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Winter Farmers Market promotes local foods, farm products for area residents
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From apples, baked goods, homemade breads, fiber products and lamb, to grass-fed beef, honey, maple syrup, cheese and eggs, a variety of local products are available at the Cannon Valley Farmers Market.

Focused on local foods and farm products, the market is a place for area residents to buy locally grown, homemade goods in the winter season while promoting small farmers and bakers. All vendors come from a seven-county region that includes Rice, Steele, Waseca, Le Sueur, Goodhue, Dodge and Dakota.

The Winter Market is held periodically from November to May. The next market is from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Faribo West Mall in Faribault. The next two dates, weather permitting, are April 17 and May 15 at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

The Cannon Valley Farmers Market, formerly known as the Faribault Winter Farmers Market takes place at the Faribo West Mall. The mall’s large space allows for social distancing. Participating vendors are from Medford, Faribault, Northfield, Dundas and other locations from across the area. (Photo courtesy of Evan Pak)

Promoting local producers

Among the plethora of goodies residents can find at the market are baked goods from Kelly Hulsing, of The Giant’s House Bakery, including challah, zucchini and ciabatta breads, scones, croissants and giant chocolate chip cookies.

Kelly Hulsing, of The Giant’s House Bakery, provides an assortment of baked goods including scones, croissants, cookies and breads, like challah and ciabatta bread. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tripp)

Though Hulsing, an eight-year Faribault resident, began participating in the market three years ago, he’s been baking ever since he began working at a coffee shop in California at just 14 years old. Hulsing says this experience sparked his passion for baking and allowed him to create his popular scone recipe, which he still uses today.

The scones, Hulsing says, are one of his most popular products at the summer market, and are fairly popular at the winter market as well. Hulsing says the scone recipe, which has never been written down, has been made better over time through lots of years of trial and error. He’s able to make pretty much any flavor a customer is looking for. Previous batches include white raspberry chocolate, blueberry and seasonal flavors filled with pumpkin, apple and cranberry mixed up all in one.

Hulsing is also well-known for his breads, most particularly for challah bread, a white bread enriched with eggs, he describes as denser than a white sandwich bread and usually braided with a chocolate or cinnamon filling.

“The other products I have to have at markets are my scones and croissants made from scratch, usually filled with chocolate/almond,” said Hulsing.

He became immersed in baking products for customers at markets or custom orders from social media as something his whole family can be involved in. Though he loves baking, he was looking for something different to do with the extra time he had. Due to the changes made with COVID last year, Hulsing said his hobby turned into a full-time gig, along with being a stay-at-home dad. Last year, Hulsing says he became committed to the market and doing what he can to help promote the market and to being a consistent contributor.

A different kind of beef

Located just north of Morristown in a peaceful little valley is a family farm where grass-fed beef is raised to be sold direct to customers. Sue Wagner, of Peaceful Valley Pastures, explains they have raised cattle for many years. Previously, they raised dairy cattle and started with grass-fed beef in 2013. They began selling products at the market when it first started after hearing about it from a friend.

Sue Wagner, of Peaceful Valley Pastures offers various cuts of grass-fed beef to customers. Typically sold in quarters directly to customers, Wagner offers cuts of meat and ground beef for those without much freezer space. (Photo courtesy of Evan Pak)

The cuts of beef are typically sold in quarters directly to customers, though Wagner also offers cuts of meat and ground beef at the market for those who may not have that much freezer space to store one quarter of beef. Wagner says some also want to try it out first before purchasing large amounts.

Wagner also participates in the summer market held in Faribault’s Central Park from June to October. She enjoys talking to people in general and is pleased there are so many people who have tried and like grass-fed beef.

“It is a niche market, so I wasn’t sure that many people were aware of it,” added Wagner.

Many people have stopped by to share stories with Wagner about how their health has improved, especially after trying a carnivore diet. In this particular type of diet, Wagner explains grass-fed beef is specifically supposed to be utilized, along with other types of meat.

“When people find health improvements after eating your beef, that’s really rewarding,” said Wagner.

