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'It has been my life'

Dede Hard of Hutchinson has a rather unique perspective on the image of a family kitchen.

For 40 years she’s been a Minnesota State Fair staple, preparing and serving 38,000 meals each year to hungry 4-H’ers competing at the state level. For the past several years she has managed the kitchen, and she does it all on only a few hours of sleep each night at the fairgrounds.

“We become this little family that lives together for an intense two-week time frame,” she said Wednesday afternoon while fulfilling another role managing the 4-H Cafe at the McLeod County Fair.

This year is her third in the McLeod County kitchen, which serves a variety of meals to fairgoers. It’s a role she’s taken on in addition to the same job at the Meeker County Fair. She’s selected locally, but hired through the University of Minnesota.

“Everyone else in the kitchen is a volunteer and they come through their clubs to donate time so the food stand can make as much money as it can possibly make,” Hard said. “All the money goes back into the 4-H program.”

She was joined Wednesday, and previously at the Meeker County Fair, by Terry Gallagher, who has cooked with her at the State Fair since 1999.

“We call these our retirement fairs,” Hard said. After this year’s State Fair, she plans to step away and focus only on Meeker and McLeod counties.

The change comes after a State Fair career that started in 1976 when Hard was a 16-year-old living in International Falls.

“It was my first time away from that little town,” she said. “It was a bit of a culture shock.”

She signed up through the University of Minnesota Extension educator, following in the footsteps of her older sister.

Hard earned $16 a day at the time, “which was huge for somebody who had never been off the farm,” she said.

She also met a cook’s assistant, Bill, who she hit it off with. They dated long distance through college, and when they married they first lived by the state fairgrounds. Today they own Red Cedar Farms. Their 40th anniversary is this Sunday.

“He stays and takes care of the farm while I go and do the fair,” Hard said.

She took a few years off when her first daughter was born and then returned to cook from 1985 to 1992. She moved into a co-manager role with Molly Dollar, who started the same year she did. When Molly retired 15 years ago, Hard continued the role by herself, hiring and leading 30 staff each year.

With offerings for 4-H’ers ranging from roast beef to fresh desserts, cooking is done from scratch. One meal at the barns calls for 32 commercial-sized pans of cake cut into 70 squares.

“4-H isn’t an organization that opens a box and throws it through the microwave,” Hard said.

All of her own children have worked at the State Fair with her. For the past three years she has trained her son, Kevin, to help take over as a co-manager.

“It’s been so awesome to spend that time with each of them, as well as kids who come through who were children of the very first staff I was ever on.” Hard said. “Over 40 years, they’ve grown up and had children, and their children come to the fair, and it becomes a family event out there. The kids that come to work for me, sometimes it’s their first job. They’re brand new to the workforce, they’re 16. If they are good workers and they enjoy working there, they will stay through college, so I’ll have them for eight years. So it’s easy to get attached to them.”

She couldn’t help but tear up while describing how close she had become with many regular State Fair staff, and had been invited to weddings.“It has been my life,” she said.


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Time to lace up your running shoes

Runners of all skill levels will have an opportunity to test their progress this fall.

With a half marathon, 10K run, a 5K run/walk and a 1-mile run, the fourth annual Luce Line Lace-Up organized by the 3M Running Club has a way for runners of all levels to join in while helping local groups.

“The half marathon has become our most popular race,” said Carl Hoeft, event co-organizer. “Last year we had just under 100 and we hope to see more than 100 this year. We are well on our way with 70 signed up already.”

As suggested by its name, the Saturday, Sept. 14, race features the Luce Line State Trail, which extends from the metro area and out west through Hutchinson. Events begin at Mason/West River Park.

The event is organized as a race put on by runners, for runners, as has been its focus since it started four years ago. Part of that perspective comes with the goal of inviting more people to give running a try.

“It would be great to get a whole bunch of kids,” Hoeft said.

That's why the 1-mile dash has six age categories for runners younger than 19.

“A lot of kids can get in there and win an award (in the 1-mile dash),” Hoeft said. “It's fun to get the next generation excited about getting out there. It's an activity they can do with anyone: their friends, family, or by yourself.”

Money raised from the event will go to the Hutchinson Music Boosters, Special Olympics, the Hutchinson High School robotics team, and Ridgewater's Phi Theta Kappa society.

Local organizations have stepped forward to help the 3M Running Club organize each of the five races in the event. The races and fees are:

  • 1-Mile Dash, $30,
  • 5K Run/Walk, $40,
  • 10K Run, $45, 
  • Half Marathon, $80.

Returning runners may notice the Triple Crow Challenge, which combined the 10K, 5K and 1-mile dash, was discontinued.

To register, head to lucelinelaceup.com.

On race day, check in is at 6:30 a.m. at Masonic/West River Park. The half marathon starts at 7:45 a.m., the 10K starts at 8 a.m., the 5K at 9 a.m. and the 1-mile dash at 10 a.m.


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City considers changes to food truck licensing

Food trucks might soon be serving up good eats more easily in Hutchinson. The City Council on Tuesday discussed amending the city’s food truck ordinance following a request from Dan Hart, owner of Bobbing Bobber Brewing Co.

