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Robin Johnson works on ordering vegetables, produce, dry goods and frozen food for the week of Nov. 6 in her office in the Litchfield High School cafeteria area. Johnson will Dec. 31 retire after 24 years.

A symbiotic success story

Just 6 miles southwest of Hutchinson at the intersection of two country roads, a 2,000-acre sanctuary has taken shape over the past 12 years.

“This is a great example of a lot of different partnerships,” said Scott Roemhildt, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regional director for the southern region.

Just south of the intersection, a small trail leads out onto walk-in access hunting land in the Ras-Lynn Wildlife Management Area. It is flanked by acres of waterfowl production land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more prairie habitat and acres of land enrolled in various state and federal programs administered by the DNR and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Local groups such as Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited assisted restoration work, along with engineering guidance via Board of Water and Soil Resources.

“We’ve mentioned six NGOs and agencies at the state and federal level just sitting at this road intersection,” said Greg Hoch, a DNR prairie habitat team supervisor.

Representatives from the DNR, Pheasants Forever and the Fish and Wildlife Service met for a roadside gathering at the intersection last week to chat with a representative from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office, Greg Swanholm, and give him a first-hand look at the outcomes achievable with help from programs such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, which are funded in the Farm Bill.

The group later moved to walk-in access No. 322, a quarter mile south of U.S. Highway 12 on County Road 9 in Darwin Township, owned by Don Livingood.

“I still have the belief that in order to get people involved in the outdoors, you have to give them — not only an opportunity, because there’s lots of opportunities — but the public land isn’t where the people are,” Livingood said. “And if you’re a young guy or a young girl, you need something that’s local — that you can get to in a short period of time — you can go hunting and come back.”

Roemhildt, Hoch and Swanholm sat with Livingood to discuss first-hand how things are going with his land.

“As a way to avoid things becoming abstract,” Swanholm said. “So if we’re trying to think of legislative ways to look at things in our case, having allotted time to talk to the folks who’re directly most involved with things happening on their property, to just see what you’re talking about and how it works is very helpful for us.”

In the agricultural region of Minnesota such as Meeker and McLeod counties, less than 2 percent of the land is managed by DNR, which doesn’t leave a lot of land for people to hunt, Roemhildt said.

“We can’t forget these lands were purchased from private landowners originally,” said Scott Glup, a project leader for the Litchfield Wetlands Management District for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “A lot of them specifically want to sell to conservation organizations.”

In addition to the conservation value of the land, the walk-in section provides a natural environment for hunters. The grassland is also viable for grazing, as the plants evolved with bison herds.

“This is deep, fertile soil,” said Nathan Mullendore, a habitat program administrator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “You will be surprised by the growth you get back.”

In addition to the economic benefit of hunting tourism and hunting purchases in nearby communities, the land provides jobs. Caring for it means work for private contractors that may have only had seasonal work for landscaping and tree services.

“We’ve talked to small businesses who have completely changed their model,” Hoch said, noting businesses have added employees and started working year-round.

Over the past several years, the conservation area has grown piece by piece as landowners and local groups partner with various government programs. DNR staff mentioned the agency likes to grow existing habitat in comparison to adding more small, isolated plots. One Waterfowl Production Area was purchased by Pheasants Forever for the Department of Natural Resources, and the Fish and Wildlife Service helped restore it through a partnership.

On one 60-acre tract of land west of the intersection, the Fish and Wildlife Service found it had 9.22 miles of drainage tile to deal with during restoration to a natural habitat.

“It was really a complicated one,” Glup said. “You can’t just go in and remove 9.22 miles of tile. You can’t just go to the low end and break the tile; The head pressure will blow it out.”

The service teamed up with BWSR, which helped design a plan to strategically break the tile in 13 places.

“It’s worked very well,” Glup said.

Hoch said Minnesota’s agencies and nonprofit groups work exceedingly well together in a partnership that he’s learned isn’t always the case in other states.

“We talk to each other all the time,” he said. “I can’t put a number to it. I can’t put a dollar to how valuable it is.”

Ron Hansen, a landowner who enrolled 155 acres of land to the conservation area, said the walk-in hunting access helps cover the taxes on the land.

“We can hunt it same as always,” he said. “Just others can, too.”

When he first invested land into conservation, he said it doubled what he had paid for. And though he later realized he could have made even more by enrolling after land values went up, he was still glad to have come out ahead.

“I get a lot of comments from people who are happy something like this is around,” Hansen said. “With private property, it’s hard to find places where people will let you in.”

He noted that on a day with bad weather, there may be no one using the hunting land.

