Buffalo Ridge Blog

the View From the Ridge

Bare Ground on the Buffalo Ridge… In February?

February 23rd at the 45th parallel?

Just about every acre of the Buffalo Ridge’s exquisite tall grass prairie has been scarred by the plow, with varying degrees of agricultural success. But the winds here are steady, strong, and unforgiving to the point that crop farming has lost the battle and the soil too on the ridge tops and what’s left of that soil will only support grasslands at best. That hard lesson hasn’t deterred more fortunate Buffalo Ridge farmers on the slopes and valleys from an annual ritual of spring, fall, and any other excuse they can find for plowing, assuring the wind driven snow will find a smooth field devoid of crop residue to slow it’s path to the remaining fencelines if not the next county.

No till on the left.

Despite two National Weather Service certified blizzards, Lac Que Parle and Yellow Medicine counties haven’t got much snow this winter, but the white stuff on the left is evident that a couple inches fell and is hanging around.

Too much tillage on the left, prairie and snow to the right.

The difference is even more literally “black and white” when we compare typical tillage to prairie, the prairie catching and holding what snow and with it precipitation is available while the over tilled fields are bare and dry. Tear out every fence line, wooded farmstead, and grove and till the soil to death and it can’t sustain a crop in a mild drought, nor sprout a seed that builds roots to hold the soil in a severe drought.

But I’m just preaching into the Buffalo Ridge headwinds, which can shout over anyone and there’s not much of anyone out here to hear or even listen for that matter anyway. Commodity crop prices are up and with that the crop insurance payouts, so they’ll pull land out of CRP and push seeds into that dry dirt anyway. ‘Bout midsummer you’ll hear talk of the drought, and by fall the disaster aid and crop insurance dollars will be flowing. Hey, somebody’s gotta supply the world with cheap livestock feed…

Blackouts on the Buffalo Ridge?

On a clear night I can see the lights of over a hundred wind turbines here on the Buffalo Ridge. At peak wind they’re good for a couple megawatts a piece, and my view takes in just a fraction of the thousands of them… We literally make power by the gigawatt here. So how the heck did this ever happen in Tyler just up the road and on a big chunk of our Buffalo Ridge:

THE CITY IS HAVING A POWER OUTAGE DUE TO A POWER SYSTEM OVERLOAD. 
POWER IS EXPECTED TO BE BACK ON AROUND 8 OR 8:30 (COULD BE LATER)
2/16/2020

How the heck did a little town whose whole electric appetite could probably be satisfied by just one wind turbine on a good day run outa power? Wish I could point my finger at one guilty party, but there’s more than enough blame to go around. Retail electricity on the Buffalo Ridge comes from a couple of “investor owned” for profit companies, a handful of rural electric cooperatives of REA heritage, and a bunch more small town owned municipal power systems. The “investor owned” companies despise their co-op and municipal competitors and won’t even help them put the lines back up after a storm. The co-ops and munis have banded together to help build and buy power from huge hydro powered generators in the Dakotas and decreasingly from coal, and the “investor owned” companies of course prefer power from their own plants even if they’re on the other side of the state. And our thousands of wind turbines? Whole fleets of them are owned by thousand mile away power companies like Duke Energy and Florida Power and Light, whose name was such an embarrassment up here the they changed it to Next Era Energy, and they sell electricity to the highest bidder which is usually no where near here too.

All of the above until the last couple decades promoted the “All Electric House” to a fault, leaving us with a pretty big installed base of homes with electric heat and everything else too. They’ve since with the persuasion of the environmentalists figured out that building more power plants to handle occasional peak loads is a bad deal, and now they’ll happily buy back your old energy hog appliances and you’ll have to beg them for electric heat. Problem is, poverty pervades the Buffalo Ridge and poor folks can’t afford to replace electric heat and we’ve added to the load with cheap ‘n’ cheerful portable electric heaters aplenty, to the point where electricity use often peaks on below zero winter mornings rather that the traditional hot ‘n’ humid summer afternoons.

