Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Memories and Milestones Academy

This morning Nancy and I made the short drive to New Prague where we were scheduled to do two shows at Memories and Milestones Academy, a school for preschool through early school-aged children.
The building is on the eastern outskirts of New Prague in a new facility.

Like most schools, the front door was locked for security purposes, but Alyssa, the Assistant Director, quickly recognized us and let us in. My overalls usually give me away. She gave us a warm welcome, and we chatted for several minutes as she showed us the performance space and told us about herself.
After the children went to play outside, we had about half an hour to set up, but we noticed some curious eyes watching us from the playground.

There were 33 children in the first group ranging from age 2 to 4, and I know that age can be a tough audience, but these children were sweet and attentive. I had a fun time of it.

The second group consisted of about a dozen children of the ages 5-7, and since this group was quite a bit more sophisticated, I used a dvd that contained a few more pictures that we could discuss. Programs for both groups contained my story, If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure.

Since the group was small, they could stay seated as I brought the can of oats around for them to feel.
Most of them took their time and felt the oats several times.

I truly enjoy doing shows for little children, and although they can be a tough audience, 
they are also most generous and kind. We had fun doing the shows, and I hope they had fun too.
Judging from how these young children handle being an audience and how they respond to material, I think the staff at Memories and Milestones should feel really good about what they do at the school every day.

Nancy and I thank the teachers and all staff members at Memories and Milestones Academy for having us into their classrooms. We especially thank Chantel Dacas, Director, for inviting us to the school and Alyssa, Assistant Director, who greeted us, made us feel welcome, and helped us set up.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Monday, June 25, 2012

Milkapalooza 2012

Saturday was a great day to be outdoors, especially at the annual Milkapalooza Event at Cedar Summit Farm north of New Prague. The farm is owned by Dave and Florence Minar, who have turned it into a family operated dairy, featuring grass-fed animals on an orgainic farm. Unlike most other dairy farms, this farm processes the milk right on the premises and produces and sells great cheese, milk, and drinkable yogurt, which is really good stuff.
Vistors came early to get up close to the animals and ride on the wagon which toured the pasture.
An idyllic setting, don't you think?

Milkapalooza is a kind of customer appreciation day, although no one is going to check any customer ID cards for the free samples at the hospitality tent.

Customers stopped by early in the morning to sample a variety of products, including the very popular drinkable yogurt. Around noon everyone was too busy to take pictures.

And it's a vendor appreciation day too. Growers who supply the store with a variety of cheeses, jams, eggs, honey and other products have booths showing their produce. The picture above shows the tent of Chris and Lynette Brandt, who regularly provide Cedar Summit Farm with free- range chicken eggs.

 Several bands provided vocal and instrumental music, including blues.

Customers from the Cities and the surrounding suburbs came in good numbers as children and adults  enjoyed pony rides, pasture tours, and petting the cows and calves.
Do you recognize the guy from Minneapolis holding the milk bottle?

Mayor Rybak , who is holding the milk bottle, and his wife (far left) are friends of the owners of Cedar Summit Farm, Dave and Florence Minar. The mayor's father is from New Prague.

Both Mayor Rybak and his wife visited our booth and expressed interest in our "Made in Minnesota" products.
Brad Simon, illustrator of my latest book, What I Saw in the Farm, poses with me in front of our tent display of our books and farm heritage pictures.

Nancy and I consider ourselves very fortunate that Dave and Florence include us in on this special event. They invite us to set up a booth to sell our books and display our farm heritage photos.

Young children liked the old pictures at our tent, too!

Children loved to get close to the farm animals at Milkapalooza.

The ducks, below, are just too cute to not pick up, and children found them irresistible.

This youngster discovered how cuddly and friendly little ducks are. 
If you talk to them, they will respond, in their own language, of course.

Calves and cows are as popular as they are central to the farm's success.
Beth, who is studying at NDSU to be a veterinary technician, stands by to answer the many questions customers have about the cows and to keep a keen watch, keeping people safe. 

The grounds were full of activities, including pony rides offered by LeRoy Schoenbauer, and rides to the pasture and other tours of the farmyard offered by guides. Food for the event was catered by Valley Natural Foods, a retail store in Burnsville that stocks many of products produced by Cedar Summit Farm.

Since there were so many things to do, I was a bit concerned that no one would take take time to attend my free readings of What I Saw at the Farm, which I held in the storeroom on the west side of the main building.

