The micro farmers

Many people garden, but few garden like Bruce and Darlene Anderson, who live on the west side of Worthington.
Bruce is a retired orthodontist and Darlene is a retired physician. Both are 69 years old. Both grew up with gardens.
“My first memory of gardening was asking my mom which end of the onion goes down,” Bruce said.
They’ve come a long way since then.
The Andersons were married 47 years ago and started gardening together 45 years ago when they lived in the Twin Cities. Their first garden was about 10 by 12 feet. In 1978 Bruce moved to their four-acre lot on the west side of Worthington. Two years later, after completing her medical training, Darlene moved there and they started a garden there.
“It just got bigger every year,” Bruce said.
Bruce said he’s done quite a bit of research online to develop what he calls their “micro farm.”
A key element of their garden is their raised beds, which Bruce said, is “a better way to garden.” Darlene said the raised beds are helpful because she and Bruce are “maturing” and it’s getting harder to get down low to garden. They said another benefit to raised garden beds is that the soil stays loose and it’s easier to pull weeds.
The Andersons have five raised beds that are four feet by 40 feet, and two smaller raised beds that are about three feet around and used for cantaloupe and watermelons. The raised beds are made of concrete blocks that are glued together.
The raised beds contain a soil that is one-third peat moss, one-third compost and one-third vermiculite.
In addition to gardening, Bruce said his other hobby is metal work. He’s made metal structures that are mounted on the concrete blocks for plants to grow on and to hold netting to protect the plants from pests. There are trellises for peas and green beans to grow on, an archway that is tall enough to walk under that cucumbers grow over, and a tall cylindrical tower for tomatoes to grow up.
“Last year I grew a tomato plant that was nine feet tall,” Bruce said.
He said tomatoes, especially one that is nine feet tall, take a lot of water. The Andersons use a drip irrigation system to provide water to all the raised beds. The system is fed from a hydrant located in the garden and has timers connected to hoses that run to all the raised beds.
Around the garden is a chain link fence “to keep the critters out,” Bruce said. There are plastic slats in the fence to keep rabbits out and provide a wind break. There’s also an electric fence wire over the top of the chain link fence. Bruce said that’s only used to keep the raccoons out when the sweet corn is ready. He said the electric fence also keeps out the squirrels, which like to plant walnuts in the raised beds.
Inside the fence, around the raised garden beds are walkways of red rock with landscape fabric underneath. Bruce said there is gravel all around the beds, but there is black dirt under the beds. There is also landscape fabric and a chicken wire-like material under the raised beds to keep out animals such as moles.
Outside the fenced in area, the couple also has a raspberry bed and strawberry bed.
During planting time, the Andersons use one-foot by two-foot planting boards with pegs spaced different distances apart to make sure they space the seeds properly based on the type of plant.
Bruce said they built their “micro farm” themselves over a period of about seven years. He said he likes systems and has a background in engineering as well as orthodontics, which has helped him create all the various systems they use for planting, watering and protecting their garden.
As much as they try to keep out pests and protect their plants, one thing the Andersons said they’ve learned is that “nature always wins.”
The Andersons grow cantaloupe, watermelons, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, asparagus, green beans, peas, peppers, onions, potatoes and more. Bruce said they eat some of the produce as it grows, but grow enough of some other items to last for months or, in some cases, much of the year.
“We’re not really going for huge production,” Bruce said. “It’s more garden candy.”
Darlene said they like to eat most of the produce raw. Sometimes, she said, when they were still working, they’d come home from work and just eat their way through the garden for supper.
Bruce said they welcome giving people tours of their garden and that if people are interested, they can look them up in the phone book.
In addition to their gardening, the Andersons have done quite a bit of landscaping with fire pits, a replica of a park Bruce grew up near and a bird sanctuary. Darlene also raises monarch butterflies and has a butterfly garden in which she grows milkweed for them.
Reimer  scott mug opt

