Minnesota partners with Germany to better sustainability and use of renewables


LE SUEUR, Minn. (KEYC) — An exchange program through the University of Minnesota matches cities in Germany and Minnesota to try to find better avenues of sustainability and use of renewable energy.

Tuesday, German project manager Guido Wallraven and local officials toured Hometown BioEnergy just outside of Le Sueur.

Hometown BioEnergy transforms biomass into energy for local cities and a nutritious bio-gas product for farmer’s fields.

Wallraven is fascinated with the model to ensure a decentralized energy supply that includes local farmers.

“This might be a good pilot or model to be transferred throughout the state of Minnesota,” Wallraven explained. “Last week, I was working with our partner city, Morris, in western Minnesota and they are thinking about how they can provide a decentralized energy supply for the city and maybe what you are doing here is a model and pilot for them.”

Wallraven says they are already doing this in Germany successfully, just not on the scale here in Minnesota. Hometown BioEnergy is able to produce four to eight times the energy and bio-gas nutritious material the German plants are.

View the KEYC video.

Welcoming Communities Project moving to individual community groups

On Feb. 27, individuals who volunteered to serve their communities on the Welcoming Communities Project met at the Event Center.

At the Jan. 29 meeting for the Welcoming Communities Project, those in attendance from Sleepy Eye, Springfield, and New Ulm were asked to apply as individuals, for the next phase of the project — separate town groups that will identify projects or initiatives for their own town. Applicants were asked to commit to attending monthly meetings, through May, and be active with the project.

On Feb. 27, those individuals who volunteered to serve their communities on the Welcoming Communities Project, met again at the Sleepy Eye Event Center.

The facilitators — from Region Nine, the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, and U of M Extension — led the group through a few activities and discussions about the power of people working together, active and compassionate listening, and some information on area demographics.

Participants from the three communities mixed together for this meeting. The next step in the process will involve each town working on their own ideas. Each community was asked to hold a local meeting to determine their group norms — a working agreement.

Then the entire group will meet again on March 26 and begin more work as individual communities.

A good overview of the Welcoming Communities Project was included in the materials at the Feb. 27 meeting:

‒To build capacity in individuals and in communities to respond to local community equity and inclusion needs.

‒To engage in community identity exploration.

‒To provide a platform for education and resources.

‒To share, examine, and explore inclusive and equitable best practices and ideas targeted to small communities.

Watch for continuing news and feature stories in the Herald-Dispatch related to the Welcoming Communities Project.

The Welcoming Communities Project in Brown County was made possible through a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s Healthy Connections Program to Region Nine Area, Inc.

View the Sleepy Eye Hearld-Dispatch article.

Welcoming Communities Project continuing

SLEEPY EYE — The Welcoming Communities Project, providing a framework for communities to build relationships, learn inclusive community practices, tools and skills, continues to meet monthly at the Sleepy Eye Event Center.

The next session begins at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27 and continues to 9 p.m. Participants should be Brown County residents or employees. Seating is limited for each community group with a waiting list.

Future meeting dates are March 12, April 9, May 14 and Sept. 10. Participants are expected to attend all sessions. Outside class assignments may be required.

Participants must be motivated and committed to serve the community, participating in and/or leading further equity and inclusion efforts in their local community.

Potential themes include equity and inclusion leadership, understanding bias, race and cultural competency, small town economics and dynamics, community engagement, creating a welcoming community, stewardship and visioning.

There is no cost. The program is funded by a Blue Cross Blue Shield – Healthy Connections Grant.

Submit applications online at https://www.rndc.org, in person at chamber of commerce offices in New Ulm, Sleepy Eye and Springfield or email juliehawker@gmail.com subject: WC Application.

For more information, call Julie Hawker at 507-469-4552.

View the Journal article.

Welcoming Communities assessment discussed in Sleepy Eye

One topic in particular that stood out for Sleepy Eye is the need for English Language Learner (ELL) classes in town.

In early November a large group of people from Sleepy Eye, Springfield, and New Ulm, gathered at the Sleepy Eye Event Center to participate in the Welcoming Communities Assessment. The purpose was to document strengths and weaknesses related to diversity and inclusion efforts.