But I was not to worry, Merrisue Minar graciously rounded up a large audience that left standing room only for my first show, which as was at 11:00 AM.
 People also found time to browse and purchase my books.
My favorite thing to do is autograph a book for a child.
Standing next to me displaying his newly puchased book is Nathan Minar,
 son of Mike and Merrisue Minar, and grandson to Dave and Florence Minar.

Nathan made my day at about 9:00 AM, an hour before the event officially began. 
Nathan was at the farm early and like all the Minar grandchildren, he was busy helping with the details of preparation. However, when he saw our book display, he introduced himself and quickly began explaining that he had all of my books and he would be buying the new one too. 
Gotta like that young man.

Cedar Summit Farm is a family operation with a couple of Dave's and Florence's sons and their wives working full-time while their grandchildren and their daughter and her husband help out during this event and other special occasions. We can only imagine the constant effort and attention to detail that makes this farm and store successful operations, and we thank the family for going to the extra effort of providing this Milkapalooza Event for customers.

Nancy and I thank the entire Dave and Florence Minar Family for inviting us to display our Farm Heritage books and photos at Milkapalooza. Family members had a very busy day, but they always took time to visit with people, answer questions, and thank people for coming.

We especially thank Merrisue and Linda Minar for their email updates that keep us posted and make us feel like an important part of their family farm event.

If you have not yet checked out the fine products offered at Cedar Summit Farm, go to their website
www.cedarsummit.com and plan a trip soon. It's not far and you will be glad you made the trip.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Friday, June 22, 2012

Elmore Public Library

The town of Elmore is located on Highway 169 about as far south in Minnesota as you can get. Customers in the library said that  if I'd missed the turn to the library and gone south two more blocks, I would've been in Iowa. 
The town is proud of their new library, and I agree that it is a very nice facility. However, since it sprinkled or rained during the entire two and a half hours we were there on Wednesday, Nancy could not get a picture of the front of the building.

She did get a photo of the rain through the glass doors that exit out the back of the conference room where I did my Farm Heritage Program.

When we came to set up, a group of people were having coffee in the conference room. They made us feel especially welcome because they credited us with bringing the rain. It was the first rain they had in weeks and the area was really dry. They left while we set up, but the picture below shows that they kept their promise to return for my program.

We were expecting a group of small children, which is why I chose to do a program that included my book, If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure, but the rain probably kept them from riding their bikes or walking to the library. The older folks seemed to enjoy the show, though, and were kind with their comments and also purchased a number of books.

Everyone took time before or after the program to view and comment on Nancy's display of farm heritage photographs that we are preparing for our new book, A Farm Country Harvest.

Nancy and I wish to thank the librarian, Nancy Ziegler, for calling and inviting us to do our Farm Heritage Program at the Elmore Library. I also want to thank all the board members, especially Doris and Audrey, for taking time to chat and helping to arrange my visit. A special thanks to Doris Klein, who remembered me from when I did a show at Frost Library in 2010 and recommended my visit to Elmore. She kindly told me that she had purchased A Farm Country Christmas Eve after the show at Frost and brings it out to read at Christmas time.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fox Follow-up

Nancy and I experienced over a week where we had an unusually high number of fox-sightings, where the animals were very close to us and our house. Although its den was elsewhere, we saw fox many times throughout the day. This was an exciting and uncommon experience, but it had its sad side too, which I'll explain later. But first, a few photos.
The photo above is closely cropped so it may seem a bit blurry, but I wanted to point out the differences in color between this one and the other one. Yes, there are at least two fox, and though there may be more than two, I think we have been seeing only two different ones.
 The one above appears older and healthier. Note the black shading on the back. I cannot tell from this angle if it a male fox or a female, which is called a vixen. 

The fox below is clearly smaller and quite mangy-looking. It could be a young one. During mid-day on Tuesday, I surprised the smaller fox as it was curled up inside a five-gallon pail that was tipped on its side by the garden. It scrambled out and ran, stopping after about fifty yards to look back at me in that unique, fox-like manner. 
Five minutes later while I was still roaming the yard, I saw the larger fox return, trot up to the pail, and look inside. Seeing nothing, it quickly gazed around for danger before it ran off. It looked pretty surprised that the little fox was gone. Later I smelled the inside of that pail. It was really a strong odor! I'd guess the smaller fox napped in there often.

The next day we saw no fox, and we haven't seen them since, which led Nancy and me to speculate why.
The answer, I think, is obvious now. Our house and yard provided an easy food source for a short time.

