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Preparing for an emergency

Harvest season is right around the corner, and with it come risks of injury or death on the farm.
Modern farming involves larger and more sophisticated equipment than at any time in human history. That also can pose risks to farmers, especially if proper safety procedures are not followed.
Stephanie Beranek, ambulance director of Jackson Emergency Medical Services, says it’s important for people to know what to do in the event of an emergency.
“From our standpoint, the biggest thing is that you need to make sure everyone on the farm knows if something happens to call 911 and that they are able to say the address of where they are,” Beranek said. “That way, when you’re answering the operator, you can get that information across.”
Those tips might sound simple, but they can save lives, as evidenced by an accident that Beranek responded to recently.
“There was not that long ago an accident that the kids handled very well,” Beranek said. “The father got knocked off the tractor and had some injuries, and the kids were able to shut the equipment down and they knew to call 911. They were able to give their address and stay calm.”
Farming is often a family business, Beranek said, and it’s perfectly fine for kids to help out as long as they’re always under careful supervision by an adult and know the proper safety protocols.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a farm kid or a kid who lives in town,” Beranek said. If you’re going to have exposure to a farm environment, it is great to have farm safety knowledge.”
Another important piece of advice: Don’t take off safety coverings or labels on equipment.
“Not removing safety labels and covers is one of the biggest recommendations we have,” Beranek said. “Those are there to keep you safe.”
Farm safety courses are also important and anyone thinking of doing work on a farm should take one, she said.
“When I was growing up, there was always a farm safety course that I went to for many years,” Beranek said. “That was something my mom always said was very important.”
Beranek said farm safety has improved in recent years as communities have pushed for more education on the topic.
“I would say it’s gotten better,” she said. “When I was growing up, there were very big pushes about safety. In order to do chemical applications, people have to take more classes now just to have a license and apply any of those chemicals. I feel that there are huge pushes toward more safety in farming.”
Beranek said she wants to see a good and safe harvest this year and is encouraging people to be patient on the roads and fields alike as the busy season rolls around.
“The biggest thing I want the community to know is for everyone to be as safe as we can so that we can have a good harvest season,” Beranek said.


Horsemanship is only the start at Rock Ranch

In 2016, Dan and Marie LaRock founded Rock Ranch northwest of Hills in southwest Rock County as a 501c3 nonprofit organization geared toward teaching young people to ride horses.
“We just wanted to give people access to quality horsemanship instruction at the entry level,” Dan said.
Rock Ranch offers basic horsemanship training for children ages 5 to 17. The small group lessons focus on haltering, grooming, leading, tacking and riding. The primary focus of the class is to teach horsemanship, but Marie also infuses the lessons with activities that help the youth improve themselves physically, cognitively, socially and psychologically.
“The first couple of years was really focused on kids’ lessons,” Dan said. “And it still is.”
They have, however, added other programs, starting with the SeniorSaddles program in 2018. The program provides an opportunity for people 55 and older to participate in horse-related activities. Typically, that involves a tour of the ranch, spending time with the horses and socializing. Occasionally, it also involves a senior getting up on a horse.
That program has been put on hold this year by the pandemic.
Last year, Rock Ranch added a counseling element to its services. Marie and two other mental health practitioners are certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala), an international nonprofit association for mental health professionals who use horses to address mental health and personal development needs.
“Everything there is done on the ground,” Marie said. “There is no riding.”
She said the counselor will talk to the client and use the horse and the scene of the ranch around them as metaphors. She said the surroundings can be relaxing and help in their counseling. They might also have a client take on a chore at the ranch — such as moving horses from one area to another — that could teach them something about themselves.
“It’s experimental,” Marie said. “It can be pretty impactful for people.”
Marie said the therapy can be helpful for people with post traumatic stress disorder and that they use it in their work with Call to Freedom, an organization that works with human trafficking victims. It can also be used for any other kind of therapy such as couples or family therapy, or even business sessions.
“Anybody can come to those counseling sessions,” Marie said.
Currently, the LaRocks are in the process of adding an 80-by-190-foot building with an 80-by-120-foot riding arena that will allow them to offer their services rain or shine all year round. Now they typically offer lessons from May through October when the weather allows, which has lead to a waiting list of around 15 to 20 families each year and waits of up to nine months. They’re hoping the ability to provide their services all year round will eliminate the waiting list.
“It should,” Dan said.
Construction of the nearly $700,000 structure has been made possible through many generous donations and sponsorships for which the LaRocks said they are very thankful. Dan said they have received over 70 gifts from people in six states who have given amounts ranging from $2 to $125,000. Most of the gifts have been in the $2,500 to $5,000 range. He said there will be a donor reception and public viewing of the arena building at the end of September.
When it’s done the building will include the arena, a conference room with teleconferencing capabilities and a kitchen, bathrooms, a donor wall, offices, a history display about the ranch, merchandise for sale, storage areas and more. While their plan for now is to continue to offer their existing programs in the arena, they are open to other opportunities as well.
“I don’t know what else will transpire,” Dan said.
Last year Rock Ranch had 300 visitors who participated in 122 lessons, 50 SeniorSaddles visits and 25 counseling sessions. Dan said about 65 to 70 percent of their time is spent on lessons, 20 percent is spent on counseling and the rest is spent on the SeniorSaddles program in a typical year. He said Rock Ranch’s clients primarily come from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
For those who are interested in Rock Ranch’s services, but can’t afford them, they do offer a sliding fee scale and scholarships.
“We are not in the business of turning people away,” Dan said.
The LaRocks include a Christ-based theme based on a different Bible verse each year. This year’s theme is, “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10. Marie said they thought that might be a fitting verse this year due to the pandemic.
Marie grew up with horses and has always enjoyed them. She said her grandfather was a horseman and that her first time riding was at the century farm that is now Rock Ranch. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in speech language pathology from Minnesota State University - Moorhead. She has provided speech therapy and instruction in schools in southwest Minnesota since 2001.
Dan is a shareholder at Hub Great Plains, a company that helps large employers in the upper Midwest with employee retirement plans and health benefits. He handles the marketing and fundraising for Rock Ranch.
He said their combined skill sets that God has blessed them with have helped make Rock Ranch what it is.
For more information on Rock Ranch visit

