run from mid-November through March. ▶ The cost for the winter CSA is $500 for a weekly share and $300 for an every other week share. ▶ Drop-off sites are located in Albany, Paynesville, New London and Willmar. ▶ For more information, visit or email Page 20 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Growing skills

Partnerships with local school, church and job training organizations — along with community grants — have helped create paying job opportunities for youth at the MNyou Youth Garden. Employees are learning basic job skills while learning how to grow food and what it takes to run a business. “So we’re training them on how to get along with different people, that they have to show up on time for work, what it’s like to stay busy at work and how to get along with your supervisor,” Larson said. “But then it’s also those small-scale sustainable ag practices of being able to make a living on a small acreage like this,” he said. “A lot of these kids can run a farm, if they want to go into that field.” At least one of the Karen youth working on the farm is pursuing an ag business education at Ridgewater College. The farm also gives job coaching skills to secondyear employees by putting them in supervisory roles, overseeing the duties of other youth. Sey Paw, an 18-year-old Karen woman who grew up in Thailand and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9 years old, supervised other youth this summer. “I’ve learned many things through this program. I didn’t know much about gardening at first,” she said. Besides learning how to raise vegetables, Paw said her confidence in speaking English and interacting with others has also improved. She is attending Ridgewater College this fall. “This farm, it’s a good place to work for young people,” she said. “It’s a good way to get to know others.” One of the goals of the MNyou Youth Garden is to provide education and job opportunities for youth with diverse backgrounds, a family or economic hardship or some type of disability or limitation. But Erickson said they welcome any youth who’s willing to learn and work. Future plans include providing mental health services to youth with licensed therapists, he said. “It’s really turned into this well-rounded program,” Erickson said. More information about the MnYou Youth Garden and CSA program can be found on their social media page: or email: Water softeners drinking water systems salt delivery bottled water and much, much more

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atrice Bailey, assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said although the demographics of Minnesota are changing to be more diverse, there’s not enough cultures being represented in the state’s ag industry. Bailey oversees the state’s Emerging Farmers Working Group, which was created in the 2020 legislative session to advise Minnesota’s Commissioner of Agriculture and legislature “regarding the development and implementation of programs and initiatives that support emerging farmers in this state.” Members of the working group represent farmers or aspiring farmers who are “women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian or Alaskan Natives, members of a community of color.” Bailey said balancing the equity of farming in Minnesota starts with simple representation. “It’s not if, but when — when is this going to start being shown,” he said. “Right now it’s not fair because there’s no representation.” Five meetings into the Emerging Farmers Working Group, Bailey said there are no new issues being brought up. “The issues are always land — access, financing and availability,” said Bailey. “And being able to have people be seen, because oftentimes people are just overlooked.”

Indigenous representation

In April 2019, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed the Tribal Nations Executive Order. The order, which affirmed government-to-government relations between Minnesota and Minnesota Tribal Nations, states that Minnesota and its Tribal Nations “significantly benefit from working together, learning from one another, and partnering when possible.” Minnesota is home to 11 tribal nations and 108,000 Native citizens. Lisa Schutz, director of the Southeast Minnesota Food Rescue and Redistribution Program, said she’s trying to link with as many Indigenous producers as she can with partnership opportunities at growers markets and food banks. Schutz is Indigenous herself — from the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina. “I’m a fourth-generation medicine woman, and member of the paint clan,” said Schutz. “We’re called that because we paint our medicine on.” Page 22 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Noah Fish / Agweek Lisa Schutz, director of the Southeast Minnesota Food Rescue and Redistribution Program and vendor at the Rochester Farmers Market, stands behind her products at the Rochester market on Sept. 3.

