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Area residents enjoy learning about animals during Dennison event
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With the hope of educating others about farm animals, one Dennison resident invited area residents to her farm last weekend to see/pet the animals firsthand. 

The goats on the farm were a big hit, as many Fun on the Farm attendees got a chance to pet and take photos with goats of all sizes. The different goat breeds Jodi Vance has on her farm are Nigerian Dwarf, Fainting and Silky Fainter goats. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

Jodie Vance, of Jodi's Kids in rural Dennison, hosted a Fun on the Farm event Sunday for attendees to see, pet and learn more about her fainting goats, Nigerian Dwarf goats, Miniature cows, chickens, dogs and cats. 

Siblings Marlie (2) and Oscar (5) Schultz pose for a photo next to three goats at Sunday’s Fun on the Farm event. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Growing up as a "city gal" all her life, Vance moved to the area with her husband in 2017. With a dream of having goats, and after one year of setting up fences and areas for the goats to stay, Vance's dream finally came true in 2018. Vance said she started researching them the year prior to when she moved and found they were fun and relatively easy to take care of. 

"I love all kinds of animals," Vance said. "I start handling them when they're babies so they're used to people, because everyone wants to touch them. I like to make it so that they are friendly to people."

Along with Jodi Vance, friends and family helped run the Fun on the Farm event and educated attendees about the different types of animals they raise. Pictured with one of of the newly-born kids is Jodi’s son Dalton Vance. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Along with the goats, Vance also breeds her Miniature cows, which have thick, short legs. Three calves were born in the last month or so, and she has six adults. Those cows, Vance says, are also very friendly. Working full time, Vance breeds and sells the animals on the side. 

Along with inviting attendees to pet/learn about goats, chickens and cows, Jodi Vance placed posters on the wall of the shed to share information about the farm and a family of tree of the two different goat breeds. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com) 

She decided to host this type of event due to some feelings she had while living in the city. 

"I was thinking about it last year, with me being a city girl I had so many thoughts about these animals and know there are some misconceptions people have," Vance said. "I thought it'd be a good way to let them see them and touch them."

Daphne, granddaughter of former Kenyon resident Scott (Cindy) Forsberg, holds one of Dolly’s kids born last week. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Along with the physical aspects of a petting zoo format, Vance also wanted to add more of an educational touch as well. Fun facts about both cows and goats were pasted on the wall for attendees to read and learn about. Throughout the afternoon, Minneapolis author, Kolina Cicero, also read one of her published books, "Rosie and the Hobby Farm," a children's book celebrating diversity and each individual's unique value, told through a variety of lovable animals. Participants could also leave suggestions for two of Vance's newest kids. After the event, she announced the winning names: Hank (male) and Nala (female). Vance says other names will be considered for future kids. Hay rides were also available for those interested.

Pleased with the turnout of the event, Jodi Vance also announced after the event that $208 was raised for Little Acorn Sanctuary, an animal rescue service in Northfield. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Vance's family and friends also joined forces to help run the event, as a member of her team was at each place to answer questions and share information with attendees. After receiving requests for donations prior to the event, Vance opted to donate collected funds toward Little Acorn Sanctuary, an animal rescue service in Northfield. 

Attendees were encouraged to leave name suggestions for one female kid and one male kid. Winning names were Hank (male) and Nala (female). Other names that were put in the box will be considered for future kids. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Said Vance in a Facebook post to those who attended, "Oh my! I am beyond happy! I consider Fun On The Farm a success!!! There was over 130 people in attendance (not including volunteers) and we raised $208 for Little Acorn Sanctuary! Obviously the cool weather put a damper on the event but still very good turnout!"

Along with a chance to pet animals, hay rides were also offered throughout the day. Pictured is Jodi Vance's son Josh Meier, right, and Jake Back. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Along with goats, Jodi also has Miniature cows (Dexter x lowline angus). (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

2 Northfield solar projects in the works as nationwide debate continues
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As two solar projects progress through the approval process in Northfield, much debate remains over the necessity and feasibility of transitioning a greater share of the nation’s energy grid to renewable energy sources.

The Northfield Planning Commission earlier this month approved conditional use permits for separate 1-megawatt community solar gardens for MN CSG and DivoCSG 17 LLC 1. Both sites are north of the intersection of Hwy. 19 and 330th St. W, west of Northfield Hospital in Dakota County. There is also the future possibility of a third solar garden being installed in the area.

Sam Wilmes / By SAM WILMES samuel.wilmes@apgsomn.com 

Plans are in place for the construction of two solar gardens north of the intersection of Hwy. 19 and 330th St. W, west of Northfield Hospital in Dakota County. This development comes as much debate remains across the country on how much of the nation's energy grid can be reliably transitioned to renewable sources. (Photo courtesy of the city of Northfield) 

The Northfield City Council is expected to review the approvals in the coming weeks. City Planner Mikayla Schmidt noted the sites incorporate wildlife corridors to prevent animals from being funneled toward Hwy. 3. The city has requested cover crops, pollinator-friendly grass and barriers be installed.