Champion rider doubles down on shows

After her competitive riding debut at the Jackson County Fair last year, young Aralia Ruby got the chance this year for two — a virtual show for 4-H and an in-person open show at last week’s Jackson County Fair.
The virtual show was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; last week’s Jackson County Fair was one of only three in the state not canceled by the pandemic.
For the virtual show, Ruby had her choice of classes.
“There’s four classes total,” Ruby said. “You take videos of whichever ones you want. I did western pleasure, English pleasure and western horsemanship.”
At last year’s county fair, Ruby won champion junior pleasure and champion junior English.
In conjunction with the virtual competitions this year, the Minnesota 4-H organization also produced training videos to help 4-H members build their riding skills.
“You watch the video and say these are your goals to complete out of the things you see in the video,” Ruby said, “and then a week or two later, they send you a follow-up survey.”
Ruby took videos of “Ebony,” her main show horse.
She also was happy to be able to compete in the open horse show at the Jackson County Fair late last month, as the show consisted of games. Horse-riding games involve navigating obstacle courses, Ruby said, which were not available virtually due to the difficulty in assessing times.
“They wanted the exact time, and everybody might not have a certain obstacle, so they didn’t do those virtually,” Ruby said.
While Ruby said she appreciated 4-H’s virtual options, she does miss the other 4-H activities wiped out by the pandemic. She’s been a 4-H member for years and showed other animals before beginning her riding career.
“There were going to be shows and practice shows,” Ruby said. “Every year, there’s rock picking in the arena and everyone rides after that, and that’s a fun activity.”
Ruby said she looks forward to the return of 4-H activities and future shows. She said she plans to continue riding horses throughout her life.
Ruby said the 4-H horse project and its associated activities provide a sense of camaraderie and togetherness, even in times like this, and added she feels included and accepted in the 4-H community.
“I really like how I feel included in the 4-H horse project,” she said. “It’s a group; it’s not competitive. You’re on everybody’s side and they’re on yours.”

Pipestone County's 2019 Outstanding Conservationist sees the benefits of his efforts

Tom Griebel of Hatfield has been implementing a variety of conservation practices over many years. Last year his efforts earned him the title of 2019 Outstanding Conservationist for Pipestone County.
Local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) boards select Outstanding Conservationists each year and the honorees from around the state are recognized during a program in the fall. In the nomination letter for Griebel, the Pipestone County SWCD Board noted that Tom and his wife Barb have a Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certified farm and are leaders in their community, and that Griebel has worked to protect the land he manages in a wellhead protection area, conducted a soil health assessment, has installed sediment control basins, and uses no till, cover crops and rotational grazing.
The Griebels farm with Tom’s parents John and Corlys Griebel. The family raises sheep and grows corn, beans, wheat, alfalfa, grass and teff grass.
Griebel said he started implementing conservation practices about 15 years ago when he began rotational grazing for his cows. He created eight paddocks, two that were already pasture and the rest from former crop ground that he divided into 10-acre sections. He’s since gotten out of the cow business and uses three of the paddocks for sheep and rents out three paddocks to another farmer for cows. He rotates the other two paddocks between haying and grazing for the cows or sheep.
Griebel said he started the rotational grazing because pasture land was in short supply and he was tired of driving all over the county to check on pastures. He wanted his pastures closer to home. He used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to pay for part of the cost of seeding and fencing materials.
About 12 years ago, Griebel said he started “dabbling” in no till, first planting corn into bean stubble and then planting beans into corn stalks. Griebel said the first time he tried no till it was because there had been a wet fall and he wasn’t able to get the tilling done then or the next spring.
“I guess you could say it was kind of an accident,” he said.
One outcome was that he saved fuel, so his input costs were less. He found out later that it improved the soil health.
Last year, Griebel started doing a soil health analysis through the SWCD on some of his no till land. It included taking soil samples, doing worm counts, and  looking into organic matter and soil compaction. They’ll do another analysis every year to see how the soil is changing.
“I can already see that it is greatly improving,” Griebel said.
He said there are more bugs, microbes and nutrients in the ground, equipment pulls easier when he does do some tilling and that there was some improvement in yields. He said no till turns the ground into soil instead of dirt.
About eight years ago he started doing some strip tilling for corn. He said strip tilling helps keep the nutrients in the soil and he can get by with a little less commercial fertilizer. Griebel said he’s not been very consistent with the strip tilling because it’s best to do it in the fall and the fall weather hasn’t been suitable for it in recent years.
About three years ago, Griebel said he did some more “dabbling,” this time with cover crops. He uses winter wheat that he leaves in over the winter and early spring. He said that too makes the soil healthier and allows him to use less commercial fertilizers. It also prevents erosion.
“That has helped dramatically to hold soil in place,” he said.
His most recent conservation efforts took place last year when he put in some farmable terraces and tile to help them drain. The terraces are on the side of a hill where rain would cause erosion and wash out the crops.
Griebel again worked with the SWCD on the terraces. He said it was a three-year process, during which engineers designed the terraces based on the land and conditions in that area and a contractor built them. He said the terraces have proven to be effective.
“When you get a significant rainfall, it holds the water and then the tile takes it away instead of the soil being washed away,” Griebel said.
Griebel said he doesn’t practice all of the conservation practices he uses on all his acres, but tries to see what works where. He suggested that others try that method as well. He also suggests asking questions of neighbors and others who have tried conservation measures and contacting the local SWCD staff to learn more about them.
“The best thing to do is go into the office and say this is my plan; how can you help me,” Griebel said.
In addition, he recommends a multiple-year trial period for any practices one implements to test it and make adjustments if needed.
The benefits he’s seen from his practices have been both economic and environmental.
“You’re improving the soil and the water of your community and the world,” Griebel said.

