Wet year meant good year for local beekeeper

Though last year was a challenging year for local farmers, it was a downright great year for beekeepers.
That’s according to Merrill Eggestein of rural Jackson, anyway.
“There was plenty of rain,” Eggestein said, “so plenty of flowers.”
That made the job of Eggestein’s worker bees — which are capable of traveling up to six miles from the hive in search of nectar when needed — a lot easier, and the quantity of honey Eggestein was able to pull from his hives a lot greater.
The rain fell early and often last spring and summer, Eggestein said, making the sweet spot of honey production in this part of the state even sweeter.
“In southwestern Minnesota, May 15 to Aug. 15 is the honey-flow period,” he said, adding peak flow is right around the Fourth of July.
A productive hive will produce around 300 pounds of honey each year, Eggestein said.
Eggestein, who lives north of Jackson, has been in the beekeeping business for nearly a half-century — the first 40 years or so in northern Minnesota, and the last five in Jackson County. He said he’s long been fascinated by the insect and the sweet treat it is able to produce.

The artist among us

In the middle of the midwestern prairie now covered in a blanket of snow resides an almost unknown hidden cultural treasure who happens to be a neighbor to those who live in the rural Chandler area of southwest Minnesota.
Primitiva Monteiga, who goes by the artist name of Primi Monteiga, has been living in the area since 2010. Her art is well known in her native country of Venezuela, but she and her story may be a mystery to those who have driven by her acreage on Highway 91 and appreciated the statue of an angel sculpted from cement that kneels at the end of her driveway.
Visiting the inside of her home is to be greeted by an oasis of South American culture, charm and hospitality. As she is not fluent in English, her daughter, Marcia Carrera-Fernandez, translated from Spanish.
Born in Spain on April 24, 1940 at the beginning of World War II, Monteiga and her family were no strangers to hardship. In 1957, over 10 years after the war had ended, Primi’s father sent her to live with family in Venezuela in hopes of a better life for her. Little did they know that years later, Venezuela would also become a country that would suffer hardship under President Hugo Chavez, and that the country would be in the world spotlight today for its continued tumultuous political climate long after Chavez’s death.
 According to Monteiga, her father also sent her to Venezuela hoping that she would forget about her then-boyfriend, Jose Fernandez, of whom her father did not approve. Her father’s plan did not work and Jose eventually followed Monteiga to Venezuela where the two were married in 1962 and had two children, Marcia and Alejandro.
Although Monteiga had an interest in art from a young age, it was during her adult years she received much of her formal education. She studied in Caracas, Venezuela under famous artists such as J.A. Aranaz and Dr. Pedro Centeno Vallenilla, working within many different mediums, such as oil paint, wood, bronze, stone, cement and stained glass.
Art has been a part of Monteiga’s life for 45 years and it is one of the most important things to her.
“It is something that has filled my life even though I have never been able to devote as much time as I wanted,” she said.
In Venezuela, Monteiga is most notably known for her oil paintings of the indigenous tribes of the country. She extensively researched each tribe in order to accurately portray their culture in her work and she was the first artist to ever paint them in Venezuela.
“I felt I had to paint them because I felt like I was one of them,” she said. “I painted the entire collection of 47 Chiefs of Venezuela, and it is the only one that exists.”
The fact that it was the only collection in existence, the government classified Monteiga’s art as a national treasure. So when she and her family decided they had to leave in 2010 due to economic and political crisis, she faced great opposition from the government who would not allow her to take her art with her.
“The government would not allow anything of value to leave the country and that included all of her art work,” said Carrera-Fernandez, Monteiga’s daughter. “They would not allow Venezuelan bolivar [the country’s currency] to be exchanged for American dollars and shipped out, which is what we needed for my parents to leave.”
Not willing to part with her life’s work, Monteiga had to devise a plan to smuggle her own art out of Venezuela. Piece-by-piece she removed each painting from its frame, gently rolled them up and sent them one-by-one as “gifts” to family members over the years.
“There are two things in my life: art and family,” Monteiga said. “I could not leave the family for art, and I could not leave the art either because it fills me a lot and everything I saw and felt I wanted to capture in the canvases.”
Monteiga and her family had to leave behind much of what they had in order to come to the United States. Her husband Jose stayed behind for four years to try to sell his business, but in the end he had to let it go for a very cheap price so he could join the rest of the family. To this day, the Monteiga-Fernandez family have yet to recover all of their family’s financial assets from the country.
Originally, Monteiga’s son was attending college in California in 1982 while the rest of the family was back in Venezuela. Monteiga’s daughter, Marcia, first came to stay with her brother in 2004. It was then that Marcia met her husband, Jose Carrera, who had a sister who lived in Chandler. Marcia had concerns about living in a fast-paced, crime-ridden California environment, so she told her husband that she wanted to move to Chandler where he had family. In 2010, Monteiga was able to join her daughter in Chandler. After living in a house in town for some time, they were able to move to the acreage that they call home today.
For Monteiga, leaving Venezuela so many years ago was a difficult choice.
“For me it was very sad to leave Venezuela because I had lived many years there and I left all my friends,” she said. “It was very sad for me to leave everything, it was very hard. I came to a strange country, my children were here, and thank you God, now I feel happy. I love living in this rural area of Minnesota because people are very kind and special like family. They treat everyone very well. One is calm, one breathes pure air. I feel at home. I feel very good.”
Even at the age of 78, Monteiga continues to create art in her rural studio, with some of her work appearing locally, like the painting of a fish she did for Lonnie Clark, the president of the State Bank of Chandler, and the stained glass art that can be found in Saint Mary’s Church in Worthington.
Her artistic accomplishments go beyond painting and sculpture. In the past, the Venezuelan government commissioned her five times to have her work printed as stamps for the country. A limited number of stamps were printed, and only 120 collector’s books were produced. At the present time, Monteiga is working to have a book of her work published.
Monteiga would like for all of her neighbors to know that they are welcome to pay her a visit.
“I want my neighbors to know that they are welcome to come and meet me and see my art,” she said. “I want to share it with them. I would be pleased to meet you and share with you my work and the joy that it brings me.”


