Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Nicollet County observers need not fear that the ballots from the recent election are secure. The taxpayers recently paid $4,769.92 for new locks and a security system to make sure any recounted ballots are safe. end


It happens every year. The weather starts getting colder. Suddenly the folks who thought it would be so fun to have a dog or cat or puppies and kittens realize that they need to give them special care. Of course that is too much work or too much of an inconvenience. It is just easier to take them out to the “country” and dump them off and drive away. Then what happens? Our law enforcement officials gather them up and take them to a local veterinary clinic and they stay there courtesy of the Nicollet County tax payers. The clinic makes attempts to adopt them to caring households, but mostly they are euthanized. And the taxpayers pick up the tab for the actions of irresponsible citizens. A recent bill for the months of September through November was $475.79. end


Minnesota is embarking on a Statewide Health Improvement Program(SHIP) to be funded by the legislature and implemented by local boards of health. The reason- Minnesota has fallen behind as a healthy state and we have too many overweight young people and adults as well as increased heart disease and diabetes.
Changing our lifestyles and the way we eat will be necessary to make improvement. With that in mind, information from the University of Minnesota’s Retail Food Industry Center tells us there are seven basic behavior trends of consumers. These trends drive their food shopping habits.

1. Make it for me fast: fast and convenient. We have sped up everything in our 2009 lifestyles. We have shaved minutes off of the time it takes to prepare our meals-example: 1930 – 150 minutes; 1990 – 15 minutes. We eat 20% of our meals away from home. We also demand portion-controlled-such as single-serving items.
2. Any meal, anytime, anywhere. Forty-eight percent of the consumers report making something from scratch at lest three times a week; but 41 percent use shortcuts like bagged salads, 45% boxed or frozen meals and 38% use heat-and-eat foods. Casual, fast dining is on the rise, and 20% of the take-out meals are eaten in the car.
3. Shop less, eat more. Shoppers are making fewer trips to the grocery store and 10-12% use on-line, internet grocers.
4. Supersizing. The number of overweight and obese adults and children in the United States continues to increase. We lead sedentary lives, we think bigger is better, food is ubiquitous and cheap, and we fell guilty when we don’t clean our plate.
5. Indulgence and comfort food. A reaction to terrorism, we have more family meals, and more home cooking with gourmet ingredients.
6. Self-treatment and whole health. Functional foods, also called pharma foods, designer foods, mood foods and optimum foods are appearing. These foods are described as a food or beverage that imparts a physiological benefit that enhances overall health, helps prevent or treat a disease/condition or improves physical or mental performance. Organic food is on the rise and some people buy niche food like organics for a social cause.
7. Specification buyers. There are six types of shoppers: middle of the road shoppers (16%), discriminating leisure shoppers (22%) who like to shop leisurely and have a shopping experience, time-pressed meat eaters (20%) who have less time but want a good meat department, back-to-nature shoppers (20%) who want organic and fresh choices, no-nonsense shoppers (7%) who want to get in and get out of the store, and one-stop socialites (15%) who want it all in one place but want to see people.Where do you fit in this picture? end

Monday, December 15, 2008


Every county must bear the cost of a few burials every year. Nicollet County has a policy that covers the cost of professional services (funeral home); casket, grave liner, opening/closing (variable cost); transportation (over 25 miles); and lot (if needed). The minimum cost for these services for county taxpayers is $2,300. This amount will increase if an oversized casket is needed, if a lot is needed, the actual cost of the opening and closing is added, and if transportation over 25 miles is added.
Some of these costs may be recovered and every effort is made to do so. The county Financial Workers review all cases and resources of the individual can be used to defray the costs. The only exclusion is a homestead, provided it is the primary residence of a surviving spouse, child under 21 or disabled child of any age; and one primary vehicle.
Typical cremation costs are between $1750 and $1950. Cremation is used, only upon request. The actual expenses to the county taxpayers for the past few years are as follows: 2004-$22,924; 2005-$17,063; 2006-$22,309; 2007-$41,208; and so far 2008-$17,191. end


It is definitely not business as usual at meetings and conferences these days. The Association of Minnesota Counties recently held their annual conference in Duluth. There were suttle changes to be seen everywhere. As we listened to speaker after speaker tell us about the “big mess” in which the state of Minnesota finds itself, signs of austerity were all over. It was obvious that the planners of the conference in cooperation with the Decc convention center were intent on trimming expenses. The “at the table” service during some meals had been eliminated. Beverage service was “self serve” using recyclable paper cups and even condiments like salt and pepper were absent from the tables. Desserts were sparse and the meals were adequate, but spartan.

When it came to break out sessions, one presenter stated, “The department of revenue cannot afford postage or paper. Your material is available on line.” Another session featured two speakers: one was in the room, the other presented via phone from St. Paul. He sent his power point to the workshop facilitator and it was shown in the room as he talked over the phone into a mike that projected to everyone. This worked very well and saved a lot of money.