A diverse group of products

Diana Weinhardt-Treangen, of Harvest Hill Acres in Dennison, offers unique fiber-blend yarns made with locally crafted wool from bison, yak, camel and angora rabbits. Musk ox yarn may soon be added to that list, she said.

As most of their products offered are yarn, Weinhardt-Treangen found herself reinventing her business to include everyday items anyone might want, including photos by Tracy Patterson Photography of their farm or items like notecards and ‘thank you’ notes, along with masks and recycled seed bags lined with fabric and finished with sturdy handles. These products, Weinhardt-Treangen says, reflect the Harvest Hill Acres farm and are things the average person can use everyday.

Pictured is yarn from Diana Weinhardt-Treangen, of Harvest Hill Acres in Dennison. Weinhardt-Treangen offers unique fiber blend yarns made with locally crafted wool. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Patterson, Tracy Patterson Photography)

Though this is Harvest Hill Acres’ first time participating in the market, though the operation began in 2015. Home to a purebred flock of CVM Romeldale sheep, llama, angora rabbits, chickens and honey bees, Harvest Hill Acres is open by appointment for product sales at its yarn store, adjacent to the barn. Once things open up a little more, Weinhardt-Treangen hopes to offer visits and events at the farm .

Weinhardt-Treangen says the wool from the CVM Romeldale sheep is a finer, soft wool. Each sheep has its own basket of yarn and its unique colors change slightly each year. Weinhardt-Treangen says none of the yarns have been dyed, that they are all natural colors consisting of different shades of grays, browns, cremes and whites.

Xcel, Steele-Waseca talk energy reliability following Texas blackouts
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In the wake of Texas’s disastrous grid failure, energy reliability is at the top of the mind for businesses and consumers and the top of the agenda for the Rice County Board of Commissioners.

The board’s Economic Development Subcommittee on Tuesday heard from John Marshall, Xcel’s Director of Community Relations, who highlighted the utility’s longstanding commitment to renewable energy. Xcel has been the nationwide leader for more than a decade in terms of solar and is on pace to source 75% of its energy from clean sources by next year. Next month, the subcommittee will hear a presentation from the county’s other major energy provider, Steele-Waseca Co-op Electric.

As a Texas native, Steele-Waseca Co-op Manager Syd Briggs this week told the Daily News that he was stunned by the cold snap that threw the state’s electrical power grid into chaos. However, he said that local customers can feel confident that the odds of a similar situation in Minnesota are very low.

“We live in the cold weather, so we’re always preparing for the cold weather,” he said. “What happened in Texas is something I never saw, and I lived there for 45 years.”

In addition to the winterization of Minnesota’s grid, Briggs said that its much larger size provides a significant benefit. If a certain part of the grid isn’t producing much power of its own, power can be transferred from other regions to offset it.

During the cold snap, Briggs noted that prices increased even here in Minnesota as utilities were forced to utilize backups. While Minnesota’s renewable energy plants are winterized, he said that fossil fuels still played an outsized role in keeping the grid going.

Xcel’s goals will continue to increase over the coming decades, culminating in a commitment to deliver 100% renewable energy by 2050. While making the system “greener,” Xcel has promised to keep prices in check at no more than the rate of inflation.

When it comes to ensuring the reliability of Xcel’s power supply, Marshall said that the utility’s two nuclear plants, Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant and Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant in Red Wing, play a crucial role.

Even though it’s one of the most reliable forms of clean energy, nuclear is a polarizing topic at the Capitol and has proven to be one of several stumbling blocks preventing agreement on a “Clean Energy First” bill.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, included nuclear in his “Clean Energy First” bill, but says the market is likely to gravitate toward cheaper alternatives like wind and solar. Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, agrees and also cited issues with waste disposal as cause for concern.

Nonetheless, Lippert and Senjem have introduced several bills focused around clean energy, including one that would make Minnesota the first state in the midwest to enact “cap and trade” style legislation around vehicle fuel emissions.