Reimer works to keep the
lights on for local farmers

Jackson-based Federated Rural Electric is one of many rural electric cooperatives working to keep the lights on for farmers and rural residents of southwest Minnesota.
Scott Reimer, Federated’s general manager, knows the industry well and understands how essential it is for farmers.
Born in Huron, S.D., Reimer started in the industry 43 years ago, doing an electrical apprenticeship and working with numerous contractors and companies, before deciding to return to the co-op scene.
“I was interested in getting back to the co-op world,” Reimer said. “I started here in 2015.”
Reimer compares his work with co-op members to that of a doctor: Diagnosing problems, addressing issues, finding solutions and making sure the systems — and the farmers who rely on them — stay connected.
“Doctors and lawyers call their businesses practices, and I would call this a practice,” Reimer said. “You’re practicing every day and learning every day.”
Federated itself has a storied history in Jackson County and it was responsible, at the height of the Great Depression, for electrifying the area, bringing electricity to hundreds, if not thousands, of families.
“It was started back in 1935 and came out into the countryside and electrified all of the areas outside of town,” Reimer said.
Delivering quality services at a reasonable price is the name of the game in the co-op world, especially as agriculture continues to become more technology intensive.
“These farm businesses are high-tech and the reliability of energy is something we pay very close attention to,” Reimer said. “We’ve done a good job controlling costs, so what we offer our farm businesses is the ability to spend less on electricity.”
The co-op model has a number of unique benefits for farmers, one of the most important being the level of investment, not only in terms of money and infrastructure, but also time.
“We’re in the game for the long haul,” Reimer said. “We do a lot of long-term planning and we do our best to serve the membership, because without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Federated also works with other co-ops throughout the state, sharing ideas and ways to get things done more effectively. Reimer said that’s proven increasingly important as rural populations decline.
“Co-ops have often been referred to as incubators of innovation,” Reimer said. “We have to solve a lot of problems on our own, so the co-op family is very creative and cost conscious, and we’re very efficient.”
Some of the things Federated has to plan for are recurring, like infrastructure repair and ice storms. To keep costs down, the co-op has diversified its energy portfolio around a number of different sources.
“About 78 cents of every dollar for us is related to wholesale power supply costs, so we try to diversify costs,” Reimer said. “We have four different power supply contracts, so we don’t put our eggs in one basket.”
Beyond his work with Federated, Reimer also serves as president of the Jackson Economic Development Corp.


