A Nerstrand woman described the benefits of local farmers markets and called on Congress to make them easier to operate during testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture.
Kathy Zeman, an occasional vendor at Riverwalk Market Fair, executive director of the Minnesota Farmers Market Association and organic livestock farmer, was in Washington, D.C. Feb. 11, at the invitation of a subcommittee to the U.S. House Committee of Agriculture to testify about the value of local farmers markets and how the federal government can enable them to grow.
Zeman said the U.S. House Agirculture’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research placed a call to various groups. The National Farmers Union reached out to the Minnesota Farmers Union, who asked Zeman.
Zeman noted the number of farmers markets in Minnesota has significantly increased, from 15 in 1998 to 302 now. She said in the wake of that growth, the federal government needs to strategically invest in local food development. She cited statistics showing farmers gain a far more significant portion of the profit from farmers markets than in stores. She said farmers markets are immune to tariffs and trade, two issues that have impacted retail stores.
She listed the goals of the Minnesota Farmers Market Associaiton, an organization seeking to increase the presence of farmers markets.
She noted data taken from 11,200 market visitors showed farmers market organizers need more data and research on local food systems.
“If we understand our market better, they can better grow the local food system,” Zeman said. She added that she was grateful Congress obligated permanent Local Agriculture Marketing Program funding in 2018.
Some challenges Zeman mentioned include a formidable grant application process local food markets face, and she requested Congress think of applicants living in rural areas who don’t have access to broadband. She suggested funding for local food markets that would allow them to utilize professional grant writers to make the application process easier.
“It works good for people who have resources,” Zeman said. “What about the people who don’t?”
“What I’ve seen in my experience, it takes a savvy person to get these applications through the door.”
She said farmers markets need more processing grants, community kitchens and other amenities. Zeman noted vendors are frequently customers as well.
She requested Congress simplify the payment process at farmers markets as the system becomes more challenging for vendors due to the growing number of available payment programs, both public and private.
When it’s below 0 degrees, one might think jumping into a pool of water outdoors is the last thing Minnesotans would want to do.
Despite the -26-degree forecast, 89 participants last year immersed their entire bodies into a pit of water that only aerators kept from freezing. According to Russ Schwichtenberg, those who do it once often want to do it again.
“It’s like anything that’s challenging,” said Schwichtenberg. “Once you do it, you want your friends and others to experience it.”
For the third year in a row, friends, family members and co-workers will have the opportunity to take the Camp Omega Plunge into a water pit outside the Morristown Fire Hall. Teams and individuals are still welcome to sign up for the plunge, which begins with registration from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Morristown Community Center. Jumpers meet at 11 a.m. with the first jumper taking the plunge at 11:30.
Working with gift development fundraising, Schwichtenberg was tasked with the goal of raising $3.5 million dollars to fund an adult/family retreat center for Camp Omega in Waterville. Camp Omega partners with Minnesota Christian congregations to provide recreational activities, retreats and summer camps.
Schwichtenberg said the plunge, which started in 2018, keeps the excitement about the retreat center alive in the midst of fundraising. After four years of fundraising, and with groundbreaking planned for the fall, he said, “Now we’re getting serious.”
While Schwichtenberg himself has participated in the plunge as a team of one, he said it’s more fun with teammates. There’s no maximum number of participants per team, the biggest group last year had 18 members. Teams are encouraged to dress similarly or using a theme to be eligible for the “best dressed” prize of $50.
“You might not remember where you were Saturday, Feb. 22 at 11:30 a.m., but will remember that feeling if you do the plunge,” said Schwichtenberg. “It’s a breathtaking 20 to 30 seconds and all of a sudden it changes to refreshing. You get the euphoria of having done it.”
Steve Nordmeier of the Morristown Fire Department has been involved with the plunge since the beginning, announcing participants and preparing for the event beforehand.
“When [Russ] contacted me a couple years ago, I got the Fire Department on board to help with [the plunge], mainly to take care of it safety-wise,” said Nordmeier. “We have a couple people stationed in the water while everyone jumps in so they get out safe.”
The Community Center isn’t far from the water pit exit, said Nordmeier, so participants have easy access to warmth and refreshments.
In case some feel the urge to sign up for the plunge at the last minute, Schwichtenberg said participants are welcome to register any time up until the morning of the event. The Channel Inn in Warsaw, he said, is a fun team last-minute jumpers might consider joining.