During an April 15 meeting, Evan Carlson, director of land and legal for Impact Power Solutions, the developer for the MN CSG site, along with an official for the company developing the second solar garden, described the water retention work they said their projects included.

To Carlson, it is “extremely unlikely” that the MN CSG site will be abandoned, noting the 25-year agreement the developers have with Xcel Energy for the Community Solar Program, an initiative allowing subscribers to directly do so through a third-party owned community solar garden in their current or adjacent county. Carlson said the project's Dakota County location allows it to also be marketed to residents of Hennepin and Ramsey counties, locations he noted have a proven demand for solar energy. Carlson, who noted developers are seeking 25-year agreements, added that customers will likely include institutions, long-term residents, cities, school districts and businesses. 

Developments continue

Renewable energy is seen by many as necessary to combat the impacts of climate change, an issue climate scientists have identified as being caused by human activity.

There are more than 5,800 solar installations in Minnesota, and a recently installed 1.4-acre Northfield Community Solar Garden is the latest of those. Construction on the Northfield community solar garden is set for late spring. In Rice County, another 1-megawatt solar farm was completed in 2019 on a farm east of Faribault.

Access to renewable energy, such as solar, has been increasing. The Minnesota Department of Commerce says the state solar capacity was only at 1 megawatt in 2009, bumping up to 598 megawatts in 2017 and was expected to exceed 1,000 megawatts in 2019. Minnesota could reportedly reach 10% solar energy by 2025 at costs comparable to that of natural gas generation, according to a 2018 Solar Potential Analysis Report.

Technological advancements have made access to solar energy cheaper than years prior. The average price of installed solar was 70% lower in 2018 than it was just eight years prior. Beyond the savings in money, investing in renewable energy, such as solar, is seen as posing environmental benefits alternative to traditional energy sources.

Renewable energy has polled as a popular idea. Data reportedly shows that a majority of Americans desire more wind- and solar-based energy.

The Minnesota House of Representatives recently advanced the Energy and Commerce Budget Bill. The climate and energy piece of the proposal is seen as placing Minnesota on pace to achieve 100% clean energy in the electricity sector by 2040 by improving efficiency goals, strengthening the renewable energy preference, and updating state emissions targets to align with the latest scientific projections.

District 20B Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, was the author of several bill provisions.

“Minnesota is one of the fastest warming states in the nation, but we are not without solutions to this issue,” Lippert added. “By setting a clean fuel standard, Minnesota can become a leader in reducing transportation emissions. Our bill also provides the tools necessary to employ the technologies that can bring energy efficiency to homes throughout the state. We can build the clean energy economy that Minnesotans deserve, and the budget we passed today can set us on that path.”

However, development of solar energy remains controversial in some ways. Last spring, the News profiled the challenges local farmers Tom Sorem and Greg and Matt Langer faced from water runoff they said came from a nearby solar farm. Since the solar farm’s construction in 2017, they said they had requested the city, the companies that owned the solar farm and St. Olaf College — which owns the land on which the solar farm sits — to fix the runoff issue. Problems still persisted, they said.

Questions remain 

President Joe Biden recently pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2030, a decision expected to lead to a major increase in the prevalence of solar energy. The 50% target would nearly double the nation’s previous commitment. Biden has proposed millions of solar panels — including utility-scale, rooftop and community solar systems — and tens of thousands of wind turbines.

The emissions target, though seen as eagerly awaited by all sides of the climate debate, has proven to be a challenging issue. Republicans contend that the issue has led to job-killing government overreach, while others to Biden’s left say he has not gone far enough to address the threat.

According to the Golden Valley-based conservative think tank American Experiment, the most important and obvious roadblock to introducing more renewable energy is securing the land needed to accommodate the solar and wind generation capacity to meet U.S. energy needs.

American Experiment recently cited a 2019 Natural History Museum in London study that documented “the enormous amounts of metals and rare-earth elements that will have to be mined in order to manufacture the vast amounts of solar panels and wind turbines needed for such a large effort.”

American Experiment noted that $140.3 billion in federal tax incentives will be used between 2010-2019. The organization said feasibility concerns were heightened in a December 2020 study from the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University that found the U.S. could reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 using existing technology and costs historically aligned with energy spending.

However, the Princeton report noted that scenario required covering about 228,000 square miles with renewables, roughly the size of the states of California and Washington combined. American Experiment stated that more than 300 government entities have moved to either reject or resist wind energy projects.

