Since the closure of numerous processing plants where hog farmers typically send their animals, local butcher shops and farmers are experiencing the impact firsthand — especially here in Minnesota, the country’s second-highest pork producing state.
Throughout April, processing plants such as Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, JBS pork plant in Worthington, Comfrey Farm’s Prime Pork plant in Windom and a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa closed/halted operations following COVID-19 outbreaks among workers. Although some recently reopened portions of their plants, there is still an overwhelming number of pigs who grew too large to be processed and were euthanized.
Mike Patterson, who owns a commercial pig farm operation of about 3,000 pigs near Kenyon, says as an industry in the United States (pre-COVID-19) almost 500,000 pigs were harvested per day. The average number from April 26-May 2 was about 285,000. Also that week, Patterson says there was 1 million pigs unable to be harvested, with another 600,000-700,000 the week before.
As of May 5, there were around 2 million hogs needing harvesting. Patterson’s about 1,200 pigs behind.
To make a bad matter worse, harvesting won’t just remain behind schedule, there will be an ever growing number unsaleable hogs even after the plants reopen.
Many farms have started the process of depopulation of market hogs by euthanizing them for rendering (a process that converts waste animal tissue into stable, usable materials), taking them to a landfill (some counties have approved pig disposal at county landfills) or composting them on-site by working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to ensure no pollution issues.
All three options with an end result of wasted meat. As a farmer, Patterson says that goes against everything they set out to do. While he has not had to fdo that just yet, he says it’s a “distinct” possibility in the coming weeks.
“…That’s pretty difficult to think about having to do that and it’s big financial hit. We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid that, but if these animals aren’t getting harvested, there’s nowhere to go with them,” said Patterson. “[Farmers are] out here trying to give the animals best care we can and produce a delicious product for consumers’ plates. We do it to feed people, and to see that go to waste is pretty tough.”
To put it in perspective, Patterson says as pigs get bigger, they take up more physical space and gain almost 30 pounds in two weeks.
“Market hogs are ready to go to market, and occupying space that the pigs from the nursery need to go into,” said Patterson of his operation. “We are getting to the point where there’s no physical space to house them.”
The market pigs gained a total of 50 pounds in the three weeks they have been waiting to go to market. From a financial standpoint, once pigs get over 320 pounds, Patterson says they become worth “quite a bit” less, since the equipment and machinery can’t handle an animal that larger.
To help slow the pigs’ growth, Patterson says he’s changed their diets a couple times. This change slows down the growth from 2.5 pounds a day to 1 pound a day. Patterson says that modification has helped.
Patterson is part of a sow/hog cooperative made up of 12 families in the area, who together own sow (mother pig) and nursery facilities.
Patterson received the letter from Smithfield in Sioux Falls announcing its closure on April 11, just four days before they were scheduled to start selling to Smithfield. Typically by May 6, three weeks later, Patterson would have about 1,200 pigs sold. Instead, they haven’t been able to sell any to Smithfield, forcing him to turn to other options. As a coop, Patterson says some loads of pigs have been sold to other plants, who are also struggling with COVID-19 and aren’t able to be running at full capacity. However those plants, too, have contracts with other farmers to deliver to those plants.
Patterson says one positive thing about the situation is how they have been able to work with Kenyon Meats and Blondie’s Butcher Shop in Wanamingo to sell some of their pigs. So far between selling to the two local butcher shops, as well as selling them live off the farm for customers to butcher themselves or butcher elsewhere, 200 pigs have been taken out of the 3,000 total. He is hopeful they can get another 200-300 processed over the course of the next month, which might add up to around 400-500.
“We are really grateful for people at both shops that they’ve been able to take some of the excess,” said Patterson. “…It’s been a big blessing to get them out.”
While they sell a handful of pigs locally throughout the year to those who ask for them, Patterson says it’s nowhere near the volume they are selling now. He says the social media response has been “spectacular” as he’s talked to a number of people who are growing concerned with where they will be able to find a meat source.
The silver lining
Patterson considers himself very lucky to have been able to connect with Lindsey Fulton, owner of Blondie’s Butcher Shop, at the right time.
That’s the silver lining for Fulton’s business she says, which is usually well into catering season at this time of the year. Since the weddings and graduation parties she was set to cater have since had to cancel/postpone and the harvest floor was open, they could help local farmers out by getting a few hogs out of each pen.
