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SCC one of 11 organizations to help southern Minn. farmers with succession planning
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A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will play a role in helping farmers in south central Minnesota with the often difficult task of farm succession and passing their land’s legacy onto future generations.

The $500,000 grant is being awarded to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and 11 project partners to advance the work in dealing with farm stress and rural mental health. One of those partners is South Central College, which has campuses in North Mankato and Faribault.

“We know from working with farmers that farm transition and succession, legal problems, family relationships and youth stress are crucial issues where we can make a difference,” Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said. “We’re thankful that the USDA can help us expand our efforts.”

The MDA’s “Bend, Don’t Break” initiative will build upon existing efforts to connect farmers with resources to help reduce stress and one of those initiatives that South Central College will focus on is to provide training and resources that will help farmers and those who work with farmers with the process of farm succession and transition — or how they will pass on their property after they are no longer working those farms.

“We are very fortunate to live here in the upper midwest in Southern Minnesota with rich land resources and successful farms, and the opportunity to transfer those from one generation to the next is not always the easiest,” South Central College Dean of Agriculture Brad Schloesser said.

“A lot of farmers are not sure about what they want to do after they get done farming, since their lives really revolve around farming only. So, we are trying to help facilitate that conversation, to help people establish goals and ask the question ‘so you built this farm operation, what is you desire for it going forward?’…what is the legacy your are going to leave.”

Claire LaCanne, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator, Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources added, “Farm transition can be really intimidating to think about. There are many pieces to the puzzle and educational workshops or working with someone who is trained in this area are great places to start. This kind of estate planning education can help farmers know who they need to involve in the process – financial planners, lawyers, etc.

Workshops can also help provide an understanding of options and the big picture, as well as help farmers learn what questions they need to be asking.”

South Central College received just under $50,000 as one of the 11 project partners and those funds will be specifically to help with training and guidance for farm succession and transition.

This type of training and facilitator guidance has already started and on Nov. 2 over 55 participants took part in a workshop offered in St. Cloud, which was led by Jim Molenaar from the St. Cloud Technical and Community College and Megan Roberts, a University of Minnesota Extension educator.

This past week, an introduction to farm succession learning session was held in Mankato on Nov. 10, with leadership provided once again by Molenaar and Roberts along with a presentation from mental health counselor Monica McConkey. Attendees were provided with information about a variety of topics for facilitators and trainers including family communication, retirement, healthcare, estate planning and farm succession strategies.

Learning opportunities specifically aimed at farmers and their families coming up during the winter of 2022 will be a pair of two-day Multi-Generational Farm Transition Retreats being offered on Feb. 25-26 in Alexandria and on March 11-12 in Mankato. These events will be directed by Molenaar and Roberts and they will allow attendees to learn more about family and business goals, job responsibilities, financial needs of farms and families, inheritance considerations, and mechanisms of farm/land transfer.

A series of online webinars that will provide information and strategies for farm transition and estate planning will also be offered in December 2021 through the University of Minnesota Extension. To register for these no-cost webinars, visit z.umn.edu/farmtransitionevents

The retreats and webinars are a collaborative effort between Minnesota State, the University of Minnesota Extension, Southern Minnesota Center of Agriculture and AgCentric.

For more information on these events and other resources, please visit www.centerofagriculture.org/farm-business-management/events

Schloesser said these types of workshops will help play an important role in helping area farmers meet their farm transition and succession goals and reduce the stress that often accompanies these types of decisions.

“If you have two, or in many cases three generations and sometimes four generations that are involved in a farm operation, it can be be a lot of work and a lot of communication,” Schloesser said about transition planning. “It is a different type of thinking than what one would do during harvest season or caring for animals, so that is why we raised our hand and said we would like to support these efforts.

“If a farmer is interested, they should take a look at their schedule, participate and then make a commitment to succession planning.”

LaCanne echoed Schloesser’s thoughts on how proper planning can ease the burden created by farm transition and succession.

“I think it can be such a relief to have a plan in place. Having a clear trajectory for your succession plan definitely has the potential to reduce stress and anxiety about the future,” LaCanne said. “Working with a professional or attending educational workshops on the subject of farm transition is a step in the direction of creating a transition plan, which can hopefully provide some peace of mind.”

