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Chickens in the school courtyard? They're part of a new FHS ag class
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If you see a few chickens running around the courtyard at the Faribault High School this year, don’t be alarmed. They are just part of a unique partnership between Faribault High School and Jennie-O Turkey Store, a leading producer of poultry products.

The chickens are being raised in the high school’s courtyard as part of the Animal Science: Raising Chickens course being taught this school year by Faribault High School agricultural teacher Madeline Schultz.

The program is in its second year at the high school and the three sections of the class have around 75 students enrolled. The course is intended to give students hands-on experience with raising chickens, processing chickens and the business side of agriculture.

“The class teaches you how your chicken would come to the store and how the production of that works,” student Emma Dienst said.

To give the students an idea what poultry growers must go through each year, Schultz begins by showing them the processes for filling out paperwork for loans.

“The students go through the loan process and learn what does interest look like and what are the different things with that loan,” Schultz said. “We then begin to purchase the materials needed to raise chickens with that ‘fake’ money.”

The school actually purchases the birds, and pays to feed and other items needed for their care, but the students put those costs into their budgets and balance accounts as part of their learning experience.

“In the class, we talk about the poultry industry,” Schultz said. “What it looks like on a small scale and what it looks like on a larger scale … what is the difference between someone raising birds on a smaller scale like ours versus a company like Jennie-O and what are the characteristics of that type of company.”

The chickens used in the class are purchased as one-day old hatchlings from a poultry hatchery in Iowa. They are delivered to the school through the U.S. Post Office and it usually takes about eight weeks before they are ready to be processed.

Schultz originally considered raising turkeys but their growing period was too long for the length of each class, so the school opted to raise chickens.

In those eight weeks, the students are responsible for the complete care of the birds and this includes feeding and watering the chickens along with cleaning the coops. This fall, the class is raising 25 broilers and five egg layers. The broilers all reside in one of two new chicken coops built in the high school’s courtyard and the egg layers live in another enclosed coop on the other side of the courtyard.

“I really enjoy this class. We raise the chickens and I have seen them go from little chicks to where they are right now. They’ve gotten really big and I have enjoyed seeing them grow,” student Saida Adan said.

In the spring, the class will expand to two sessions each day and the other chicken coop for the broilers will be utilized to bring the number of chickens to 50. Of note, Schultz said they hope to eventually incubate their own chickens but she is still trying to work out the logistics due to weather concerns since it pushes the timeline back another three weeks.

“At the former school I taught animal science at, we didn’t have this type of hands-on opportunity,” Schultz said. “It was all theory based. We talked about how to handle them and things like that, but now that we actually have live animals here, the kids understand better how to handle the animals, how to make sure that they have clean and fresh water, how to ensure they are fed everyday. Now, it is not just theory but they get to practice raising chickens, actually be able to see it and get involved with how a food product is made.”

Earlier this year, Schultz helped the school obtain a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Agriculture Education Leadership Council that helped provide funds for the addition of a new Meat Lab at FHS. The lab includes a variety of equipment used in the processing of chickens in order to get them ready for consumption.

Jennie-O Turkey Store will also provide its expertise and advice for the class with its poultry raising activities.

“After speaking with Ms. (Madeline) Schultz, we saw two areas where Jennie-O could lend our expertise,” Jennie-O Turkey Store’s Faribault plant manager Jody Long said. “Those areas were biosecurity, which are the programs and processes farmers use to protect their animals from disease, and specialized animal care practices. We look forward to continuing to partner with the high school as a way to get students interested in poultry production and agriculture in general.”

The class is one of several agriculture/horticulture based offerings at the school in 2021-22. A new Meat Science class is also being offered for students who want to continue on after they complete the Raising Chickens course.

In addition to learning about raising chickens, the class provides insight into potential careers in agriculture and introduces some of the class to the world of agriculture.

“I like to think that my raising chickens class reflects the students in the school,” Schultz said. “I have a couple of students that live on farms and I have a couple of students who live in apartments and this is really the only time they have been exposed to animals outside of their house pets.”

Schultz also has her students complete a career in agriculture project at the end of each semester to help them understand the industry’s opportunities.

“I think it definitely opens up their eyes,” Schultz said. “Their is a group of kids who don’t realize how many career opportunities there are in agriculture. This (agriculture) is a huge job market, not only just here in Faribault, but across the globe. There are so many opportunities and it is not just farming opportunities. For example, you can work in business administration for an ag-based business or things like that.”

The future of the program at Faribault High School seems bright as indicated by the addition of the Meat Lab and the Meat Sciences class being offered.

“In general, the kids are really excited about the program,” Schultz said.

