Celebrating Agriculture with Popular Tour and From the Ground Up

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Rural communities are like none other. And the community I live in is no exception. Yes, the nearest Target and Starbucks are an hour away, but life is much more than that. Four years ago, a grassroots group called Project 1590 (highway 15 and I-90) was started in Fairmont. Members of the core grassroots group wanted to enhance the vitality, livability and health of Fairmont/Martin County. The main question this group focused on was, “What can we do to make this area better for people already living here or for those that want to move here?” Project 1590 is instrumental in a number of community enhancements and one of the offshoots of this group is “From the Ground Up.” This group acknowledges the importance of agriculture within our community with the question, how do we celebrate our agriculture community?

And, From the Ground Up was born.

From the Ground Up

Our group focused on implementing an invitation only, farm-to-table event located on a working farm in the county. The first two years we focused on a hog farm due mostly to the high prevalence of hogs in our county. Our county sells over 2,000,000 hogs per year. This year, we focused on a crop farm with a “export market” theme. We truly live in a global world and our local agriculture is affected by export markets. The event is funded by sponsorships and is also used as a fundraiser where we split profits with our local FFA groups and the general Project 1590. 

Martin County Ag Tour

The second component of acknowledging and celebrating agriculture in our county is hosting an ag tour highlighting agriculture businesses within our county. This tour is separate from the From the Ground Up event, but we schedule it the same day so ag tour attendees can attend the From the Ground Up Event.

The premise behind the ag tour is we have a number of ag businesses in our county, many homegrown, and many people don’t know they exist or what they do. 

We wanted to change that.

So, who did we invite on the bus?

We had a wide variety of people, we had elected local officials, community/state and business leaders, media, elected state legislators, one person running for office, dietitian, etc.

Visit Fairmont and the Fairmont Economic Development headed up the tour sponsorship. Special kudos to Stephanie Busiahn, Linsey Preuss and Joni Schmidt for working on this committee.

Martin County Ag Tour

Yes, the two Mahoneys were sitting together on the bus. Tom Mahoney, Martin County Commissioner and Minnesota Rep. Tim Mahoney.

We will start with the Ag tour . . .

CHS, Kahler Automation, Easy Automation, NuWay and the Clair and Joni Schmidt farm were our destinations.


CHS is a soybean processing plant located in Fairmont, MN. Doug Probst hopped on the bus once we arrived to give us a presentation and a bus ride through the plant. They buy soybeans from farmers in a 70-90 mile radius of Fairmont. At the plant, they crush the beans and extract soybean meal, which is used for livestock feed, and soybean oil. Most of the soybean oil is trucked to the CHS Mankato plant for further processing.

Martin County Ag Tour

Doug Probst of CHS talking about the soybean business

Kahler Automation

Kahler Automation is one of our “homegrown” ag business. When we walked in the door, we were greeted by Wayne Kahler, owner and founder of Kahler Automation, along with  about 15 employees. I felt like we were royalty! Wayne gave us a brief overview of the company and then we split into small groups where we toured the facility. Kahler Automation developed technology to help weigh and disperse bulk materials such as fertilizer and herbicides. 

Martin County Ag Tour

Founder and Owner of Kahler Automation, Wayne Kahler

Clair and Joni Schmidt Farm

Our next stop was the Clair and Joni Schmidt farm, along with their son Andrew, located near Ceylon, MN. Clair and Joni are corn, soybean and hog farmers and also run an agronomy/seed business. We were all treated to the famous Martin County pork chop on-a-stick (seasoned with Martin County Magic Seasoning) and Clair’s mom’s homemade monster cookies! Clair and Joni talked about their farm and then the highlight of the day (my opinion) –everyone on the tour bus was given the opportunity to drive a tractor! 

I can’t overstate this enough–EVERYONE LOVED IT! Mind you, we had legislators on the bus and to see them in the tractor driving made my heart burst. Many smiles (including many of my own!) as they were driving a tractor. Lots of conversations, networking. It was great! 

What I saw that day is what it’s all about. At the end of the day, you can only tell people so much about farming and agriculture. Getting them out on the farm. Having them see, smell, touch is real. It’s about human-to-human connections and conversations and relationships that make a difference in the world. 


From the Ground Up

Clair Schmidt speaking to our group


Martin County Ag Tour

Wanda Patsche, Olga Reuvenkamp, Les Anderson

Attendees driving tractor!

Easy Automation

Easy Automation is located in Welcome, MN and manufactures weighing systems for feed mills. Again, another homegrown ag business. The business was founded by Mark Gaalswyk in his garage, who was looking for a better way to manage his feed mill. We were greeted warmly by Jayden Grupe and Denise Gaalswyk. They split us into groups to tour the facility. And, yes, in one of our stops we met with Mark Gaalswyk himself along with his son, Chris Gaalswyk who is President of Easy Automation. The one unique aspect about Easy Automation is their work culture. They truly provide an unsurpassed working environment for their employees. They listen. They improve. Something you don’t find in many businesses.