‘Attention & support’

The topic of farm transition and succession is becoming more commonplace as demographics evolve and many farmers are reaching the age where retirement becomes part of the conversation.

“We continue to give this attention and support,” Schloesser said of farm succession planning. “We are seeing a significant amount of land that is changing hands, kind in line with what we are experiencing with those 65 years and older, a real transition in terms of baby boomers who are retiring.

“That trend is what the statistics are sharing, and I am witnessing that now. I’ve been been involved in agriculture education for 40 years and it is coming true in terms of the (farm) transitioning that is taking place and we are here to help facilitate that.”

Schloesser reflected on the importance of the grant and the programs it helps support, “What we are really trying to do is to keep people who desire to be involved in agriculture farming. We respect the individuals who have been stewards of the land and have cared for and built these businesses, supported their families and supported their communities. We want to see those people continuing in that mode as compared to the farm being sold after Mom and Dad die and farm sizes continue to increase.”

Schloesser noted that the workshops do not specifically get involved with offering direct legal or financial advice to farmers, but they can provide connections with accountants and law firms that have expertise in those areas. He would like to see these types of educational offerings regarding farm transition and succession continued in the future in order to assist area farmers.

“That we would be my desire as we find resources to support these efforts,” Schloesser said.

These types of workshops are just part of the many educational offerings provided by South Central College that focus on farming and agricultural business for both longtime farmers and those interested in making it a career.

“South Central College has campuses located in Faribault and North Mankato and we have 13 faculty that work with 575-600 farm families. We are really concentrated here in the south central region,” Schloesser said.

In Rice County, SCC farm business management educators include Mark Wehe, Jeff Schultz and Eric Kinsley.

“They give attention to those actively farming and also the next generation coming in who are seeking the type of support and education that our farm business management program can offer,” Schloesser said.

Boutique owner relocates business to historic downtown
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Susan Hacker-Kempenich has always enjoyed taking something that looks like nothing, and transforming it into something really beautiful.

Believing that anything can be transformed with a little bit of effort and creativity thrown in the mix, Hacker-Kempenich decided it was time to make an investment into her business, Lily of the Valley, a name taken from her favorite Bible verse.

Susan Hacker-Kempenich held a grand opening for Lily of the Valley’s newly renovated spot in historic downtown Faribault on Nov. 6. Pictured with Hacker-Kempenich inside of her boutique is her daughter, Tiah Kempenich, 2. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

On Nov. 6, Hacker-Kempenich welcomed customers, friends and family members into her newly renovated space in historic downtown Faribault. With the help of her husband Curtis and their friend Joe Dienst, and hours upon hours of work, Hacker-Kempenich transformed the former insurance agency into a modern, cozy, rustic space with lots of charm. Just about everything in the space had to be renovated or remodeled. They took out popcorn ceilings and exposed the old, tin ceiling, put in new lights, ripped out the carpet and put in new floors, repainted the walls and added elements like a brick wall and columns to amp up the aesthetics.

Along with decorating, another one of Susan Hacker-Kempenich’s passions is re-purposing old pieces of furniture and transforming them into something unique. Pictured are just some of many designs and techniques she uses on items. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Hacker-Kempenich repurposes old furniture using different techniques to make each piece unique. Among the repurposed furniture items she has to offer, are products, including jewelry, purses, lingerie and clothes for women and children, and a small amount of men’s clothing. She hopes to grow the men’s clothing selections and sizes for boys’ clothes for ages 7+ with the business. To help with inventory, Hacker-Kempenich brought in handmade soaps made by Mia and Tanna.

Her hours of operation are not yet set in stone as she looks to continue feeling out the downtown area and figuring out what hours will work best for customers.

She says her mission is to bless other people in small, practical ways by being able to provide a fun place to find cool things, while staying on a budget. As a mom of eight, she knows what it’s like to want nice things, but sometimes those things are not affordable.

Lily of the Valley features an array of products from jewelry, purses, boutique clothing, children’s clothing and repurposed furniture. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Prior to moving her boutique into the 118 Central Ave. building, Hacker-Kempenich was set up in the Faribo West Mall from June 2020 to June 2021. While the mall was a good starting point for her and her new business, Hacker-Kempenich was ready for a change of pace and wanted to invest in the business even more. A dream that’s always been in her heart, Hacker-Kempenich says with her and her husband’s children getting older and life not getting any cheaper, she felt the time was right to make the leap. This move is just the cherry on top for Hacker-Kempenich when it comes to following her dreams.

