MFU thanks delegation for addressing dairy concerns

Minnesota-Farmers-Union-Logo-ApprovedMinnesota Farmers Union (MFU) would like to thank Senators Franken and Klobuchar as well as Representatives Peterson, Nolan, and Walz  for joining 60 of their colleagues in signing on to a bi-partisan Congressional letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  The letter expressed concern about the troubling economic challenges facing U.S. dairy farmers and urged him to assist them as quickly as possible.

The letter, spearheaded by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney, cited that farm milk prices dropping 40 percent since 2014.  Compounding the problem of low prices, the nation’s cheese stocks were recorded at their highest level since the data was first recorded in 1917. The letter also says that current expectations are that the dairy market will continue to struggle

“MFU has been in constant contact with our Congressional delegation working on assistance for Minnesota dairy farmers, and MFU appreciates the effort of these members of Congress,” said MFU President Doug Peterson.

dairy industry struggles

The Minnesota Farmers Union thanked its congressional delegation for signing onto a letter urging the USDA to take action to help the nation’s struggling dairy farmers. (Jackson Forderer for MPR News)

The members of Congress in the letter urge the USDA to use its secretarial authority and look to past precedent for ways to take action to protect all of our nation’s dairy farmers from any further crisis.  The letter also urges the USDA to aid in the expansion and maintenance of domestic markets. The letter further urges the USDA to take all actions available in order to make an immediate market injection and offer financial assistance that will support dairy farmers.  They also caution USDA to not stimulate overproduction further than it’s already gone.

MFU will continue to work on dairy policy as we begin our annual county conventions throughout the state, making help for dairy farmers a top priority.

 

Minnesota Farmers Union, standing for agriculture, fighting for farmers (www.mfu.org).

Miracle of Birth Center brings agriculture to the public

Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, Minnesota

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester gave the public a chance to get up close to animal agriculture, with the goal of educating the public on just where there food comes from and how it’s produced. (photo by Chad Smith)

As some people entered the Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, the sounds of a brand new calf, ten-day-old goats, and just-born piglets fighting for the best positions near mom to nurse brought back a flood of memories from living on a farm.

However, most of the people entering the Center didn’t have an agricultural background to draw on so it was a completely new experience for some of them.  That’s the reason Ag Star Financial and several local sponsors pooled their resources to bring the Center to life.  The goal is a simple one: to educate the public about agriculture.

“We have a lot of education stations in here for kids and adults too,” said Tracy Nelson, Miracle of Birthing Center Manager.  “People can get up close with hens that laid eggs and then watch the eggs hatch.  We also have baby chicks and ducklings they can touch.  We also have ten-day-old goat kids.”

Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester.

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center gave the public a chance to get up close and personal with ten-day-old goats and other animals found in American animal agriculture. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Ed Kuisle of Rochester brought the goats, and he said it’s been one of the most popular exhibits in the Center for one reason:  personality.  The goats are a novelty for the kids, and he said they have a lot of personalities already at just ten days old so kids really enjoy interacting with them.  The goats come from a big dairy farm down by Altura.

“The owner of the farm milks about 600 of them.  These goats are billies (male),” said Kuisle, who grew up working on a dairy farm near Rochester. “The owner of the farm feeds them out to 50-60 pounds and then sells them.  All the does stay on the farm for milking.”

Four sows were on display during the fair, and they were all expected to farrow.  One of the sows farrowed on Thursday morning and had ten brand new piglets.  The birthing didn’t stop there either.  A brand new Holstein calf was born on Thursday afternoon.  The bull took his first steps in front of an appreciative crowd shortly after 2:30.

Miracle of Birth Center in Rochester

The general public had a chance to watch a Holstein bull calf being born on Thursday afternoon, July 27, at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester as part of the Miracle of Birth Center. (photo by Chad Smith)

“We actually announce that we have a birthing going on over the public address system of the fair and it fills up,” Nelson said.  “There are a lot of people on the bleachers and standing around.  We even put it up on the TV’s here in the building and do some play-by-play for people in the building.”

