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Faribault senior Alex Tuma led the Faribault boys cross country team with his sixth place finish during the Albert Lea Invitational on Monday. (file photo/

Alexander Tuma ALI

Teaching garden blossoms into bright spot for visitors, volunteers
  • Updated

Rays of sunlight highlighted the rich shades of red, orange, pink, purple, green and white that make up the annual and perennial part of the Rice County Master Gardener’s Teaching Garden Tuesday morning.

The sun highlights the east portion of the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching garden Tuesday morning as the tour comes to a close. (Michelle Vlasak/

Guests from the Buckham West senior center made their way through the garden for a tour by Lorrie Rugg, Master Gardener coordinator for Steele and Rice counties, and Mickey Dogotch, one of three co-chairs of the teaching garden.

“Its purpose is for the community,” Dogotch said of the garden located near the east entrance of the Rice County Fairgrounds. “Anyone is welcome any time.”

The Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden is located near the east entrance of the Rice County Fairgrounds. Among signage indicating its purpose are a pond, and seating on benches, in a gazebo and in a retired Tilt a-Whirl Strawberry-Go-Round. (Michelle Vlasak/

Brenda Johnson, Buckham West caregiver support and programming director, said she was amazed with how “thoughtfully” organized the plants were.

“I’m almost as fascinated by the variety of insects as the variety of plants,” Johnson added.

Buckham West’s Brenda Johnson admires the tiny flower on one of many plants in the garden. She grew to enjoy the variety of textures of plants, and was pleased with how thoughtful everything was planted. (Michelle Vlasak/

The garden consists of areas for annuals and perennials, along with plants that prefer shade or part-shade, sunlight and groupings of plants for pollinators.

A Mexican Sunflower plant stands tall in the annual and perennial portion of the teaching garden. Annuals in the garden change from year to year, as many are donated by Minnesota Green, a community outreach program of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. Minnesota Green receives donations of plants and other gardening supplies and distributes them to community and public gardens in exchange for a minimal cost. (Michelle Vlasak/

With the pollinator-specific plants in mind, Dogotch said when possible, Master Gardener volunteers try not to deter insects away with chemical sprays.

A variety of insects match the variety of plants in the teaching garden, from bees to butterflies. (Michelle Vlasak/

The Rice County Master Gardeners are a group of volunteer gardening enthusiasts who have gone through intensive horticultural training. Master Gardeners volunteer in their communities by giving lectures, creating gardens, conducting research and other projects.

Dogotch said the group of Master Gardener volunteers about doubled in Rice County over the last couple years.

From raised beds, pollinator gardens, shade gardens, rain gardens and water features, the teaching garden at the Rice County Fairgrounds has seen a lot of improvements over the last several years, with plans for more changes on the way. (Michelle Vlasak/

During the onset of the pandemic, the teaching garden really flourished, Dogotch said, because gardening’s outdoor, secluded nature was one activity able to go on safely.

The Rice County teaching garden is unique in many ways, but particularly because it’s not something common to every Master Gardener community.

“We are fortunate the county commissioners and extension staff feel it is a viable asset to the community,” Rugg said of the support to the educational garden.

Dogotch added the group has also received support from Rice County Fair Manager John Dvorak, who appreciates the eye-catching addition to the fairgrounds entrance.

A prickly pear cactus establishes its roots in the sun garden. (Michelle Vlasak/

That visibility to the community, Dogotch said, has helped open “all sorts” of doors, and motivated other Master Gardeners.

Added Rugg, “It’s very peaceful out here. I also enjoy sitting and watching people relax and look at the plants during the County Fair. We have a tent set up, and answer questions people have.”

Like many other gardens, the Rice County Master Gardener’s Teaching Garden is always changing. Along with new plants and new ways of arranging plants, there will be additional opportunities for community members in the near future.

Among the plants in the teaching garden are those in raised garden beds, which contain seed trials for the University of Minnesota. Pictured is an eggplant that is growing in one of the gardens. Master Gardeners plant the seeds and report on how they are doing. The data is then used by the university to generate new types of seeds. (Michelle Vlasak/

Rugg said programming that started during the growing season at Northfield Public Library will continue during the winter months, and interest from schools in the surrounding communities has also been presented.

Plans for Horticulture Day, a main fundraiser that has been put on pause for the last two years, is scheduled to resume next March.

Members of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church say a prayer outside Divine Mercy School Sunday morning. The “prayer parade” participants visited each school in Faribault to pray for teachers, staff and students to have a safe and joyful new school year. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Hickey)

Charges: Fleeing driver crashes, swallows drugs
  • Updated

A man allegedly swallowed drugs after he led police on a high-speed chase in Faribault in a stolen vehicle while under the influence. The pursuit early Monday morning ended in a crash, charges say.

Nicholas Michael Mason, 32, of South St. Paul, is facing six charges in Rice County District Court. Felony charges include fleeing police, drug sales and possession, receiving stolen property and possession of burglary tools. He also is charged with gross misdemeanor DWI.

Passenger Tayler Lee Frank, 30, of St. Paul, also is charged with felony drug possession.

A Faribault police officer noted a driver would not look at them while they were both parked at the Holiday gas station on Highway 60 around 1:40 a.m. Monday. The driver appeared “middle aged with face/neck tattoos” but the registered owner of the pickup was a an older man, according to the court complaint.

The officer left, drove around the block and saw the truck quickly driving away. The officer pulled the truck over for minor driving infractions. Mason stopped at Lyndale Avenue and Seventh Street NW, but allegedly sped off after the officer got out of the squad to approach.

Mason then allegedly led multiple officers on a pursuit that reached up to 90 mph. He reportedly lost control as he approached a ramp to I-35. He hit several signs before coming to a stop in a ditch, the charges say.

Mason reportedly got out of the truck holding a wad of over $400 cash in his hand and needles in his pockets. He smelled of alcohol and told officers he had just swallowed meth, the charges say. While he was being taken to the hospital, Mason allegedly admitted he had been drinking. Blood test results are pending.

A hospital staff member reported finding an 11-gram baggie of meth in Mason’s underwear.

A search of the truck allegedly found a small amount of methamphetamine and paraphernalia in the front passenger area. Officers also reportedly found burglary tools, including a lock-picking set, bolt cutters and heat gun. A meth pipe was found in grass next to the passenger side of the truck.

Officers ran the truck’s vehicle identification number and learned the truck had been reported stolen. Its license plates had been replaced with ones belonging to a truck of the same model, the charges say.

Bail for both men was set at at least $10,000.

Mason has a long criminal history that includes felonies for vehicle theft, receiving stolen property and drug possession. His driver’s license has been revoked.