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Owatonna’s Sarah Kingland tracks down a loose ball in front of Red Wing’s Cadence Thorson on Friday night. (Jon Weisbrod/SouthernMinn.com)

Revol Greens plans to build world's largest lettuce greenhouse

Revol Greens announced last week that it plans to build the world’s largest lettuce greenhouse in Texas.

The Owatonna-based company announced that it has raised $68 million to launch a 20-acre phase of its planned 80-acre greenhouse in Texas. The fundraising was led by Equilibrium Capital, which invests in projects that focus on sustainability.

The company is in the process of finalizing a location in Texas, but it’ll be in the Dallas-Austin-San Antonio region, said Brendon Krieg, one of the five founders of Revol Greens.

“It will give us a very nice regional footprint for the western half of the United States,” he said.

Revol Greens’ plans to expand to five locations within five years. The Texas location will be its third facility, after its second location in Tehachapi, California opens in 2021. The California site, a former tomato greenhouse, is 64 acres, but Revol Greens is converting about a quarter, or 16 acres, into greenhouse lettuce production.

“We have the ability to expand into the rest of the facility, but right now we’re looking to grow in the market and just start with the quarter of it,” Krieg said.

Owatonna-based Revol Greens plans to expand to Texas with an 80-acre lettuce greenhouse. (Photo courtesy of Revol Greens)

The company’s original facility in Owatonna was expanded earlier this past spring, bringing it to 10 acres and making it one of the largest lettuce greenhouses in the United States, Krieg said. The facility began with just 2.5 acres of growing space.

Revol Greens was founded in 2016 with the goal of growing lettuce sustainably, meaning no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals are used in their climate-controlled greenhouse. Three of the founders had experience in the greenhouse field through their work at Owatonna’s Bushel Boy, Krieg said.

Construction at the Owatonna greenhouse, which uses an advanced closed-loop hydroponics systems, began in 2017. The Revol Greens product hit the shelves in 2018. Since then, Revol Greens have honed its technology, applications and processes to take the business to other areas of the country.

“Sustainability is really a big part of why we are looking at regional production as well,” Krieg said.

Revol Greens focuses on markets within 500 miles of their greenhouses because that’s the distance a truck can drive in one day, Krieg said.

“Obviously we will continue to focus on Minnesota and the Midwest customer. Our goal for the California and the Texas facility would be to continue to focus on the regional and local markets and consumers in those areas,” Krieg said.

A skyview of the Revol Greens facility. (Photo courtesy of Revol Greens)

Absent his opponent, incumbent Congressman takes chamber's questions

With less than a month to go to election day, first-term Congressman Jim Hagedorn fielded a wide range of questions from Owatonna Chamber of Commerce members Monday.

The event was the first in a series of candidate forums to be held by the Chamber over the coming weeks. Chamber staff also reached out to DFL candidate Dan Feehan’s campaign, but he declined the invitation. The forums are sponsored by the Chamber, Owatonna Noon Rotary Club and Owatonna People's Press. 

While Democrats currently enjoy a comfortable majority in the House and are expected to keep it in November, the 1st District is seen by national prognosticators as a race that could go either way. In 2018, Hagedorn beat Feehan by just 1,315 votes out of nearly 300,000 cast.

Just one of a handful of seats nationwide to switch hands from Democrat to Republican in 2018, the 1st District stretches across southern Minnesota from Winona to Luverne. Trump won it by 15 points in 2016, but prior to that it voted twice for President Barack Obama.

Along with fellow Minnesota Republican Congressmen Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber, Hagedorn rode aboard Air Force One with President Trump on Wednesday, shortly before the President’s COVID diagnosis. Hagedorn tested negative for the virus on Friday, though it can often take days for the viral load to increase to detectable levels. He maintained that his interactions did not meet the definition of “close contact” — more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of a COVID-infected individual.

Though Hagedorn has been cleared by the House physician to work, he appeared virtually at the Owatonna Chamber forum. Chamber President Brad Meier said the decision was made out of an “abundance of caution.”