Nelson said people ask lots of questions.  For example, they seem surprised at the size difference between a mother sow and her piglets.  Another question they get is how the little chicks could actually fit inside the eggs they hatch from.  They also think the size of the bigger animals is surprising.  And those kinds of questions are the reason the Center is in existence.

“The biggest purpose of the Center is to educate the public about animal agriculture,” Nelson said.  “It’s about giving people the experience of seeing live animals of different ages and sizes.  Whether they actually get to see a live birth or just come and see the animals here, they’re learning about animal agriculture.”

Nelson said Kuisle is one of many volunteers that make the Center possible.  Kuisle said with a smile on his face that he volunteers one week a year, and it’s at the county fair.  But he was quick to add that a project like the Miracle of Birthing Center has been very successful.

“It’s gone very well,” Kuisle said. “It was slow the first couple of days but it’s really picked up.  The goal is to expose young people to what happens on the farm.  Most children today can’t come out to a farm anymore so this type of project works out well here.”

Kuisle said he gets a lot of questions too.  Some of them include ‘are the animals born with teeth?  Are they boy or girl?’  And the biggest question he gets is ‘can I pet them?’

Miracle of Birth Center in Rochester

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester gave youngsters a chance to interact with live animals raised in American agriculture. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Nelson also grew up on a dairy farm.  She said she’s a little surprised at the disconnect between rural and urban folks, but not entirely surprised.  She said a lot of people grew up with agriculture in the family, but those numbers are falling.

“It’s surprising how much some of the people know about agriculture,” she said, “and it’s surprising how little others may know about Ag.  Most people really seem to want the information about where their food comes from”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MDA value added grants available for Minnesota agriculture

Value added agriculture grants are available from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Exporting soybeans overseas is one way to add value to Minnesota’s agricultural products. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has grants available for adding value to all kinds of agricultural products. (photo from archive.constantcontact.com)

Value added to agriculture sustains the long-term success of the industry and The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) wants to ensure the industry’s future.  The MDA has up to $1 million in grants available through the competitive Value Added Grant Program. The grant was established to advance Minnesota’s agricultural and renewable energy industries through the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) Program.

The goal of the Value Added Grant is to increase sales of Minnesota agricultural products. Some of the ways to add value include  diversifying markets, increasing market access, and increasing food safety of value-added products.

Dave Frederickson supports value added agriculture in Minnesota

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson notes that value added agriculture does a lot to support the state’s economy, including the off-farm sectors. (Photo from mda.state.mn.us)

“Value-added businesses benefit the state of Minnesota in lots of ways,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson. “They utilize Minnesota grown agricultural products in creative ways and the extra sales revenues help support our state’s economy. It’s exciting to watch Minnesota entrepreneurs improve their businesses with funding from the Value Added Grant Program.”

New or established for-profit businesses may apply for funding to help with the development of value-added agricultural products.  Some of the ways value gets added to agricultural products include added processing, marketing, or manufacturing. Grant funds reimburse up to 25 percent of the total project cost.  The maximum award is $150,000 and the minimum grant is $1,000. Equipment purchases and facility improvements are also eligible ways to add value to agricultural products.

Applications must be received no later than 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 27, 2016. Applications are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/grants/grants/valueaddedgrant.aspx and may be submitted online, by mail, or in-person.

Dairy Night at Mayo Field with the Honkers

Milking cows in the middle of a baseball game?  As a farm boy and lifelong baseball fan, there was no way in the world I was going to pass that up.

Dairy night at the Ballpark in Rochester, Minnesota

Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota, was home to Dairy Night at the Ballpark, featuring the 22nd annual cow milking contest to help promote agriculture. (photo by Chad Smith)

The Rochester Honkers baseball team was home to the St. Cloud Rox in Northwoods League baseball on Friday night, July 8.  The night’s sponsor included the Olmsted County American Dairy Association, with help from the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.  It was Dairy Night at the ballpark with an unusual way to promote agriculture.

The highlight of the night was a cow milking contest that took place at the end of the first inning.  And this wasn’t a new idea, either.  For over 20 years, the Honkers have been hosting an annual milking contest.  This year’s edition featured coaches from both teams in a one-minute, old-fashioned milking contest.  There wasn’t a milking machine to be found for miles.  This one was done by hand.