Small butcher shops like Fulton’s and Dan Thomas’ shop, Kenyon Meats, have seen an overwhelming increase in pig harvesting, booking Blondie’s Butcher Shop out to December and Kenyon Meat’s into October-December.
Thomas says they are very busy and are seeing new people come in frequently.
“We are just way busier than we normally are this time of the year,” said Thomas.
Fulton predicts there will be a meat shortage down the line as a way to make up for the millions of pigs that will be lost between Minnesota and Iowa, the nation’s top hog producing state..
“Everybody’s swamped, busy and overworked, I haven’t heard from anyone from other lockers in weeks,” said Fulton. “Everyone is beyond appreciative, even if we are a little delayed in putting orders together. Everyone is going as fast as they can.”
The state of Minnesota has been “really great,” Fulton says, in doing what they can do help out, whether it be helping send an inspector down to the shop “as soon as possible” and allow shops to butcher and sell product as retail in their shop. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, establishments in Minnesota’s ‘Equal To’ (E2) program can slaughter animals and process products to sell, distribute and wholesale to any entity within the state of Minnesota. In the state, there are over 100 shops, which include Blondie’s Butcher Shop and Kenyon Meats. Under this program, retailers, restaurants, distributors, schools, food shelves and other entities can buy and serve meat and poultry from Minnesota establishments participating in the E2 program.
A last option
Fulton describes the impact of plant shutdowns as a “freight train rolling down a hill,” because meat isn’t the only product taken from pigs — as the “amazing” utility of pigs motivated the saying, “We use everything but the oink.” Many byproducts like glue, pet food and pigskin garments in items such as clothing, shoes, handbags, sporting good, upholstery and more are used from parts of a pig. The casings for products like hot dogs, bologna and sausages also come from intestines of animals such as pigs. Fulton worries about having enough casings to continue to process those products, with the consideration of what’s left on back storage.
“The worst part of the job right now is seeing everyone looking for the last option,” said Fulton of the calls she receives from new and old customers. “They are raising a product they care about about, [having to see the meat go to waste] is the last thing they want to happen to an animal.”
On April 29, President Trump signed an executive order to keep processing plants open. Even though he has signed that order, Patterson says it won’t fix things on the spot like a magic wand, especially because plants aren’t running at full capacity.
“Some people think the story went away, but it’s not that easy, we’re still facing a pretty dire situation,” said Patterson of the impacts. “…[We are trying to get] some sort of value from these animals we do have and try to hang on and house them until the plants are running. Our number one goal is to get them harvested.”
Typically, on the evening of the Kenyon-Wanamingo High School Spring Music Concert, the auditorium would be filled to near capacity with family and friends, there to hear the K-W Symphonic Band and Chorale share their talents.
While holding a concert that way was unlikely due to social distancing guidelines, that didn’t stop Band Director Claire Larson and Choir Director Stephanie Schumacher from drumming up a unique way to recognize students’ accomplishments in the music department.
On May 7, the K-W Music Department hosted a live/virtual drive-in performance and awards ceremony via Faribault radio station KDHL, where car horns replaced rounds of applause. Families drove into the high school parking lot, facing the main entrance of the school, where Schumacher, Larson, student teacher Gabrielle Irle, Elementary music teacher Jan Strand and High School Principal Matt Ryan handed out awards to deserving students. KDHL’s Gordy Kosfeld was also seated in the main entrance to broadcast the event on the radio for the audience to hear in either their vehicles or at home.
Before the awards were handed out, recordings from the Symphonic Band and Chorale’s Large Group Contest in March, were played on the radio. “Wana Baraka,” “Emerald Stream” and “In Remembrance” were three selections the choir sang, while the band’s pieces included, “Unraveling,” “Heaven’s Light” and “Arabesque.” Both groups received top superior ratings.
Ryan began the awards ceremony by talking the way many are probably feeling, due to the novel coronavirus and the need to come up with alternative ways of doing things. He also acknowledged those who are making the most out of these “challenging” times.
An “extra” special choir group
Schumacher focused on the way the students have proceeded with positive attitudes and resilience, even though spring has not gone in a way anyone would have liked or predicted.