Long-term care, senior living facilities' staff stretched thin amid historic labor shortage
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A short-staffed workplace is nothing new for nursing home, assisted living and other long term care providers — labor shortages are an issue that’s burdened the industry for years. But the seismic shift in the labor force brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a historic exodus of workers who take care of our elderly and most vulnerable.

According to a workforce survey by LeadingAge Minnesota, more than 20% of caregiving positions in the state are currently vacant. The industry is short more than 23,000 critical caregiving positions.

Without adequate staff, many nursing and assisted living facilities have been forced to turn new clients away. Three Links Care Center, in Northfield, filled 87 of its 92 beds in 2019. This year, occupancy fell between 70-80 beds, but not from a lack of referrals.

Laura Lutgens, Three Links’ director of nursing, said they’ve received enough calls from prospective clients to reach maximum capacity, but its facilities don’t have enough staff to provide quality care to a full center.

“I’m getting enough referrals where I could fill the beds, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant environment,” said Lutgens. “It would be really hard for the staff and I don’t want them to burn out.”

A real problem

Three Links isn’t alone. The latest data from LeadingAge found nearly 70% of care centers are limiting the number of residents they serve, up from 40% of care facilities just two months prior.

Those most in need of care are threatened the most by the labor shortage. Many of the potential residents Three Links turns away have additional needs like dementia that require more assistance from staff than their home can provide. Since nursing homes all across the state and the country lack manpower, many residents with higher health care needs are forced to stick with their current provider or reach out to care providers outside of their communities.

It’s an issue that affects the general population of long-term care residents as well. Residents in assisted living that need higher support can’t find a nearby nursing home to take them in and vice versa.

“I can’t discharge someone who is really appropriate for assisted living or home health, because assisted living and home health doesn’t have enough staff,” said Lutgens. “So everyone is sort of stuck in place and it’s not good for care. It’s not a good outcome for them.”

Labor shortages have taken their toll on the entire health care industry. In an October editorial, Ridgeview Medical CEO Mike Phelps warned that staffing shortages along with hospital bed and statewide supply shortages will likely lead to longer wait times for admission.

“Ridgeview has not been immune to these issues, and our staff is working much more and much longer hours to care for the community,” said Phelps. “Due to these compounding factors, you will likely experience longer wait times in our emergency rooms and urgent care locations. We may be forced to prioritize sicker patients ahead of others or ask that you reschedule or delay an elective procedure.”

The crisis in caregiving led Gov. Tim Walz to announce plans to order active members of the Minnesota National Guard to alleviate staffing shortages at care facilities. The move aims to relieve caregiving staff and make room for hospitals to discharge patients into transitional care centers. Walz said more than 400 Minnesota hospitals were waiting for beds to open up.

Teresa Hildebrandt, CEO of Benedictine Living Community in St. Peter, said that, between the pandemic, labor shortages in other industries and unemployment benefits, there was “a perfect storm” of events that pushed caregivers out of the industry.

“I think COVID scared people away at the beginning of the outbreak. A lot of people elected to leave health care. We had staff that were retirement age,” said Hildebrandt. “We had staff that got hired away by other health care systems that needed more staff. The unemployment benefits for some made it easier to stay home and quit employment.”

Since the pandemic first struck, some staff members came back to the assisted living facility, but others left the workforce entirely or took jobs in other industries.

Worker outreach

Benedictine Living dove headfirst into changing up its recruitment process to reach more candidates. In years prior, the assisted living facility advertised for positions on Facebook, but they’ve since expanded to posting on Indeed, Twitter and even Tik Tok.

“One week, we might have six or seven new hires that come through several sites and places that were advertising. Then, for some positions, we can go months without applications,“ said Hildebrandt. “We’re using various forms of media and social media staff referrals to get staff hired. Indeed might be hot for us one week and then the next week we get nothing.”

Many care providers have responded by implementing hiring bonuses and higher wage rates, but offsetting those costs isn’t as simple as charging more for services. Under state law, the daily rate Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes can charge is based on DHS assigned values assessing a resident’s medical condition and the level of care they will be receiving.The DHS then reimburses long term care facilities based on care related costs up to a limit.

“The state sets our rates, so any raises we give above what we’re doing now we have to fund … until the state reimburses us, which is a 21-month delay,” said Hildebrandt. “It’s not so easy for long term care providers to give everyone an increase.”

Long term care facilities are also competing for workers with other industries experiencing labor shortages. Care providers are also taking a financial hit from the limited capacity.

The state Legislature has allocated $250 million for frontline worker pay bonuses, but lawmakers still remain deadlocked on how to distribute it. The Frontline Worker Pay Group was supposed to reach an agreement on how to disburse the payments in September, but in October state Democrats and Republicans released separate plans — unable to come to a compromise.

