Candy Culture

gummy bears

As a kid, I frequently went on errands with my mom–the typical stuff like bank, library, offices of various kinds, supermarket, meat market. Occasionally, if I was really good, she’d buy one of those little square chocolate bars with fruit and nuts, and we’d share it.

Otherwise, candy wasn’t a feature of my day-to-day childhood, and soda was not a regular beverage in our household–we’d have a bottle or two of ginger ale stashed for illnesses, but it was a real treat to get a root beer or a Hawaiian Punch. Holidays and visits to grandparents’ houses were exceptions, of course.

I try to follow that same policy with my son when it comes to treats, but it’s a lot harder to do these days. It seems that in every office, every bank, every place I stop on my errands, there is a bowl of candy sitting there. Heck, in a lot of places, if you are going through a drive-through, they’ll put a sucker or Tootsie Roll in with your receipt if they see you have a kid in the car.

Not only that, but in a lot of schools and at a lot of kids’ activities, prizes for achievement are candy and soda (sometimes three liter bottles!), and many of the fundraising drives done by schools focus on selling sweet treats. You just cannot get away from it.

You can respond, “well, just tell him he can’t have it.” And yes, I can, and I have. But when your kid returns from a field trip with a half-consumed pop in hand, or he wins a prize for reading and comes home clutching a bagful of candy (a large amount of which he’s already stuffed in his mouth), what exactly is the right thing to do?

Great job, kiddo, now give me that soda, so I can dump it down the sink!

It’d be one thing if it was an infrequent occurrence (and if well-meaning adults didn’t think it’s “better” to hand a kid a zero-calorie chemical cocktail as a “healthier” alternative to HFCS-laden pop), but it’s not. Kids today have far greater exposure to sugary treats on a daily basis than most of us ever did. And it’s wearing on parents to constantly say no, no, no to the sweet barrage.

Still, I don’t think the answer is more government regulation of treats. There’s been a great deal of discussion in the health community about whether making sugary beverages “controlled substances” could help alleviate the obesity epidemic in this country–especially among children.

Frankly, I doubt such regulations would pass (as NYC Mayor Bloomberg has discovered), and as a colleague of mine commented, the last thing you want is people holding up a 36oz. soda as a sign of independence or victory over Big Government.

The Ortonville Early Childhood Initiative took a laudable step in the right direction earlier this month by offering healthier treats, like real fruit leather, as prizes at the annual Sports & Leisure Show kids’ carnival. Parents and others who are concerned about the health of children should take an active role in limiting the amount of treats kids are exposed to–by (politely, of course) asking businesses to put away their candy bowls and insisting that schools and organizers of kids’ activities provide healthier treats and prizes.

Stashing the public candy dishes and offering health-conscious prizes and fundraising activities are small steps in the fight against childhood obesity, and government and the health care industry most certainly have a role in the bigger picture, as well.

It will take work on all levels to cut down on the pervasive presence of unhealthy snacks and to curb the candy culture that exists in our country.

What do you see as appropriate roles for parents, educators, government, and others in this fight?

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HF 1127–Boon for Quarries, Bad for Communities

A new bill came sailing into my inbox a couple of days ago that is a boon for L.G. Everist, but bad for two of the communities in which they operate.

Authored by District 12A Rep. Jay McNamar, HF 1127 provides for double semi trailer-loads of rock coming out of Everist’s Ortonville and Jasper, MN facilities to be transported on highways from those operations via the shortest route to South Dakota highways, where double semi trailers are currently legal.

Double semi-trailers are not currently legal on highways in Minnesota, but this isn’t the only way in which this bill sets bad precedent.

The route proposed from the Everist quarry in Ortonville Township would take loaded double semi trailers of rock up US Highway 75 to the junction of US Highway 12, with a left hand turn at one of the busiest (and most accident-prone) intersections in the county, then down the hill on US Highway 12 into Ortonville, with another left hand turn at a busy, uncontrolled intersection onto the section of US 12 that crosses the Minnesota River into Big Stone City, SD.

(May I also mention the bad precedent of a DFL’er authoring a bill that solely benefits a single corporation, with no thought to its adverse and potentially lethal impacts to the community it affects?)

As the new state representative of the district that includes Big Stone County, perhaps McNamar could be forgiven for mistakenly believing he was doing something positive for the Ortonville community.

However, McNamar made no mention of this bill at the recent cracker barrel in Ortonville nor in this week’s column in local papers, so it comes as quite a surprise to McNamar’s local constituents–especially those in Ortonville Township, who’ve struggled so long and hard to defend their quality of life in spite of unresponsive and occasionally hostile local government.

