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Christmas tree farms predict strong season

ALSO: Professor from Brewster gets award; Bemidji schools are growing; more than 28,000 sign up for MNsure; and more.

As Christmas tree farms open during the weekends near Thanksgiving, the growers are predicting a strong season. The Brainerd Dispatch says the stock is especially nice this season. “We had a healthy amount of rain which is giving us lush, green trees,” said Mark Hansen, Co-Owner of Hansen Tree Farm in Anoka. “The trees are beautiful this year.” The Minnesota Grown Directory lists 68 Christmas tree farms and retail tree lots. To find a Christmas tree farm, visit the Minnesota Grown online directory at

Bob Dylan isn’t the only Minnesota native to win a big award. Lisa Berreau of Brewster has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her research as professor at Utah State University. Karl Evers-Hillstrom of the Worthington Daily Globe writes that her work in inorganic chemistry examines the role metal ions play in human health, the environment and catalysis, primarily for new fuels from biological sources. “For example, when you break down things like corn to produce fuel, you need catalysts — metal structures that help feed up reactions, so we study … how we can break apart molecules by using oxygen and certain metals.” After graduation from Sioux Valley-Round Lake-Brewster, she went on to Mankato State University for her bachelor’s and Iowa State University for her doctorate, then did her postdoctoral work at the University of Minnesota. She then joined Utah State University in 1998 is now a full professor and executive associate dean of USU’s College of Science.

Bemidji Area Schools is predicting enrollment growth over the next few years and is adjusting its budget accordingly. Joe Bowen of the Bemidji Pioneer writes that the district has 5,022 students this year and expects 5,090 next year, 5,127 the year after that and 5,134.4 the year after that. The district predicts grades 1-5 will grow for the next three years then level off, with corresponding growth downstream in ensuing years. The state distributes school aid on a per-student basis so the more students, the more money the district gets from the state.

Despite a website outage, long wait times and anxiety over premium increases, more than 28,000 have signed up for health coverage through Minnesota’s health insurance exchange. The Associated Press reports that 28,475 residents had signed up since open enrollment began Nov. 1. MNsure said there are currently no wait times.

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An army of volunteers are spreading out over Kandiyohi County to interview farmers about the future of agriculture in the county. Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune reports that Kandiyohi County and the Willmar Economic Development Commission wants 65 active farmers to tell them about their operations and what they see for their farms’ future, hopefully revealing “red flag” issues, said Kim Larson, a farmer and member of the ag committee. Some of the topics including “how many more years they expect to farm, the availability of business financing and family health insurance, crop prices, off-farm income, the effect regulations have on their business, how they use technology, where they market their products and where they purchase farm supplies,” Lange wrote.

Up in St. Cloud, Jorge Ozornia, 47, was sentenced to almost 11 years in prison for starting a fire that closed the St. Cloud Public Library for several months. Jenny Berg of the St. Cloud Daily Times writes that Ozornia pleaded guilty in September to arson in the Aug. 17 event in which he started a fire on a chair on the second floor and fed it with pages from the book “Ancient Civilizations: The Illustrated Guide to Belief.” The fire caused structural damage and spread soot throughout the library, requiring all books, computers and air ducts to be cleaned. The library was closed for 11 weeks.

Olmsted County health officials are concerned after receiving hundreds of reports of norovirus, a fast-spreading virus that causes diarrhea, vomiting, aches and other symptoms. Catharine Richert of MPR reports that the officials have issued a holiday health alert that encourages family cooks to wash their hands often and thoroughly to keep the virus from spreading. Vigilance is the key, says Olmsted County Public Health official Kari Etrheim. “When we feel better, we think we can go back into our normal routines, but we’ll still shedding the virus and it’s really important to tell grandma, ‘Nope, I shouldn’t help in the kitchen.’ ” While incidents of norovirus outbreaks are common around the holidays, this one is unusually large, Etrheim said.

Maybe they could help the Twins get some relief pitching. After years of big-dollar acquisitions, Hormel Foods has sloughed off Clougherty Packing, parent company of Farmer John and Saag’s Specialty Meats, along with PFFJ farm operations in California, Arizona, and Wyoming to Smithfield Foods Inc. for $145 million in cash. Jason Schoonover of the Austin Daily Herald reports Hormel President Jim Snee said that “while the businesses have performed well, they no longer align with our company’s growth strategies.” The transaction is expected to close within 30 days.

After two years of planning, the Minnesota River Congress now has a framework to bring together people from throughout the river basin to not only protect the water resource but also the livelihood of the people who farm along its banks. Tim Krohn of the Mankato Free Press writes that after a resolution is passed in January, the group can turn over the plans to nine action groups that will solicit support for the plan. Group facilitator Scott Sparlin said the river congress is made up of conservationists, farmers, business people, recreation enthusiasts and state agency employees.  

Tom Olsen of the Fargo Forum reports that Dylan Bernard Gilbertson, 19, pleaded guilty Friday in State District Court in Virginia to an intentional second-degree murder charge in the death of 20-year-old Jaysen Greenwood. Police say Gilbertson assaulted Greenwood inside their shared Hibbing apartment on May 18, apparently in retaliation for some stolen electronics. Greenwood’s severely burned remains were found in the Mott Pit area of Mountain Iron the next day, and a medical examiner concluded that he had been stabbed, beaten and strangled. In exchange for a sentence of 35 years in prison – an upward departure from the 25-year sentence he likely would have faced — Gilbertson will provide a “truthful and complete” statement about the incident and will not face a grand jury to consider an indictment for premeditated first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence without parole. Officers say methamphetamine use likely played a role in the incident.