She said local Indigenous growers are underrepresented at the major food banks as well as farmers markets. “We know there’s a lot of food insecurity in these (Indigenous) communities,” she said. “So let’s say they go into a food bank — they don’t recognize what’s on that shelf, nor do they know what to do with it.” She said the first time she explored what was in food boxes that were distributed in southeast Minnesota, she felt ashamed. “You got macaroni and cheese out there, you got Rice Krispie treats, but you don’t have a tomato that anybody grew around here,” she said of food shelf products. “Let us help you, is what the message is — but then there’s actually barriers created.” At the first Rochester Farmers Market of September, Schutz said her focus was on having more “culturally relevant” products at her vendor stand. Lately she’s been inspired by selling at Rochester’s new Night Markets, which were created by Tiffany Alexandria as a way to highlight BIPOC vendors and replicate the cultural staple she experienced in Taiwan. The new markets are expanding the cultural representation of foods in Rochester, but Schutz said more needs to be done to include more cultures in the traditional growers markets of Rochester. “I think it’s important to understand that when you’re an emerging farmer of color, you have got a big job to figure

you Indian?” out how to break into growers’ markets,” said Schutz. She said she sits in on the Emerging Farmers Working “When I said yes, the next thing out of her mouth was Group meetings and thinks the work they’re doing is ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry,’” said Schutz. “I just thought, for great. She’s ready for the energy to be spread more what? We’re good. We’re all on a learning curve.” locally, though. “Now a lot of these emerging farmers will go right into Data is off their communities, and they’ll just sell it fresh wherever When examining USDA or state census data for BIPOC they can,” she said. The goal for every local farmers market should be farmers, Bailey said it’s important to realize the numbers having better representation of non-white producers, said aren’t accurate. Schutz, to reflect the changing demographics of the world. “The data is not correct,” said Bailey. “The most “Most growers’ markets are still too traditional, and important thing to realize with the data is that the USDA there’s a big learning curve out there, when growing doesn’t have a directory or list of how many BIPOC something that maybe isn’t readily seen around here,” said farmers are in the state of Minnesota — there is no list.” Schutz. “We’ve got to figure out how to get more cultures He said the numbers change depending on who you’re represented in these arenas, but also the logistics — like talking to. According to the how to promote it, how to sell most recent state farm census, it and how to educate people there are 39 Black farmers in on it.” Minnesota. Currently, Schutz is “That number has a lot to do working with growers part with who actually owns land, If you want every culture to be of the Rochester Cambodian versus who rents land, and who comfortable at the market, then Association to find ways to is signed up with (Farm Service introduce their products to you have to have every culture Agency),” said Bailey. the community. In the end, represented there Bailey said with so many baby she said it comes down to boomers set to retire and the – LISA SCHUTZ, having representation to demographics of the state set director of the Southeast Minnesota Food attract associations with to change drastically in the next Rescue and Redistribution Program BIPOC producers. decade, it’s time to put more “If you want every culture to BIPOC farmers on the land, and be comfortable at a market, set them up to stay there. then have every culture “The profession dies off when you retire, if you don’t represented there,” she said. “You have to break the ice, transfer it,” he said. “If you rent it out, there’s no promise because people that come in here and don’t see people that the person who’s renting five acres is going to of their own color often, might come once and then they keep those five acres, because everyone has a price at don’t come back.” some point.” To be a white ally to members of underrepresented He said out of the 25 million acres of the state, 16 million cultures, Schutz said it just takes being thoughtful with of that is on “prime farmland.” But that farmland will be your words. Instead of asking someone where they’re from, ask what cultures they identify with. And don’t let sold if developers offer the right price to farmers looking to skin color or curiosity about physical appearance dictate get out of the industry and be comfortable financially. what you say to a person. “I always look at the issues of agriculture not for the Schutz, who refers to herself as being “bright-skin,” said day, but what does it look like two years from now?” said one day at the market this summer a woman looked at Bailey. “It’s a race for equity, for people to be able to see her braids and the jewelry on her neck, and asked, “Are the same view as everyone else does.”

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A MARKET FOR EARTH-FRIENDLY GRAIN? Minnesota is leading producer of Kernza

By Dan Gunderson | MPR News


on Wyse has long been an evangelist for perennial crops. The University of Minnesota professor, who leads the U of M Forever Green Initiative, now thinks the potential of those crops is beginning to be realized. “It took us 30 years to get to this point, but we now have what I call real crops that have real possibility for the marketplace and for planting by farmers,” said Wyse. “And it’s really, really exciting.” Perennial crops can help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and they fit well with the regenerative agriculture movement that focuses on soil health.