That wasn’t enough to satisfy the environmental extremists, who demand total shutdown of all fuel burning, renewables included. They’ve only been marginally successful, taking credit for the cancellations and shutdowns of over a hundred unprofitable coal fired generating plant and their replacement with thousands of highly profitable wind turbines, and even more government mandated and subsidized solar arrays. All well and good, ‘cept you can reliably burn stuff to make electricity day and night year round while wind turbine power output is the cube of wind speed and solar power output is zero during our long winter nights.

On the eve of this week of cold I was driving around the Buffalo Ridge and noted that while the sun was shining and it was halfway windy, the “peaker” gas fired power plant just across the border in South Dakota was going full blast, a rare sight. As the temps fell and the air was still the wind turbine’s meager power was exported, the co-ops and Munis supplier co-op couldn’t provide enough power themselves, and the “investor owned” power companies were no help… So with the temps at double digits below zero, Tyler and a bunch of other Buffalo Ridge cities and countryside were hit with rolling blackouts. Meanwhile, Luverne fired up their old diesel generator that the environmentalists must have missed and kept the lights and heat on.

This cold week is but a preview of our energy future here on the Buffalo Ridge and in rural America- Reliable baseload power is being shut down, replaced by renewables with outputs that vary by the day and hour. That’s a grid manager’s nightmare already, aggravated by a balkanized power production and distribution “system” that sends power to the highest bidder and damn the rest. It gets worse- The environmental extremists want to force us into electric cars which impose even more massive recharging loads onto this broken “system” and are promoting electric home heating, generating capacity be damned.

And that “dirty” diesel generator that saved Luverne… Might be the most viable business plan in power production. You can buy a six figure solar array and fail at competing with the penny and half a kilowatt hour deal Next Era Energy is offering from their couple hundred megawatt wind farm, or you can make the same investment in a diesel generator in a shipping container ready to go anywhere. Out here most of the bets will be on the diesel generator, and I’m hearing talk of farm scale coal…

Black History Month on the Buffalo Ridge

This months topic is diversity (or lack of it) in our area’s major industry, farming.

Native Americans practiced what we now have rediscovered as “integrative agriculture” centuries ago, using breeding to produce the best crops, raising livestock, and maintaining active food trade across the region. The frozen food supply chain that our livestock farmers and processors depend on was enabled by the invention of truck refrigeration by western Minnesota African-American inventor Frederick McKinley Jones. Gay rural activists Dick Hanson and Bert Henningson lost their battles with AIDS but saved their Pope County family farm and inspired farm families of all kinds. Bad “free trade” treaties like NAFTA forced millions of farmers and their families off their land to immigrate to our country, and climate change will only add to that migration.

Clearly agriculture wouldn’t be our major industry without the contribution of these diverse farmers, inventors, and food industry workers. But despite their drive and desire to farm, Native Americans have had an entire nation of farmland stolen from them. A century ago nearly a million black farmers owned 14% of our nation’s land, today 45,000 own but 1.3% of the land. Career women farmers go to the elevator to sell their grain and get told to bring their husband to do that, GLBT farmers wonder if it’s worth it, and immigrants are too busy protecting themselves from bigots and ICE to reestablish their farms.

In this land of plenty, light skinned winners of the genetic lottery and with it free land, subsidies, and easy credit should not control over 90% of the farmland. Two thirds of our farmers are old enough to retire and their land ought not slide into the absentee ownership of massive “trusts” that barely resemble a family farm anymore. Tech billionaires are buying up land as if you could grow silicon on it, and our governments own great and small acreages that they’re doing nothing with. 

For food security, farming, and our diverse nation’s future this has to stop. By law, legal action, and plain old public shaming of the offenders we need to open up access to land and capital to diverse new farmers. Like all human endeavors, farming works best with maximum utilization of all available talent, and that talent comes in all colors, ethnicities, genders, and families.

Rural America’s COVID-19 Decade(s)…

Was barely A year ago when I came back from a glorious winter respite in Florida, caught a Joe Biden campaign stop in Iowa City, then stocked up more than usual at the last Costco before my home here on the Buffalo Ridge. I follow science probably more than I should, and already this virus we barely knew was legitimately way scarier than anything in at least a century. But unlike when we dealt with the “Spanish” flu a century ago, we had way more science on our side… Isolate for a few weeks and denied human hosts the stupid COVID-19 virus dies off.

