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Rice County 4-H'ers to show animals, projects virtually

The four H’s in 4-H have new meaning this year as Rice County members use their heads, hearts and hands to protect their health.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, 4-H’ers will use their skills to show their projects and livestock from a distance rather than speaking with judges face-to-=face at the Rice County Fair.

For over 100 years, 4-H clubs across the nation have engaged youth in activities that help them develop leadership skills and share their talents through a variety of means. During the summer, 4-H’ers typically prepare their animals for judging and put finishing touches on projects. This year, the cancellation of the Rice County and Minnesota State Fair pushed leaders to seek a different platform for 4-H’ers.

Kelly Chadwick, Rice County Extension educator for 4-H youth development, worked with judges and volunteers for the past three months to experiment with different methods and platforms for Rice County 4-H judging this year. Participants gave feedback after testing out the different ideas, considered possible complications for unique project areas, and the 4-H Executive Board concluded that virtual judging would work just fine.

The platform of choice, Flipgrid, allows 4-H members to record videos of themselves showing their projects. With the sense of touch missing from the experience, particularly for livestock judging, the judges will need to base their decision more strongly than ever on the participants’ ability to talk through their knowledge pieces. Participants have until July 13 to submit their videos, and judges will then provide feedback via live video chat.

“Judging will look different, and not all projects will have that full experience,” said Chadwick. “It’s going to be one where the kids will really have to try their best to explain and talk about their project in that particular category … It’s really going to rely on conversation and pictures this time versus hands-on experience some of these projects rely on.”

Although online, livestock judging events will take place as they were originally scheduled — the poultry show on July 21; sheep, beef and meat goats on July 22; dairy, horse and rabbits on July 23 and swine and dairy goats on July 24. While livestock judging usually allows for spectators, Chadwick said the board hasn’t figured out a way to make the youth video submissions public without violating a safety of minors policy. Even if photos and videos can’t be shared virtually, the public can see the results posted online.

Handing out ribbons to the winners proposes another uncertainty this summer. Chadwick said judges may recognize winners with a letter of recognition, and the number of winners will determine whether judges distribute ribbons all at once or in smaller groups.

After competing at the county level, the 4-H’ers can move up to the state level just like other years. However, with the Minnesota State Fair cancelled this year because of the pandemic, champion competitors need to stay updated on the plans ahead. Chadwick said final project judging will be virtual, and an announcement next week will reveal the plans for livestock judging.

A couple of the usual categories in 4-H judging were eliminated, even though the vast majority translated to a virtual format. For safety reasons, the horse contests and dog projects were cancelled. Chadwick explained that not all families have access to the correct tools to accomplish the games required of these contests.

Virtual judging also means a restriction to the number of projects members may submit in each category. Cloverbuds, the youngest 4-H’ers, are limited to three projects instead of 10 this year. Older 4-H’ers may normally enter five projects per category, but this year that limit is capped at one project per category.

Carrie Kraft, of Lonsdale, the mother of three Wheatland Wheaties 4-H’ers, said her daughters normally complete a lot of projects for the Rice County Fair. Her oldest daughter Hannah, 14, did close to 40 projects last year and had a hard time narrowing down her options.

Kraft’s daughter Natalie, 12, said she’s happy she can submit her projects at all. She plans to enter a rabbit and chicken for judging, play her violin in the performing arts division and talk about four common burns for the health category.

“I would rather do it in person than online,” Natalie admitted. But, she added, “It’s definitely going to be a good experience probably.”

Despite the missing components of 4-Hers in-person interaction with judges, Chadwick said the virtual judging will challenge 4-H members to develop different skill sets. Participants will need to apply their technological skills and build self-confidence in front of a camera. Chadwick acknowledged that capturing enthusiasm on video can be difficult, but she hopes the participants have fun and make the most of the unique experience.

Katie Judd-Landrum, of Waterville, a mom to two Warsaw Willing Workers, said her son Taylor, 17, and daughter Clare, 12, plan to film their beef showing on their farm this weekend. Together, they have eight animals to show.

When the Rice County Fair was cancelled, Judd-Landrum said her family cycled through all sorts of emotions — sadness, disappointment, but also understanding. What was harder was learning that Rice County 4-H opted for virtual judging while other local counties conducted in-person judging this summer. Still, Judd-Landrum understands the need for safety and wants her children to embrace virtual judging.