Iowa county conservation efforts paying off

It has been said if the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain, and a similar thing could be said about recycling for Dickinson County, Iowa.
Back in the early 2000s, or possibly even a bit before, rural recycling drop-off locations were established within the county. Up until early this year, those sites were still in place. But now each city within the county has established recycling drop-off points they share with the rural community.
However, the Dickinson County Conservation Board decided to expand and centralize the county’s recycling efforts at one location a few years back, making the Dickinson County Recycling Center a countywide site not only for rural residents, but also for any resident living within the county.
The results have been a boon to the recycling effort for everything from hazardous waste to green waste.
“I’m going on my third year here managing our Dickinson County Recycling Center,” Charles Vigdal said. “Technically we are a designated regional collection center for recyclables. But the state of Iowa is good with disposing of household hazardous waste. Our site is just one of many such sites in the state — pretty much every county has one.”
Vigdal is the only full-time employee at the Milford, Iowa, site, but normally has two part-time employees who help him.
“Our two part-time employees unfortunately are in a higher risk category for COVID-19, so we have had to limit our hours here because of that to being open the same as our winter hours and we are presently not able to take any household hazardous waste either for the same reason,” Vigdal said. “We are just short of help here now.”
But the Dickinson County Recycling Center is taking all appliances for recycling, as well as green waste — a lot of both, he added.
“We take any appliances or white goods for a fee of $15 each,” Vigdal said. “We also take electronic waste such as televisions — whether tube-type or flat panels — as well as miscellaneous CPUs, and those fees range from $20 to $35, depending on their screen size.”
The recycling center also takes tires of various sizes for a fee and people are encouraged to call ahead regarding the fees charged for larger agricultural tires, as well as any other specialized larger tires.
“When we are taking household hazardous waste materials, there is no fee to our county residents for dropping them off here,” he said. “But small commercial businesses need to call for pricing regarding the disposal of their hazardous waste material.”
Although the recycling of green waste at the Dickinson County Recycling Center is on a fee basis starting with bagged yard waste at just 50 cents a bag on up to $10 per pickup load and as high as $60 for roll-off side dumps, Vigdal said there is a very big side benefit to Dickinson County residents at the recycling center from that.
“People who are residents of Dickinson County can come here and pick up wood chip mulch and compost for free if they load it themselves,” Vigdal said. “We have a loader here, too, and a wood chipper so we can turn our green waste like trees, shrubs and bushes brought here into mulch for people to pick up free. And, for a $10 fee, we will load up to 3 cubic feet of the mulch for them. And that is a lot of mulch.”
Residents of the county can also pick up free compost if they load that themselves or, for the $10 fee, can have the center load up to 3 cubic feet of the compost.
“This year, the mulch and the compost has been very popular with our residents,” he said. “In fact, we are down on both right now.”
The compost is run through a screener to remove rocks or gravel, which makes it a better compost for soil and reduces soil compaction as well, Vigdal said.
When hazardous household waste is once again accepted at the center, residents will be able to come in and turn in things like paint, stains, adhesives, pesticides and herbicides and other hazardous waste items at their swap shop, trading them for other hazardous items they might need or just leaving them for others to pick up without a fee too.
“At our swap shop, which is really low right now, people can actually pick up useable things without having anything to swap if the item is something they can actually use,” Vigdal said.
The Dickinson County Recycling Center is located at 2260 220th St., Milford, Iowa.