Here is a video about Easy Automation.

NuWay Coop

Our last stop was NuWay Coop. NuWay Coop provides crop services to area farmers. We personally use their services on our farm. Again, we were split into small groups to tour the facility. I have to say the tour was very interesting. I will admit, I had some reservations on how they were going to make crop services interesting and understandable to people who don’t have an ag background. Boy, was I wrong, Thanks to Jeff Crissinger, Haley Ammann and Callie Austin. They did a fabulous job putting this tour together and talking about high-level technology in terms we could all understand and sharing their committed values in precise crop nutrients and crop protections.

Jeff Crissinger of NuWay talking to us about NuWay’s perspectives

From the Ground UP Event

At this point, we were read for the drive to the Trent and Melissa Tumbleson farm, where the From the Ground Up Event would be held. We were expecting about 175 people at the event.

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up attendees

Let me just say that many, many hours of volunteering went into this event. We started meeting in late 2017 to plan for this event. By July 25, 2018, we were ready. We put the proper people together to pull this event off. We had our game faces on. But, even with the best planning and doing everything you can to plan for a top-notch event, sometimes those plans go awry. Sometimes you have an uninvited guest arrive. And it was Mother Nature that chose to show up.

For those not familiar with what type of weather we have had this summer in southern Minnesota, let me just say, we are not short of rain. At least not right now. It seems it has rained every three days. And not just rain a little. Sometimes a slight chance of rain would equal 3+ inches. And this uninvited guest did her best to put a kibosh on our plans. Rain. Wind. 

First, I must say that this “rain event” was very representative of our whole growing year. As a farmer, you realize you have no control over it. All you can do is just make the best of it and move forward. And that is exactly what the From the Ground Up committee did. Even thought I was not at the farm helping with the setting up (because I was on the ag tour), this committee was nothing short of amazing. When one was feeling down and thought the event should be canceled, others rallied around and said, NO!, let’s make this happen. 

This is who we are. This is what a rural community looks like. We lift each other up. We help each other, with perseverance and determination. This event went on. And you know what? It was great! The outcome was the same. People were having conversations. People were learning. People were enjoying scrumptious food prepared by Lola’s from New Ulm (Lacy Lueth, owner of Lola’s if originally from Martin County and she served food from each of the countries we highlighted.) And, honestly, many people probably didn’t think we made changes at the last moment.

From the Ground Up

Yes, this is who we are. Small County, BIG IMPACT

Our original plan was to have one main tent, along with four small tents set up. Each of the smaller tents would represent a major export market for farmers. North America (Mexico), South America, China, and Japan/S. Korea were export markets we chose to highlight. I had heard rumblings about a deluge a rain that happened a short time before we arrived. Needless to say, all four tents had blown down. When I stepped off the bus, all I saw was the larger tent with everyone kind of huddled underneath it. Immediately, I saw Dianne Bettin and she told me they are changing the format and that everything was a go.

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up – All tents – Original plans

From the Ground Up

And then the rain/wind

Again our original intent was to split the group into smaller groups with a “tour guide” and would move from country-to-country with their “passports.” Each country tent had a presenter which would a short talk about the exports to that country. I was assigned to Mexico. Now instead of presenting to small groups, we presented to the entire group. And it worked just fine. Just not as cool, but just fine! Each presenter, Kristie Swenson, Jack Gearhardt, Dianne Bettin and myself had different twists on how to present the information. For example, I talked about how important Mexico was to Minnesota farmers. They are our #1 volume market for pork exports in the U.S. Di you know that for each pig we raise, $54 is attributed to the export market. That’s huge! About 27% of our pork is export from the U.S.  I talked about NAFTA and it’s importance. I also talked that our neighbor to the west, Minnesota Soybean Processors, exports much of their soybean meal to Mexico. Most of the soybean meal in Martin county is fed to livestock.

From the Ground Up


We finished our evening with an auction with the purpose of fundraising for Project 1590 and our local FFA groups.

From the Ground Up

FFA helping with event

It was an exhausting day, but a fulfilling day. We live in a great community that we are making better. We are building relationships in our community. And I could not be more proud!

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up Group! Could not be prouder!

Some more really fun pictures:

From the Ground Up

Lynn Becker, Dr. Steve Stone, Dan Feehan

From the Ground Up

Steve Hawkins, Sierra Williamson

From the Ground Up

Kristie Swenson talking about Japan/S. Korea exports

From the Ground Up

Tom Hawkins and John Tirevold

From the Ground Up

Mexico exports

From the Ground Up

Dianne Bettin with Chinese apron!

From the Ground Up

Joni, Clair, Andrew Schmidt

From the Ground Up

Yes, that’s us!





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