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Do gas prices make you feel sick? Fatal? Busherized?

Also: Don’t mess with Spam, thriving Bushel Boys in Owatonna — and (many) suits stolen through a secret panel.

News from Greater Minnesota

In a simple exercise, Tim Engstrom of the Albert Lea Tribune asked readers to submit a single word that would describe the current state of gasoline prices. “Nearly all the responses expressed dissatisfaction with the price of gas, many of them giving the emotion that rising prices stirs,” Engstrom wrote, stating the obvious. Here are some of the responses: “Absurd,” “Busherized,” “Piranha,” “Fatal,” “Gouged,” “Stressed,” “Helpless,” “Violated,” “Prison,” “Robbed,” “Appalling,” “Georgewbushed,” “Bombastic,” “Used,” “Broke,” “Exhausted,” “Sick,” “Scammed,” “Cheated,” “Hollow.”

Sandbag distribution starts as Red River rises: The Fargo Forum is giving flood-wary sandbaggers a little good news: Fargo and Moorhead officials are telling homeowners to build dikes lower than initially planned. The National Weather Service says the Red River may top out between 38 and 40 feet. Moorhead officials are now telling residents to build sandbag dikes to 42 feet, while Fargo residents are being told to build their dikes to 41 feet, with the possibility of going to 42 feet if necessary. The original plan in both cities was to build dikes to 43 feet. The Red River is expected to reach 39 feet in Fargo-Moorhead by early Monday.

Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers rising: Fueled by snow and ice melting from the recent week of warmer weather, the New Ulm Journal reports that the Minnesota River is projected to crest at 806.9 feet above sea level on Saturday afternoon, the fifth-biggest crest in history. Flooding is minimized thanks to a clay berm, built at an estimated cost of $300,000, which is 814 feet at its highest portions.

The Cottonwood River at New Ulm was measured at 11.69 feet at 3 p.m. Monday. That places it 1 foot below the moderate flood stage of 13 feet.

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Nobody messes with the Spam: Rule No. 1 in Minnesota: The rivers will rise. Rule No. 2: You can only push Hormel so far. The recall of 54,960 pounds of frozen raw turkey burgers by Jennie-O Turkey Store, a subsidiary of Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp., has been thoroughly reported. Less well known is a lawsuit between Hormel and an Ohio firm, alleging it is producing a canned meat product with a logo that’s “confusingly similar” to Spam’s iconic yellow-on-blue design.

According to the Austin Daily Herald, “Prem” is a competing luncheon meat made in Cincinnati by Netherlands-based Zwanenberg Food Group. The dispute started in October when, Hormel alleges, Zwanenberg started shipping Prem in the U.S. in packaging similar to Spam’s. The Cincinnati firm agreed to “amend” the Prem design. A short time later, Hormel discovered Zwanenberg was selling Prem with a “modified yellow-on-blue design” in the Philippines and in Okinawa, Japan. Hormel’s suit, filed last week in federal court in Minnesota, seeks unspecified damages. The Dutch company is going to learn there are just some lines you just don’t cross, and messing around with Spam is one of them.

Making sausages and loving it: While it’s true that most people don’t want to see how laws, sausages or Spam are made, there’s one family that turns the art of making sausages into a family tradition, Adam Masloski writes in The Timberjay. Each year, the Gornik family gathers and makes sausage at the “Sausage Fest,” an event that has brought the Gornik family together for over 50 years. Anton and Mary Gornik started the tradition several generations ago and it snowballed to include just about every Gornik in the Ely area, including many who come from out of state just for the occasion. This year, the Gorniks cooked and cased approximately 150 pounds of blood sausage and approximately 100 pounds of potato sausage. 

Everyone gets involved. Some are assigned to mixing the sverka, rice, cracklings, blood, pork, snouts, tongues and secret spices. Others wash casings, man the sausage stuffer and get the water boiling for the initial cooking. On an average year, the Gorniks usually make their blood sausage in the morning, break for lunch, and then make potato sausage in the afternoon. Toward the end of the day, there’s always some taste testing, a few beers and some polka and accordion tunes. “It’s a reunion for us and we have fun together,” Mary Jo Gornik told Masloski. “We all get along pretty well.”

Teachers oppose K-12 provisions in bill: Teachers and conservative lawmakers don’t get along as well as the Gornik family, and in case you thought the contentious atmosphere seen recently in Madison, Wis., can’t be found in Minnesota, you’re wrong. Two weeks ago, teachers in International Falls gave notice to the school board they wouldn’t put up with any attempt to disparage their abilities to teach. Last week, the Fergus Falls Journal reported on tension rising from calls to end the current teacher tenure system, freeze funds for special education and create a new system for grading schools.

“This isn’t about meaningful reform. It’s about attacking collective bargaining, tenure and teacher unions,” said Steve Olson, spokesperson for the Fergus Falls Education Association. Pelican Rapids Education Association spokesperson Steve Sorenson said it’s unfair for the state to ask that teachers suddenly give up bargaining rights that have been attained over several decades. Fergus Falls school board members are taking a wait-and-see approach. They know Gov. Mark Dayton opposes many of the Republican Party’s proposed K-12 changes.