Looks like I way overestimated the intelligence of us human hosts, especially in rural America. A cheap & simple N95 industrial mask lets in less than 5% of the virus, if everyone wears one the virus is doomed with only a .25% chance of being able to move from host to host. This COVID-19 pandemic should have been under control in a couple months and in much of the world it is, but not in America and especially not in the rural parts thereof.

By the end of February COVID-19’s spread was pretty well predicted by simulations such as WHI’s- It would follow the most travelled airline routes then spread through the international airports, down the most travelled freeways, and eventually find it’s way down the 2 lanes to the smallest towns and biggest ranches. March brought COVID-19 to the biggest cities with a vengeance while I could still find Costcos to shop in rural counties that had yet to see a single case, I hauled home a couple month’s supplies. Come May COVID-19 had peaked in the big coastal cities and then the MSP metro, but didn’t take off here in Lyon County until June.

By then urban folks had gotten the message and with mask wearing common many urban areas have total COVID-19 infection rates of less than 10%. But with big city outbreaks no longer leading the nightly news and yet to arrive out here, rural folks assumed the pandemic was over and let down their masks or lost them entirely. So a year into the pandemic that should have been over months ago zip code 56258 which is mostly Marshall, Minnesota had as of last Thursday 1928 cases among it’s 15,617 residents for a 12% rate that beats most of the metros. Zip 56178 which is pretty much Tyler, Minnesota had 164 cases among it’s 1700 or so residents, and here in my zip of 56170 we’ve had 35 cases among our 700 residents, about half of which live in Ruthton and my smaller home town of Florence. Note a pattern… 56258 with a state university got hit first and hardest, sleepier 56178 got hit a month later but is catching up, and here in 56170 you can probably sleep in the street safely and COVID-19 is just gettin’ goin’. By now mask wearing is the norm in 56258, in 56178 city hall workers think a plexiglass divider is all the protection they need, and in 56170 at the Florence city council meetings the only people wearing masks are the immigrants and me.

So a year in, the virus still rages and despite the COVID-19 denier’s best attempts, herd immunity is years away. But we got vaccines, right? Going on two months after the vaccines approval and shipping, almost every state has had less than 10% of it’s residents receive even the first of two vaccinations. The New York Time’s thankfully not paywalled graphs show the 80% vaccination needed for herd immunity maybe happening by October… Assuming those vaccines actually make it to virus host’s arms. But here on the Buffalo Ridge many highest priority health care providers and the most fragile seniors still haven’t gotten vaccines, and stories circulate of back office personnel and even staffers working from home for the two massive health care providers getting vaccinations. A lottery style narrow window of opportunity for seniors to get a vaccine was open for barely a week and slammed shut, with the seniors now directed to a website with links to providers who might give them vaccinations, someday. Avera, the catholic church’s dance with bankruptcy by buying up every available hospital ’round here just to make sure they won’t perform abortions they weren’t going to perform anyway isn’t even listed, ‘cept for their Pipestone hospital that must have missed the memo. Sanford, the lutheran hospitals that sold naming rights to an accused child porn collector for a billion and counting, will at least let you sign up to be notified if they ever have vaccine for me, a mere 70 year old. Couple of indy pharmacies are listed, god love ’em, but they say they have no vaccine and unlike they hospital chains, they’re probably honest. A hundred miles out it doesn’t get any better, with even Mayo reserving vaccines for it’s customers… Looks like they’re running a “frequent flyer” style reward program with vaccines as a marketing tool!

So here in rural America we’re years away from herd immunity by disease with accompanying disability and death. Vaccines are near impossible to get even by computer fluent hackers like yours truly, so fat chance my elderly neighbors who have never used a computer will get any, even if they want and demand vaccination. Then there’s the anti-vaxxers, general paranoids, and conspiracy theorists who will refuse vaccination and I doubt we’ll get even half our residents vaccinated, never mind the 70-90% needed for herd immunity. As this inadequate vaccination attempt drags on, a year in the virus is already mutating, becoming a moving target that can evade what few vaccinations we have.