“There have never been crowds out here,” he said. “You’ll have two, three or four cars parked out here on a nice day. I probably don’t have any more hunters out here than I used to, only now they’re legal.”

City will investigate grant that could fund downtown rehab

Litchfield City Council tentatively approved a request from the Heritage Preservation Commission to pursue a federal grant that could provide up to $700,000 for downtown improvements.

The vote Monday allows City Council member and HPC representative Darlene Kotelnicki to work with the Meeker County Economic Development Authority to determine if the grant is the right fit for the city. Once facts have been gathered, Kotelnicki will report back to the City Council in December for final approval of the grant-writing process.

“It takes a lot of work,” Kotelnicki told her fellow council members. “It’s a federal grant (and) will take many hours. I’m not willing to put the time in (to write the grant) until I know the council is going to pass it.”

Kotelnicki said that HPC members thought the grant could be used to encourage renovation of second-floor residential spaces above businesses in the historic area of downtown.

“We just feel, with the housing crisis what it is, this would be a good thing for Litchfield,” she said.

However, the grant could be used in other ways, Kotelnicki said. Created in 2018, the Historic Revitalization Subgrant Program “supports the rehabilitation of historic properties and fosters economic development of rural communities,” according to Historic Preservation Fund materials.

The program’s first grant recipients were announced earlier this year, with two recipients being cities smaller than Litchfield, according to Kotelnicki. Grant amounts range from $100,000 to $700,000.

Council member Ron Dingmann, acting as mayor in absence of Mayor Keith Johnson Monday, asked that Kotelnicki work with Meeker EDA, because “I’m concerned with burdening the (city) administration.

On the same downtown improvement theme, the City Council approved two certificates of appropriateness Monday – one for the Grand Army of the Republic Hall at 308 Marshall Ave. N., and the other for property at 25 Second St. W., which will house Rusty Wood Creations.

The G.A.R. Hall’s application, which was supported by the Historic Preservation Commission, was to replace the building’s front exterior door and frame with a new treated wood door and framing. Replacement of the 3-foot by 8-foot door also received approval from the state Department of Administration, which said the work would meet requirements for the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Rusty Wood Creations application said its work would include installation of a sign and period-appropriate lighting above the transom. The building was constructed in 1923 and originally housed a general merchandise store known as “Feed Ole.” The building also has been home to a grocery store, paint and decorating business, an auto parts store, video store, and flooring store.

Horrific fall puts corn, soybean harvest behind schedule

Tom and Nathan Haag weren’t able to fight the cold of spring and muddy conditions of summer and fall.

Tom Haag, board member for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and his son, Nathan, grow soybeans and corn on their 1,600 acres of farmland in the Eden Valley area. Since the weather was uncooperative, fall harvest was delayed.

“We finished harvesting soybeans last night,” Tom Haag said Friday. “And the problem we ran into on our soybeans this year — along with other farmers in the area — everything was delayed two to three weeks in springtime. Harvest was also delayed two to three weeks in fall. If we would have had a warmer summer, that would have helped the crop mature quicker.”

An exmaple of the trouble wet conditions created — the Haags’ soybeans being 18 percent moisture off the ground, where 13 percent is ideal.

According to Minnesota Crop Progress & Condition report provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 28, 96 percent of the state’s corn crop was mature, but 20 days later than last year and nine days behind the normal. Harvested corn for grain reached 22 percent, 11 days behind last year and 12 days behind the average. Sixty-two percent of the soybean crop was harvested, six days later than last year and two weeks behind the average.

“We’ve harvested 140 acres of corn, so far,” Haag said. “We still got a few weeks to go still. The moisture in the corn is higher this year than the last few years. So that means you’re bringing corn with higher moisture, and corn needs to be at 15 percent in order to sell it at no dockage. So we’re bringing in corn 23 to 27 percent. It takes longer to go through the drier, that slows harvesting operation down also.”

Former president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Brian Thalmann of Plato said if the weather had been friendly, planting would have begun the second week of April, but the real work didn’t occur until the first week of May. Thalmann owns and operates 2,000 acres of farmland southeast of Glencoe.

“Even though we did go to the field, we had wet weather,” Thalmann said. “There was just a short window of time. Second half of May was extremely wet. We weren’t able to work until first half of June. This was the first Minnesota State Fair in 10 years where the daily high temperature never got above 80 degrees.”

Chances for satisfactory crop growth diminished due to lack of sufficient heat, Thalmann added.

“The crops finally matured in October, but it was behind,” he said.

Travis Magoon, location manager of United Farmers Cooperative in Litchfield, said soybeans should be completed, but they’re still a week behind.

“It’s a hurry up and wait game,” Magoon said. “It’s a horrific fall.”