Page 24 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

The largest crop yet of Kernza was recently harvested. Research shows Kernza improves water quality by reducing fertilizer pollution of water, and it can efficiently store carbon in the soil, helping reduce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. It also requires less fertilizer and pesticide than many traditional crops. “It’s basically continuous living cover, protecting soil and water, enhancing soil health. That’s the basis of all 16 crops that are being developed in the Forever Green Initiative,” said Wyse. Kernza is just the first of 16 perennial crops being developed at the U of M as part of the effort to make

It’s basically continuous living cover, protecting soil and water, enhancing soil health. That’s the basis of all 16 crops that are being developed in the Forever Green initiative – DON WYSE, U of M professor who leads the Forever Green initiative

Minnesota farms more environmentally friendly. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have worked with the Kansas-based Land Institute, to improve Kernza genetics. There are still challenges for farmers and plant breeders. Kernza yields tend to decline after two years, limiting how long farmers can keep the crop on a field. Wyse is confident that the problem will be resolved as new varieties are developed. The U of M released a new Kernza variety last year and a second variety is slated for release in 2023.

Growing interest

Farmers aren’t yet busting down the door to grow Kernza, but there’s a steady stream of people calling, wanting to learn more about the crop, said western Minnesota farmer Carmen Fernholz, an early adopter who first grew Kernza on his farm in 2011. Kernza is a cousin of wheat, developed from a perennial grass. Researchers tout its sweet, nutty flavor for use in baking, beer and a cereal product General Mills plans to soon have on the shelves at Whole Foods. Fernholz recently sold a semi load of the grain to a food company. He’s part of the new Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative, created to help farmers produce and market the grain. Continued on page 26


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“It’s certainly not to the scale that we intend to take it over the next few years,” said Fernholz. “But to say that the market is developing, yes. To say that we can grow lots and lots of acres at this stage of development, no.” And that’s always the challenge with a new crop. Farmers want to know there’s a market before they plant, but to expand markets, you need more crop to sell. Fernholz will expand his Kernza acres next year. As an organic farmer, he believes in the environmental benefits of perennial crops, and it helps his bottom line. “If we can continue to achieve the numbers that we are as far as marketing the Kernza, and the yield that we’re getting, it will definitely be profitable,” he said. Researchers are still analyzing this year’s crop yields to learn more about the drought impact. Kernza is very small in terms of crop production with about 4,000 acres grown nationwide. Minnesota is the leading producer with just over 1,300 acres. “We’re also getting significant international interest,” said Colin Cureton, director of adoption and scaling for the Forever Green Initiative. “So there’s really a need to grow to meet that. How do we export this product from Minnesota to the world is a big and exciting question.”

If we can continue to achieve the numbers that we are as far as marketing the Kernza, and the yield that we’re getting, it will definently be profitable – CARMEN FERNHOLZ, Minnesota farmer

A niche crop

Kernza is still a niche crop, and researchers say it will likely never replace mainstay grains like wheat. But this a good time for perennial crops to be taking off, said Cureton. There’s growing interest among farmers in soil health, carbon storage and regenerative agriculture, and crops like Kernza are a good fit. There’s also growing demand from consumers for sustainable agriculture. Cureton compares perennial crops to the development of wind and solar energy decades ago. “And so that’s what’s really exciting about these crops, which are really in their early stage,” he said. “I feel like with these crops, we’re kind of where renewable energy was about 20 years ago, but we’re making really rapid progress.” As more Kernza is grown, researchers are learning more about the benefits. Kernza stover, the stalks and leaves left in the field after harvest, makes a good quality livestock feed. And researchers have just begun to explore the potential benefits to wildlife from having a perennial crop on the land. Wyse is ready for the expansion of the next perennial crop — an oil seed called camelina, which he expects to reach 2 million acres of crop production in the next five years.

