From farm to fitness

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Troy Untiedt was born on a farm in the Sioux Valley area of Jackson County and, growing up, always thought he would become a farmer someday. Like so many future farmers, Untiedt labored with his family on their farm in a farrow-to-finish hog operation from the time he was a little kid.
In 1982, his family moved to his grandfather’s farm in Jackson County’s Rost Township.
Though farming was in his blood, Untiedt also got into physical training as a 12-year-old kid, enjoying weight lifting in particular.
After high school, with dreams of farming still in his head, he headed off to South Dakota State University majoring in ag business. It was while at college he met his future wife, Janele.
She was a health, physical education, recreation major, so the two had something in common from the get-go.
“I got my four-year degree in ag business,” Troy Untiedt said. “But I never used what I had learned in agriculture.”
Instead, the Untiedts decided to start a fitness center, Body Balance Fitness, in Lakefield, close to where Troy had grown up.
“My dad, Robert, and my mom, Connie, still farm, but with my brothers, Shane and Travis,” Troy Untiedt said. “So there wasn’t really room for me on the farm and Dad didn’t want to expand his farming operation back then, so Body Balance was a good fit for Janele and I and we started our business in 2003 here.”
As a farming community, Lakefield brought a ready-made clientele to Body Balance for the Untiedts.
“Area farmers and their families are a good part of our clientele at our business,” Troy Untiedt said. “And I know from my own experience working on a farm how valuable having a fitness center close by can be.”
In addition to massage therapy, the Untiedts offer fitness programs for their new clients and have a large variety of fitness equipment available, including free weights, nautilus and a complete-pace circuit-training room as well.
“We offer our clients a line of healthy supplements for everything from wellness to weight loss,” Janele Untiedt said. “We also have essential oils that help farm families and our other clientele find relief from sore muscles right along with massage, and that helps them sleep better, as well as increase their energy levels.”
Body Balance also offers ionic cleansing to detoxify the body from the chemicals it can be exposed to for overall health and FIR infrared sauna, which the Untiedts say helps relieve the aches and pains from riding in a truck or driving a tractor for up to 16 hours at a time.
“Both Janele and I have a goal with our business — to help people feel good, either through fitness or massage or both,” Troy Untiedt said.
The Untiedts have found success in the small farming community of Lakefield by not only providing a full-fledged fitness center at Body Balance and keeping up to date on the latest in fitness equipment and programs, but also by being there for their clients, onsite throughout the day even though they offer 24- hour access to Body Balance via a key card system.
“People like to see a face to our business,” Troy Untiedt said. “And we are that face. We are here the majority of the time. This is what we do — we live it. We are very blessed that the people of this area support us.”


In the Laboratory with Jared Ellefson

In a laboratory near Flandreau, South Dakota, Jared Ellefson uses an inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer to determine the makeup of soil.
The device uses plasma to vaporize soil samples to determine the elemental composition and concentration of those elements in the soil based on the wavelengths emitted when they are vaporized. The spectrometer is just one component of the laboratory that Ellefson, 28, uses at his business East Prairie Laboratories, which provides soil, plant, animal feed testing and other services for farmers.
Ellefson grew up farming with his father in rural Flandreau. He graduated from Pipestone Area Schools in 2009 and studied business and economics at South Dakota State University. His vision for his business began in 2012.
“Science has always been one of my favorite things and I always liked farming so this was a nice combination of the two,” he said. “With how stressed markets are, a lot of farms are finding ways to diversify and this seemed to be a way that was a little bit harder to get into, but I think a little bit more worth it. A lot of people can start up seed companies and a lot of people can start up agronomy companies,but it takes expertise and specific skills to start up a laboratory.”
Ellefson said the cost of the equipment, especially the spectrometer, was a big hurdle to overcome, but his vision became a reality in 2017 when he obtained a small business loan and opened his business in a shop that belongs to his father, Jerry.
“Through the first year we were focused on soil and plant tissue, but there are some shortfalls to that,” he said. “In the winter time the ground is frozen and there is no plant tissue. We got really busy in the fall and then in the spring now we’re really busy again, but through those winter months it was really slow and so we were trying to game out what we wanted to do to fill our time, and animal feeds was the next option for us.”
The company added animal feed testing to its services this spring.
“The thing about this equipment is that you can use it across multiple disciplines,” Ellefson said. “If you go to an animal feeds lab they’re going to have all the same stuff. If you go to a soils lab they’re going to have all the same stuff.”
Farmers can send in samples or drop them off at collection points. The company will also take the field samples and hires some seasonal help to do that and other work.
When a sample arrives at the laboratory, it is cataloged and sent to a climate-controlled dry room that is kept at 85 to 90 degrees and dehumidified. Once dry, the soil is ground into a fine powder, which is better for testing. From there, various tests are done to discover what’s in the soil.
The tests can show levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, organic matter, magnesium, manganese, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc, sodium, calcium, hydrogen and more. Ellefson said the lab’s results are periodically checked for accuracy against other labs and through the North American Proficiency Testing (NAPT) program, which assists soil, plant and water testing laboratories in their performance through inter-laboratory sample exchanges and a statistical evaluation of the analytical data, according to NAPT.
“Farmers will use this data to create maps for their fields,” Ellefson said. “When you think of applicators when they go out to the field, they can either do a broadband application and just throw the same amount over the field everywhere or what they can do is they can have data from the lab to show them in their field where they need to add certain amounts of whatever they’re trying to add. They could add more here, less there.”
He said the information from his lab can be used in conjunction with precision agriculture equipment to help farmers adjust variants including seed spacing and fertilizer application levels, potentially enabling them to reduce their input costs and increase their yields and profitability. He said it can also be better for the environment because farmers won’t apply more fertilizer than necessary.
Ellefson said his lab tests about 5,000 samples each month. He said they’ve tested samples from Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Florida and California. The company guarantees a three-day turnaround for samples and will deduct 10 percent of the cost for each day after that.
“In that way, you have peace of mind knowing that you’re going to get your results back quickly,” Ellefson said. “Otherwise, you’re going to get a discount guaranteed.”
The company also has a 24-7-15 policy that makes its staff available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and promises a call back in 15 minutes if employees are unable to answer the phone.
If business goes well, Ellefson plans to move the company out of its current space and into its own within the next couple of years.
More information about East Prairie Laboratories is available at