Meanwhile, in the big cities the virus long ago peaked and thanks to availability and acceptance of vaccinations it’ll pretty much join the flu of a century ago in the history books by year’s end. But rural America will suffer with COVID-19 for this decade and maybe more, our rural economy decimated by labor shortages as workers fall victim and city folks avoid rural America like the literal plague. Better get another box of N95s while I can…

How the Buffalo Ridge trained a terrorist for Trump…

It has been quite a week- An organized and armed terrorist mob of Trump supporters with the full support and encouragement of much of the Republican Party staged an unsuccessful attack on our Capitol with the intent of disrupting the inauguration of the democratically elected President and Vice-President of our nation. So where did these domestic terrorists come from?

Right here in southwest Minnesota.

I was photographing outside an overflowing Elisabeth Warren campaign stop in Storm Lake, Iowa a year ago when right next to me a big ol’ white guy clad in Trumpwear went from yelling to shoving folks he assumed to be democrats. Storm Lake police were right there and he was hauled off to jail near immediately. That’s how I met Randal James Thom and within hours he had made the national press, but the Trump administration and campaign had known this thug supporter for years. Heck, they even rewarded him with priority seating at so many Trump events that he became known as “Front Row Joe”. Had the Trump administration/campaign done even the most basic background check before rewarding this thug with priority access to Trump they would have found the real Randal Thom AKA “Front Row Joe” was a serial offender with several felonies. After Randal Thom’s attack on the Warren event the Trump administration/campaign certainly knew he was a terrorist threat who should have been well distanced from Trump after the conservative Washington Examiner published this well researched article on the attack: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/congress/trump-fan-arrested-at-elizabeth-warren-rally-is-an-ex-con-former-crack-addict-with-72-criminal-convictions

Yet the Trump campaign continued to reward this criminal terrorist with front row seats at event after event- Reportedly he’s attended seventy odd Trump events! Working in campaigns I’ve learned that you deal with an enthusiastic supporter with the potential to do harm to the public and campaign by attempting to channel their enthusiasm into more constructive activities. Failing that, you plain and simple kick them out of the campaign and party. The democratic party and democratic campaigns have had to do that on a few occasions, but apparently Trump and much of the republican party welcome criminal terrorists in their ranks, provided they support Trump and the republicans.

But how the hell is this terrorrist thug free to further terrorize peaceful citizens?

If Randal Thom were a person of color the closest he’d get to our political process is watching it on TV in prison, if he’s lucky. But raised in Windom he’s a product of southwest Minnesota, our equivalent of a “good ol’ boy”. That means he’s repeatedly been let go with not even a lecture, released without bail, and slid by with serial crimes that should have drawn prison time. This leniency for white offenders is obvious in just his Minnesota court records, where he commits felonies only a few days apart, evidence that he’d been released from one felony arrest only to promptly commit another felony. 

Yes, we enabled terrorist Randal Thom by allowing racist law enforcement and judges that allowed his white skin to be a “get out of jail” card. Randal would have joined the Trumpublican terrorist attack on our capital and government for sure, but on the way home from a Trump rally in October while exercising his “freedumbs” to drive drunk and without a seat belt he died rear ending an innocent citizen who wasn’t driving fast enough for him.

Rural Poverty: In Pictures…

$20,000 worth of tired equipment doing the job of $200,000 worth of new equipment…

Had some questions, and good ones, about this photo from my last post. The scene is the load out after the estate auction of my neighbor. Dave was a Vietnam era vet who came home to try to eke out a living here on the Buffalo Ridge, first trying farming and later “dirt work” (excavating). At his peak he helped build Minnesota’s best 2 lane highway, 23, and kept the snow at bay on the township’s roads with his graders. But hard work don’t always pay in rural America, working for himself I don’t think Dave had enough work quarter credits to get Social Security so he sold off his graders and raised chickens to survive, and the VA cared for him in his final days until he left us in his late 60s. Dave was quite the packrat and other than a couple pieces of equipment that had value like the Cat dozer, his estate auction was pretty much an alternative means of junk recycling. But it says something of the level of poverty here that even a chicken house and an 8N in need of a clutch sold.