Page 26 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Contributed / Carmen Fernholz Minnesota farmer Carmen Fernholz likes the environmental benefits of Kernza, but also believes it can be profitable.

Contributed / Carmen Fernholz Minnesota farmer Carmen Fernholz was among the first to add the perennial grain Kernza to his crop rotation.

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Photos by David Samson / The Forum Gwen Erickson is seen with her jar collection where she carefully raises monarch butterflies at her home in Moorhead. She raised and released about 68 monarch butterflies this summer. Her table is often full of jars with eggs, caterpillars and the chrysalises as caterpillars undergo the intriguing process of becoming butterflies.



wen Erickson, 97, started a new hobby a few years back that she wishes others would undertake. The longtime Moorhead, Minnesota, resident is raising and releasing monarch butterflies. Last year, she raised 27 of the nation’s most popular and endangered butterflies. This year, she’s up to 61 with about six or seven more to go. Some might think nature should simply take care of itself. However, one of Erickson’s monarch books states that only about 10% of the insects survive the process in nature whereas those raised by humans have a 90% survival rate. “I think there are bugs who eat the eggs,” she said. Erickson’s success rate has been spectacular. “I don’t think I’ve lost any,” she said about the process that starts with collecting eggs off of milkweed leaves she grows in a small area of her backyard in south-central Moorhead where she has lived for more than 60 years. After she takes the entire leaf off the milkweed plant with the tiny eggs on the underside of the leaf, she brings

Page 28 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

it inside and puts it in a glass jar with holes punched through the lid. The jars sit on a table in her living room with lots of natural light from south-facing windows. Sometimes, the table is completely full, she said. After about three to four days, the caterpillar emerges from the egg. Two weeks later, the white, black and yellow caterpillar goes into a j-shape and forms a chrysalis, or a cocoonlooking green or jade bag, that hangs off the lid of the jar. If there was another enclosure besides a jar, the caterpillar would crawl to the top to form the chrysalis, she said. In another 10 days to two weeks, the majestic growing butterfly emerges from the chrysalis that has turned black with the wings visible in the final stages. Erickson said the newborn monarchs usually just hang upside down on the lid that she likes to remove from the jar when the chrysalis forms. When the butterflies are ready, she lets them loose outdoors and they take off on their first journey with wings flapping.

A few of those she raised can be found flying around her house. In fact, she thinks there’s one inside her home currently that she can’t seem to find. Almost all wait to take flight until they’re released outdoors. Erickson said they seem to go over to a neighbor’s yard where there are more flowers than she grows to drink the nectar and feed. “I just think the process is fascinating,” she said about the monarchs’ hatch. Erickson was hoping her grandchildren would enjoy it more when she first tried raising the butterflies years ago at their lake. Instead, it’s been her, she said, who finds the pleasure in raising butterflies. The former secretary for the Moorhead school library has a friend who’s also interested in raising the endangered insects. That friend tried it this year, and so did Erickson’s son who lives in Watertown, Minnesota. Erickson said she usually doesn’t like to talk about herself and what she does, but she did this time as she hopes others would take up the hobby and help the monarch population rebound. She and her husband, Art, who died a few years ago, were able to visit the mountains of Mexico where the monarchs migrate and mate in the winter as they hang around on trees. For this year, the egg-laying season in the north is over, so Erickson’s hobby is winding down. She’s already looking forward to next June, though, when the process can start all over again. Her goal, she said with a smile, is to ramp it up even more and raise even more than the 68 this year. “It’s a good hobby, and it means something,” she said. “Plus, it gets me outside.”

Gwen Erickson lets a female monarch butterfly she raised fly free at her home in southcentral Moorhead on Aug. 4.

Gwen Erickson has a laugh as a female monarch butterfly lands on her cheek at her home in Moorhead on Aug. 4.

Gwen Erickson raised 70 monarch butterflies this summer at her home in Moorhead.