“Even though our year was cut short, I am so proud of these musicians for all they’ve accomplished this year,” said Schumacher. “…They are the heroes in all of us and we are so proud of them.”
Recognition was received from Schumacher honoring the choir in a perfect 40/40 from one judge at the Large Group Contest, as well as Arin Kyllo, John Smith, Elliot Olson, Julia Patterson and Brady Bauer who were accepted to sing in the American Choral Director’s Association of Minnesota ninth/10th-grade Honor Choir.
The three students who submitted applications for next year’s Minnesota All State Choir, Clay Stevenson, Elliot Olson and Arin Kyllo were also recognized. The Choir Encore Award, was awarded to underclassman Ashley Rechtzigel. Schumacher recognized the 22 seniors in choir, all of which hold an “extra” special place in her heart as the first class she taught when she came to the district and have been “her kids” longer than her own kids have.
“This spring has not turned out how any of us planned or hope, but we’ve come out stronger, better and more resilient than before,” said Schumacher to the senior choir members. “You’ve not only left footprints on K-W, but also my heart.”
Riley Dummer was awarded the Cadenza Award, which symbolizes the end of a musician’s career at K-W. The prestigious National School Choral Award was presented to seniors Isabelle Patterson and Matthew Helland.
Banding together as family
Larson began her part with a recap of the year, adding that it had been really exciting until March. Junior Katy Van Epps was recognized for being selected to participate in the Minnesota All State Band in 2019-20, an honor K-W musicians consistent achieve. Van Epps has auditioned for next year’s All State Band.
The Encore Award recognizing underclassmen went to Sophia Culuris and Arin Kyllo.
Senior band members were also asked to come to the main entrance to receive their award and to be recognized for their achievements.
Larson took a moment to share some insight on the seniors’ roles in not only the band program, but also her life. She describes them as the MVPs, providing all things which include band leadership in being officers, section leader, attendance takers and holding their peers to the highest standards. She said they also teach, help, listen and get the job done.
“I am so sad we have unfinished business that we will never be able to go back and have that last concert. There is a feeling of great loss that we can’t have our senior devotions in person and I cannot hug our senior class before our last concert,” said Larson with tears in her eyes. “I want you to know I have loved you like my own children and this is heartbreaking for me and all teachers, and this an event I don’t think we’ll ever forget.”
Following Larson’s touching display, she took time to focus on the positive and shift attention to the seniors’ awards.
For the first time in several years, K-W Jazz Band swung back into action. Two jazz awards were presented. The Woody Herman Jazz Award, which honors an outstanding jazz musician, was awarded to Victor Martinez, and the Louis Armstrong Award for outstanding achievements went to Gabby Bauer.
Matthew Helland was given the Band Cadenza Award, which honors a senior at the end of their high school music career. The Director’s Award was presented to Cole Flom and Daniel Benrud, and Shelby Noah received the John Philip Sousa Band Award for her achievements in the high school band.
A solute to senior musicians
Senior music students are always awarded a special gift each year, which traditionally is a photo or candle students can bring with them to remember memories made in band and choir. This year, Larson and Schumacher decided to go a different route. Instead of being given a tangible object, the class of 2020’s special gift will stay at the school. On the same day of the concert/awards ceremony, Larson and Schumacher arranged to have a tree planted in the quadrant adjacent to the band and choir room at the high school.
“A living, breathing, thriving, visible representation of our seniors,” said Larson. “We planted a tree this very day, in your honor… as a reminder that your legacy lives on.”
Students were encouraged to visit the tree after the ceremony was finished, and also when they venture back to the K-W Castle in years to come.
Schumacher described the tree’s meaning in relation to its variety. She said that specific variety of crabapple tree is named Show Time. The tree will bloom every spring during this time, a reminder, Schumacher said, of the seniors, “who kept the music playing in these difficult weeks and months.”
“You’ve planted your roots here and now it’s time to bloom,” said Schumacher. “Go out into the world and do big things, but never forget your roots, right here [at K-W].”
Seniors were also invited back to K-W next year for a “proper” send-off and the opportunity to perform with the department for the premier of a song recently composed for the music program, “The Song of Joys.” The song was commissioned in memory of Gary Skundberg, former band director at K-W, and to thank the community for their investment in the new facilities.