In addition, natural gas was cited as a key “bridge fuel” that Xcel is likely to continue to use for the next two decades at least. Perhaps most importantly, the utility has increasingly focused on helping consumers to save money and the planet through energy efficiency strategies.

“The cheapest kilowatt is always the one you don’t consume,” said Marshall.

Like Xcel, Steele-Waseca Co-op is focused on shifting toward cleaner energy sources. In fact, Great River Energy, which provides the Co-op’s energy, appears to be on pace to meet an even bolder goal of providing more than 90% of energy from renewable sources by 2023.

Great River’s system doesn’t currently include a nuclear power plant, and without one Briggs believes it is impossible under current technology to meet the goal of 100% carbon-free energy while retaining acceptable levels of reliability.

Still, the current Minnesota power supply has made huge strides toward relying on efficient, affordable renewables. Instead, it’s in Minnesota’s transportation sector that emissions have remained stubbornly high.

“We’re moving toward more renewable power, in particular wind and solar,” he said. “But the gas and coal are still what provides the most reliability.”

Faribault lands $622,000 grant for new trail
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While Faribault officials have applied for grants to beef up the city’s parks systems, they’ve learned a $622,000 grant to complete the segment of a trail from Faribault to the Sakatah State Trail is about to come their way.

The city applied for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program grant in 2020, but was not selected. The lack of existing right-of-way agreements with MnDOT as well as the railroad was cited as a reason, according to City Engineer Mark DuChene. Now, after working through the right of way issues with MnDOT and the railroad company, DuChene said that the city received notice that it has been recommended for the grant. The funding will complete the Northern Links Trail from North Alexander Park to Hulett Road.

The city has not received the matching grant dollars yet, and when it does it will be expected to come up with matching funds. Once fully complete, the Northern Links Trail will connect Faribault’s city trails system with the Sakatah State Trail leading to Mankato. Eventually, the completion of the Mill Towns Trail would make Faribault a key destination along a network of trails that would stretch all the way across southern Minnesota, from Mankato in the west to the Mississippi River at Red Wing in the east.

Faribault’s Parks and Recreation Department has also applied for grants, both of which could fund vital improvements to a local park and construction of a trail that will connect southwest Faribault with the city’s network of parks.

Regardless of whether the city is successful in obtaining the additional grants, Parks and Recreation Director Paul Peanasky expects improvements at Wapucata Park and a trail connection from Town Square Lane to Highland Place to proceed next year. Still, the city is laying out its vision based on the hope that it will receive the 2022 grants and in accordance with its existing Capital Improvement Plan. Word is expected to come back from the DNR on whether the state has received grants before the city starts its budgeting process.

For now, the Parks and Recreation Department plans on investing in $100,000 to make improvements at Wapacuta Park on the southwest side of the city. That would cover the cost of replacing playground equipment, adding benches and making the park Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible.

If received, the Outdoor Recreation grant for Wapacuta Park would cover half the cost of improvements. The application was due by the end of the month, with the DNR vaguely stating that awards will be announced this summer.

In addition, Parks and Rec is planning to proceed with the $160,000 trail connection from Town Square Lane to Highland Place next year. It’s part of a multiyear project to connect Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail with downtown and the city’s robust park system.

Once complete, the extension would make the connection from southwest Faribault to White Sands Park nearly complete. If received, the Local Trail Connections Program Grant would cover $100,000, less than the cap of 75%.

The two improvements are in line with the city’s commitment to invest in parks and dramatically improve connections between them, as laid out in the Parks, Trails and Open Spaces Plan. The Plan notes that well maintained parks offer many social and economic benefits for a community.

Faribault has more than 40 parks, which provide more than 1,000 acres of park space. In total 15% of land within the city is reserved as a park, preserve or recreational open space. However, at $49 per capita the city’s parks budget is well below the nationwide average of $78 per capita.

If the grant requests are not approved, Peanasky suggested that the city would have to look at trimming or at least delaying its ambitions. Councilor Janna Viscomi, a passionate supporter of parks and trails improvement, was excited to see the applications move forward.

“It’s important for the city to really stay ahead of things,” she said.