The guy trying to run the Cat up onto the trailer is a vet too, another retiree that after a career as a non-union truck driver survives in an old house and drives an old Super Duty. Neither he or Dave have ever used a computer or been on the internet, pretty common what with half ass internet access only recently becoming available out here. The CAT was a decent tractor in it’s day four decades ago, but a big 21st century skid steer can outwork it ’cause it can pick up and carry dirt while the dozer can only slowly push dirt. The trailer was last licensed in the last millennium and would have been overloaded even if it has brakes and round tires. Best part of the whole combination is the Deere tractor, which was never intended to be so abused. But $7000 for a kinda big yellow dozer and a few hundred more for the remains of a trailer was irresistible for an undercapitalized overgrown farm boy.

Abandoned bank and bar in Florence

A town’s grocery and convenience stores tell us a lot about it’s relative prosperity, and we ain’t got much- The bar was Florence’s last business and we once had the bank as well as a school, implement dealer, grocer, and three gas stations!

No gas or grub here either…

So go northeast 7 miles to Russell and the dairy co-op C-Store is closed, they got bought out by a bigger co-op who shut down the station while expanding the agronomy operation to the point it’s hard to get it all in a picture. Russell’s “Muni” bar was losing money even before the pandemic shutdown, though there’s still a bank brach if anyone’s got surplus cash.

Occasionally open in defiance of pandemic shut down orders, but would you eat in a restaurant that ignores health regulations?

Lynd- No sign of any gas in the next town up 23, and this failed eatery seems to have reopened just to defy safety precautions. But just a little further, a mere 20 miles from Florence, you have your choice of something like 8 gas/convenience stores, just as many franchise eateries, Hy-Vee, Walmart, and a whole University.

Pumps take credit cards, limited groceries, restaurant… But the water table is probably above the bottom of the tanks!
On higher ground and sometimes open.

So we head east 7 miles on US14 and try Balaton- The gas/convenience store by the lake is a gem, nice folks who’ve put a lot into the business. But that rising lake threatens, we have to put water lines 6 feet down here to keep ’em from freezing and when the water table rises above that those lines become useless, never mind the fuel tanks that have to be kept full to keep ’em from floating outa the ground. The other option is barely operable, one pump in front of an old franchise station. When these two succumb, it’ll be 20 miles to Tyler assuming it’s one gas/C-Store and grocery survive.

Closed for the holiday but takes credit cards. The clay parking lot was swallowing trucks last wet year… Wonder ’bout the tanks?

So let’s try heading’ southwest down MN23 again, 7 miles out we got Ruthton with 2 bars and one gas/C-Store hanging on, Dave told me their fried chicken was good but my taste buds tell me KFC need not worry. And a bank branch and a plumber who drives his loader/backhoe to jobs and can’t afford a trench safety box… It gets worse, Holland 7 miles further has not a single retail business left. Again, 20 miles away we find Pipestone with 5 gas/C-Stores, couple resteraunts, grocery, McDonalds and Pizza Ranch.

Dead dollar store.
Main Street grocer won, sorta…
Takes plastic but the diesel is iffy, and knows better than to carry dairy.
Takes plastic too, overcode dairy, and you don’t wanna go near that diesel pump…

so last but maybe least, let’s try west on US14- First up is Tyler with two dying gas/C-Stores and the local outlet of a vulture supermarket chain that specializes in buying up small town grocery stores far removed from WalMart- Everything we love about C-Stores without the gas. To their credit, Tyler does have a bank, couple bars, golf club, hardware store, pharmacy, and Minnesota’s largest lumber co-op!

IIRC still locally owned!
Stylish in it’s day, decades ago…
Glorified pole building but Cenex affiliation is a plus.

So another 6 miles or so west on 14 is Lake Benton, with one each surviving gas/C-Store and grocery. Got a bar and hardware plus NAPA store too. Another 9 miles in South Dakota is gas and diesel, but useless because they don’t like my card and it’s South DeCovid so you don’t wanna go inside their Petri dish. But a “mere” 40 miles from my home in Florence is Brookings with everything Marshall has, but that’s 40 miles too far.