Trimont Farmer Pursues Ag Leadership Opportunities

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Trimont farmer Haley Ammann has been selected as an American Soybean Association Corteva Agriscience’s Young Leader for 2018-2019.
“I hear a lot of talk about baby boomers trying to find millennials to get involved, but it doesn’t scare me to get involved,” said Ammann, 24, who is also a member of the Martin County Corn and Soybean Growers Association. “I’m always looking to grow myself and become more involved.”
Ammann was raised on a cattle farm in Trimont. The farm grew into a cow-calf operation about 15 years ago, and her family rotates more than 100 acres of corn and soybeans. Ammann has been active in FFA programs, and currently sells Cenex branded products in the energy department at NuWay Cooperative.
“I work with farmers all day and then go home to my operation,” said Ammann, who is marrying her fiancé, Levi, in August. “It’s exciting to see all the different people you can meet and take you places.”
The ASA position isn’t the first time Ammann has pursued a soybean leadership opportunity. In January 2018, Ammann was accepted into the National Biodiesel Board’s See for Yourself trip to Fort Worth, Texas.
“I want to take these opportunities to my advantage and bring it back to my farm,” Amman said. “I’m eager to revamp how I do things on my farm.”
The Young Leader Program is a two-phase educational program for actively farming individuals and couples who are passionate about the future possibilities of agriculture.
Phase I of the 2018-19 Young Leader program took place in Johnston, Iowa, this past November. The second and final phase of the program continues Feb. 26 to March 2 in Orlando, Fla., in conjunction with the annual Commodity Classic Convention and Trade Show.
Minnesota couldn’t have picked a better farmer to represent the state at the national level, said Martin County farmer Lawrence Sukalski.
“Haley will be a good one,” he said. “She’s one of those people — you give her something to do, she’ll be there. She comes through quickly.”


At Home on the Orchard

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Just north of Slayton on U.S. Highway 59, Jason and Jennifer Kirchner have made their home on an orchard where they grow 16 varieties of apples.
The Kirchners bought Stonegate Orchard in 2014. Kirchner said he and his wife are the fourth owners of the orchard since it began in the mid-1970s.
Off the orchard, Jason works for Slayton Building Materials and Jennifer is the Murray County Ambulance director.
Kirchner said the orchard was for sale for a long time before they decided to buy it. He grew up on a farm and said he was interested in moving out to the country to give their kids — Azariah, 9, and Lola, 5, — more room to run and play. The couple, who recently celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary, also thought the orchard would be a fun hobby and teach their children responsibility.
Kirchner said Azariah has already started helping with mowing and some of the other work involved in maintaining the orchard.
The orchard has around 2,000 trees in all, many of which have been there since the orchard began.
“A lot of the trees we have are over 40 years old,” Kirchner said.
He said they’ve planted around 350 trees since they purchased the orchard. Most of the original trees are considered semi-dwarf and grow to around 12-15 feet high, he said. Those they plant now are considered dwarf trees and only get about 10 feet high.
“That’s what everybody is turning to,” Kirchner said.
He said the smaller trees are easier to prune and pick apples from, but their size also makes them less sturdy. The Kirchners put stakes in the ground to provide support that the trees will need their entire lives. Kirchner said the estimated productive life span of the dwarf trees is also shorter than that of the semi-dwarf trees at about 25 years compared to 40.
Kirchner said the trees at the orchard produced around 48,000 pounds of apples last year.
The orchard is open from the end of August to the end of October or early November, Thursdays through Sundays. Visitors can pick their own apples or visit the farm market store. In the store, the Kirchners sell caramel apples and frozen apple pies and a variety of produce and other items from other local producers including honey, pumpkins, jams and jellies. They also sell crafts, art and pottery from local artists.
“We try really hard to feature local people’s stuff,” Kirchner said.
In addition to selling their apples at the orchard, the couple sells to schools in Tracy, Fulda and Slayton, grocery stores including Hank’s Foods in Pipestone, Hy-Vee in Marshall and Worthington, and Jim’s Market in Slayton, and Painted Prairie Vineyard near Dovray where the apples are used for wine and hard cider.
“We do quite a bit of wholesale,” Kirchner said.
In the future, they plan to add other attractions to the orchard such as activities for kids or goats to attract more people and enhance the experience for those who visit.