“… It’s just the decision that’s been made, and you have to go with it because that’s life,” said Judd-Landrum. “It also shows the kids things change, and you have to be adaptable to change.”

County board backs effort to reunite Webster Twp.

Rice County’s Board of Commissioners has signaled its support for Webster Township’s effort to undo a decade-old quirk of court-ordered Congressional redistricting.

Under maps approved by a nonpartisan court nearly a decade ago after then-Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders failed to reach an agreement, only minor changes were made to the state’s district maps, to accommodate changes in population.

While most of Minnesota remained in the same districts as before, Rice County was an exception. With the Twin Cities suburbs growing, the largely suburban 2nd Congressional District needed to lose population, while the more rural 1st District needed to grow. Previously, the whole county had been a part of the 2nd District. Part of the county, including Northfield, Dundas and Nerstrand, remains in the second district currently represented by Rep. Angie Craig, DFL-Eagan.

A majority of the county’s townships, along with the cities of Faribault, Lonsdale and Morristown, were shifted into the 1st Congressional District. That mostly rural district spans across southern Minnesota and is represented by Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Blue Earth.

Rice County’s legislative districts, on the other hand, remained largely intact. The major victim of “slicing and dicing” during the redistricting process was Dodge County, which has been a part of five State House districts and four State Senate districts for the last decade.

As for the Congressional district line, it runs through the heart of the county, but rather than connect with the Dakota County line, the mapmakers added a small, improbable detour that includes approximately half of Webster Township’s voters in each district.

County Property Tax and Elections Director Denise Anderson told the county board that currently, Precinct 1, which sits in Congressional District 1 and covers the west part of the township, has 569 registered voters. Precinct 2 has 675.

Larry McFadden, chair of Webster Township’s Board of Supervisors, said that the split is unprecedented. Historically, Webster Township has always been one precinct, although it’s split between the New Prague and Northfield school districts.

However, the dividing line between the two school districts is not the same as the line drawn by the court to separate Districts 1 and 2. The line mostly follows Hwy. 19 and County Road 5, but it takes several small detours, further confusing residents. McFadden said he’s not at all sure where the court came up with its idea to partition Webster Township in such a manner. With less than 1,000 voters in each precinct, Webster Township’s population is a very small portion of both Congressional districts.

Despite the confusion, township voters have continued to vote at the same location. However, Township Clerk Roger Van Veldhuizen said that two to three extra clerks must be on hand to count ballots, inflicting a financial cost as well.

In advance of redistricting next year, the township is taking the unusual step of petitioning the legislature. Commissioners unanimously expressed support for the effort, and will likely vote to approve a supportive resolution at next week’s board meeting.

While the last couple of redistricting maps have been produced by the courts after Republicans and DFLers, who each controlled at least one branch of state government, were unable to reach an agreement on a fair district map.

However, it’s possible the legislature could play a larger role in redistricting this year. All legislators are up for re-election this fall and by holding their House majority and making a net gain of just two Senate seats, DFLers could seize full control of state government.

Caleb Thielbar first debuted for the Minnesota Twins in the 2013 season. After a winding road through minor league and independent baseball — with pit stops at Driveline Baseball — Thielbar is back with the Twins and looking better than ever. (Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins)

Council leans toward relaxing liquor ordinance


Faribault’s City Council has again signaled a willingness to relax the city’s strict penalties for businesses that fail a liquor check, likely foreshadowing changes to the city code.

Last December, Corks & Pints, Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits, and Carbone’s Pizzeria all suffered a one-day revocation of their liquor licenses after failing a liquor compliance check. At all three establishments, servers failed to ask for ID and sold liquor to an underaged individual being monitored by local police

Plenty of planning and forethought goes into the city’s liquor checks. Faribault Police Capt. Neal Pederson said that the minors involved in the compliance checks receive training, that they’re instructed to present their genuine ID when asked and respond to all questions truthfully.

Checks are traditionally conducted twice a year at all Faribault businesses which sell alcoholic beverages off-sale or on-sale. Traditionally, the city has just imposed a fine on businesses which fail a check, but a much tougher ordinance was passed in 2015.