Hagedorn touted his conservative record and local work on local issues. As a member of the Agriculture and Small Business Committee, he said he’s worked hard with colleagues from both parties to protect the region’s ethanol industry and help small businesses hit by COVID.

“As I’ve said all along, I’m a conservative who will vote as a conservative, and I’ve fulfilled my promises in that area,” he said. “I also said I’d look out for the needs and interests of the district, and I’ve fulfilled my promises in that.”

Though Hagedorn may have had a concerning last few days, the first question from moderator Randy Doyal, CEO of the Al-Corn Clean Fuel plant in Claremont, was certainly no softball. Doyal pressed him hard on a controversial expenditure scandal that has rocked his office.

Hagedorn’s office expenditures became the source of controversy after it was revealed that he spent 40% of his allotted office expenditures in the first quarter of 2020, totals dwarfing every other congressional office and raising significant questions. Much of that funding went into direct mailings to constituents.

Scandal arose when it was revealed that part of those printing costs were paid out to a company owned by John Sample, a part-time staffer in Hagedorn’s office.

Hagedorn fired his chief of staff shortly after the allegations broke, though Sample remains on staff. The Congressman insisted that he did nothing wrong and began an internal review when he was made aware of the issue.

“The way the contracts were put together, I didn’t approve of that,” he said. “When I found out about it, I immediately made personnel changes.”

Hagedorn pushed some blame to the Democrats, noting that the House Administration Committee had approved the mailings. At a recent debate, he counterattacked his opponent Feehan for working for several Washington-based groups over the last several years.

COVID, childcare and reopening

Hagedorn pledged to support legislation that would shield businesses from COVID-19 related liability lawsuits, provided they follow state, local and federal guidelines. He said that without those protections, many businesses could face huge risks in reopening.

“We have to have it for our schools, small businesses and others so people can get back to work,” he said.

Doyal also pressed Hagedorn on the issue of unemployment insurance, noting that many local businesses had said increased unemployment checks made it more difficult to bring employees back to work.

Hagedorn said that he backed the CARES Act and other legislation in part because he believes it’s important to support people going through hardship due to COVID-19. However, he doesn’t believe the unemployment checks under the CARES Act were administered well.

“In the future we need to have a standard that protects and helps people when they’re down and out,” he said. “But when they’re called back to work, they need to lose their unemployment.”

In general, Hagedorn said that Congress should take a very cautious approach to unemployment benefits. Should those on unemployment get paid more than those in the workforce, he warned it could disincentivize work.

Hagedorn, who identifies as a fiscal conservative, said that additional stimulus is justified but that it should be targeted to where it is most needed. In particular, he said farmers and small businesses in the 1st District are in need of assistance.

“Everything we spend moving forward should be targeted toward where the need is,” he said, adding that without additional small business assistance, Hagedorn said that business closures could devastate the local economy. In addition to providing more funding, he said that Congress should work to streamline the assistance application process for small businesses as well.

Another top issue for the chamber was the lack of affordable childcare. Hagedorn touted legislation he’s backed that would allow parents to use pre-tax income to pay for childcare, and has also backed bills to provide loans and grants for aspiring childcare providers.

Hagedorn said that the issue has been exacerbated by the approach of his predecessor as 1st District Congressman, Gov. Tim Walz, toward the pandemic. Along with Emmer and Stauber, he’s urged Walz to relax restrictions to help get Minnesota students back in school.

“The problem is exacerbated when parents aren’t able to go back to work full-time because they’re having to take care of kids at home,” he said.

Niaimo Halane draws a dream catcher with henna on Clarita Kell’s upper arm during the 2017 International Festival Faribault. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Medford council considering federal COVID-19 fund requests

Medford is considering ways to dole out $96,737 in federal coronavirus funding before the Nov. 15 deadline to spend the money.