Readers can reach reporter Barry Amundson at 701-451-5665 or

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Photos Contributed by Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory Dr. Saad Gharaibeh, (left to right) Dr. Dale Lauer, Dr. Shauna Voss, Stacy Pollock and Lucinda Dahlberg stand at the entrance of the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar.



ith the fall bird migration in full swing, it’s natural for Dr. Dale Lauer to get a bit queasy. After all, the spring bird migration of 2015 is linked to the country’s most deadly outbreak of bird flu and Lauer, an assistant director with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health who works at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab in Willmar, was at the head of that battle in west central Minnesota. “We all have a little PTSD,” he said, remembering the toll the “horrible disease” had on area farmers, veterinarians, other animal health responders and the entire community. “This outbreak was the largest HPAI outbreak ever recorded in the United States, and arguably the most significant animal health event in U.S. history,” he said. Nationwide, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 affected 7.4 million turkeys and 43 million egg-layers and pullet chickens that either died from the disease or were depopulated as part of the response. Page 30 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Millions of Minnesota poultry died, gutting the region’s turkey and chicken industry. So it’s natural for Lauer’s guard to go up now as wild birds, that are known to carry avian influenza, are migrating. “Every fall and every spring we look at how this can be impacted,” he said. But the lessons learned in 2015 about the need for biosecurity on farms — and construction of an expanded poultry testing lab in Willmar in 2016 — have helped keep another poultry pandemic at bay. It was five years ago this fall when the improved $8.5 million poultry lab opened its doors with fanfare. Community and statewide leaders celebrated a new frontline response to preserving the health of the state’s poultry industry. “It’s difficult to comprehend the broad value the MPTL (Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory) provides to

the poultry industry and poultry owners in the state,” Lauer said.

Bigger and better

Prior to the bird flu outbreak, Lauer and the staff housed in the cramped, 3,665-square-foot poultry testing lab did basic poultry testing and training. But when the bird flu hit, an official diagnosis was required to trigger a response by the USDA and state animal health officials and to qualify producers for compensation. In 2015, the only USDA-approved lab in the state was at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul. During the start of the bird flu, couriers transported samples every day from farm country to St. Paul to be tested. Later, USDA Incident Management Teams set up a temporary Emergency Operations Center in Willmar, where operations continued seven days a week for more than six months, Lauer said. The distance between farms and St. Paul and the delayed time to get results resulted in plans to expand the lab in Willmar to nearly 12,000-square-feet and equip it with testing equipment and staff needed for enhanced poultry diagnostics. “The 2015 HPAI event highlighted the need for additional surge capacity in Minnesota to respond to timesensitive testing requirements, such as those required by the USDA for diagnosis of HPAI and safe product movement out of control zones,” Lauer said. Continued on page 32

Ashley Hurley does blood tests on poultry samples at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar.

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continue to be followed — along with the well-equipped and well-trained laboratory — that diseases can be kept The Willmar lab is the second facility in the state in check. accredited as a National Animal Health Laboratory “Having a certified testing laboratory in the heart of Network lab that performs the “molecular diagnostic, Minnesota’s poultry operations is an enormous benefit for or polymerase chain reaction, test required for HPAI sample submissions and improved surveillance,” Lauer response programs,” Lauer said. said. “However, the MPTL can only detect disease. It’s The lab opened the door for real-time testing and been the vigilant biosecurity efforts from producers, big enabled the MPTL to “keep pace with new diagnostic test and small, that have kept further disease introductions procedures and the testing needs of a growing Minnesota at bay. ” poultry industry that include having a veterinary Lauer said poultry farmers who were here in 2015 know diagnostician on-site at MPTL,” he said. very well the risks of being complacent with biosecurity The lab has a pathologist on staff to perform necropsy measures. The lab continues to provide training to the on dead birds to diagnose diseases. “We couldn’t do that industry to make sure that new farmers and employees before,” Lauer said. know the value of following biosecurity steps every day The 2015 outbreak clearly emphasized the need for a poultry diagnostic testing lab closer to where poultry was and know the immense risks to the poultry industry if those steps are not followed. being raised, Lauer said. “It’s hard to stay on high alert at all times,” Lauer said. “Thankfully, the governor and legislature realized the But by taking biosecurity seriously and making it part of importance of renovating the MPTL and provided the the daily farm routine, the risks of an outbreak are reduced. necessary funding very quickly,” he said. The regular “surveillance testing” performed on poultry MPTL is considered a branch lab of the St. Paul flocks is a vital part of the process to prevent a future Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. outbreak, he said. Lauer said a large conference room in the lab has But if another outbreak does happen, they’ll be ready. been used for virtual training sessions during the COVID “With this facility we’ve been very lucky to be here. It pandemic, and it could serve as an emergency center for has served the industry quite well and we’ll keep plugging any future animal disease outbreaks. away and keep our fingers crossed there’s not another Keeping vigilant 2015 event,” Lauer said. As the MPTL celebrates its fifth anniversary, Lauer is “But if we do, we’ll be up to the challenge … we know keenly aware of the potential for a future widespread avian what to expect and we know we need to respond quickly.” influenza, but is hopeful that if on-the-farm safeguards You may contact the author at Continued from page 31