Dairy Night at the Ballpark In Rochester, Minnesota, sponsored by the Olmsted County ADA

St Cloud Rox Assistant Baseball Coach Phil Imholte is ready for the Dairy Night at the Ballpark main event, a cow milking contest intended to help promote agriculture at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Honkers Manager Trevor Hairgrove was the Rochester entrant and Rox Assistant Coach Phil Imholte was a good sport by jumping into the contest for St. Cloud.  Hairgrove was the eventual contest winner in spite of the fact that his cow was much more agitated and jumpy than Imholte’s.

“It was the 22nd annual Cow Milking Contest,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau Southeast Area Program Director Katie Brenny.  “It was put on by the Olmsted County American Dairy Association and we were glad to join them and help promote agriculture.”

The cows were on loan from the Shea Dairy farm near Viola, Minnesota.  June was officially Dairy Month across the country, but they wanted to continue to promote agriculture with the Rochester Honkers here in early July.

A dairy cow is jumpy while getting ready for the Dairy Night at the Ballpark event in Rochester, Minnesota.

A dairy cow on loan from the Shea Dairy farm near Viola, Minnesota, isn’t excited about being in the Dairy Night at the Ballpark milking contest on Friday night, July 8, at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota. (photo by Chad Smith)

“It’s important to do this because consumers have questions,” Brenny said.  “They want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and we hope they also want to know the people who are producing their food, getting up early in the morning to do the chores and drive the tractor.”

If agriculture doesn’t promote itself, she said consumers with questions typically get their information from non-factual sources .  Farmers want to tell their stories, similar to the way a teacher wants to tell others what they teach or doctors want to talk about what they do.

“There’s always work to do to tell our story,” she said.  “Agriculture changes almost every day, and if we’re not sharing the change, no one will know what we’re doing.  For instance, 97 percent of our farms are family owned and we love to share that message with others.  Farmers are more than willing to answer any questions about what they do.”

Heading home after Dairy Night at the Ballpark in Rochester, Minnesota.

Heading home to the dairy farm after the Cow Milking Contest at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota, on Friday night for Dairy Night at the Ballpark, sponsored by the Olmsted County American Dairy Association (Photo by Chad Smith

Katie is the Southeast Area Program Director for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.  She spends a lot of time keeping things organized for Farm Bureau members in this part of the state.

“I work with all 11 counties down here in the southeast,” Brenny said, “doing anything from working with our elected officials on Ag policy to consumer events such as tonight, partnering with Ag commodity groups, county fairs, Ag in the Classroom, and more.  We were just at the Rochester Farmer’s Market last weekend and doing all kinds of events to promote the voice of agriculture.”

Brenny and some volunteers spent some time Thursday at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.  Some of the pictures can be found here.

In addition to the dairy contest, there was some pretty good baseball too as you’ll see in a few highlights I’ve put together here.

It’s time to “Fetch” the groceries

When shoppers walk in the door of the Rushford Foods grocery store, things will look the same on the surface, but there’s a small change in the environment that means a big change for grocery shopping.

Groceries and Fetch are now together in the technology age

Rushford Foods is one of the newest stores trying to bring grocery shopping into the technology age with an application called “Fetch,” that seeks to make grocery shopping more efficient for shoppers of all ages. (photo from rushfordfoods.com)

The pop culture saying “there’s an app for that” now applies to grocery shopping.  Rushford Foods is now gone online with an application called Fetch, which is designed to make patrons into more efficient shoppers.  The options on the app are many, but they’re surprisingly easy to learn.

“Fetch is two years old and based in Madison, Wisconsin,” said Tristan Bednarek of Fetch Rewards.   “Chief Executive Officer Wes Schroll is the company’s founder.  As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he grew frustrated with some aspects of grocery shopping, especially with the length of time it took and the difficulty in finding coupons.  He found a way to fix those problems.”

It’s time to “Fetch” the groceries

The Fetch Rewards company’s “Fetch” grocery shopping application is online at IGA food stores in Rushford, Preston, and Harmony, Minnesota food stores to help make grocery shopping easier for shoppers of all ages. (Photo from superbcrew.org)

Fetch is a free mobile application that shoppers can download onto their smartphones or tablets.  However, if customers don’t own their own device, Rushford Foods will provide tablets for them to use.  All they have to do is check out one at the service counter.

