DAWSON, Minn. – Kami and Mark Schoenfeld gave their March 17 report on their way home from Harvey and Gladys Hastad’s farm. The Schoenfelds did cattle chores and dropped off their two boys, Colton, 8, and Braxton, 5, at the Hastads to stay overnight.
School was closed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The novel coronavirus was affecting most aspects of societal living.
Mark, a Cargill grain origination specialist, was working at home through phone, email and internet – thus the decision to have the boys stay with their grandparents. Kami needed to work with farmers enrolled in the Farm Business Management program.
“It’s a sign of the situation we are in,” Mark said, “and certainly it’s been a little bit of a challenge with what the markets have done, but we’re trying to help farmers figure out what to do between now and harvest and going forward.”
Chores for the cattle and sheep operations didn’t stop for COVID-19.
“We need to wean lambs, that’s on this week’s list,” Kami said. She was planning for a Circle S Club Lambs open house, so kids could pick out lambs for 4-H or FFA projects. She had noticed that large sheep sales for the rest of March were going to be held online. For a club lamb breeder like Kami with fewer lambs, it was difficult to decide on a plan of action going forward as the COVID-19 situation remained in flux.
Fortunately, the weather in March 2020 was as nice as they could remember. Gradually higher temperatures resulted in a slow snowmelt that minimized mud. Windless days and sunshine were welcomed by all.
“We just got done feeding the cows – the weather was nice, the calves look good,” said Mark. “I was actually surprised walking out into Harvey’s cornstalks where there are cow/calf pairs. There is dry soil out there.”
The Schoenfelds and their neighbors and friends were all hoping nighttime temperatures would move into the low 50s to finish the 2019-20 snow melt.
“It is Minnesota, so we’ll likely have one or two more snows,” he said.
A potential March snow/rainstorm was forecast, so the Schoenfelds and Hastads locked the cow/calf pairs in the “hillside lot” for two or three days. The lot was more protected and closer to home than the fenced-in cornstalk fields.
“We needed to feed, so we moved all the feed in there, and they’ve got good bedding and good hutches,” Mark said. “I’m not as concerned with the snow that’s coming but with the wind that is forecast. If the calves get wet and get out in the wind, that can get them chilled and that doesn’t bode well.”
They expected to wean fall calves around March 21 and start sorting the calves off. The calves received preconditioning shots, and male calves not kept for bulls were castrated.
The Schoenfelds had 13 cows/heifers left to calf by mid-April. There were a couple stragglers following after that.
“This grass has been so wet and washy the last couple of years that things got strung out a little bit,” he said. “The goal this summer is to narrow breeding up and get back to our normal 60-70-day calving window.”
The Schoenfelds are members of Minnesota Valley Lutheran Church of Louisburg, Minn., and Mark is serving as the president. The church hosts a well-attended klub supper, and this year’s event was scheduled for March 15. The supper has been held for decades and is an important fund raiser for the church.
What is klub? It’s a Norwegian potato dumpling served with melted butter, ham and side dishes. Minnesota Valley advertised the event for days on the local Madison radio station, highlighting the fact they had 300 pounds of potatoes peeled.
So, on Sunday morning, right about the time church was held, Gov. Tim Walz called for schools to close by March 18. Many schools were going to close already on Monday, March 16. Social distancing was strongly recommended.
In the tradition of most rural folks, the parishioners got together to figure out what to do. They didn’t want to accidentally expose anyone to COVID-19. Kami served on this year’s klub supper committee, and she wanted to limit the dinner to drive-through only. Committee members ultimately decided that was the best course of action.
“We had a lot of Doubting Thomases, but we pulled it off,” Kami said.
The Madison radio station began announcing that the klub supper was drive-through – but asked people to still attend.
What happened next was almost a miracle, held on course by a determined congregation who had worked together for many years.
As hundreds of people drove to the little country church, they were met by church members who took their orders. Hundreds of klub suppers were delivered in Styrofoam takeout boxes.
When all was said and done, more than 1,500 klub dumplings were made and delivered to the many individuals and families that had driven to Minnesota Valley. It was the largest number made in recent history, with many people deciding to get two of the ethnic treats – one to eat as soon as they got home and another to have the next day.
“It was a way to support the church. It was nice,” Mark said. “It’s also challenging serving as the president of the congregation, and on Sunday we made the decision that we’re not going to have church again until Palm Sunday. It’s disheartening to stand in front and say, ‘See you in three weeks.’ When you have elderly people in your community that you really need to be concerned about, and trying to take care of them, you have to do what you have to do.”