A $50 fee will allow participants the “privilege to jump.” Shoes are required, and participants must prepare by bringing their own towels. Anyone who takes the plunge receives a medallion, and this year, they’ll also get their photos taken.
Even if participants are unfamiliar with Camp Omega, Schwichtenberg encourages jumpers to plunge with purpose, maybe in honor of someone or simply for some excitement. Having lost a close friend, he offers the piece of advice to make fun memories with loved ones while they’re still around.
While it’s not a requirement, some of the registered teams ask for pledges and sponsorships before the plunge. The top fundraising team will receive $200. Last year Trinity Lutheran Church in Janesville brought over $33,000. The Thrivent Financial team from Faribault raised over $8,500, and the Cannon River Hillbillies brought in $3,700.
“It’s worked out so nice the last couple of years; it just has,” said Schwichtenberg. “The donations and sponsorships are very appreciated. The plungers are very appreciated.”
Faribault’s City Council has bucked the recommendation of its Planning Commission for the second time in as many weeks, giving an area developer another chance to modify his development agreement in a way the city finds acceptable.
The owner of Faribault-based Dynamic Electric, Todd Nelson has become a familiar face at City Hall in recent months. That’s because in addition to his work as an electrical contractor, he owns multiple properties throughout the city of Faribault and Rice County.
The Nelson project that has been the subject of discussion lately is a multifamily housing complex located on 23rd Street NW. In 2014, Nelson received the city’s blessing to build 28 units on the 2.7-acre site, located within walking distance of Daikin Applied off 24th Street NW.
The original design included two six-plex buildings with two- and three-bedroom apartments, and a pair of eight-unit buildings with two-bedroom apartments. Nelson and the city later agreed to alter the designs, adding three additional units to the plan. As part of his agreement with the city, Nelson promised to include playground equipment along with the development. With no other playground in the area, the playground equipment was included in anticipation of young families moving into the area.
Instead, most of those who’ve moved into the development have been seniors. Worried that a playground might increase vandalism, which he says has already become a major issue for residents, Nelson asked the city for permission to scrap the playground.
Loath to jettison the agreement entirely, the Planning Commission instead asked Nelson to offer alternative amenities of comparable value. In response, Nelson produced a plan to install a shuffleboard court and horseshoe pit.
The plan was met with skepticism from the Planning Commission along with the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department. In written feedback, Department Director Paul Peanasky criticized the proposal, saying that neither activity has proven popular with Faribault seniors.
After giving Nelson a chance to improve his proposal, the Planning Commission decided to stick with the original agreement. Last week, it recommended by a unanimous vote that City Councilors hold Nelson to the agreement.
The City Council was much more divided. Councilor Elizabeth Cap was the strongest advocate for upholding the Planning Commission’s vote, agreeing with the Planning Commission’s evaluation that it would provide a key amenity.
“I understand the perspective that if it’s for 55+, we shouldn’t have things for kids,” Cap said. “But people have grandchildren, and it could be used by them.”
While none of the councilors were enthused by Nelson’s proposal, most were more hesitant to reject it. Criticizing the original agreement as overly vague, Councilor Royal Ross said he would vote against denying Nelson’s request
“I don’t think this was a good plan from the beginning,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is, because there’s got to be a better approach.”
With some councilors favoring each approach, Councilor Janna Viscomi became a key swing vote. Viscomi expressed disapproval of both the proposed playground equipment and Nelson’s alternative.
“I would be open minded to this if the plan wasn’t shuffleboard,” he said “I’ve never used a shuffleboard and I’m close to 55.”
Councilor Jonathan Wood, who owns his own construction business, said he’d prefer to see the issue tabled for further discussion. Wood suggested that the best approach might be to look for other outdoor exercise equipment that could go on the site. Wood said that in just a cursory internet search, he found equipment that might work for the space and consulted with Peanasky about it.
Councilor Tom Spooner expressed skepticism, quipping that he was unlikely to regularly use indoor exercise equipment, much less outdoor equipment.
Noting that the plans had been on the books for six years, Spooner said it was time to move forward. Spooner also said he worried that Minnesota’s often harsh weather would prevent the exercise equipment from getting much use.
While frustrated by the lack of action over the last several years, Viscomi was receptive to Wood’s proposal to search out different amenities of similar value for the site, and the motion was tabled.
Although the City Council rejected the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the issue isn’t likely to go return there, according to City Administrator Tim Murray. Instead, the City Council will now hammer out the details in an upcoming work session.