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Stoughton Fair community rallies to support family after exhibitor dies in crash

Ben Chadwick’s steer wasn’t originally slated to be among the animals auctioned off at the Stoughton Fair earlier this month. A tragedy changed the plans.

Chadwick had been exhibiting at the fair in the days leading up to Friday, July 2, when he was fatally injured in a car crash. The Marshall teen’s steer quickly became a rallying point for the community and a way to show their support for Chadwick’s grieving family.

Fair President Chris Quam said the fair got permission to sell the steer at the July 3 auction after news of the accident spread and thoughts turned to helping the family. Word of the sale of Chadwick’s steer made its way through fair community, which Quam described as a “tight-knit group.” So tight, in fact, that the fair made a grief counselor available to those who needed it.

As Chadwick’s sister led the steer and his brother held a photo in the sales ring, there were “zero dry eyes in the house,” Quam said. The arena was packed.

Quam, who is also a friend of the Chadwick family, introduced the steer and sale.

The steer first sold for $14 per pound, several times over market rate, to Mid-State Equipment, where Chadwick’s father is employed, Quam said. But within seconds of winning the bid, Mid-State Equipment offered the steer back for another round of bidding. The second winning bid by family friend Elizabeth Rake brought another $10 per pound.

And the remarkable twice-sold steer is still only part of the story of community support.

A group of local farmers also collected and presented $23,000 to be given to the family. Some exhibitors requested that a percentage of the sale price they got for their animals be donated to the Chadwicks as well. By the end of the day Saturday, July 3, the total raised for the Chadwick family topped $80,000, Quam said.

That total is expected to grow. The fair has continued to accept donations on behalf of the family. Quam said those donations, particularly ones that were mailed, hadn’t been counted up as of early last week. All donations received by the fair are being turned over to the family.

On July 7, the Stoughton Fair announced on Facebook establishment of a memorial fund, “Friends of Ben Chadwick,” at a local bank to serve as the primary location for any future donations. If interested in contributing to the fund, mail donations to Farmers & Merchants State Bank, c/o “Friends of Ben Chadwick,” PO Box 660, Marshall, WI 53559. Checks can be made payable to Friends of Ben Chadwick.

Pam Jahnke of the Mid-West Farm Report also announced they were teaming up with Gemplers, a Mount Horeb company specializing in gear for those working outdoors, to donate $5 from each sale of the two companies’ ongoing “Wisconsin Needs Farmers” T-shirt campaign to the Chadwick family. The online store listing for the T-shirt is at

Chadwick’s funeral was held on Thursday, July 8, with visitation on July 7 and 8. The funeral and visitation were held at Marshall High School in anticipation of attendance reflective of the impact Chadwick had and the strength of local community.

A wall of clouds appears over an expanse of famland near Glenmore.

The tradition of meat raffles

A vegetarian walks into a bar for the meat raffle and air conditioning. I know it sounds like the start of bad joke, but I recently visited Heartbreakers Bar & Grill to try to win packages of frozen meat on a 97-degree June day.

My husband calls this stretch of Highway OO near our house the “Lake Hallie Strip.” A little less bling than the one in Vegas but entertaining in its own way. Driving north you’ll find Heartbreakers, Hallie Bar, Slim’s Lake Hallie Tavern and Thirsty Badger. Currently two of them advertise weekly meat raffles.

I’ve been a vegetarian on and off since high school. For the last 15 years I’ve eaten mostly a plant-based diet with some seafood, dairy and eggs. I still enjoy cooking fall-off-the-bone pork roast, slow-cooked barbeque ribs, or rare steaks and burgers even if I won’t eat them. I’m also an ex-smoker who will light your cigarette.

Heartbreakers bills itself as a modern-day saloon, thus their signs for “Cowboys” and “Cowgirls” over the restroom doors. Bruce and I don’t have central air at home. Tonight sipping ice cold beer from chilled glasses at a table beside the air conditioner is the first time we’ve stopped sweating for days. “Let’s stay here forever,” Bruce says while we’re waiting for Bob and Connie Schroedel. They live just down the highway and enjoy bars and supper clubs only slightly more than we do. Bob and I are cousins — our mothers were sisters — but the Schroedels are more friends than kin.