Steen a lifelong farmer, lifelong helper

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Merv Steen farms.
He has all his life.
He also helps — people, community causes, whatever.
He has all his life.
“If you can’t help others,” Steen said, “what good are you?”
Headquartered in eastern Jackson County, the Steen family farm today consists of about 4,000 acres. Steen grew up working on the family farm with his dad — back when the farm was around 240 acres in size — and continues to do so to this day.
Steen was born in Warren in 1931 and grew up and attended school in Trimont. He enjoyed studying history, bookkeeping and geography and loved playing sports, especially basketball.
He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and was initially stationed in Mississippi prior to receiving training in Texas. He deployed to Korea and Japan for a total of 854 days during the Korean War.
Steen was trained in crash recovery, and he was put to work over and over again. One memorable rescue involved a woman and two small children who Steen carried down a ladder out of a plane close to plunging into the ocean.
Another memorable rescue involved an Air Force pilot who had to eject, only to be seriously injured in the ejection. Steen rescued the pilot, who ended up being paralyzed. Steen visited the pilot in the hospital for many days after the rescue. He said the pilot wound up so depressed by his condition that he wanted to die. However, Steen said he didn’t give up on the young man, continuing to not only visit him, but encourage and support him.
“I remember telling him, ‘Warren, you are going to make it,’” Steen said.
Steen said that young pilot eventually returned home to his wife and infant son.
While in the Air Force, Steen became the coach of an Air Force basketball team. Staff Sgt. Steen said he enjoyed coaching, and especially enjoyed giving basketball orders to the two young lieutenants on the team.
After four years in the service, Steen received his honorable discharge and returned home to resume his lifelong work of farming and helping others.
He met his future wife, Bonnie, at the Fox Lake Dance Hall near Sherburn. They married six months later and remained together for 59 years until her death in 2013. The happy couple had three daughters and one son.
Steen said he has been blessed in many ways over the last nearly nine decades, though three in particular are always at the forefront of his mind: His faith in God, having such a good wife and having two strong hands that have enabled him to work long and hard.
Steen said working long and hard all his life has been satisfying and rewarding in many ways. During his years in the service, Steen advanced to the rank of staff sergeant and was put in charge of dispatching others on rescue missions. He recalls one of his fellow airmen who had been in the service for 12 years being a bit miffed he had been passed over for that promotion. Steen recalls politely explaining, “Time in grade does not mean as much as diligence in studying and working hard to succeed.”
Working long and hard has also earned Steen recognition, including an award from the University of Minnesota for achieving the highest soybean yield, and another as Jackson County Farmer of the Year, an award his wife, Bonnie, also received. She was the only woman to ever receive that award in Jackson County.
Steen has also worked long and hard helping others. He said his motivation to help others began in high school when he would finish up chores at home and then go around the neighborhood to help others on their farms. He has helped with countless community service projects as a 44-year member of the Jackson Lions Club, has played drum with the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps for 43 years and has rung the bell for the Salvation Army.
And he still works on the farm. Though his son, Brian, and son-in-law, Jake Hanson, have taken over the day-to-day management, Steen helps by mowing grass and moving machinery as needed.
“I also go to town for parts,” Steen said. “And coffee for me.
A small farm house quietly rests among the steep hills and valleys in Murray County’s Chanarambie Township. It is fitting to note that Chanarambie is a Dakota Indian word for “secret or hidden woods” –– when you step onto the property and witness the rolling hills and wooded areas nestled between, it feels like stepping into a world that has been set aside and hidden from all else.
Although its current residents lead somewhat quiet lives now, they have acquired experiences that translate into some of the most interesting stories to tell. Leon and Elsa Carney have spent the past 48 years on their farm managing the 320 acres they have, much of which is prairie land they have worked hard to conserve. They have raised a family there, hosted many interesting guests and faced a challenge or two.
Leon was born on Mar. 25, 1946 in Tyler, but was raised on a farm by Lake Wilson. His father, Art Carney, was a cattle farmer and his mother, Melba, a welfare worker, financial guardian and homemaker. Elsa was born on Feb. 22, 1938 in the Philippines to Delores Albia, a school teacher, and Lepoldo Delago, a soldier with the Filipino Army who fought with the United States Army in World War II. Elsa’s paternal grandfather and his sons were all prisoners of war and were a few of many of the unfortunate POWs forcibly transferred in the Bataan Death March of 1942 when approximately 75,000 U.S. and Filipino soldiers were forced by Japanese soldiers to walk a gruesome 65-mile march through the heat and rough terrain of the Philippine jungle. Elsa’s father perished on that march when she was only a few years old.