McNamar’s (Everist’s?) bill currently resides in the Transportation Policy Committee. I strongly urge you to contact members of the committee and tell them to kill this bad bill before someone else gets killed at these already dangerous intersections.

And make sure to contact Representative Jay McNamar (pronounced Mc-NAME-ur), too, and let him know that while we in Big Stone County value our local businesses, we also value our people. And good legislation needs to balance the best interests of both.

[Addition: This bill would also presumably help Strata Corp, with their proposed quarry site along that same stretch of the Upper Minnesota River. Strata is currently sourcing rock from L.G. Everist’s Ortonville Township quarry while they await word from the State of Minnesota about their quarry site’s annexation by the City of Ortonville. Strata officials told the county during CUP hearings that they’d put their rock on rail cars, but it seems likely that if this bill goes through, the US 75 to US 12 route would be blasted wide open to increasingly heavy quarry truck traffic.]

Strong Showing for County Commission Write-Ins; County Questions Soundly Defeated

It’s a mixed bag of election results this morning–lots to be excited about, and some that have me feeling a little glum.

I’m sorry to hear that after so many years of excellent DFL representation for Big Stone County on the state level, our redistricting, which coupled us to a more northerly, and more conservative population base, has resulted in a loss for DFL State Senate candidate (and Big Stone County resident) John Schultz.

The 12A State House DFL candidate Jay McNamar defeated his challenger, Scott Dutcher, and in our old district, Rep. Andy Falk and Senator Gary Kubly’s successor, Lyle Koenen both prevailed.

Some exciting news on the county front: both write-in challengers for commission seats had strong support in their respective districts. Mark Block, in District 3, garnered 37% of the vote, and Mike Hartman in District 5 got 35% of the vote.

Considering both candidates had only a month to educate voters, and that many of their potential constituents had already received (and many returned) their ballots by the time the write-in candidacies were announced, the fact that both of them still managed to persuade over 1/3 of voters to write in their names is an incredible feat.

Of course, in Ortonville Township, where the results of commissioners’ jurisdictional overstep on the Strata Quarry CUP are most keenly felt, Hartman beat the incumbent Berning 28-21.

Write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult to win (though congratulations go to Sarina Otaibi in Granite Falls, who pulled off hers), and especially in a presidential election, where the electorate comes out in droves to vote for top-of-ticket candidates they’ve seen on TV while being more or less uninformed about local decisions.

It’s a sad truth that a lot of little ovals get filled in for what appear on the ballot to be uncontested races. Education of uninformed voters is made more difficult when district residents are reticent about putting up yard signs for fear of retribution should their candidate fail, a sentiment that has been expressed privately to me by more than one household.

But, the incredibly strong showing of the two write-in candidates indicates that an extremely high percentage of those paying attention in districts 3 and 5 made the effort to write-in for change.

Another bellwether of change in Big Stone County is the sound defeat of three questions on whether or not the positions of county auditor, recorder, and treasurer should be elected or appointed. While current commissioners encouraged the change to (their own) appointment for these positions, the public’s response was a resounding “no”–with nearly 80% of the electorate giving their thumbs down in order to keep the decision on these positions securely in the citizens’ hands.

It remains to be seen whether the big picture behind these election results will be reflected upon by the county commissioners as they serve their upcoming terms–or whether the simple fact of retaining seats will be seen as a mandate for more politics as usual.

Considering the strong turnout for write-ins and clear message that county auditor, treasurer, and recorder positions should remain a choice of the electorate, it would be wise for county government to carefully consider how it might strive to act more closely in accordance with the will of the people.

[Update: Some of the percentage calculations were way off in the initial post; corrections made to account for those errors.]

Annexation of Proposed Quarry Site on Ortonville City Council Agenda

Packets have gone out to the Ortonville City Council this evening for Monday’s 7pm meeting in the Ortonville Public Library Media Center. On the agenda, under New Business: “Hedge Annexation.”

Rumors of Ortonville City’s possible annexation of the proposed Strata aggregate quarry site in Ortonville Township have been leaking out for a few weeks now, and those rumors were further fueled by a post-meeting-adjournment question to the council from Ortonville EDA Community Development Coordinator Vicki Oakes about whether the city would rezone the proposed quarry site when (not if) it was annexed.

Since passing an interim ordinance late last winter, the Ortonville Township Board of Supervisors has moved to create their own planning and zoning committee and to develop their own land use plan in order to preserve and protect the quality of life of their approximately 100 residents. I have been a witness to several of township’s board and planning committee meetings, and I can tell you that these people are incredibly dedicated public servants who have embarked on a very steep learning curve in order to do right by their residents.