Tracey Besser works in serology diagnostics at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab Katie Rathmann does polymerase chain reaction testing at the Minnesota Poultry in Willmar. Testing Lab in Willmar.

Page 32 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune



he yearslong effort to return wild elk to parts of eastern Minnesota is advancing with a formal proposal from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Under the plan, Fond du Lac would start transplanting elk into northern Carlton County and southern St. Louis County in 2025, at first with animals taken from a wild herd in Kittson County in northwestern Minnesota. “This is our formal proposal to bring elk back to the region,” said Mike Schrage, biologist for the Fond du Lac Band. “This is a proposal on what to do and how to do it. But we’re still going to be taking input from the public and government agencies on how we manage elk once they’re here. … We’re putting it out there for the Minnesota DNR Continued on page 34

David Kenyon / Michigan Department of Natural Resources A wild bull elk photographed in Michigan. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has submitted a formal plan to transplant elk from northwestern Minnesota into the Fond du Lac State Forest in northern Carlton and southern St. Louis counties, what would be the first wild elk in eastern Minnesota in nearly 150 years.

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Continued from page 33

and for the public to tell us what you think.” Eventually the band calls for moving up to 150 elk into the area over 3-5 years with an eventual goal of a sustainable population of about 300 elk roaming parts of the Fond du Lac Reservation and much of the Fond du Lac State Forest — a combined area of about 296 square miles of mostly forested, mostly public lands. The band proposes any elk moved into the area should first be required to undergo appropriate health screenings and then monitored post-release to evaluate movements, mortality and any areas of conflict. While no live animal test as yet exists for chronic wasting disease, band officials say it’s critical the elk come from an area believed to be free of the deadly disease that ravages deer, elk, caribou and moose. The band had previously looked at also bringing elk back to the nearby Cloquet River Valley State Forest and Nemadji State Forest but has decided to drop those areas and focus on the Fond du Lac area. “In our view, the Fond du Lac study area rose to the top as the best place to do this,” Schrage said, adding that the band may in the future pursue other areas if the first restoration is considered successful. Band officials say they want a strong partnership with state and local officials and the public to bring elk back to the region. Dave Olflet, director of the Minnesota DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division, said the agency received the Fond du Lac proposal late last week. Biologists from the band and

DNR have been discussing the concept since a more general proposal by Fond du Lac more than a year ago. “This is their formal ask,” Olfelt noted. “And we will get back to them in a timely manner.” The band has been studying the concept of elk reintroduction since 2014, with habitat studies in 2017 and 2018 showing plenty of wild food for elk to eat. A major public opinion study in 2019 by University of Minnesota researchers found strong support for elk among the general public and among rural landowners in the area. Those findings buoyed the band’s resolve to move forward. “The band’s Reservation Business Committee believes restoring a wild elk population to areas where band members retain their historic treaty rights is in the band’s best interest,” said Kevin Dupuis Sr., Fond du Lac tribal chairman, in a statement released Tuesday. “Elk have historically been, and continue to be, an intrinsic part of our culture and traditions.” Known as omashkooz in Ojibwe, elk were important to the diet and culture of Native Americans across much of Minnesota until elk were hunted out by European settlers in the 1870s. Minnesota’s only current wild elk population is in the far northwestern corner of the state. About 80 miles east of the proposed Minnesota elk reintroduction area, Wisconsin successfully reintroduced elk into southern Ashland County in the 1990s. There’s now a wild population of about 300 elk around the Clam Lake area. A second herd of about 100 elk roams in Jackson County in central Wisconsin.