Using an application to help their customers shop isn’t something that Rushford Foods jumped into.  It’s been a process that first began 18 months ago thanks to an article in a college newsletter.

“The founder of Fetch is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate,” said Rushford Foods co-owner Brad Hoiness, “but I went to school at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and the story appeared the La Crosse newsletter. It peaked my interest, so I drove to Madison and met with his team over there and watched how it’s been developing since then.”The first step in using the app is a simple one:  open up the app on your smart device.

“The Deals page is the first one you see when the application opens up,” said Emma Malone of Rushford Foods. “You grab the coupon you want by hitting the Fetch button.  Coupons can even be divided into categories like Dairy or Frozen foods.”

“The Deals page is the first one you see when the app is running,” said Emma Malone of Rushford Foods. “You grab the coupon you want by hitting the Fetch button.  Coupons can even be divided into categories like Dairy or Frozen foods.”

As shoppers go through the aisles and scan items, they are awarded a certain number of points for each item, and those points are redeemable for free items.

Get the groceries with the new “Fetch” application

Photographs from the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Mayville WI. where they are using a software app that allows to people to scan products in the store with their phones or the store has 6 loaner tablet devices, receive coupons instantly and have expedited check-out. You also get points and then can get free products. Fetch Rewards is the name of the Madison-based company that sets this up. Here Mike Hansen of Horicon scans in a bar code from the mushrooms he was buying with one of the store’s loaner tablets. (Photo from MICHAEL SEARS/MSEARS@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM)

“As shoppers walk up and down the aisles, they’re scanning everything they’re buying,” Bednarek said.  “The camera on your device will scan the barcodes for you and total up the prices of what you’re buying.  The app uses your camera and you don’t even have to press any buttons to scan something.  It takes the picture all by itself.  The item then gets thrown in your digital cart while you put it in your actual shopping cart.”

The app keeps a running total of what you’ve bought as you scan each item.  It doesn’t add sales tax so the checkout line final total will be a little different.  The application will show you different coupon options available for the items you want to purchase.

“Those coupons you select in the app come off automatically as you shop,” he said.  “When a coupon is available for something you scan and you haven’t selected it previously, you’ll see a pop-up that asks if you want to save money on the item.  All you do is hit the Fetch button.”

Buying produce will be a little different than most of the other items.  You begin by scanning the barcodes on each produce table which will contain several different options.

“Once you scan the barcode,” said Malone, “a list of everything on the table pops up and shoppers will select the one they want.  A blue button on the screen will remind shoppers to take the produce to scales to weigh the product.  Once it’s on the scale, a barcode pops up in the top right corner with the weight and price.  You scan that barcode with your smart device and it goes right into your virtual shopping cart.”

The Fetch Rewards company loads coupons into the application, and their manufacturer partners do too. Each store that signs up with Fetch will offer their own coupons too.

“You’ll get the same store savings using the app,” Bednarik said, “as we’re not replacing anything.  We’re just an addition on top of what the stores are doing.  Customers still have the opportunity to use manufacturer coupons that they clip out of newspapers.”

When the time comes to redeem the bonus points, shoppers should first hit the checkout button.  A list of everything you have will pop up and show how much you saved on each item.  The total number of points available determines how many of the shopping items will be free.  Each item will cost a certain number of redeemable points and the more of those shoppers have, the more they save.

Fetch Rewards just partnered with a company called Shop Well and the application can now flag nutritional information as well.  This is especially important for shoppers who suffer from food allergies or simply want to live healthier.

“They provide us with nutritional information,” Bednarek said.  “If you scan an item, you have the option to look at its ingredients list and it gives information like sodium content or cholesterol amounts.  Shoppers can even update their profiles to include food allergies and gluten intolerance.  All those things can be flagged so that when you scan an item, it will let you know.”

Southeast Minnesota grocery stores where Fetch is now available include Rushford Foods, as well as Harmony Foods and Preston Foods.  All three IGA food stores just went live with the application for the first time last Wednesday.