“I feel like it was a dream God gave me 15 or 20 years ago, but being a stay at home mom is my first dream. This was always on the back burner, but something I wanted to do at some point,” she said.

While Hacker-Kempenich admits the journey to starting her own business has been scary at times, she is determined to be successful and looks to teach her children that they can do anything they put their mind to. As a stay-at-home mom, Hacker-Kempenich loves being able to incorporate all her passions into one. A room in the boutique behind the counter is dedicated to her children and allows her to entertain/keep an eye her kids on nights where she has to work.

Small, practical ways

Living in Faribault since she was third grade, Hacker-Kempenich says she always thought it would be cool to have an old, downtown building filled with rich character. She hopes more people will come support local businesses on Central Avenue, and appreciates other shop owners who have already come in and offered support.

Along with clothes and accessories, Susan Hacker-Kempenich includes fun, unique items like a message in a bottle to give to a friend or leave for a stranger to find. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Kelly Nygaard, Faribault Chamber of Commerce Tourism director, marketing manager and Main Street coordinator, is absolutely thrilled to have Lily of the Valley join the historic district. Nygaard says Hacker-Kempenich has not only made an investment in her own building, but also the whole downtown and believes the boutique will be a great amenity to shoppers in the district and has offerings that will compliment others well.

“We have such a beautiful, charming downtown. I get comments from visitors all the time,” said Nygaard. “Though retail nationwide ebbs and flows, through SI Hobby, Cardboard Vault and now Lily of the Valley, we are growing our retail offerings in downtown Faribault.”

Nygaard encourages all to take a day and stroll downtown and see everything it has to offer. She adds there are also many other nearby businesses that offer fun items.

Of Lily of the Valley, Nygaard says Hacker-Kempenich offers such unique items, like boutique clothing, items for little ones and “fun and adorable items people are unlikely to find anywhere else.”

Hacker-Kempenich says she is particularly looking forward to conversing with customers, whether they make a purchase or not and being a blessing to others in small, practical ways.

“I just want to love on people in any, small way I can,” said Hacker-Kempenich. “It’s amazing, shopping local is not just supporting me, it’s also supporting my family. It’s a big deal for local business owners.”

State grants help Faribault Transportation add electric bus to its fleet
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Garrett Regan is ready to plug in.

Regan’s Faribault Transportation Co. is one of five school bus transportation companies selected for a pilot project that’s putting electric school buses on Minnesota roads.

Some of the eight newly funded buses have already begun transporting students, with the rest, including Faribault’s, expected to be in service sometime next year. In addition to the eight school buses, grantees received funding for charging stations. Faribault Transportation Co. received nearly $254,000 of the $2.1 million granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Regan ordered the Faribault bus about a month and a half ago and expects delivery next spring.

“It’s going to be a big learning curve with the new technology, figuring out how it works with the power company and just how the bus runs,” said Regan, who’s excited to be getting in on the front end.”

The 77-passenger bus will take some getting used to. While it will be charged after its morning and afternoon routes, running an electric bus in Minnesota’s winters won’t be as simple as flipping a switch. Regan’s researched the data on electric vehicles already in use in Alaska and Canada, and having the bus in his fleet will require adjustments. The bus, he says, will run anywhere from 80 to 130 miles on a charge, depending on the terrain it’s covering, the amount of time it idles and the outside temperature.

Having a bus garage to store his buses in will help in that respect. Cold temperatures can sap electric car batteries, temporarily reducing their range by more than 40% when interior heaters are used, according to a 2019 AAA study.

The study of five electric vehicles also found that high temperatures can cut into battery range, but not nearly as much as the cold. The range returns to normal in more comfortable temperatures.

The electric school bus pilot project will support cleaner vehicle technology and reduce harmful air pollution, serving as another important step toward achieving Minnesota’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Changing from diesel to all-electric buses can reduce GHG emissions by at least 29 tons per vehicle. In total, awarded grant projects are anticipated to reduce pollution from GHG emissions by 1,120 tons.