In a letter sent to City Administrator Matt Jaunich, Hart requested City Council consider changes to ordinances pertaining to food trucks. He said the current ordinance makes it difficult to attract food trucks for one-time events.

“The current license fee for a food vendor in Hutchinson is $125,” Hart wrote. “We are concerned this cost for a one-time visit would be prohibitive. To try and attract food vendors in from metros that may be an hour away, we would like to try and come up with a way to make it easier for these food vendors to come to our location and city.”

Hart proposed lowering the cost of the license from $125 a year to $25 for a one-time license.

The City Council has traditionally allowed food trucks to be exempt from the ordinances if they’re taking part in an event sponsored by the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, such as RiverSong Music Festival. A defined policy outlining that practice doesn’t exist, but its been recommended that city code be updated to include those exemptions.

Jaunich brought up the possibility of drafting a sponsorship clause to the city code, or implementing a temporary license allowing food vendors to do business in Hutchinson. He cited Minneapolis and Albert Lea as cities that offer temporary food vendor licenses.

Council members Chad Czmowski and Mary Christensen were on board with the idea of a sponsorship or temporary license.

“I like the idea of a sponsorship option,” Czmowski said. “I also like just having a temporary, one-day option in case somebody’s not part of a bigger event or going to the brewery.”

“I like the sponsorship idea, and I also like the one-time because you might have someone who’s only going to show up once,” Christensen said.

But City Attorney Marc Sebora was concerned about insurance liability should the city be named in a lawsuit.

“You always think of the worst-case scenario,” Sebora said. “Here you have a situation where the city is issuing a license for this person or entity to be conducting business and someone gets hurt. The tendency for when the person sues is going to be suing everybody that’s involved. The city granted the license for that person to be conducting an activity, and I would have no doubt that the city would be named in a potential lawsuit.”

The city currently requires food vendors to be additionally insured to offer an extra level of protection for the city. That means the insurance policy is owned by someone other than the city.

Should the city decide to change the city code, a first draft of a proposal could be given as early as the next City Council meeting.

“At the earliest we could have something approved at the Sept. 10 council meeting,” Jaunich said.


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Chicken issue splits Hutchinson City Council

Editor's note: This story is a correction to the story "No clucking in city limits" that was published in the Aug. 18 issue of the Leader.

Chicken enthusiasts may soon have a response to their requests to raise chickens in Hutchinson city limits.

The first reading of a proposed ordinance that would allow residents to keep up to four chickens on their property is expected to be voted on as early as next Tuesday. If approved, a second reading and adoption of the new ordinance could happen at the first meeting in September.

City code only allows for chickens within an area zoned for agriculture, which currently does not exist in city limits. Michael Massman, a Hutchinson resident, brought the issue to the council’s attention back in April after starting a petition on change.org that had garnered 347 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

The proposed ordinance council members will consider requires residents who want to own chickens to purchase a license every year, and a maximum of 10 licenses will be issued each calendar year. The proposed ordinance also states that a maximum of four chickens are allowed per parcel, none of which may be roosters or crowing birds; licensees must have consent from all owners and occupants of abutting properties; and licensees must permit city personnel on the licensed premises to ensure compliance with the ordinance. The proposed ordinance also stipulates structure requirements for chicken coops.

Council members discussed the proprosed ordinance at their Aug. 13 meeting, and some indicated whether or not they would support the change. Council Member Mary Christensen and Mayor Gary Forcier voiced opposition to the proposal.

"I have not had one phone call that said to me, 'Please let me have chickens," Christensen said. "But I've had numerous calls, and I have had people stop to talk to me and say 'don't you let chickens in our city.' I looked at the data out there and a lot of the cities — if they have them — are more restricted. You have to have the consent of the adjacent property owners. You have to be a good neighbor. If your neighbor says 'no, I don't want you to have chickens,' you're not going to get chickens."

"After talking to our community members, I think that I'm not comfortable with having chickens in town," Forcier said.

Council Member Chad Czmowski, on the other hand, said he has friends who raise chickens in other communities that don't require licenses to keep less than four birds.

"There doesn't seem to be an issue," he said. "I'd be OK with allowing chickens."

As part of research into the issue earlier this summer, city staff sent surveys to other communities asking if they allowed chickens and if it's caused issues. The city received responses from four communities: New Ulm, Waconia, Fergus Falls and Edina. Most responded that there have been very few issues or complaints. The problems that have come up were mostly regarding people who did not purchase a license, and occasionally a noise complaint or chicken-at-large complaint.

Some council members were concerned that allowing chickens in city limits would open the door to requests for other animals to be allowed.

"People want bees now; that'll be the next thing that comes up," Christensen said. "I'm not for chickens. I think the majority of people don't want chickens in town."

"I like the ordinance that's proposed, if we're going to have it," Council Member Steve Cook said. "My only concern is these are considered farm animals, and we have a whole list of different farm animals.

"What's next?" Cook added. "A pig, or someone has a big yard so they want a horse? ... I guess I don't see the urgency in doing anything, and I'd be fine without them (chickens)."

Dave Sebesta stated that if an ordinance is indeed passed, then the council had the authority to rescind the measure should it become a problem.

"We start something and we have the right to stop something," he said. "If it becomes an issue, then we stop it."