The Welcoming Communities program in Brown County was made possible through a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s Healthy Connections Program to Region Nine Area, Inc.

The Brown County group is the second Welcoming Community program in the area. In 2018, people from St. James, St. Peter, Fairmont, and Waseca met to learn about and address inclusion issues in each of their communities.

The evening of Jan. 29, the Brown County participants came to the Sleepy Eye Event Center again to read and discuss the results of the assessment conducted at the November meeting. This time the participants from each town gathered in separate rooms to focus on the assessment results and comments unique to their community.

The facilitators, from Region Nine, the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, and U of M Extension, led each community group through activities designed to have participants talk with each other and then determine, individually, what issues stood out to them.

Nadia Crooker, District 84 School Liaison, was able to encourage a larger number of Sleepy Eye’s Hispanic residents to attend the meeting. This added to the entire group’s understanding of inclusion issues in Sleepy Eye. A recurring theme centered around language issues in all areas of discussion, such as education, law enforcement, business, and health care.

One topic in particular that stood out is the need for English Language Learner (ELL) classes in Sleepy Eye. A woman commented that people in Sleepy Eye may have the opinion that Hispanic people who do not yet speak English, do not want to learn. “That is not true,” she said. “They desperately want to learn English. But there are no classes here.” She added that people drive to St. James after working all day to take ELL classes there.

At the end of the evening participants were asked to apply to become an official participant for their town to work toward a community focus or project. The next meeting is Feb. 27 in Sleepy Eye.

In speaking of working toward change in communities, Bukata Hayes, Greater Mankato Diversity Council, shared a quote by author and life coach Tony Robbins that resonated with those in attendance: “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is more than the pain of change.”

Read the Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch article.

Welcoming Communities

School board shares info

Region Nine Development Commission looks for solutions in food and beverage manufacturing capacity challenges

MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) – An agriculture group now finds an apparent lack of capacity for growing Minnesota food and beverage manufacturers to expand when they are ready.

That finding from the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute has prompted a new study from the Region Nine Development Commission to understand what the problems are and what can be done to solve them, according to Region Nine Community and Business Development Specialist Shawn Schloesser.

Region Nine said that if these infrastructure needs are not addressed, there is a risk of losing both the economic benefits that they provide and the possibility of attracting new businesses to the state.

“If you have a product, and you want to manufacture 1,000 of them, but the company that will do that for you will only manufacture 10,000, that gap is too hard for you to close, and so we’re looking for manufacturers that are willing to take on various sizes, the right size for your company,” Schloesser said.

Schloesser said Region Nine is hoping to make small adjustments in the state.

“Whether or not there are things that the State Legislature could do, such as adjustments to regulations,” he said.

The organization, along with AURI, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and FoodOps, are looking at various trends in their survey.

The goal is to support growth in the industry and create a positive economic impact for the state by looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by those in the sector.

“So we’re looking at the licensing portion from the state, the regulations that are in place,” Schloesser said.

Sourcing local ingredients is another trend they are looking at, something Jack Link’s in Mankato tries to do as often as possible, according to Plant Manager Richard Achtziger.

The Mankato location produces roughly 225,000 sticks a week.

As employees work behind the scenes, Achtziger is noticing trends in the industry.

“People are trying to get to the clean label, which is one of the things that we’re doing here as well. As close to pure as you can get,” he said.

Achtziger is also noticing the trend in sourcing local ingredients, something he said there are challenges with.

“It’s not always possible. As I said, it’s a tough market right now, trying to get beef in,” Achtziger said.

The survey is aiming to help mid-sized companies, particularly those with sales from $20,000 to $3 million.

But Region Nine is seeking responses from all state food and beverage manufacturers and hopes to see an increase in employment and income in all sectors tied to the industry.

They also hope manufacturers of all sizes can benefit from the data.

Achtziger said the food and beverage manufacturing industry creates a domino effect impact.

“You know, the cardboard boxes and things like that coming off the forestry industry. You’ve got the meat coming in coming off the agricultural end of it,” he said.

The survey ends on Feb. 5th.

View the KEYC video.