Now, businesses which fail the check have their off-sale and/or on-sale liquor licenses suspended. For the first violation within the prior three years, the suspension is for one day only, for the second, it’s for three days, and for the third it’s a week.

Until last year, the changed ordinance hadn’t provoked much concern from councilors. However, Pederson noted that it’s highly unusual for three businesses to fail their checks, and in this case two of those businesses were relatively high volume.

At the November Council meeting, Councilors Royal Ross and Tom Spooner were particularly vocal in calling for a relaxation of the penalty. Both expressed reservations about shutting down an entire establishment for the sake of one errant employee.

“We’re going to impose this on Carbone’s and somebody who’s a waitress that day is going to be severely impacted at their job due to the fact that somebody else did a poor job,” he said. “I don’t think the intent of the law was to do that.”

In November, Councilor Jana Viscomi raised concerns that the law could have a disproportionate impact on an event center. Under the current code, a one-day suspension would take place on the same day of the week as the day the establishment failed the check. As a result, Viscomi expressed concerns that a person’s special event could be impacted by a mistake.

However, Assistant City Administrator Heather Slechta told the Council on Tuesday that event centers could be well positioned to get around that problem by simply hiring an outside caterer with a valid liquor license.

At Tuesday’s work session, Voracek defended the current ordinance as providing a clear, fair and tough penalty. Along with Viscomi, he’s the only current elected city official who served on the Council when it passed the ordinance.

“I think what we did last year was very effective,” Voracek said. “Everybody was surprised because we hadn’t done that before, and they were all scared for a while.”

Voracek argued that a mandatory shutdown is a fair solution He said that a flat fine, as proposed by some councilors, could hit smaller retailers much more significantly than larger ones.

The mayor also pushed back on the assertion made by Councilor Elizabeth Cap, who was not at the meeting but submitted a comment for the record, that underage drinking is not a major issue in Faribault.

“There’s a lot of (underage drinking) that goes on,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the bartenders fault, but there’s a lot of backroom drinks that get passed around in an establishment because the rules are unclear.”

The rest of the council wasn’t swayed by Voracek’s arguments. While her specific concerns about event centers were assuaged, Viscomi remained strongly supportive of modifying the ordinance for first and second offenses.

“This is one industry I’m familiar with,” Viscomi said, citing her experience as the owner of Bernie’s Restaurant downtown. “I am not in favor of suspending a business’s operations because of a 21-year-old’s error.”

Councilor Jonathan Wood said he also supports changing the ordinance. Wood said that he can understand that on occasion, a bartender could make an honest mistake, and doesn’t believe it should be held against the business.

“I think that some of this happens when a bartender is new, they’ve been working there for a couple of weeks, and you get a poorly timed kerfuffle,” he said.

A majority of the council seemed willing to allow businesses to pay a fine for even the second violation within three years. Councilor Royal Ross was skeptical of whether that would be an adequate penalty for a second violation, suggesting both a fine and shutdown.

Faribault’s liquor serving establishments were divided on the proposed change. Tonya Dunn, who serves as general manager of the Depot Bar and Grill, said that she believes the current ordinance makes sense.

“If your staff isn’t well enough trained to ID people, then I think they should lose their liquor license for a day,” she said. “There has to be some sort of consequence that hits home.”

Mary Almendinger of Our Place on 3rd disagreed. Almendinger said that while she can see the argument for imposing a shutdown on a second violation, she thinks that first-time violators should be given a bit of a break.

“That level of punishment is not quite right,” she said. “That’s a lot of income for us.”

Dave Hvistendahl, owner of Pints & Corks, visited the council in December to personally apologize for the failed liquor check. He pledged that it would not happen again, citing his Northfield establishment’s spotless record.

Nonetheless, Hvistendahl supports changing the ordinance because he actually sees the current ordinance as unfair to large businesses, not small establishments like the one he owns in Faribault.

Hvistendahl said he believes the issue is relatively small, as most businesses do what they can to prevent any sales to minors. He noted that some businesses have implemented drivers license scanners to root out fake IDs, though they remain too pricey for many small businesses.

“Mistakes do happen so that’s not the major source of alcohol going to minors,” he said. “It always has been and always will be older siblings buying for younger siblings, older boyfriends buying for younger girlfriends and the like.”