Gary Meader

Contributed / Mike Schrage A bull elk photographed in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has submitted a formal plan to transplant elk from northwestern Minnesota into the Fond du Lac State Forest in northern Carlton and southern St. Louis counties, what would be the first wild elk in eastern Minnesota in nearly 150 years.

Page 34 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune



embers of the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers feel fortunate they became specialized and stayed small during a time when many producers doubled down on expansion. As conventional dairy markets have turned more unstable in recent years, the market for organic milk has been stable. That’s good news for the 1,800 farmer-owners of Organic Valley. The cooperative says in 2020 it had its fourth consecutive year of total sales exceeding $1.1 billion, and a “significant improvement in net earnings from ongoing operations,” compared to 2018 results. Organic Valley recorded a net loss of $2.5 million in 2018 and improved to $4.5 million in 2019. Organic Valley members Dennis and Ruth Buck are the third generation to farm their family’s land in Goodhue County, where they currently milk 120 cows. They purchased the operation from Dennis’ mother in 1998 and made the switch to organic a year later. By 2003, the Bucks were selling milk to Organic Valley.

Two robotic milking machines were installed at the farm in 2015 in order for the couple and their six children to be the operation’s only workers. Three of the couple’s six children are now interested in becoming the fourth generation to farm the land, after they’re finished with school. Ruth Buck said even if that does happen and their operation grows, they won’t expand the size of their dairy herd. “We are committed to that 120 — and really couldn’t go bigger because our land base matches that,” said Buck. “But with three possible kids back, we might have to do something else — it just won’t be expanding the dairy.” Her husband runs the farm side of the operation and she does all the accounting. Buck said the stability of the market for organic milk is what influenced their decision to get into the market. “It stabilized how big we were going to get, because two robots can only milk about that many cows,” she said. Continued on page 36 Noah Fish / Agweek

Pictured above: Cows in the pasture at Zweber Family Farm in Elko, Minn., on Aug. 23.

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West Central Tribune – November 2021 – Page 35

The Zweber family poses for a picture with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (right) on a visit to their farm in Elko, Minn., on Aug. 23. Continued from page 35

One bad year

The prices for conventional milk weren’t cutting it for the couple in their first year running the operation. Ruth Buck said after watching her husband work dawn to dusk every day to earn “about $2,500 at the end of the year,” she started thinking of ways they could make an operation actually work financially. Her idea at the time was to scale up — they had 100 cows at the time. Her husband disagreed. “He was adamant that he didn’t want to manage people,” she said of Dennis Buck. “He wanted to stay the size that we were and somehow make it that at that point.” The couple started talking to a neighboring organic operation to find out what it took to get certified, and if the industry gave producers a fair shot. “The more we asked questions, the more we were like, this is how we want to farm,” she said. The couple’s children were young at the time but they were thinking about opportunities for them in the future. On their way back from an organic farming conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, they decided it was time to go all-in on organic, because if they didn’t, the transition wouldn’t work. Page 36 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

Noah Fish / Agweek

By 1999, the Bucks were transitioning to organic, after only a year raising conventional dairy. “One bad year was all I could handle,” said Buck.

Passing the high bar

Getting certified organic and keeping that certification is a big undertaking for the small operations that take it on, said Buck, and if challenges do arise it often comes during inspections. “It’s quite a lengthy inspection when they come once a year, and (third-party inspectors) can be at your farm from six to eight hours, checking every pasture and going through all your paperwork for the year,” she said. “It’s necessary to make sure you either grew the crops or bought the crops organically to feed what you have on the farm.” In 2003 in the early years of their transition, the Bucks had their only misstep which was caught in the inspection process. “They literally go through every ingredient of every input, or every seed you use,” she said. That year they had unknowingly used a seed that wasn’t permitted. In an inspection process there can be minor incompliances and major incompliances, and their mistake was a major.

