Maggie and Nicholas Stensaas never lived in Lonsdale before this year, but they’re making a long-time dream come true on a farm five miles south of town.
As co-owners of New Frontier Farms, the Stensaases just processed one batch of 50 chickens that sold out immediately, and they have 25 of the next batch already reserved. Egg sales started recently, and they made their first appearance at the Lonsdale Farmers Market a couple weeks ago. By next spring, they hope to have an on-site store.
“We both wanted to be farmers our whole lives, so it’s been fun being our own bosses,” Maggie said.
Maggie grew up in Lakeville, on what she calls a 4-H farm. Her parents, Mike and Tina Stiles, had a commercial beef herd but earned their income off the farm.
Nicholas grew up in Kansas, and although he lived in town, his extended family in South Dakota exposed him to farm life.
The couple met at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, where they both deepened their knowledge of agriculture. Nicholas earned his degree in agricultural science while Maggie obtained her degrees in speech communication and dairy production with an animal science minor. Maggie and Nicholas acquired an interest in rotational grazing and soil health from their classes as SDSU and coupled that knowledge with their pre-existing interest in farming.
After having their first son, Cooper, now 2½, Maggie and Nicholas realized they wanted to live closer to family. The couple moved in with Maggie’s Lakeville family in May as they searched for a home of their own, and their Montgomery-based realtor showed them the Lonsdale farm. They both missed living in a small community and liked the acreage, barn and house, so they made the choice to move in. Since then, they’ve given birth to their second son, Tucker, now 1 month old.
“We’ve been very busy since the day we signed,” Nicholas said.
Added Maggie: “We’ve been really happy with the support from the community of Lonsdale … My grandpa used to send his cattle to Lonsdale, so it’s come full circle.”
Animals all around
Maggie said animals haven’t lived on their Lonsdale land since the 1950s; in their barn, they even found medicine for pigs dating back to that era. The red barn, which makes their home easy to spot, has a rock foundation from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
“We’re very thankful the previous owner took care of it,” Maggie said of the barn, which she might paint blue in the future to match their branding.
Half of the chicks on the Stensaas’ farm are boilers that will weigh up to five or seven pounds, and the other half are cornish game hens that will weigh two to three pounds. Maggie said the latter will be perfect for couples with smaller families. After they’ve grown, the poultry will be processed at the beginning of November. The Stensaases also raise straight run chickens, which can be hens or roosters, and layer chickens that grow up to lay a variety of brown and green eggs.
After the chickens feather indoors, the Stensaases transfer them to a “chicken tractor,” or a mobile chicken home. This allows them access to fresh grass and keeps them safe from predators. They currently have 38 laying hens in the chicken tractor, and they all lay brown eggs.
Maggie has never owned turkeys before, but she and Nicholas now keep 13 in a turkey tractor. The bourbon red turkeys are due for production one week before Thanksgiving, and 11 are already reserved.
“My favorite thing about poultry is how different they all are,” Maggie said. “Turkeys are so curious; they’re always watching and paying attention to things, which has been really fun.”
Apart from poultry, Maggie and Nicholas house their dairy goat, Angela, in their barn. Angela is 1 ½ years old, and her goat milk will be used to make soaps and lotions. Maggie hopes to eventually process the goat’s milk for edible products as well.
The Stensaases keep their two heifers, Gertrude and Whoopi, fenced in outside the barn. Both heifers are 1 year old and will be ready to have calves next fall. Gertie’s breed is good for grass-based systems, Maggie said, and Whoopi’s breed has a high level of beta carotene, which supports lung, eye and skin health. Maggie will also use the cows’ milk for soap and lotion products next year.
Six holstein dairy steers, which are 2 to 4 months old, will be processed in the winter of 2021. Most of the steers came from a Medford dairy farm, but others are from the University of Minnesota Extension. Maggie said the steers will be out on the pasture next summer, but right now they’re still getting used to the grass.
The pigs are the newest additions to the Stensaas’ farm. Nicholas and Maggie will raise the pigs, which are about 12 weeks old, until February. The Lonsdale Country Market will then process the pigs for the Stensasses to sell in halves and wholes. The Stensaases have been feeding the pigs and the heifers waste apples from a local orchard, and they want to work with grocery stores in that regard to accomplish their mission of sustainability.