Archer House owners frustrated over delays, say structure is deteriorating
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Owners of the historic Archer House and River Inn in downtown Northfield are concerned that a months-long insurance process is worsening water damage in the building following last November’s devastating fire and possibly further endangering the chances of salvaging the historic and beloved structure.

Brett Reese, managing principal and chairman of the Rebound Enterprises LLC Board, said he hopes they learn of the building’s fate by May. However, the board originally hoped to learn of that decision by the end of December before that timeline shifted to March. Word never came from the insurance company, Auto Owners Firm. The investigation was only recently completed.

Reese attributes the delays to the relatively large scope of the project and the significant loss incurred.

“We’re frustrated, disappointed,” Reese said of the delays. Meanwhile, he said the building “continues to sort of fall down.” Gaping holes in the building are still visible. During the exposure, extreme cold, snowstorms, wind and other adverse weather conditions have occurred, possibly further weakening the damaged building.

“We are very concerned about this and how it is going to affect the future of the building,” he said.

The iconic building, built along the east bank of the Cannon River, sustained heavy smoke and water damage throughout the structure during the Nov. 12 fire. Fire crews reportedly used more than 2 million gallons of water to combat the blaze over the course of nearly 24 hours. Some places, especially Smoqehouse restaurant and the four levels above, were completely damaged. In other spots, the damage wasn’t as extensive but still suffered smoke and water impacts. It initially appeared to be a total loss.

Building owners have said that once the fate of the Archer House is determined, they “will be able to begin in earnest the process of assessing future options for the site which could include a wide range of possibilities, but not limited to restoration, replacement or redevelopment.”

Already, former Archer House tenant Paper Petalum has moved to a new location. Chapati is reportedly looking for a new space, and Reese is unsure about the future of Smoqehouse and Tavern of Northfield.

Reese said if the structure needs to be taken down, the owners are interested in recognizing the role the Archer House played in Northfield and carrying a new structure forward with “charm, character,” an option he speculated could include a hotel, restaurant or apartments and condominiums.

During an April 22 Economic Development Authority meeting, Economic Development Coordinator Nate Carlson noted the owners were not allowed to stabilize the building during the insurance process, adding that the hood over the smoker at Smoqehouse, cited as the cause of the fire, had to be removed for examination. Reese said that during the investigation, a team coordinated the removal of certain items, using heavy equipment around the building, and possibly inflicted additional structural damage.

In noting the owners of the building recognize the building is in “dire need” of repairs, Carlson said city staff have been proactive in facilitating discussions about the possible redevelopment of the site as a tax increment financing district, a public subsidy intended to spark private redevelopment. Also possible is utilizing a 20% state tax credit for historic properties. However, any determination won’t be made until the owners finalize their plans.

EDA member Rachel Leatham said it’s important to have any structure at that location play an important community role.

“It’s a real focal point for development, and it’s an important area and an important building,” she said.

3 options revealed to replace controversial Raider mascot logo
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Renderings of three possible mascot logos to replace the current symbol, which some have deemed racist, have been introduced to the Northfield School Board. 

The option the School Board expressed the most support for during an April 26 meeting was a mascot logo representing a townsperson from the raid with a bandanna below the head, listed as the first option. The second option shows the person riding on a horse, and the third is seen as having a clearer gender and racial identity. In the two images showing a horse, the committee expressed a desire for the focus to remain on the human. The School Board could vote on the new mascot logo in late May.

School Board member Amy Goerwitz expressed support for the No. 2 option and suggested the No. 1 mascot logo have more definition to its face. Leer noted committee members seemed to be drawn to the ambiguity of the mascot logo.

Though fellow School Board member Corey Butler said he “more strongly prefers” the first option, he noted he was surprised that humans were in all three logos. To him, despite the mascot logos having no defined gender, the implication is that it is male.

Butler added that he appreciated the ambiguity, noting the mascot logo is art and therefore open to interpretation.

“The work has been done,” he added.

The Northfield School Board authorized staff in December to move ahead with a process to update the school logo that includes a sword-bearing Raider that’s been called racially and culturally insensitive.

Since its introduction in 1956, the Raiders logo has seen controversy. Between its connection to the violence in the image of the sword, and the racial ties with the image’s Asian-appearing facial features, questions have been raised to the school and its administrators. In February 2020, Nicky Hosterman, representing the Northfield High School Student Council, told the School Board that he had spoken with Activities Director Joel Olson about the current mascot and how it doesn’t represent the James-Younger Gang’s 1876 robbery of First National Bank.

Other schools have dealt with similar issues regarding their mascots. Owatonna High School, a fellow Big Nine school, changed its mascot from the Indians to the Huskies in 1994. On the professional level, the Washington National Football League team last year ended its association with the Redskins name, a term deemed derogatory to Native Americans. The Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball squad has also faced backlash over its mascot in prior decades.