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Farmers look to Democrats for help in keeping Ag Building in Baldwin

Local farmer Don Schumacher holds up a map showing how most of St. Croix County’s agricultural land lies east of Highway 65 during a local Democratic Party event at Ready Randy’s on Thursday, Oct. 10. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

More than 60 area farmers and Democrats filled a room at Ready Randy’s on Thursday, Oct. 10, to hear presentations about why St. Croix County shouldn’t close its agriculture building in Baldwin.

A proposal is making its way through various steps that could see the building closed and county services moved to Hudson. The catalyst for the action was the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency failing to renew its lease with the county.

The heated topic has been in the news for nearly a month, and area farmers partnered with the local Democratic Party for the event, which featured speakers John Van Dyk, Char Croes, Dave Kruschke and Don Schumacher.

St. Croix County Democratic Party co-chair Mark Struble hosted the event.

Van Dyk, chairman of the Erin Prairie Town Board, told the crowd, which included a handful of St. Croix County supervisors, that the building in question houses a lot of meetings.

“That building was used 282 times last year for various meetings for 4-H and UW-Extension,” Van Dyk said.

He also pointed out that agriculture is still the biggest industry in St. Croix County.

“It contributes 3,600 jobs in St. Croix County, and $533 million it contributes to this county,” Van Dyk said. “It’s the leading industry, and that building needs to be where agriculture is.”

Croes, a local dairy farmer, told the crowd that Rebecca Bonesteel, vice-chair of the St. Croix County Democrats, contacted her about starting a petition to keep the ag center in Baldwin.

That petition had more than 380 signatures at the conclusion of last Thursday’s event.

Dave Kruschke, president of the local farm bureau, also presented a strong case for keeping the ag services in their current location.

“There are a lot of issues that have pros and cons, but this one is pretty much cut and dry,” Kruschke said. “The farmers and people who use that building want it to stay how it is.”

When local farmer Don Schumacher took the podium, he brought a map as a visual aid.

“The green is agriculture and the white is urban,” he told the crowd while pointing to his map. “If you take the line right up Highway 65, that’s where it divides.”

New Richmond City Council member Jane Hansen gave a short comment as well.

Hansen said that if the county needs to sell the building for other projects, including the purchase and renovation of the former County Market building, it should look to bonding instead of closing the beloved ag building.

New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne, who also represents city residents as a county supervisor, told the crowd that he was on their side.

“We support the Baldwin facility and we won’t be voting to sell it,” Horne said.

County Administrator Pat Thompson, who was not at the meeting, said on Friday, Oct. 11, that no decision has yet been made on whether to close the ag building, and there is plenty of time to discuss the issue.

“There’s no hidden agenda to get anything done by a certain date,” Thompson said. “We are proceeding with the buildout of the old County Market building in New Richmond and the Health and Human Services employees will be moved there in June next year, and there’s not a rush on this.”

Thompson now finds himself between farmers and members of the public who want to keep the ag center, and members of the county board who may vote to close it.

“I think we have to listen to the community,” Thompson said. “Any time there’s change like this I think there’s going to be a reaction to it. It’s not unexpected, and I think some of their issues and concerns are legitimate. We need to listen to them. All I ask for is that we look at the facts. We want to make sure its factual information and not distorted information.”

The matter has not yet appeared on the agenda for a St. Croix County Board of Supervisors meeting, and it’s unclear when it will.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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