The health of the local gas, convenience, and grocery stores is a good indicator of the financial health or in this case impoverished malaise of their dying towns. Even a dollar store is a half million dollar bet, add the liabilities and infrastructure of petroleum dispensing and it’s a million dollar investment, a new grocery store is two million $$$ and up. That’s why the 5 gas/C-Stores and 2 grocers within 15 miles of me are hanging on by a thread and will probably shut down for good with the next leaking tank or failed freezer.

It’s not that we don’t buy enough food and fuel- There’s a population of around 5000 within 10 miles of Florence and traffic counts are above 5000/day. And given that we have miles to drive and farms have big tractors and trucks that use lotsa fuel, we have a supersized appetite for gas and especially diesel. Pipestone has a new grocery and gas/C-Store, showing us that a population and traffic count of 5000 is enough to attract same. One of the local co-ops keeps a 7 axle fuel delivery truck busy, but our local gas stations can’t afford the space for big trucks to maneuver and the master and slave pumps to fuel big double tanks. Heck, some can’t even afford the special size nozzles needed to fuel late model diesel pickups. And groceries? Walmart 20 and 40 miles away own that market and Colbern’s and HyVee 20 miles away pick up the scraps.

So the executives who decide where the investments will be made pass us up for the bigger towns with the higher median incomes, fuel their trucks at the big truck stops, and bully the suppliers into prices so low that a small town grocer can often get a better deal at Walmart then their wholesalers offer. And because we’re too poor to attract a new store, we get poorer as we have to drive 20 miles to where our jobs went and the empty storefronts and long distances to anything destroy our property values and tax base.

So we try to eke out a living while praying that a muddy trench doesn’t cave in while we fix another leak in the town water system, and it’s a good day if that leaking tire makes it to the next gas station with a working air hose. We haul a “bargain” CAT home on a wreck of a trailer towed by an overloaded tractor and hope we don’t kill anyone. We throw unknown cans of liquid from Dave’s hoard on the burn pile and spend an expensive day at the burn ward that probably cost more than the estate auction raised. And we die too soon from treatable chronic diseases because we don’t have insurance or if we do health care is substandard out here anyway.

And the city folks think poverty is entirely an urban minority problem…

Rural. Poverty. Is. Real.

Why do country folks buy a 40 year old bulldozer at auction, then buy an almost as old trailer with no brakes and flat tires to haul it home on, then hitch it to a too small even older tractor resulting in the considerable daylight under the rear tires of said tractor?

Because that’s all many rural folks can afford… Which runs head on into the urban legend that poverty is most prevalent among minorities in urban areas. So lets look at the stats and see where the poverty really lies. Looking at Minnesota, only two counties in the metro area have double digit poverty rates, 11% in Hennepin and 15% in Ramsey. Out here on the Buffalo Ridge “micropolitan” Lyon and Nobles counties match that with 14% poverty rates despite having industry and colleges. Almost every Buffalo Ridge county in Minnesota has double digit poverty rates, with Pipestone and Redwood counties matching Hennepin at 11% and Cottonwood and Yellow Medicine more impoverished that any metro county but Ramsey with a 13% poverty rate.

Breaking out the poverty rates for white non-hispanic residents further destroys the urban legend of poverty only afflicting minorities- No county in the metro has a poverty rate for white non-hispanics of over 10% with Hennepin at 7% and Ramsey at 8%. Only two Minnesota counties on the Buffalo Ridge can match Hennepin’s 7%, One can match Ramsey’s 8%, and eight other Minnesota Buffalo Ridge counties have higher white non-hispanic poverty rates of from 9% to 12%. Clearly, living in a rural area like the Buffalo Ridge is as big a predictor of poverty as minority status and metro residency negatively correlates with poverty status. If you want to check out the stats and make your own comparisons, they’re at https://www.povertyusa.org/data/2018/MN

So how can these rural counties some of which have minority populations too small to be statistically significant have poverty rates that exceed the metro’s poorest counties? That’ll require a lot more analysis, but consider that health care is now a fifth of the economy and the Mayo is Minnesota’s largest private employer. As small town clinics and hospitals become empty shells funneling patients to the metro centers the high paying health care jobs follow them. Higher education is another high paying field, and again those jobs are largely in the metro areas. Same with government and all the other employers that have consolidated their workforces in the metro areas.