The Medford City Council is in the process allocating the money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to city departments, the school district and business community. Unspent funds will be returned to the state after the deadline.

The city has received funding requests from businesses totaling $26,000 as of Monday morning, according to City Administrator Andy Welti. The council will be approving recipients for its Small Business Grant Program, which will provide up to $5,000 to each business that can show a direct negative impact due to the coronavirus.

“The businesses in Medford are facing the same challenges as many businesses around the state and country, which was incurring significant decreases in revenue at the beginning of the COVID outbreak,” Welti said. “The city is hoping to have checks issued to businesses in the last week of October or first week of November.”

Welti said the businesses’ applications show that the months of March, April and May — which encompass the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota and Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home executive order — were the hardest months in 2020 in terms of revenue. He said the businesses are most commonly applying for funds to cover rental payments, utility bills and payroll.

“The city is hoping that the businesses will continue to operate now and well into the future,” Welti said. “This money should provide them some relief to do that.”

The city also incurred about $15,000 to $20,000 in expenses directly related to the pandemic in terms of personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, germ barriers for election judges and at the municipal liquor store, and legal expenses for writing and reviewing policies related to the pandemic. The CARES Act funding will help reimburse the city for those expenses.

Funds will also be used to help the Medford Fire Department purchase items that include uniforms and a decontamination shower system.

“The idea is so they can use these uniforms when they go out on a call, return to the station and have that uniform be washed and sanitized at the department,” Welti said. “In the past they did not have that, so this allows them to respond to a call and not have to worry about having contaminated clothing going back home with them.”

Council unanimously approved last week to allocate up to $30,000 of the CARES Act funding to go towards the Fire Department for these items.

Funding for the Medford school district is still up in the air. Last month, the district requested $13,158 from the city’s coronavirus funds to reimburse the schools for the purchase of additional technology needed for distance learning, specifically the purchase of tablets for students. The state’s guidance on permissible items for the funding didn’t include school districts last month. However, since then the guidance has changed to allow cities to transfer those funds to school districts. The Medford school district’s request is expected to be presented at the city council’s next meeting.

Welti said he believes the state updated their guidelines on appropriate use of CARES Act funding to include distributing dollars to local schools because of pressure the state government likely felt from local governments.

“The state and federal level government have been responsive to many of the requests from the local units of government,” Welti said. “There has been good cooperation, and I think that a lot of governments at different levels have the attitude that this is all new and we have to work together in the best interest of our communities, businesses and residents.”

Senator cited for impaired driving

State Sen. John Jasinski, in the midst of a campaign for a second term, was cited early Saturday for two counts of driving while impaired.

Jasinski, 54, Saturday morning confirmed the charges filed in Rice County, and later, Saturday afternoon, shared a statement with the Faribault Daily News.

“On Oct. 3, I was pulled over for a driving infraction,” Jasinski said. “I take complete responsibility for my actions. This case is pending, and

I am awaiting the legal process.”

He added, “However, I do want to say that I understand my actions affect my family, friends, and constituents. I cannot overstate my gratitude for the public’s understanding, support, and thoughts during this time.”

According to the Minnesota courts website, Jasinski was charged with fourth-degree DWI and DWI, having a blood alcohol level over .08 after two hours.

Jasinski, a Faribault native and real estate broker, has an extensive resume of community and government involvement, including more than a decade on Faribault city boards, two years on City Council and eight years as its mayor.

He was elected to the state Senate in 2017 and quickly aligned himself with the body’s powerbrokers.

He’s largely credited as the driving force behind funding for the four-laning of Hwy. 14 between Owatonna and Dodge Center, a project discussed for 50 years.

The charges against Jasinski come just days after Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn and Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh expressed serious concerns over an increase in drunken driving.

“Of all the public safety and public health concerns out there, when it comes to the dangers of drinking and driving there is no one who is unaware that it is an issue, so to see a spike in those numbers during a year where there are a lot of other stressors going on in our community, it is frustrating,” said McIntosh.