In a unanimous vote, Bryan Boysen was selected in to fill the dual role of superintendent/elementary principal at Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools, following a May 5 School Board meeting.
He has since “happily” accepted the position and will begin contract negotiations with board member Rod Woock. The contract is expected to be approved at the board’s work session May 11.
Boysen — currently superintendent/elementary principal at Lyle Public School — is expected to take the place of interim superintendent David Thompson and elementary principal Katy Scheurman July 1.
While it may have been easy for board members to recognize the positives in the candidates, that made choosing just one more difficult. Even before deliberations began, Board chair Marilyn Syverson described all three candidates as “unique” and “special” with a lot to offer the district.
Other candidates interviewed were Michelle Mortensen with Renville County West and Rochester Public Schools’ Brandon Macrafic.
Board member Kevin Anderson was chosen by the board to complete reference checks for all three candidates, asking them all the same four questions. After reaching out to each candidate’s references, Anderson grew fonder of each finalist.
“I would talk to the references for one candidate and think ‘Oh my, this is the person for us,’ and it kept happening with each of the remaining candidates,” said Anderson of the reference checks. “…These three were just tremendous candidates, we are so fortunate with having to pick [from] top quality candidates.”
Some praise gathered by Anderson in the reference checks describe Boysen as understanding, a good listener, a strong believer in building relationships and someone with integrity. References also said he works hard to communicate others whether it’s through social media or daily emails. When it comes to conflicts, Boysen is known as being very straightforward and not being afraid to ask for help when needed.
An active listener
Formerly, Boysen served as an elementary principal at Jackson County Central Schools, an elementary special education/EBD teacher at Austin Public Schools, an elementary and 7-12 social studies teacher at New Dominion School-Gerard Academy in Austin, a preschool and special education teacher at Lyle Public Schools and was a third-grade student teacher at Vilseck Elementary School in Germany.
Overall, Boysen’s experience in administration as both an elementary principal and superintendent strengthened his selection to fill the dual role.
Board member James Jarvis said he has been supportive of Boysen since the beginning and praised his experience as a superintendent, reducing special education costs and the ability in reducing a budget, as well as being an active listener.
“Bryan is going to come in and hit the ground running, he knows exactly what will be done and he knows what it takes to run a levy,” said Jarvis. “That’s what we need right now for the school district.”
Since last fall’s operating levy failed, previous experience in making budget reductions and passing operating levies were listed as highly importance in the vacancy posting. Boysen’s experience in passing a levy, reducing the number of special education students from 36% to 24% and committing to students of all levels, worked to make him the best candidate fit for the district.
Woock was very impressed with the his district’s drop in the enrollment of special education students, adding that it is a “great success” for those students. He also praised Boysen’s experience with budgeting and the prep work on the district’s finances that he did for his interview with the School Board.
Anderson appreciated Boysen’s initiatives in increasing the enrollment at Lyle Public Schools to a point where there is a waiting list, which speaks to the appreciation of the school’s leadership as a whole, especially in a school that’s being well-run.
“People appreciate the leadership, not just him, he has a good staff,” said Anderson. “One person at the top doesn’t make a difference, you have to have it all the way down to the bottom and he makes a point of including custodians and cooks.”
An engaging personality
Boysen’s work in bringing a mental health practitioner into the school is something many of the board members noted, especially Jamie Sommer who said that mental health in the school is somewhere that the district could be “better and stronger” at.
The new superintendent/elementary principal’s engaging personality also caught the attention of board members.
Syverson said, “I certainly think Bryan can talk to everyone in a manner that’s very engaging, and he comes across as a very personable guy, very jazzy, I like that I think it’s nice.”
Sommer also commented on his mentality of reaching out and finding more information from people if there is something that he isn’t sure of. While Tonya Craig gathered that Boysen stood out to her as a “great” salesman, both internally and externally with other districts and the state, and will be a “good” voice for K-W.
Although Syverson and Debb Paquin felt strongly about Mortensen, they agreed to comprise and stand with the majority.
“As in every other decision, when the majority speaks, you get on board and you give it your best shot,” said Paquin.
Syverson added, “Once we make a decision together, we are supportive of those decisions, I feel I have always gotten behind the decision that was made and supported it.”
The board thanked the Minnesota School Board’s Association for putting forth “such great” candidates, as well as everyone’s participation throughout the search process.