The Carney’s met in 1965 in Rochester. As they both recall, it was nearing sundown and Leon, who was a self-described poor college student studying music education at the time, was out looking for night crawlers to use for fishing in the hopes of catching himself an evening meal.
“I was walking along the sidewalk and I saw him with a flash light searching the ground,” Elsa recalled. “I thought maybe he had lost something so I asked if he was searching for an item he had lost.”
Leon explained to her that he was looking for night crawlers. Elsa, who was a registered nurse who came to the United States through an exchange program that was hosted by the Mayo Clinic had never heard of night crawlers. Leon went on to explain what they were and invited her to go fishing with him sometime. Elsa agreed and about a week later Leon and a friend stopped by the address that Elsa had given him to pick her up.
“Of course we couldn’t go alone and we had to have a chaperone,” Leon recalled. “I guess she thought it safer to have more than one so we ended up piling a half a dozen of her friends in the car with us when we went.”
The fishing was good and so was the match. Leon and Elsa married on July 9, 1966. By the following year they had their first son, Miron, who happens to be the current mayor of Slayton. When 1968 rolled around the couple decided they wanted to give life in Wyoming a try, but after a few months found it difficult to find the amount of work they needed to support a family. So they decided to move to Chicago, where Elsa’s status as a registered nurse in the Philippines would be granted reciprocity. Elsa worked at Forkosh Memorial Hospital as an RN and Leon worked at American Hospital as a surgical recovery room technician and on the weekends as a pathology assistant. In 1970 their daughter Wasenda, a Lakota Indian word for “prairie flower,” was born. By then Leon had moved on to work at the Chicago Gun Center gunsmith shop where he built and repaired firearms for both private citizens and government entities. After a close encounter with a group of men who had assaulted a man with a knife in front of Leon, and several other incidents of violence and crime in the city, Leon and Elsa decided it was time to return to the calmer place where he had grown up in southwest Minnesota.
Leon’s father knew of a farmstead that was for sale in Murray County that would be a great fit for the family and in March of 1971 they left the fast-paced city to settle in the home that Leon and Elsa still reside in today. Around the same time, Leon graduated with a Masters degree in Conservation from the North American School of Conservation based out of Newport Beach, Calif.
“It came in handy with the almost 280 acres of prairie land we have out here” Leon said.
After moving to the area, Elsa went to work at Edgebrook Nursing Home in Edgerton where she worked for 29 years as a charge nurse, and as the Director of Nursing for three of those years. She raised their two children, Miron and Wasenda, and helped Leon around the farm.
“For awhile we raised sheep, cattle, chickens and 16 Belgian horses,”  Elsa said.
Always enjoying a challenge, they did most of the farm work with the Belgians, and Leon ran a sawmill on the family farm for a period of time.
Over the years, Leon has been heavily involved in the community. For awhile he served as the community band director and president of the Lake Wilson Community Players. Agriculture and conservation are two of Leon’s interests, which led him to serve as a Farmers Advocate with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture during the farm crisis of the 1980’s.
In 2002, Elsa decided to retire from nursing, but she continued to work around the farm and house. In 2003 Leon decided to pursue a certificate in massage therapy from Minnesota West in Pipestone, and he continued to practice massage therapy until 2016.
Leon has Native American heritage on his mother’s side and was mentored by Ojibwe elders as a youth, but he has never sought tribal affiliation. Still, over the years, the Carneys have been involved with several Native American and other spiritual organizations that have been drawn to their land and its history, graciously hosting spiritual gatherings such as sundances, ghost dances and other similar events. They have opened up their land to groups such as the American Indian Movement (AIM), the Mankind Project, the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers (for whom Leon currently serves as the Vice President) and many more. Over the years Leon has served as a medicine man for Native American tribes such as the Mandan tribe, and for various ceremonies. He continues to be involved with multiple tribes and spiritual organizations to this day.
Nowadays, Elsa can be found doing things around the house and looking after their dog, Keister, who is known to sing for company when Leon plays the harmonica or guitar. Many visitors have come to understand that if Elsa is aware of their arrival during meal time, you can expect to find a variety of food on the table and an extra place setting. Leon may be found tending to the chickens and rabbits they raise, tinkering in the shed with his latest wood working project or teaching a curious young kid how to make a do-it-yourself taxidermy mount for a raccoon or some other creature.
Wherever you find either, you will likely find amazing hospitality and a wealth of entertaining stories that may have a little gem of wisdom hidden between laughs and smiles.