And the solution? The first step is admitting the problem, and the urban leaders who run the state need to recognize the reality of rural poverty and attack it.

When COVID-19 isn’t controlled: How Lyon is becoming a poor county.

“Long COVID”, “Long Haulers”, etc.- You’re heard the terms, mass ancedotal evidence that the COVID-19 will have lasting impact. The long term studies are still underway, and early results suggests that at least a double digit percentage of COVID-19 sufferers will suffer for years and maybe a lifetime from chronic fatigue, breathing difficulty, and heart conditions.

Even in Hennepin County in the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro where they’ve managed to keep the COVID-19 infection rate down to around 5%, the loss by disability of 10% of that 5% from the workforce will tighten a labor market where unemployment was around 4% before the pandemic. Out here on the Buffalo Ridge Lyon County has failed miserably at controlling COVID-19, resulting in 9% of the populace being infected and at least 1% of the populace being in the 10 day period of contagiousness for the past several weeks. After a slow start Lyon County’s COVID-19 rate is growing by over 4% a month… The low estimate for percentage of population needed to reach “herd immunity” is 50%, and Lyon County may be there in 9 months, vaccinations or not. And given the prevalence of “herd stupidity” in Lyon County they may very well achieve that dubious “success” by infection rather than vaccination.

So what happens when 5% of the population comes down with a disease that permanently disables them?

Before the pandemic unemployment rates in Lyon County and much of the Buffalo Ridge were in the 2% range, increasing a bit in winter when construction and other seasonal work stopped. Lyon County is relatively affluent though still lagging the metro area thanks to a state university, food processing, and being a regional center. Labor force participation is above average at a bit over 70%, giving Lyon County around 14,000 workers pre-pandemic. Manufacturing, which is mostly food manufacturing, is a billion dollar a year business in Lyon County, hard work and historically the toughest jobs to fill. So when 700 workers are taken out of the workforce there aren’t enough workers to staff the lines at Schwans, the turkey plant, and a few hundred other manufacturing jobs. Restaurants and personal services have laid off many workers in the pandemic, but they employ far fewer workers than food manufacturing so there aren’t enough of them to staff the lines. Worse yet, many of these manufacturing workers will move up to replace COVID-19 disabled workers at the better paying jobs at the university and in government.

It gets worse- Those now disabled workers still need housing which is in short supply, so even if the food manufacturers were able to recruit replacement workers from outside the county there’s no place for them to live. The now disabled 5% or more of the workforce will be plunged into poverty- The signature long term symptom of COVID-19 is chronic fatigue, a notoriously difficult disability to prove and obtain compensation for. They will require increased lifetime health care in a county where health care workers are in short supply, especially specialists in COVID-19’s chronic maladies.

In conclusion, Lyon County’s economic growth will be stunted for decades if it doesn’t get COVID-19 under control, and quickly!

The View From the Ridge…

My first blog, Buffalo Ridge Blog, is getting rebooted!

There’s a subtle magic to the Buffalo Ridge… It tricks you with a series of gentle grades until all of a sudden you can see for miles.

Then you’re in a canyon…

By now it looks like you’re in the high plains of Montana, until you come upon…

And a Dutch enclave…

Trends tend to sneak up on you slowly and decievingly like Buffalo Ridge topography, and the brutality of the ridges and valleys contrasts the sustenance provided by our waters and cultures. But unlike the complicated, stifling, and just plain noisy societies and geographies of the mega cities where policy wonks tend to reside the Buffalo Ridge offers rare clarity. From the comfort and security of my concrete cave on a dead end road I can view a lake, million bushel elevator, and over a hundred wind turbines the nearest of which is 8 miles away. The same clarity allows one to easily examine and test how to improve government- When the whole city budget fits on a sheet or two of paper and everyone interested gets a seat on the city council, machine politics doesn’t work to well… Not that a few people haven’t tried!