“We’ve trained the employees first, getting them comfortable and familiar with the app,” Bednarek said.  “They can answer any questions customers ask.

“We’ve also had several people use it to check out their groceries and they’ve said it’s very easy to learn,” Bednarek added.  “I’ve even had people tell me it turned grocery shopping a little more fun, which is not something you hear on a regular basis.”

Here’s a demonstration video I put together when I was doing the story for Bluff Country News.  I didn’t actually intend to put it up for public viewing, but I thought it would give a decent enough idea of how Fetch works.  If you put your playback on the HD setting, I think the picture is good enough to understand.  Of course, you can also go to Rushford Foods or any of the other stores that have it for more  information.

Chad

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a success

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit!

The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm was a big success at the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg. (Photo by Chad Smith)

The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm took place on the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg last Friday night.  A warm summer evening saw a great turnout and a wide variety of activities for people of all ages to take part in.

The goal was a simple one:  to introduce the non-farm public to the people behind the food they eat and to show them what goes into producing that food.  Displays of old and new farm equipment lined the farmyard, as well as history displays, a petting zoo, a lunch stand, kids activities, and much more that made for a busy family night on the farm.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit with children

People of all ages had a chance to get up close and personal at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm at the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg on a beautiful Friday evening. (photo by Chad Smith)

“This is the second year of doing this event,” said Katie Brown, a member of the group putting on the event.  “Last year, many of us put together the first event last year at Klein’s Cow Palace near Lake City.  This year, the Holst family graciously offered to host the event out here, so it’s a new event for our county but we’re hoping to make it a tradition.”

Brown described the turnout on Friday night as “amazing.”  Events like this just don’t happen without a large number of people who are passionate about agriculture and want to tell its story to people who don’t have much of a connection to the farm.

“We want to make sure we tell the next generation about what farmers do every day and how hard they work,” said Brown, who lives in Millville, “and not just in the dairy industry but every segment of farming, including corn and soybean farmers, and hog producers.  We just want to make sure we share that story with everyone.”

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included agricultural history

Ag history was on display with antique farm equipment at the second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm near Kellogg. The non-farm public had a chance to learn more about ag history and see some of the newest available equipment on display too. (Photo by Chad Smith)

The list of activities was a long one on Friday night.  The displays included the history of agriculture, with actual working equipment from back in the day as well as some of the newest equipment, a chance to watch the dairy farm at work, and plenty for the kids to do as well.

“We have a little bit of history,” Brown said as she took a break from helping at the lunch counter, “not just about the farm but how agriculture has changed.  We have a cream separator, which a lot of people may not know how it works, so it’ll be interesting to watch that.  We have a large sand pile for kids with hidden baseballs to find for a chance to win Twins tickets.  We have old and new tractors, a pedal tractor, calf feeding, and much more.”

She said it’s incredibly important to do more activities like this because of that growing disconnect between urban folks and people on the farm.  She sees that disconnect every day in her job as a Calf and Heifer Specialist with Land O’ Lakes.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm offered a chance to get up close and personal with a dairy farm.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included a chance for the non-farm public to watch cow being milked in a working dairy on the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg. (photo by Chad Smith)

“I’ve been involved in the American Dairy Association and the dairy industry all my life,” Brown said.  “I’ve become very good friends with a couple from New York, and when I explain what I do when working with dairy farmers on the nutrition side making diets for cows and calves, they said ‘you do what?’  It’s interesting to talk to people that have no experience on a farm and tell them about what farmers do on a daily basis.

“When they ask ‘how do you milk a cow,’ they see you sitting on a stool between cows,” she said.  “We send them pictures showing that there’s a new way of milking cows in parlors which is more safe for humans and more efficient to operate.  It’s interesting to hear their take on it.”

As Brown was watching people walk by, she did see a lot of people from the surrounding community but did notice a large number of people who came from far away to enjoy a night on the farm with their family.  The other noticeable thing about the crowds was an incredible number of oranges shirts that signified volunteers who were helping the event run smoothly.