“You can find it on our website,” is the buzz phrase of almost every presentation these days and, in some cases, in reply to questions that can’t be answered. This, in some cases, is an end run for a poorly prepared presentation or just plain laziness. A few years ago, almost every presenter would reply something like, “give me your name and number and I will see that you get the information.” There is a lot of information on the web, but many times – even though the home page is right in front of you, the information needed is difficult, if not impossible to find. I am a bit perturbed by the constant references to “find it on our website”.

The last I heard there are still at least 25% of the households in rural Minnesota who do not have access to high speed Internet services. This is a very limiting situation and some tasks are virtually impossible unless high- speed services are available. It might be well for our “big city” neighbors to keep this in mind. end

Saturday, December 13, 2008


What part of rejecting a ballot don't you understand? Does not rejected really mean rejected? The state canvasing board has decided that some of the rejected absentee ballots in the Franken/Coleman Senate race should be counted. The campaigns have positive and negative feelings about this decision. It was said that the attorney for Coleman wants to ask the Supreme Court to halt any counting until “a standard procedure” can be established.

Gosh, darn, gee. I thought that was what our election process was set up to do and what the election judges in each precinct were trained to do – FOLLOW A STANDARD PROCEDURE! In my mind, this action by the canvassing board is jeopardizing our whole Minnesota election system – because it implies that people are not trained properly, or are not following rules. I have faith in our system, but evidently the state canvassing board does not. end

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Star Caps and Cheeseburgers

According to the NFL and the rules they make, "players are responsible for what they put in their mouths". Some Vikings players realized that recently. Evidently that personal responsibility stops with football players.

It seems that average Susie Citizen is not responsible for causing an increase in type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease; even though it is generally agreed these conditions are caused by the food Susie and Sam Citizen feed their children and "what they put in their mouths". The media and so called "food experts" like Michael Pollen, place the blame for these diseases squarely on the federal government, cheap food policy and therefore on corn growers and livestock producers. There is something wrong with this picture.

Michael Pollen wrote an article in October 12 issue of The New York Times. The lengthy article talks about the public health of our citizens, agriculture policy, energy policy, and health care policy. Pollen suggests that the new president cannot address any of the above without dealing with food. Pollen makes many statements about our food system in the United States. He says the modern diet is a “public health” catastrophe. The implication is that the WAY we produce our food is contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Pollen further states that “the problem is, we've learned that overabundant, too cheap food can be as much a problem as too little food.” Never mind the fact that the cheap food policy means you can walk into a fast-food outlet and buy a bacon double cheeseburger, french fries, soda for less than the minimum wage.

So the problem is lots of cheap food or too little food. Given the two choices, I think most of us would choose the overabundant too cheap food, rather than too little food. I wonder if Michael Pollen has ever been hungry? Really hungry?

Pollen is highly critical of the school lunch program. He calls it a dumping ground for excess farm commodities. He suggests that we spend a dollar more per day on the lunch program and work on nutrition quality. He also suggests that every district be required to spend a certain percentage of their lunch fund dollars to buy local food within a 100-mile radius of the district. These ideas sound good, but in practice may not be very practical.

The school lunch folks have a tough row to hoe when it comes to providing nutritious fruits and vegetables that will be eaten by children contrasted with providing them and having the food left on the plate. Buying local may sound good, but even a district like St. Peter could buy corn from Seneca (local) with the corn traveling all over the Midwest before it gets to the school. Again would it be cost effective?

Pollen predicates his whole argument on the fact that the system we have in place today is possible because of cheap energy. As we saw this past year, the price of food increased dramatically because of the price of fuel. (Note: the recent decreases in fuel have not followed through to the supermarkets.) He makes a good point that there may come a time when transportation costs will not allow food processors to ship cattle or hogs across many states just to be slaughtered (probably because of cheaper labor and energy costs) and then ship the boxed meat cuts back to the Midwest for retail sale. His suggestion for regionalized food systems needs to be looked at.

Other good points in the article include: encouraging more farmer’s markets; allowing WIC vouchers at farmer’s markets; encouraging more supermarkets in urban areas; requiring developers to put aside a few acres in each housing development for community gardens; encouraging gardening; and GLORY BE TO GOD – encouraging people to cook! Yours truly feels this is the answer to the dilemma. And it has to be more than cook – we need to encourage more “cooking from scratch”. If families start their children out with home cooked food, they will be more receptive to eating healthy in school, day care, or wherever they go and it will stay with them for life.

Pollen fails in the article to even suggest that personal responsibility and making good choices has a role here. After all no one is forcing consumers to eat French fries and drink sodas. He gives cursory blame to a sedentary lifestyle. I might add that consumer’s also choose a general type of lifestyle that puts a higher value on activities other than cooking. The fast food choices we have available are wonderful – but we need to maintain a balance in everything we do. We would all benefit if we remember our mother’s or grandmother’s advice. One piece that has stayed with me is “everything in moderation”. end