Maggie and Nicholas use their animals to build up the land in different ways. The cattle, while fenced in for now, will eventually graze the grass in the pasture. The pigs naturally till the soil, which they will prepare for next year, and the chickens have been fertilizing the field.
It isn’t just Maggie and Nicholas who enjoy farming — since moving to Lonsdale, they’ve watched Cooper become comfortable with animals he once found terrifying, like their horse, Dusty. As they walk around the farm, he eagerly retrieves eggs from the chicken tractor and points out the pigs. Unlike his brother, Tucker’s farm exposure begins as an infant.
“There’s always something to do on the farm for Cooper,” Nicholas said.
Unlike his brother, Tucker’s farm exposure begins as an infant. Maggie said she’s thankful for her parents and the help they’ve provided since their move to Minnesota.
Added Maggie: “We’re excited to be here and grow our family and our farm.”
Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Meger, a senior at New Prague High School, set a new precedent this month by becoming Lonsdale’s first female Eagle Scout.
A member of Lonsdale Scouts BSA (Boy Scouts of America) Troop 327, Meger completed her board of review to earn her Eagle badge on Oct. 1 and will be admitted to the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts on Feb. 8, 2021. Considering Scouts BSA Troop 327 first opened its membership to girls less than two years ago, Meger has accomplished a lot in a short time.
“I feel so grateful and honored because for a long time I was only able to watch the troop without participating,” Meger said. “I know what I’ve done will be talked about for a long time. It makes me happy and gives me pride to be part of how things have changed and what I’ve done.”
Earning the Eagle rank first requires Scouts to complete an Eagle Scout Service Project that exemplifies leadership and benefits the local community. Meger knew mosquitoes were a big problem at the Webster Township Park, and understanding that bats eat mosquitoes, she developed a plan to build bat nursery boxes at the park.
Meger began preparing her project back in January. To move forward with the building and installation of the bat nursery boxes, Meger first needed to ask the Webster Township Board to become the project beneficiary. She raised funds for the project by contacting community members and organizations, like the Tri Lakes Sportsmen’s Club and New Market-Elko-Webster Lions Club.
Everything was set to go with the project schedule in place and materials ordered, but the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March put a wrench in her planning. Health and safety guidelines from Scouting BSA and the Minnesota Department of Health prevented her from involving large groups in the nursery boxes’ installation. But by May, she could invite 10 or fewer to the installment day.
Typically, Scouts have until their 18th birthday to achieve the Eagle rank. Meger turns 18 in November, so she met that deadline, but others in the troop could apply for extensions since their later membership cut short their timeline. By February, all five of the first group of girls in Scouting BSA Troop 327 will have their Eagle rank.
Scouting through the ages
Meger first became involved in Scouts when her brother joined as a Tiger. She attended all the meetings and knew most of the people, but she was first able to participate at age 14 as a Venturing Crew member. Venturing Crew is a co-ed program of Scouting BSA that allows members to participate until they turn 21.
After Scouting BSA Troop 327 opened membership to girls, Meger became involved in the troop. She said the program has given her a chance to be outdoors more than ever before. Although she wasn’t initially excited to spend a week of her first summer in Scouting BSA attending a camp called Gray Wolf Youth Leadership Training, it marked a turning point. She decided to “live at camp” for eight weeks out of her summer to teach others the skills she learned.
Meger has applied the teaching skills she’s learned from Scouting BSA to other activities, like 4-H and band. She’s come to appreciate different teaching styles and wants to make others aware of various learning methods.
Having earned the highest rank in Scouting BS, Meger plans to continue her involvement as a chapter officer and vice chief of the troop’s Conclave celebration in the spring. She’s postponed her Eagle Scout Court of Honor for a time when more people can gather to celebrate.
A number of people have helped Meger work through the ranks, including her mom, dad, brother Luke and troop leaders like Boy Scout Troop 327 Scoutmaster Scott Pelava, Scouting BSA Troop 327 Scoutmaster Nancy Zellner and Venturing Crew Advisor Mark Harper.
“It’s an incredible feat, especially when you consider she did it in less than two years,” said Pelava. “The whole time she did it she was focused and determined to do it. All the adult leadership is proud to be part of that, giving her the opportunity to do that.”