Anyone can use a gun, but what about bare hands? Applications for this fall’s bear hunt opened Friday at any Minnesota Department of Natural Resources license agent and onlinereports the International Falls Journal. New this year is a requirement that hunters who are selected in the annual lottery buy their licenses by July 29. The remaining licenses can be made available to other hunters. Applications for this year’s bear hunt, which runs from Sept. 1 to Oct. 16, will be accepted through May 6. A total of 7,050 licenses are available in 11 permit areas. Applications also are available at the DNR License Center in St. Paul or by phone at 888-665-4236.

Corn dying to keep business in state: A new corn strain being planted in southwest Minnesota may change the way commercial corporations color their food.

“Bill Petrich, CEO of Suntava, the company that designed the corn strain, said he hopes the company’s purple corn, a natural hybrid that’s not genetically modified, will become an established specialty crop. Several farmers across southwest Minnesota, including a half-dozen in Lamberton, have adopted the crop. Suntava’s corn, a field variety, can be used for traditional commercial food production, but what truly sets the corn apart from the competition is its royal purple color,” wrote Phillip Bock of the Marshall Independent.

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A 2007 study tied children’s hyperactivity to six synthetic dyes. Soon thereafter, the European Union developed legislation to require warning labels on products containing the dyes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to consider the potential link between hyperactivity in children and artificial dyes found in foods such as juices and candy.

This could help Suntava’s dyes, an all-natural replacement for petroleum-based dyes currently under review. Suntava’s primary dye is a dark red that is a close match to the commonly used red No. 40 and works well in beverage applications. Although the cost of natural dyes is higher than that of synthetics, Suntava is working to bring down costs.

Rice County residents’ ‘food insecure’: Judy Bickel wasn’t surprised to hear statistics indicating 1 in 10 residents of Rice County aren’t getting enough food. The Food Shelf in Northfield has seen an increase in demand. “Our numbers have skyrocketed over the last three years, definitely,” Bickel told the Northfield News. A report by the hunger-relief organization Feeding America released last week identifies more than 7,000 individuals in Rice County are “food insecure,” or failing to meet federal standards in the quality and amount of food they eat. The report estimates that county residents need $2.9 million more to meet food needs, based on 2009 data.

To qualify for help from programs like the Food Shelf, Operation Backpack or the Clothes Closet, families must have an income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, living at 100 percent of poverty would mean an annual income of $22,050. Living at 185 percent of poverty equals an annual income of $40,793 for a family of four. Among the food-insecure population in Rice County, 41 percent are below 165 percent of the poverty threshold, 3 percent are between 165 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level, and 56 percent are above the 185 percent threshold. According to the report, the food insecurity rate statewide is 11.2 percent. Nationwide, 16.6 percent of the population is food insecure.

Meanwhile, Bushel Boy is thriving: Freezing weather in Florida and Mexico may have hurt the tomato business, but you’d never know it by looking at the business Bushel Boy is doing in Owatonna. The greenhouse-grown tomatoes are thriving, unlike the Floridian and Mexican crops that were devastated by mid-winter freezes, reports Ashley Peterson in the Owatonna People’s Press. While eateries and grocers across the country were scrambling to find a succulent crop, more than 170 grocery stores in the metro area and beyond were sitting pretty with juicy red tomatoes from Owatonna’s grower.

“Because we’re in a glass greenhouse we didn’t have to worry about the freeze, so we basically have the same production and quantities of tomatoes as we did a year ago,” Bushel Boy owner Jay Johnson told the People’s Press. He said production numbers mirrored last year’s quota. “We have gotten a lot of calls from other areas who don’t normally buy from us who were looking for tomatoes, but we couldn’t grow more than what we already had accounted for.”

Time to get the suit story straight. More than 30 years after New Ulm police arrested Fred Meine Jr. for stealing clothes from his next-door competitor, Leuthold Jensen Clothiers, and selling them in his own store, Jim Jensen is telling his story in a book he has written, “Threads of Evidence.”

Kevin Sweeney of the New Ulm Journal sums up the facts:

“For nearly two and a half years, Meine crept into Jensen’s store, usually on early Sunday mornings, through a false panel he had made in a heavy door in the basement wall the two buildings shared. He would help himself to suits, shirts, and other merchandise, shove them through the narrow panel, then sell the merchandise in his own store. …

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“Jensen said he considered the possibility that some employee was stealing from him, that someone had made a copy of the store keys. He and his employees would sometimes spend time in the store at night to see if they could catch the culprit. …

“The book recounts how Jensen finally came to suspect Meine, how the case against him was built, and the legal aftermath after the theft was uncovered. It is a compelling read, even for those aware of the basic facts of the case.

“People who remember the case aren’t usually aware of the amount of merchandise taken. When police finally let Jensen and his employees into Meine’s store to identify their merchandise, they found very little of Meine’s stock was his own. “We were stocking two stores!” Jensen said.”

Jensen said the retail value of the inventory was over $170,000.

Meine pleaded guilty to one count of theft, for the suit that was purchased from his store to give police probable cause for the search warrant. He was sentenced to a five-year probation and a $2,000 fine. He died in 2000.

Jensen says the experience changed his life and made him a better businessman.

Well, why not. I guess getting ripped off by your neighbor for more than two years has to have an upside.

John Fitzgerald is a longtime Minnesotan and journalist. He lives in Buffalo.