For Greff, curiosity sparked a career

Even though Ashley Greff did not grow up on a farm, she had access to her grandparents’ farm and it sparked a curiosity in her that has turned into a career.
Growing up in Roland, Iowa, Greff was not very involved in agriculture as a child. She didn’t grow up on a farm doing chores every morning, but her mom did.
The farm her mom grew up on was one that farrow-to-finished pigs and had row crops. Greff remembers going to her grandparents’ farm and helping take care of the baby pigs on occasion. She said she loved it, and knew as she got older she wanted to work in agriculture, specifically in the swine industry.
As time went on, her grandpa got out of farrowing and switched over to a wean-to-finish operation. Over the years, the operation has seen a lot of growth and now has 9,600 finishing spaces. Her grandparents have aged along with the business, Greff said, and are now unable to take care of the farm, so her uncle has taken over the reins.
Watching the process, and being able to have a small amount of hands-on experience, allowed Greff to fall in love with the process. She decided to attend Iowa State University, where she majored in animal science with a focus in the swine industry. She moved to Jackson more than four years ago, and now works in animal pharmaceuticals with Elanco Animal Health as a swine sales representative. She works directly with veterinary clinics, producers and feed mills in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. She said she finds this is something about which she is passionate, and she knows it’s a great area for young people to get involved in, even at an early age.
“Agriculture is growing at a fast and steady pace, and it’s a very exciting field to be in,” Greff said. “Farmers are feeding the growing population around the world.”
For the younger generation, she has seen the ones who grow up on farms return after college to help the family and expand the operation.
“There is job diversity in agriculture, which can take you in many different paths, and it’s great for young people to be involved in 4-H and FFA to experience the different aspects of agriculture,” she said. “It’s just not about farming or raising livestock; there are many opportunities in technology, sales, nutrition, agronomy.”
While Greff is very involved in her job, when she’s not working, she is often working out and teaching classes at a local fitness center. Fitness is important to her, she said, and she has run eight 5Ks this year alone. She also helps out with her boyfriend’s family’s companies, Lusk Cattle Co. and Virginia and Co. When it’s warm out, she likes to be outside, and she is always busy hanging out with family and friends.

Van Ruler brothers share a love of antique tractors

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Visitors to the rural Lake Wilson farm of brothers Henry and Marion Van Ruler can’t miss the brothers’ shared passion. The property is filled with old tractors, many of them stored in sheds while others are parked around the farm site.
Marion said they have amassed a collection of more than 300 tractors during 35 years of collecting. Over half of the tractors are International Harvester, but their collection also includes John Deere, Case, Oliver, Ford and Cockshutt. The oldest is a 1920 Titan.
The brothers — Henry, 78, and Marion, 72, — started collecting tractors after they restored an old John Deere that was in their grove.
“It’s the one I learned to cultivate with,” Marion said.
They purchase most of their tractors at auctions in Minnesota and South Dakota. The tractors come to the auctions from all over the country. When they’re at the auctions the brothers tend to gravitate toward International Harvester, Wheatland tractors and any type of tractor they don’t have.
The Van Rulers acquire the tractors in various states of repair and do any needed repair or restoration work themselves. Marion does most of the work while Henry helps.
“I learned my mechanic skills by doing,” Marion said.
A heated shed filled with tools and parts serves as a shop where the brothers restore their tractors and do repair work for other faRmers. Its walls are lined top to bottom with toy and model tractors that far outnumber their real tractors.
Nearly all of their tractors are in working order. They don’t take them out to shows or fairs as much as they used to, but the Van Rulers still get them out during the warmer months. Last summer they took a couple of the tractors out for a drive to Chandler with some neighbors for dinner and another time they made a 50-mile trek starting in Luverne with some other tractor collectors.
The Van Rulers said their tractor collection has been featured in various publications in the area as well as on television programs in Minnesota and South Dakota. Occasionally, they sell some of their tractors, but “not very often,” Marion said.
The brothers said their love of tractors was a natural outcome of life on the farm.
“We grew up with them, with farming,” Marion said.
The brothers continue to grow corn and beans on about 200 acres. They used to milk cows too, but sold the cattle off 13 years ago.
“It was time to quit,” Marion said. “I couldn’t get up from underneath the cows anymore.”
The brothers still have cows on their farm, but they belong to a neighbor. Marion said they let the neighbor keep their cows on their farm at no charge because they like to be good neighbors. He said they are fortunate to be surrounded by good neighbors who care about one another and help each other out in times of need.
It’s an atmosphere in which the Van Ruler brothers have spent nearly all of their days. The family moved to the farm they call home when Henry was 2 and Marion was born there.
“I lived here all my life ,” Marion said. “I moved from one house to the other. I think that’s as far as I’ve moved.”