So the Trump era hopefully over I’m going to put aside my political rants and play policy wonk with the unique and clear viewpoint provided by the Buffalo Ridge. This was my first blog that got neglected as my writing had to become increasing political and partisan in Blue Out Here and Sassy Democrat, they’ll be retired ’til the next election cycle at least. I’m going to use these pages to analyze public policy, sacrifice sacred cows, and explore how we can build a better future for the Buffalo Ridge and rural America. Hang on, it’s going to be a fun trip!

First article coming up in a few days, how uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic caused permanent disabilities are going to change the Buffalo Ridge, and not for the better…

Marriage Equality: Boon to the Buffalo Ridge!

At least the Minnesota part…

Back in the 70s Minneapolis passed a law banning discrimination against gay folks and became a gay mecca. While gay folks were getting harassed and bashed in the surrounding rural and even suburban areas, Minneapolis was the “Minneapple” with a vibrant gay culture in a what was more a collection of small towns than a city that offered all the benefits of a big city but with small town culture and crime rates. I and thousands of other gay folks moved there, and together we probably saved Minneapolis from the same sad fate that befell most of America’s other big cities.

 Then in 1993, Minnesota finally got around to passing the same human rights laws Minneapolis had enjoyed for nearly two decades. The ink was barely dry on the governors pen before gay folks started tiptoeing into the suburbs. Just as well, given that crime and blight were starting to take off in Minneapolis… Those first few cautious tiptoes into the suburbs soon became a stampede escaping Minneapolis crime and hassles, and escalating taxes.

 Two decades later, Minnesota finally got around to allowing loving couples to marry, regardless of their gender. The law took effect last night and Minneapolis did it up proud, with a splendid midnight ceremony at City Hall that saw forty some couples married. But up in the little Clay County Courthouse in Moorhead, a city a tenth the size of Minneapolis, a couple judges opened up the courthouse at midnight and did 19 marriages. The courthouse in even smaller Polk County was reportedly open for marryin’ business too, midnight marriages were the order of the day in Duluth, and I suspect that tiny Pipestone County where the first application was filed got in on the act too.

 But as the celebrants sleepily exited the safety of Minneapolis City Hall for the mean streets outside, reality sets in. This is a Minneapolis where roving gangs run even the downtown streets at night. This is a Minneapolis that spends millions on bike trails and rental bicycles, only to have bicyclists mugged for their bikes and worse in broad daylight. This is a Minneapolis where the most feared law enforcement presence is not the police, but the housing inspectors who will give you but a day’s notice to trim your trees or whatever violation of the city’s massive and obsolete laws are the offense d’jour. 

 Meanwhile in Moorhead, the newlyweds were greeted by a cheering crowd of supporters as they walked out of the courthouse. They were free to walk or cycle the quiet streets home, serenaded by the whistle of the passing trains and the gurgle of the Red River below. A few walked back across that river to North Dakota, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few even walked over to the Amtrak station and caught the westbound Empire Builder back to work in the Bakken oilfields. Same thing in Duluth, and the view from the walkway on the high bridge back to Wisconsin must be incredible at night. 

 Belatedly waking today, those newlyweds in Minneapolis, those veterans of the early gay rights movement now approaching retirement age, are probably dreaming of retiring back to their hometowns in rural Minnesota… Heck, we’ve even got a PFLAG chapter here in Marshall and the local coffeehouse and DFL party are gay hangouts! And in Sioux Falls, Fargo, Superior, Winona, and all over those adjoining states that still haven’t “gotten with the program”, newly “married in Minnesota” couples are wondering why they went home… A couple from West Fargo that was married in Moorhead is already moving to Minnesota. So Pipestone, Moorhead, Duluth, Winona, and all the other border towns are about to see a migration to Minnesota for marriage equality. And once they move here to Minnesota, they’ll start to wonder why they don’t work here too, ‘specially if their “enjoying” the Dakota’s “open shop” laws and the low wages it brings. Folks, I think we’re on the verge of an economic boom in Minnesota’s small towns and country!

Me? Still single and have to run into Minneapolis this weekend to trim the trees, hopefully to the satisfaction of Minneapolis’ Housing Inspectors!