“Those fields where that seed was put into, we had to re-transition them for three years,” she said, forcing them to adapt to have enough feed for the cows. “I think that was actually a really good thing to happen to us.” She said it not only taught them the strictness of the process but to be prepared for an alternative to what they planned for. Be ready for things to go wrong, like this year’s dry weather. “As an accountant, I always say you should budget for the fact that at least once every six years, you’re gonna have feed that isn’t good,” she said. “Plan for it, and save up for it — because with the weather, that’s how it is.” After almost two decades of producing and selling organic, Ruth said she doesn’t know what their life would be like if they wouldn’t went down the other road of expanding. “Organic has been a blessing for us — and truly was a good fit for our family.” Another Organic Valley member farm in southeast Minnesota is Zweber Family Farms, which has been in production since 1906 in the rolling hills of Scott County. The town of Elko where the family has always farmed is now more subdivisions than it is crops. Fourth generation farmer Tim Zweber said the farm has its roots in dairy but also sells organic beef, chicken and pork. In the fastest growing suburb of the Twin Cities, he said they’ve found a local market of families who’ve moved to the area in recent years.

He said they’ve been with Organic Valley ever since they transitioned to organic, in 2007. “It was kind of about that time that organic was really ramping up,” he said. “And the profitability was good because the market was growing really well.” Zweber credits the founders of Organic Valley in the ‘80s who put in the leg work to make the co-op into something that could grow itself over time. He said up until recently, the demand for organic continued to grow. “It’s kind of leveled off more now,” he said. “The market is more mature than it was back then.” But Zweber doesn’t think the organic industry is heading down from here. Even if there is a slowdown in demand, he prefers selling product in a market that’s nothing like the conventional one. “In the conventional world, it just takes one year when we have a lot of milk, and all of a sudden it’s all on sale,” Zweber said. “Just give it away for a dollar a gallon, and never mind what this will do to the market.” Like the Buck family, Zweber said he feels better off as an organic farmer because the market can be understood and predicted. Unlike the organic market, the conventional side is “based on nonsensical government calculations,” he said. “The government is really heavily involved in how they figure out the price of conventional milk, and there’s only so many big processors and they’re in that mix, too,” he said. “It’s all a really strange system that I’m glad I’m not in.”

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West Central Tribune – November 2021 – Page 37



ochester’s iconic ear-of-corn water tower was recently restored to look new again. “For many of us in Olmsted County, when we see the ear of corn water tower, we think of home. It is, in many ways, a symbol of both our past as well as our future,” said Stephanie Podulke, Olmsted County Board chairwoman. Restoration of the water tower was part of a $2.2 million effort to prepare the former Seneca canning facility site for development. Olmsted County purchased the 11-acre property, which included the water tower, for $5.6 million in 2019. According to Olmsted County Director of Facilities and Building Operations Mat Miller, the ear of corn water tower was constructed in 1931, and has been a “staple of the Rochester skyline.”

MORE OPTIONS. MORE PERFORMANCE. Page 38 – November 2021 – West Central Tribune

The ear of corn tower was built as a way for the Reid, Murdoch and Co. cannery, which opened in 1929, to access water. The tower was designed by Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., and stands 151-feet tall with a 60-foot tank. The 50,000-gallon water tower and cannery was purchased by Libby Foods in 1948 and Seneca Foods in 1982. Seneca shut down the plant in 2018, and the tower was purchased by Olmsted County the year after. It had been about 15-20 years since the tower’s last restoration. The recent restoration work included the tower being sandblasted clean, repainted and restored to look brand-new. “It’s kind of a landmark, and a lot of people have a lot of history connected to it,” said County Commissioner Jim Bier. “So we decided we wanted to dress it up a little.”




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