Harper said allowing girls to join Scouting BSA is showing positive outcomes, one of which is Meger’s achievement.
“She worked very very hard at it and she had it as a goal to be one of the first,” Harper said. “She’s done a lot of extra activities, staffed at camp, and so I believe she deserved it.”
Zellner called Meger “an amazing young lady” for her ability to accomplish her goal within a limited timeframe.
“She has such attention to detail,” Zellner said. “She made it look easy. She did a really great job, and the sky’s the limit for her. Once an Eagle, always and Eagle. I’m very proud of her and her accomplishments, and she is a great role model for all young ladies.”
Rice County law enforcement agencies are reminding motorists to buckle up after a seat belt campaign nabbed several dozen local motorists failing to do just that.
More than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state participated in the Click It or Ticket enforcement awareness campaign from Sept. 18-30, reporting 2,664 seat belt citations and 64 child seat violations.
That’s a significant drop from last year’s total, when 4,415 seat belt citations and 96 child seat citations were issued. However, it’s notable that the number of traffic fatalities among unbelted motorists is on pace to sharply increase this year.
While she was grateful that the numbers weren’t higher, Kathy Cooper of the Rice County Safe Roads Coalition was deeply alarmed by the number of fatal crashes this year, along with the fact that in most of those cases, failure to use a seat belt played a part.
Even though motorists have gotten better at wearing their seat belts over the years, Cooper said she’s somewhat exasperated that some motorists still don’t make the simple, potentially lifesaving decision to wear their seat belt.
“I don’t know how much more we can say about (the importance of) wearing your seatbelt,” she said. “Officers aren’t just (issuing tickets) for kicks, they’re doing it to save a life.”
Northfield Police Sgt. Kevin Tussing said one officer signed up for an extra shift and a few Faribault officers made their way over to Northfield to cover a few shifts.
In total, Faribault Police led the way in issuing seat belt citations with 18, followed by the Rice County Sheriff’s Office with 11, Lonsdale Police at 10 and Northfield Police with six. Only one child seat violation was issued between the four agencies, by the Rice County Sheriff’s Office.
Across the state, 297 individuals have died on Minnesota’s roadways as of Oct. 5. That’s an increase of 28 compared to last year, and Rice County Sheriff’s Office Troy Dunn noted with consternation that a similar increase has been seen locally.
In Rice County, six people have lost their lives on the road this year, compared to just two last year. In five of those cases, the people who died were unbelted or not wearing a helmet.
Dunn said there’s no more difficult call he has to make than the one to a mother, father, son, daughter or spouse telling them that their loved one has been lost in a severe injury crash. By making some simple changes, he said those numbers can be minimized.
Severe crashes overall are on the rise this year, after a general trend of decline over the last few decades. Dunn attributed the increase to the decision of too many motorists to “drive too fast, drive distracted or drive impaired.”
“We have to start with the basics again,” Dunn said. “When we’re driving, the priority has to be driving, not conference calls, doing your makeup or eating.”
Though new cars may come equipped with more safety features than ever, none are more important than the seatbelt. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wearing your seat belt reduces the risk of fatality by 45% and serious injury by 50%.
In total, wearing a seatbelt has saved more than 300,000 lives from 1960 to 2012, according to the NHTSA, more than all other vehicle technologies combined. In large part, that’s because wearing a seatbelt minimizes the chance of being ejected from your vehicle.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, nearly 80% of all auto accidents in the state involve one of four “bad behaviors”: distracted driving, speeding, not using seat belts or impaired driving.
Last year, the state passed a “hands-free” law in an attempt to reduce distracted driving. Previously, only texting while driving had been illegal, a provision of the law that was very difficult to enforce.
Drivers who use a cellphone are four to five times more likely to be in an injury crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Using a phone “hands-free” helps to mitigate some of that risk, though advocates note that putting the phone aside is the best option.
Even though the law has been in place for more than a year, many motorists are still tripped up by it. Dunn said his department issues tickets every day while Bohlen reported 17 citations just over the course of the Click it or Ticket campaign.
“We want for people to continue to buckle up, stay safe and avoid distractions,” Bohlen said. “It’s unfortunate that we see these violations.”