In addition to removing older, more polluting diesel buses from the roads, the pilot project is designed to help determine the viability of electric bus technology in Minnesota’s cold climes. During the grant period, grantees will provide the MPCA with quarterly data on bus operation and performance, maintenance and energy use, among others.

Grant projects are anticipated to reduce pollution: greenhouse gases (1,120 tons), nitrogen oxide (5.4 tons), and fine particle pollution (0.3 tons).

With the new program, Minnesota is the first state in the Midwest to implement a pilot project that will gather data and information about the buses’ performance and reliability. Lessons learned from the pilot project will inform future electric school bus projects. The pilot project is funded by the Volkswagen settlement.

“It’s exciting,” Regan said of being included in the pilot project. “It’s great for Faribault schools and the Faribault community.”

Salvation Army's bells start ringing this weekend
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While it may be cold outside, the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign volunteer bell ringers agree it’s often a heartwarming experience.

Faribault resident Randy Twiehoff recalls an instance while bell ringing at Walmart, when a Hispanic family came up and said they’ve been saving their coins over the course of the whole year. Twiehoff fondly remembers the parents having the kids put the coins in the kettle, something they were just so excited to do.

“I just really enjoy ringing, I typically do six to eight shifts a year,” said Twiehoff, chair of the Lions Club bell ringing and resident of Cardinal Pointe of Faribault.

“Fortunately I know a lot of people around town, so when people see me they want to contribute. It’s always heartwarming to see.”

The Salvation Army Bells will begin ringing this year on Nov. 19-20. Volunteers can sign up for time slots right up to Christmas, a total of 17½ days. Campaign coordinators kindly ask volunteers to fill two-hour time slots in order to reach the goal of $60,000. Bell ringing takes place at Fareway, Hy-Vee and Walmart in Faribault; Mackenthun’s in Lonsdale; and Cub Foods and Family Fare in Northfield from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ringing only takes place at Walmart on Saturdays and begins Nov. 27. Ten small kettles will also be be placed in various businesses in Rice County, like Kwik Trip and Walgreens, for those interested in donating that way.

Rice County Volunteer Coordinator Jim Dale says the Salvation’s Army work in Rice County is completely funded by what they receive from the kettle campaign.

“It’s of utmost importance that we man the kettles with our counties many volunteers,” said Dale of this year’s campaign.

Dale adds residents in Rice County have been very generous in past years and hopes to have the same results this year. They met their goal of $50,000 last year, but Dale said the local Salvation Army was fortunate enough to receive extra COVID funding from the county, something he doesn’t anticipate this year. He also hopes to reach the goal this year, as it could be a tough winter for folks with costs of necessities like heat and fuel increasing. Two years ago they ran short and had to rely on money other counties. Last year, Dale said they had a little excess themselves and were able to “pay back” other counties in need.

“Every year we don’t know what’ll happen, so we just set a budget and if we don’t get it, we have to deal with it on a month-to-month basis,” said Dale.

Frequent volunteers of the bell ringing each year are often churches, schools, businesses and service organizations, like the Lions Club in Faribault. Dale said the local Lions Club always steps up and takes an entire day, and has now been volunteering for two days.

Twiehoff says the Lions Club has been volunteering to ring the bells for a number of years now, and has even expanded from volunteering one day to two days because there’s such a large interest in doing it. He encourages other service clubs to do the same. At Cardinal Pointe, Tweihoff says they typically host a food drive between Thanksgiving and Christmas for St. Vincent de Paul. Last year, Tweihoff began thinking about offering bell ringing to other residents, especially since Fareway is so close to his building. After going around and asking a handful of residents, Tweihoff was met with excitement and filled the shifts.

Dale, too, enjoys volunteering his time, not only as a volunteer coordinator, but also as a volunteer.

“My wife Janet and I are basically a team, she and I ring together,” said Dale. “Since we retired, life is one of volunteering. We want to give back as much as we can … we truly enjoy the idea of giving and this is just one big way we can do it.”

They also like to meet people who are out and about, and fondly recall wonderful experiences with people who benefited from the Salvation Army as a child, and saved all year long as their way of paying back.

“How can you replace that feeling? You can’t,” said Dale of the experience.