The State of Minnesota provides for townships and other municipalities to exercise this right of local control through passage of an interim ordinance precisely because larger governing bodies do not always respect the will of the people in smaller ones. Clearly, this was the case when the Big Stone County Board of Commissioners moved to approve the Strata Corp. conditional use permit for an aggregate quarry in Ortonville Township despite the objection of the majority of its residents and despite the county’s lack of jurisdiction once the interim ordinance was passed.

Signs protesting the approval of Strata Corp’s CUP at a public hearing late last winter.

And, despite the legal right of the township to take control of its own land use planning, Ms. Oakes, formerly Big Stone County Planning Commission chair, has publicly ridiculed the township’s process, spread false rumors about its intentions and effects, and has continued to push the quarry project and the interests of one non-resident landowner (who happens to be one of the wealthiest citizens of Big Stone County) over the rights of the many residents of the township.

It is frankly amazing how much information Ms. Oakes can convey considering her presence at only one of these township meetings–one at which no planning committee business took place. Is spreading rumor and innuendo and ridiculing the process of local governments an appropriate role of a paid employee of the City of Ortonville?

Now, in defiance of the township’s role and right to preserve and protect the health, safety, property values, and quality of life of its residents, Ms. Oakes, landowner Gayle Hedge, and Strata Corporation are pushing the City of Ortonville to annex township land and push forward the quarry project against the will of the majority of the families who actually live there.

Is this the kind of place we want to live? Where a bigger government bullies the smaller one, and residents have no say about the community they want to live in?

Unfortunately, townships have few legal rights when it comes to annexation by a neighboring city. The process that Ortonville Township has embarked upon to protect and serve their people could be for naught unless the people of both Ortonville City and Ortonville Township stand up and make their voices heard.

Plan to attend Monday night’s meeting, and contact Ortonville City Council members to tell them to preserve the rights of Ortonville Township residents by rejecting annexation of the Hedge property.

Ortonville City Council:

Mayor David Dinnel 839-6226
Mel Reinke 839-3084
Mike Dorry 839-3048
Angela Doren 763-202-3487
Ron Thomas 839-3039
Robert Meyer 839-2364
Steve Berkner 839-3914

New Potatoes

I haven’t watered my potato patch but once this season–and then only a few days ago, when I realized that the end of our stretch of extreme heat wasn’t going to give us any rain.

I never got the red potatoes in at all, so all I have is three rows of German Butterballs and two rows of Austrian Crescent fingerlings.

Fingerlings don’t make good “new” or early-harvested potatoes in my experience–you really have to wait for the plants to die down to get tubers of any reasonable size. Then, when they are ready to harvest, their thin skins and tender flesh make them kind of similar to a new potato anyhow.

But they’re not ready now.

Thankfully, the German Butterballs are. They are a yellow-fleshed heirloom variety similar to a Yukon Gold. Yum!

There is no messing about digging in the hills, filching potatoes from underneath live plants like eggs from under a setting hen. If I’m going to have new potatoes, I just go ahead and dig out one whole plant. That way, I’m not disturbing the roots of several plants.

I don’t know if filching potatoes makes much difference to a growing plant, but it just seems to me that it would–even if only a little. It’s a common practice though, so if you have a preference in your own potato patch, do what thou will.

Digging the whole plant also gives me a sense of how well the variety is doing in the rest of the row–if there is a good mess of potatoes under a plant, I expect a better harvest from the row than if I only get a couple measly tubers.

New potatoes have more sugar and less starch than storage (full grown) potatoes. They also have more vitamin C, though I assume a lot of that cooks away. And speaking of cooking–new potatoes are done a lot faster than a full-grown potato. It’s easy to overcook them if you’re not paying attention.

The “B-sized” red potatoes that show up in the supermarkets around this time of year are really not “new” potatoes. New potatoes are special–their thin skins and tender flesh mean they don’t ship well, and they spoil/turn starchy quickly. Find a local farmer or visit your local farmers market if you want the real deal, and cook them as soon as you can.

Most sources say new potatoes are ready to harvest as soon as the plant flowers. I usually wait a bit longer–my potatoes have been flowering for over a month now, and to my mind, the size of the potatoes I’ve got now is just about right.

How to fix them? I say the simpler the better. Steamed with just a little water, or roasted in the oven with nothing but salt, pepper, butter, and maybe just a little parsley. Butter is pretty important in my mind, but use oil if you must. You can toss them alongside a roast for the last half hour of cooking, too.

Whatever you do, save the heavier seasonings for your full-sized potatoes this fall and winter, and savor the bare, earthy flavor of these tender, early gems!