Lots of volunteer help at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

Family Night on the Farm organizer Katie Brown said there’s no way she could put an event like that together without lots of volunteer help, who were seen wearing bright orange shirts like this one all over the farm. (Photo by Chad Smith)

“I definitely couldn’t do it myself,” she said with a smile, “the Holst family has been great about bringing in family members and neighbors to help out.  The tractor club helps out, and so does the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and people sometimes just come in to help without being asked.  They show up and say ‘give me a shirt and tell me what to do.’  That’s when you know you’re truly in an agricultural community when people step forward to help.  They step forward to help even when sign-up sheets at local banks are filled up.”

Brown and many of the other people running the event have roots that run deep in agriculture.  Katie grew up on a dairy farm and is very proud of what her family does.  Although she and her husband don’t dairy farm, their kids still get the experience of being on a farm regularly when they want to.  Not everyone is so fortunate to have farming in their immediate, or even extended, family.

Kids activities at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

A big goal of Family Night on the Farm is to educate the next generation of future adults about how agriculture works and introduce them to the people behind the food they eat. (photo by Chad Smith)

“I do worry about the next generation getting further and further away from understanding what is going on in farming,” Brown said.  “It’s not generally even the grandparents that farmed any more, it’s getting further away in the family.  It’s vital that we share our story with the next generation about where their food comes from, otherwise, they won’t appreciate it as much as they should.”

Last year, she was hoping for approximately 200 people to show up and they had an actual turnout closer to 600 people.  This year, the goal was 900 people.

“It feels good to see the turnout and it’s a beautiful evening,” Brown said.  “It’s exciting to see so many people show up.”

 

Here’s the complete interview with Katie Brown shortly after I pulled her out from behind the lunch counter for a quick chat.  I think you can hear just how busy the place was in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Checking out the Friendship Wagon Train in Rushford

Talk about getting some sun this weekend.

Friendship Wagon Train

One of the many wagon trains parked in Rushford on Sunday night during a stopover for the 28th annual Friendship Wagon Train which is touring southeast Minnesota to raise funds for Camp Winnebago. (photo by Chad Smith

After spending some time with the wife and one of my many sons at the Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm on Friday night, I hit the road for Fountain to take a few pictures of their Trail Days Festival for the Bluff Country Newspaper Group.  I’m really not sure which paper these pics go in, but that’s okay.  The company has six papers and their corresponding websites and plans to add more so that’s just more to keep track of.

I drove down to Rushford on Sunday night to check out the Friendship Wagon Train that was camping out in Rushford.  What a beautiful night it was!  In case you don’t know what it is, this Train and the folks that participate have a simple goal:  They want to raise money for a place called Camp Winnebago, which is just outside of Caledonia.

Friendship Wagon Train Rides again

After covering 15-20 miles a day on the Friendship Wagon Train, it was time to cool off the horses during a Sunday night stop in Rushford. The Wagon Train continues through the rest of this week

The camp does really great work with adults and children that have developmental disabilities.  They bring the folks down for a week at a time, so it’s a series of one-week camps for the adults and children to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, which may be something that the rest of us take a little for granted.

This wagon train has been raising around $30,000 a year for the last several years, and the money goes straight to the camp for what Wagon Master John Davis calls ‘camperships.’  They help to pay the way for someone who can’t afford it to come to camp.

Friendship Wagon Train

It takes a lot of people, vehicles, and livestock to put on a successful Friendship Wagon Train, seen here during a stop Sunday night in Rushford. They’re touring southeast Minnesota to raise funds for developmentally disabled adults and children. (photo by Chad Smith

Got to see John and the folks on a beautiful day in Rushford as they work to support a great cause.  I asked John what it’s like to travel for a week straight in a covered wagon?  He said, and I quote, “I can’t believe the divorce rate wasn’t higher!”  He was laughing as he said it.  You do spend a lot of time together with your spouse and the rest of the group, and the weather conditions may not always cooperate.  After all, “We don’t have any dang air conditioning in the wagon,” is how John described it.

Here’s a few of the pics I took Sunday night.  I’ll have the complete coverage of the event this week in bluffcountrynews.com and the Tri-County Record.