The proposal by Republican lawmakers focuses payments of up to $1,200 on long term care and hospice workers, nurses, emergency responders and corrections officers. Eligible applicants must have worked at least 1,200 hours between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020.

Democrats sought to distribute smaller individual payments to a wider pool of workers. Under the DFL proposal, approximately $375 would be distributed to eligible workers in long term and home care, health care (excluding physicians), emergency responders, corrections, public health, social services, regulatory sectors, courts, child care, schools, food service, retail, shelters, hotels, building services, transit and transportation, airport services (excluding airlines), manufacturing and vocational rehabilitation.

Applicants would be required to have worked a minimum of 120 hours between March 15, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

Community Café fundraiser celebrates its plenty: in meals served and in volunteers
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It’s hard to quantify how many volunteers and generous community members have pitched over the last 12 years in to make the Community Café the success it is. What’s easy to determine is the impact on those who’ve been involved in the free weekly meal.

Pre-pandemic, the café averaged 125 meals each Tuesday. Forced to switch their service from indoor, sit down meals to meals delivered to cars in take out containers last year beginning March 17, 2020, they now serve 300+ meals a week.

In a normal year, the Community Café hosts fundraisers to offset costs for the preparing/distribution free meals every Tuesday night. There is an even greater need to raise funds this year, as organizers were unable to hold a fundraiser last year and have been seeing an increase in costs and number of meals served.

The charity fundraiser, a candlelight celebration, takes place Nov. 13 at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the same location as the café. The night will consist of hors d’oeuvres, coffee, dessert, and a number of raffle drawings.

Along with a cash wine bar and show by the Looney Lutherans, a trio of wacky gals who use music and comedy to share their age-old wisdom for living a long and lively life. They will present their one-of-a kind Christmas show for attendees of the fundraiser. Tickets for the event are $30.

Board member Renee Morris, and one of many coordinators of the event, said it’s amazing how the community comes together and supports any initiative to help feed people. In addition to board members, numerous volunteers also helped pull it all off. This year’s fundraiser is unique, and is considered a celebration.

“We went through COVID and turned from serving meals indoors, seated and plated, to youth group members running from the inside out to cars and ask how many meals they need. It’s a drive-up service, really,” said Morris. “It’s been quite the whirlwind.”

Morris, who also volunteers her time to help with preparation/serving of meals like all board members do, says in the past the fundraising event has featured tables decorated by members of the community who volunteer their time and attention. They not only decorate the table, but they also invite eight family/friends to come and sit at the tables during the gala. Reluctant to break away from the “wonderfully” decorated tables, Morris says organizers wanted to bring that concept into their new venue. A few of those who decorated tables in the past have been chosen as honorary table decorators, and will strategically set up those tables in certain areas.

A greater need

Board president Dave Campbell says costs have doubled due to increased costs from paper products, individual milk cartons and of course food to serve over 300 meals each week.

Approximately 45% of people served are elderly couples or individuals, with single persons of all ages comprising 12%, another significant group. Campbell says 8% of those served have cognitive and other challenges and 25% of the meals are provided to families with children. Since the pandemic, volunteers noticed an uptick in those picking up meals to deliver to home bound parents or neighbors.

Since April 2020, Campbell says they’ve averaged 311 meals each week, serving 11,738 meals in 2020. Since the pandemic, they’ve served 22,999 meals. Campbell calculates 76% of the meals served are delivered curbside, with 24% delivered to individuals or congregate settings.

Along with an increase in meals served, they’ve also seen an increase in costs. Campbell breaks down a summary of a simple budget of monthly expenses: $2,400 in higher food costs, $150 to purchase milk in small pints, $650 for biodegradable take-out containers and protective wear and $800 for licensed caterer contract, adding up to about $4,000 in monthly expenses.

Campbell says their main mission is to “Build community one meal at a time,” focusing primarily on providing person-to-person contact to individuals, provide a balance meal weekly to those interested, provide a bit of stability and normalcy in a needed time, connect with others who are alone, lonely or in search of community and give volunteers purpose and options for those wanting to support their community.

Four teams were developed to coincide with each week of the month, and teams commit to assist with the morning preparation and evening food service on their assigned week and month. Campbell explains each team has a morning crew of four people to prepare the evening meal under the direction/guidance of the caterer. A licensed caterer is provided a small stipend to assure food quality and safety standards were in place. Meals are prepared and served in the licensed kitchen at the Guild House of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Under the direction of the caterer, each team has an evening crew of 15 to serve meals and clean up.

A volunteer board of 12 meets monthly to review operations, secure funds, manage budget and provide guidance and policy for the Community Café, a separate entity deemed a nonprofit by the state of Minnesota as a 501©(3).