UFC purchases grain from farmers and eventually sells to end-users.

“Right now, we’re working overtime, but it’s not productive,” Magoon said. “It’s not busy enough to support overtime. We’re just trying to accommodate for the farmers. So you got wages going out. When it’s not productive, sometimes you got to send some (employees) home.”

“The delays affect you financially, because there are other things going on,” Haag said. “We want to make sure to think positive, get done with harvest before harsh winter season where you can’t get crops out. In a farmer’s mind, you got to get things done and keep working on it every day.”

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Check off your gift list at Home for the Holidays

The Hutchinon Leader’s Home for the Holidays show is just a day away, but tickets are still available for this new event that features vendors and programs with tips for holiday decorating, cooking and hosting.

The show is Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Hutchinson Event Center. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, but seats are limited. Advance tickets are available at four locations:

  • the Leader office, 170 Shady Ridge Road N.W., Hutchinson
  • Cash Wise Foods, 1020 State Highway 7 W., Hutchinson
  • the Independent Review office, 217 N. Sibley Ave., Litchfield
  • the Hutchinson Event Center, 1005 State Highway 15, S., Hutchinson

While programs are 7-9:15 p.m. that night, the doors open at 5 p.m. for best seat selection and shoppers to peruse vendor and sponsor booths. Everything needed for the holidays, from decorating, gifting, apparel and more, will be available.

Here’s a sneak peek at what you can find at the Home for the Holidays show:

  • A Spice Above provides spice dips and spreads for your holiday meals and get-togethers.
  • With cosmetics, skin care, fragrances, grooming aids, clothing, jewelry, home goods and decor, Avon has lots to offer for gifts to friends and family, or for yourself.
  • Sweet tooths will want to check out The Cocoa Exchange, which offers packaged foods, beverages and candy for the holidays.
  • Whether you need help relaxing or finding more energy, doTerra can help find the essential oils for your needs. Diffusers and cleaning supplies will also be available.
  • Can coffee and cocoa actually help with concentration and sleep? Find out for yourself by sampling Elevate Healthy Coffee’s line of beverages and learn more about its supplements.
  • Need some new threads for the holidays? The Enchanted Trunk can help with its line of boutique clothing and accessories.
  • Prepare healthier meals with help from Farm Girl Fresh. It offers kitchen and garden accessories, spice mixes, organic dried beans and its garden-to-table resource book, “Eating Pure in a Processed Foods World.”
  • Learn more about the CBD craze sweeping the nation with Hempworx.
  • Give the gift of personalized jewelry or start your own collection with Keep Collective.
  • Try out the professional-grade cosmetics and all-natural skin care products from LimeLife by Alcone.
  • Feeling stressed about the holidays? Enjoy a chair massage from Main Massage and check out gift cards for someone else who needs to relax.
  • Discover wax warmers or stock up on your favorite scents by visiting the Scentsy booth to learn more.
  • Check skincare and makeup products from Mary Kay to try your own beauty experience, or as a gift for a loved one.
  • Upcycled furniture is one of the newest trends in home decor, and Sanford & Co. of downtown Hutchinson has lots to see and give.
  • If you’re a fan of “The Nutcracker,” check out Touch of Grace Dance Studio. Holiday ornaments, mugs and books will be available, as well as tickets for the studio’s performance of this classic holiday ballet Dec. 21-22.
  • Sample wines and check out gift sets from Liquor Hutch.
  • If you feel like giving back this holiday season, Daughters with a Purpose needs your help. The group is raising funds to purchase beds for the women and children wing at Place of Hope Homeless Shelter in St. Cloud, which assists people from McLeod and Meeker counties, as well as other local communities.
  • Don't forget to bring a nonperishable food item for the Valley Sales McLeod County Emergency Food Shelf drive and be entered into a drawing for two Chanhassen Dinner Theatre tickets.
  • Before the evening’s shows begin, explore the stage and check out appliances provided by The HomeSource Store. Don’t forget to visit its booth as well to see more of its products.
  • While you are on stage, be sure to see the dining set from Factory Direct/Ashley Furniture, and then visit their booth to see more of what they have to offer.
  • If you like the stage decorations, Crow River Floral and Gifts can help decorate your home as well. Take a look at its variety of spruce tip pots, wreaths, swags and other holiday designs, and then put in an order for custom work to fit your desires.
  • Food for the cooking demonstrations is provided by Cash Wise Foods, and you can sample other holiday bites while visiting its booth.
  • Finally, if you enjoyed the event check out Compass Occasions, which is providing the festive table setting on the stage and can help you plan your next event, big or small.