In May and early June I noticed that there were no rabbits around. Last year they were all over the yard. Apparently, the fox made short work of them last winter and this spring. Then this spring we experienced lots of robins hopping on the ground in the back yard, and they seemed more tame and unaware than usual. I remember that Nancy and I commented on the plentiful robin population every day we saw them. There aren't as many tame ones around now. We also had cedar waxwings in the junipers, wrens that would complain with only common, wren-like regularity, and lots of brave chipping sparrows that would hop near our feet when we sat on the porch. When the fox were around the waxwings left, the wrens became very noisy, and for awhile the chipping sparrows became more shy.

The sad side of the fox-sightings is that the fox hunted the rabbits, robins, low-nesting waxwings and chipping sparrows very aggressively until the "easy pickings" were gone. Now they have moved on.
Well, I'm not sad about the rabbits being gone, and the surviving waxwings may return again. The wrens are undamaged, and because the fox are not around, they complain less. Chipping sparrows are back hopping near our feet again. I think their nests were higher in the arborvitae. However, I was really sad to see a number of scattered robin feathers where the fox had been successful. I counted five.

Well, the fox were just trying to make a living, and I certainly do not begrudge a wild animal that right. They live a hard, unforgiving life. If they don't make a kill, they will die.
I do, however, continue to chase away well-fed house cats from our yard because they do not need the birds for food or live toys. I wouldn't hurt any kitties, but I prefer they lead their semi-civilized lives in their own yards.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fox Out Front

I'm used to getting a glimpse of the elusive fox once or twice during a summer, but recently I've surprised the animal far more times than I have during my entire life.
Last week, I heard the wrens making even more noise than they usually do, so I ventured over to the wren house to see if there was an issue. I thought heard a slight growl. Figuring a neighbor's dog might be in the brush, I clapped my hands. Then I saw a fox tail slip behind the arborvitae. Obviously, I had no camera, but after the fact, I took some pictures of the area.
 Imagine, if you would, playing hide and seek with a fox among these arborvitaes. The pyramidal arborvitaes on the left are about 15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The global arborvitaes on the right are about 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The fox outsmarted me for several minutes before I saw the tail gliding away over the hill about 40 feet away. This whole array of greenery is less than 50 feet from our house, an unusually close distance for a fox to visit for very long.

The next morning as Nancy and I were about to venture out to look at the flowers, she stopped and ran for the camera, exclaiming, "Fox!"
Fox was less than 10 feet from the house, looking for some bug protein among the rocks. Looks pretty thin, huh? Maybe Fox might actually be raising offspring in the nearby juniper bushes which are only about 30 feet from the house.

 I know this is unlikely as heck,  but why else do we keep seeing him so close to the house? Why is he so reluctant to leave? Why else do the wrens make even more noise than usual? Why did the cedar waxwings that nested in the junipers this spring, leave after a short time?  Eight to ten cedar waxwings usually nest in the low junipers and entertain us all summer and into the fall, but their nest in the low junipers could easily be reached and robbed  by Fox.
Fox posing by mugo pine, near the junipers, about 12 feet from the house.
Could the low junipers (center) conceal the den of Fox?
The wrens have taken over one of my bluebird houses, and you can see in the photo above the close proximity of the house to the low junipers. I know it's pretty unlikely that Fox will raise young this close to humans, but he keeps appearing almost daily and doesn't seem all that frightened of us. Of course, we've done nothing to scare him, unless you count the clapping I did when I thought his growl was a neighbor's dog.

Well, it's fun to speculate, and we'll be watching to see what happens. I'll let you know.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Friday, June 15, 2012

History Center of Olmsted County

The History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota, is an impressive building, especially with a tractor parked in front of it. But that isn't all that charmed me about the place.

I'm really partial to being greeted by someone with an energetic, genuine smile, and Janet Timmerman, who arranged my visit, was at the door to do just that as we entered the building. Janet showed us around the historic center and introduced us to a few of the hard-working staff members.
The audience for my Farm Heritage Program was small,  but it included one of the sweetest four-year-old girls on the planet, and I could see she enjoyed my story, If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure.
And her mother bought a couple of books, too.

Also in the audience were staff members who will be reading my books to children in the upcoming weeks. Since my goal is to get my books out to adults and children, I was really gratified to have the History Center purchase my books for this purpose.

I thank Janet Timmerman for inviting me to perform at the History Center of Olmsted County and for arranging my visit. I hope she invites us back soon.