 

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Friendship Wagon Train

It’s time to get some shade and rest during an overnight stop in Rushford for the Friendship Wagon Train, which is on tour around southeast Minnesota to raise funds for scholarships to Camp Winnebago. (photo by Chad Smith)

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Friendship Wagon Train

The livestock gets a break on Sunday night from the Friendship Wagon Train during a layover in Rushford. (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Tractor Safety Class brings back farm memories

I had some serious flashbacks to the teen years when I got an assignment to take some pictures at a Tractor Safety Class in Rushford the other day. Watching some wide-eyed 12-15-year-old kids drive a tractor through an obstacle course and have to hook up the hydraulics of a commercial mower to the back of a different tractor looked like fun and a challenge all at the same time.

As a middle-aged man, the first thing you’re tempted to do is compare what the equipment of today is like to what you grew up on years ago.  Of course, the biggest difference is electronics and buttons to push instead of hydraulic levers to yank every time you wanted to do something.

The other big difference is an enclosed cab versus an open air seat.  I remember a lot of 90-100 degree days where air conditioning would have been nice, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I also didn’t know that the hydraulic hoses are now color-coded to make it easier to hook up to a tractor, which is a nice change from the old days.

The kids that took the course had to sit in a classroom for a couple of days before they got to go outside on one of the most beautiful days of the year to take the practical tests.  Did you ever have to back up farm equipment before and the implements appeared to do the exact opposite of what you wanted it to?  You turn it the OPPOSITE way of the direction you wanted it to go?  How aggravating could that be when you first were learning the business?

Tractor Safety Class is a good thing.

The Bobcat skid steer loader was always my favorite equipment to operate, but it wasn’t always an easy gig when you’re first learning how to operate it! (photo from bobcatrental.ca)

One of the more embarrassing flashbacks was learning to drive a skid steer.  That was always my favorite thing to operate, but the first time I tried to load it up onto the trailer, I forgot you need to take it up backward.  You can imagine what came next, right?  It winds up on its backside, but all I needed to do was push the levers forward and it was back on all four wheels.  It’s probably not hard to believe that it took awhile for me to stop hearing about that one!

I didn’t know this course was federally mandated.  You obviously will need the certification to work on farms, but it’s also necessary to work on the big commercial-scale lawnmowers as well, so keep that in mind.

 

 

 

Northwoods League baseball, the Honkers, and high-def

As the weather in southeast Minnesota warms up, the Rochester Honkers get busier preparing for the 2016 Northwoods League baseball season, set to start on May 31 at Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, HD cameras

The Rochester Honkers open their Northwoods League baseball season on May 31 at the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Express (photo from northwoodsleague.com)

The Honkers front office staff has all but wrapped up signing players for the upcoming season. Honkers General Manager and Co-Owner Dan Litzinger said the action in the front office has been ramping up in recent weeks.

“It’s been very busy,” Litzinger said. “We have a small front office staff of two or three people, so it’s a lot of work.

On a tour of the park as preparations continued recently, the first thing people might notice are new cameras being installed around the field. The Northwoods League is upgrading the Honkers video system at the ballpark to a full 1080p HD, and Litzinger said that’s unprecedented.

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, Summer, HD cameras

The view from center at Mayo Field in Rochester is about to get an upgrade to HD in order to improve the quality of watching Northwoods League baseball online. (photo from digitalballparks.com)

“We’re installing a new camera in centerfield that’s up 25 feet just left of center,” Litzinger said. “It will give it a really pro look with the picture coming in over the right shoulder of the pitcher. There will be three more HD cameras by first base, third base, and behind home plate, so watching the games online will be a whole new experience.”

The new cameras are going to enhance video production all across the Northwoods League, and will include replay capability. You can get access to the games on the Northwoods League website or on the Honkers website as well. Click on the “Watch Now” button on either site and follow the prompts.

It’s a pay-per-view access, but pay by the game, the month, or the season, and its give you access to the entire Northwoods League and not just the Honkers

The team roster for 2016 is set with a 30-man roster, three coaches, and ten temporary players mean everything is full. Now they just wait for possible readjustments to happen.

“Things like grades, injuries, girlfriends, a grandmother dies, and other things like that will flip our roster starting soon,” Litzinger said. “So there’s a backup list of players and you hope in the first two weeks that your record is 7-7 and not 0-14, otherwise there’s no chance of making the first half championship in our division.”