Delaneys are the 2020 Lincoln County Farm Family of the Year

Web delaneys
Jerry Delaney said it came as a surprise when he found out last year that his family was the 2020 Lincoln County Farm Family of the Year.
“It was an honor,” he said. “It was a surprise because there are quite a few other farm families that are well deserving in the county. I know that.”
Delaney, 61, his wife, Michelle, own Delaney Herefords northwest of Lake Benton — “as far away from all the towns as you can get,” Delaney said with a laugh.
Delaney’s father, Jack Delaney, started in the Hereford business in 1936 with his very first Hereford heifer with which he earned a purple ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair 4-H cattle show. He continued working to build a herd and established Delaney Herefords Inc. in 1969 with his wife, Dorothy. Delaney said he and Michelle took over the operation in the 1990s.
“All I’ve got to do is hold on to it,” he said with a chuckle. “Hold onto it and pass it on.”
Delaney said his children are already doing most of the work and the plan is for them to eventually take over the operation, marking the third generation of the family to operate the business.
The family, as the name suggests, raises registered Herefords and usually has around 400 animals on the farm at any time. They have an annual bull sale each January at the farm and each October they sell females online. They also sell some bred females during the bull sale in January.
“We sell a lot of bulls and breeding stock,” Delaney said.
The family also maintains about 1,500 acres of land on which they grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Delaney said its important to be diversified.
Delaney knew he wanted to farm when he was in high school and has farmed since he graduated from high school in Lake Benton.
“I wasn’t much one for doing homework,” he said. “I’d rather be outside. I always liked calving cows, growing corn and beans, getting dirty.”
Delaney said he enjoys with the changing technology of genetics, the ability to take the best cow in the herd and replicate her more quickly through artificial insemination and embryo transplantation, and generally the process of “trying to build a better one all the time.”
“This time of the year you can see during calving if your decisions you made the year before, if they were the right ones or not,” Delaney said.
Delaney said he can start to see some of the traits he was trying to achieve through breeding when an animal is about three days old. First, he said, the animal has to be alive and healthy and have some vigor. They should be as stout as possible without causing damage to the female during birth. He said they should be “a little cocky looking,” and have the proper pigment and markings.
“You can tell right off,” Delaney said.
He said so far this year, they’ve had six sets of twins, which is more than usual. He said he’s heard others say they’ve experienced the same.
Delaney said his family is like all farm families — “just trying to make a living and be successful at it.”
“You want to be able to have a farm and have something to pass on down to your kids and enjoy it,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy it, then there’s no sense doing it.”
The Delaneys have five children and seven grandchildren, with one more “in the hopper,” he said, all who live nearby.
Delaney said the family has been involved in 4-H and FFA, and his children studied agriculture-related programs at South Dakota State University in Brookings. Delaney is the president of the Lincoln County Fair Board and has been part of the board for about 20 years. He’s is a lifetime member of the Minnesota and American Hereford Associations, is part of the Minnesota Beef Expo and has been part of the Minnesota Hereford Breeders. The Delaneys are also members of the Southwest Minnesota and State Cattlemen’s Associations.
Davis harder

Harder driven by a love for the land

Davis Harder, a conservation technician with the Heron Lake Watershed District, is working to ensure future generations can fully appreciate the land their forefathers called home.
Raised on a farm in Cottonwood County, Harder developed a strong interest in the natural world at a young age and had ample time — and opportunity — to interact with nature.
“I spent a lot of time in the Watonwan River as a kid,” Harder said. “After school, I’d hang out on this sandy bar a couple hundred feet from our house and I would read books there.”
Farm chores gave Harder the chance to inspect rocks, soils and the land itself.
“I was really interested in how the landscape is put together,” Harder said. “A lot of it was just my curiosity and inquisitiveness, so I did a lot of exploring.”
Harder went to the University of Minnesota to study conservation and even studied abroad in England for a semester. He also worked a number of jobs in the conservation field, including a stint doing water engineering for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
By the time he came to the Heron Lake Watershed District, Harder was well-poised to make positive changes.
“I was hired to promote conservation outreach in the watershed area,” Harder said. “I contact people and finds ways to build relations with our farmers and landowners.”
Harder spends much of his time speaking with farmers and figuring out which areas of the watershed district should be looked at for conservation programs.
“My work is usually either talking with landowners or doing GIS (Global Information System) work to find our which parts of the watershed would be good to target for the future,” Harder said.
Numerous state and federal conservation programs exist to aid landowners in helping conserve the environment. It can be difficult to navigate those programs, which is where Harder comes in.
“The nice thing is that you’re not stuck with any one program,” Harder said. “I get to talk with farmers and ask them what their needs are and put them in contact with the people who could find the best fit for them.”
The Heron Lake area was once one of the largest marsh-lake complexes in Minnesota, attracting visitors from across the state and nation. That was a century ago and things have changed quite a bit since then.
“There were people from the University of Minnesota who would go down by train to do research here,” Harder said. “It was a major waterfowl area.”
While it’s unlikely all of that marshland can be restored, Harder said preserving and expanding what remains for the future is an important element of the district’s mission.
“Conservation gives people a place to recreate,” Harder said. “It helps people by facilitating clean air and water and it reduces flooding for farmlands.”
It can also give communities something around which to rally. For Harder, the ultimate goal is making nature itself a place of community interaction and enjoyment.
“Building ecological resiliency can help build community resiliency,” Harder said. “My goal is to restore enough land to give the community a place to explore and love the land like I do.”