The History Center has many great displays inside the building, and to tour the outdoor displays, customers can ride on the wagon pulled by the tractor parked out front. Visit the History Center with the whole family.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Risen Savior Seniors

Risen Savior Seniors is a small group that meets at the Risen Savior Church off Dakota County Road 42, which is only a few miles from my place. When Geneva (Speiker) Meives, a long-time friend from the Farm Country Neighborhood where I grew up, asked me to do my Farm Heritage Show for the group, I was delighted to comply. They provided a nice big room, a big pull-down screen, a friendly audience, and a pot-luck lunch. It can't get any better than that!
After mass, a short  business meeting, and lunch, Geneva gave me a better introduction than I deserved before I started my 35-minute show.
Before and after the show, group members checked out the farm photos we had on display and my books, which we had for sale at a reduced "Event" price. 
The photos are farm photos from the early to the middle of the last century which have been submitted by farmers and former farm-kids from throughout the Midwest in response to our request for harvest photos and other farm photos to put in our upcoming books.
Geneva and her husband Everett pose for a picture with me after the show.

I want to thank the Risen Savior Seniors for inviting me to speak, especially Geneva, who arranged the event, and Connie, who helped organize my setup. We also thank all of those people who bought books, shared their stories with me, or had kind words for me after the program. Nancy and I had a fun time and we hope you did too.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Friday, June 8, 2012

What a leaf!

An oak leaf the size of a man's hand is fairly standard, but take a look at this one I found on a young tree which stood less than knee high in the small woods by our house.

 The leaf is nearly 12 inches long and 10 inches wide.

I spotted the leaf in the undergrowth near a red oak, which we planted less than 20 years ago and is the proud parent of this struggling young tree. The little tree has grown from an acorn and poked its way through the tall grass and other greenery to finally rise above all the competition for light.
Producing this huge leaf will ensure that the plant will take in all the light possible to grow taller and build a strong root system.

For a size comparison, I placed my cap on a stiff plum succor so the oak leaf is directly above the cap.

You can see my cap next to the young tree in the lower right corner. The tall, slim parent tree is left of center in the above picture. If the young tree wins the battle to overcome the shade of tight underbrush (peer competition by size), it will face trying to grow up in the shadow of its parent, which by that time will be spreading widely, blocking the sun with its broad, thick leaves.

The young tree's goal is to survive, and to survive it has to physically overcome the parent tree.  The conflict will endure throughout the lives of both trees. 

And you think you've had conflicts with your parents! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pruning Apple Trees

This is not a "how to" essay on pruning apple trees. Folks know me as a humble man, claiming no expertise in any area. Indeed, my wife often reminds me that I have much about which to be humble.

When it comes to pruning apple trees, I think I am probably one of the many people who like apple trees and struggle with the question, "How much do I cut off."

First, let me quickly add that I make no attempt to prune my full-sized apple trees. I like to see them get really big, and then I harvest whatever apples they produce. Last summer was a bumper crop, and their limps were so thick with fruit that many of the branches broke. I was eating our apples till the end of February. We were able to pick less than half of the apples, and much of the fruit was left on the trees for the birds or knocked to the ground for the deer.
I was too busy picking apples to take a picture of the trees with fruit on them last fall, but here is a photograph of the three Haralson trees as they look now.
Lowest branches on these trees are about six feet from the ground. The top ten feet on the tree in the foreground is beyond what I can reach, even if I stand in the bucket of the front-end loader on my tractor.

But I like to try to prune my dwarf apple trees, and I've learned that on dwarf trees, you want to cut off vertical branches and encourage branches to grow horizontally.

Last spring Nancy and I stopped for our monthly shopping at Cedar Summit Farm, north of New Prague, where we buy grass-fed beef, eggs from free-range chickens, honey produced locally, and dairy products made on the premises. Check out their website. www.cedarsummit.com
We caught a quick conversation with owner Dave Minar, and since I know he is a man of many talents and much wisdom, I asked him about pruning apple trees.
He said, "Well, you want to cut off enough branches so that you can take the meanest and biggest tomcat on the farm and toss him through the middle of the tree."
Don't try this at home, Folks. Don't actually toss the cat. We all love kitties. This is just meant as something to imagine.
So if you can imagine what a tree might look like if you could indeed toss a big tomcat through it, you may come up with a tree resembling mine after I took Dave's advice.
I took these pictures today. I didn't have the courage to take a picture of what they looked like immediately after I pruned them this spring when the branches were bare.

If you line the trees up just right, I think you could get the cat through both trees with one good, strong toss.

The trees have lots of fruit and look like they are doing fine even after I butchered them.

If you want expert advice on pruning, I suggest contacting the University of Minnesota Extension. 
Also, I wouldn't mention the tomcat test.