The Honkers look far and wide to pull in players. This year’s roster actually has a strong California flavor to it because two of the team’s coaches have great connections in that particular state.

“Trevor Hairgove and Demetre Kokoris are both coming back,” Litzinger said. “They’re California guys (Hairgrove at UC Riverside and Kokoris at Santa Barbara City College) with connections through their colleges. So, we have a lot of kids from California colleges, but overall, the kids come from both coasts, from Florida to California up north to Washington and Oregon.”

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, HD cameras

Dan Litzinger is co-owner and General Manager of the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods Baseball League. He’s been the GM since 1997. (photo from northwoodsleague.com)

He added, “We have players from New York and even a couple coming all the way from Taiwan.”

Team Co-Owner Kim Archer actually has a son that lives in Taiwan and met an agent that wanted to send players overseas to play baseball. One of the players coming in is a high school senior that’s left-handed and throws hard. The other coming in is also a pitcher and a high school junior.

“It was a challenge to find a host family that spoke Mandarin Chinese,” Litzinger said. “We found one that was a current host but not scheduled to host anyone this summer. Thank God they stepped up and said ‘we’ve had foreign exchange students and we’ll take both these kids.’ Hopefully, this brings us some international exposure too.”

From year to year, most of the roster typically turns over from one summer to the next. Typically, Northwoods League teams try to get four to six players back from one year to the next. It’s important for several reasons.

“One is the fan base,” Litzinger said. “They’ll have an automatic connection with guys who may have played the year before. There are always kids you want back and kids you don’t, plus, some kids can’t come back for whatever reasons.

One big reason players may not want to come back is they want to get out and see the world. Litzinger said it’s hard to tell them no when they want to travel and play in other places.

“How do you tell someone who got an offer to play in Alaska not to go there,” said Litzinger, who’s been the GM since 1997. “There are kids who may have a goal of playing in the Cape Cod League out east, and even though I think we’re a better league, they want to go and try it.

“We tell them to go and give it a try, and most come back saying playing in Rochester was a much better experience,” Litzinger said. “Those players actually become pretty good recruiting tools for the Northwoods League.”

The Honkers have four kids on the roster that return from last season.

One of the more recent additions to the roster was Jackson Douglas of Iowa Western Community College. He played his high school ball at Rochester Mayo.

The Honkers open the season on May 31 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to take on the Express. They return home to Rochester the next night for the home opener, also against the Express.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Med City Freeze win their opener on a blustery night

The Med City Freeze football opener was both a challenge and success as well. First off, the goal of any sport is to win the game and the Freeze did just that, 20-0 over the North Iowa Hawks.  The victory made the return of the Southern Plains Football League to Rochester official.

The weather was indeed the biggest challenge.  Cold, blustery, rain, sprinkles, and a wet bum as fans sat on bleachers made for a rough night for the folks in attendance.  I have no doubt that the attendance would have been much better with nicer weather, but Mother Nature evidently missed the memo that there was a game tonight.

Med City Freeze opener

Three Rochester John Marshall graduates spearheaded the effort to bring amateur football back to Rochester. From left: Jeff Sipple, Tim Nela, and Storm Soto. (photo by Chad Smith)

Hats off the a whole lot of people who put in a lot of work to get the program going in Rochester, but a big tip of the cap to Storm Soto, Tim Nela, and Jeff Sipple for bringing nine-man football action back to town. These three are all from Rochester and spearheaded the work that brought spring football back to the area.

As I sat and watched the action for about an hour (hey, it was cold, all right?) I saw some good things.  I saw balance on offense and a Med City Freeze defense that forced one turnover and nearly had another.  I saw some great hits from both defenses. I saw some mistakes, but honestly, some of that had to do with the wet weather and a slick football.  The weather looked a lot more tolerable because the game was taking place at the Rochester Community and Technical College football field.  I’ve never seen a more well-put together field at the Junior College level, and they take very good care of it.

I put together a few plays so you could get a taste of the action on Saturday night.  Again, the Med City Freeze won 20-0, and are back on their home field next week against the Southeast Minnesota Warhawks, who curiously play their home games in Carlisle, Iowa.  Love the name, though.