A meat raffle is like every raffle: buy a ticket and wait for your number to get called. As a Catholic, I’ve been playing this sort of game since I could hold my own paddle, usually a paint stick with markered-on numbers. At each church picnic I won more cakes or pop bottles than my family could carry.

Meat raffles are a longstanding Wisconsin tradition, from small town VFW halls to big city hipster bars, enjoyed by 90-year-olds to 20-somethings. Turns out WWII era meat rationing in Britain prompted the first “meat raffles.” People pooled their meager protein supply and some lucky chap won enough for a feast. This concept soon caught on in the United States.

Years ago when Bruce first read “Meat Raffle tonight” on a Highway OO tavern marquee, he thought it was a cool band name. We still laugh about that. Other businesses away from “the strip,” like the Eagle’s Club or Lake Hallie Sportsman’s Club, hold meat raffles for local charities. Eagle’s takes a break June and July; that means for 10 months of the year a winner could bring home the bacon three nights a week just in Lake Hallie alone.

Each time you buy a drink at Heartbreakers on Tuesday after 5 p.m., you get a meat raffle ticket. Where else do the odds of winning increase the more you drink? The raffle begins at 6 p.m. sharp. The second number called is mine. I whoop my way from our table to the bartender to verify my ticket and then whoop some more to the spread of frozen meat. It’s as if my name’s just been called on “The Price is Right,” only tonight it’s not Bob Barker but the 20 or so other patrons who smile patiently while yet another middle-aged contestant screams. I poke through the prizes: a 2-pack of ring bologna or a whole chicken, a bag of cheese curds or beef sticks, pork tenderloin or a rack of ribs.

I settle on a pound of jumbo shrimp. I never won crustaceans before, so of course I hold the frozen bag over my head like a trophy and whoop my way back to our table. We order another round of drinks. Soon Connie’s number is called. We all cheer.

She chooses the ribs. Later Connie teases me, “Think there’s a vegetable raffle somewhere?”

Bruce says, “No one would go.” I would, of course, and you know I’d win something.

A week later Bruce and I visit Slim’s for their 5 p.m. Wednesday meat raffle. I step up to the bar and ask if it’s still on. The bartender says, “As soon as the meat arrives” with the same familial tone as “We’ll eat when Dad gets home.”

Someone tops the pool table with a piece of plywood covered in a painted-on Packers helmet, and by 6 p.m. packages of pork and beef are laid out for the first round. A lavender-haired barmaid yells “Two bucks a line” until all 15 slots are filled on the sign-up sheet. She calls many of the regulars “Baby.” At first Bruce and I feel a bit like outsiders, but after a few drinks we share a common goal with everyone here: win that meat.

Time and again I enter Bruce’s name or mine. The winning number gets revealed pull-tab style. Never ours. The $2 price is steeper than Heartbreakers but the prize is substantially bigger. After each round someone collects a grocery bag of different meats. Some guy named Mike wins twice, and I can’t help but heckle him.

Co-owner Marlene buys me a beer even before she finds out I’m writing about her raffle. She and husband Tim run this “neighborhood institution” on a road designated as part of the Historic National Automobile Route — the Yellowstone Trail. This stretch has been called Highway 53 then J; now it’s OO or Joles Avenue.

Slim’s has changed hands many times since it was built in the 1940s, but its name has remained. When I first used to come here, 30-some years ago, it was Slim’s Saddle Bar and stools were topped with real saddles. Today it still has the same vibe: grab your drink and settle in for fun. Now dudes in biker vests and bandanas are more common than dudes in Western shirts and cowboy boots. The corner chalkboard message, “Lisa says Never too told to Rock-n-Roll,” could have been written in 1972 or last week.

Soon the barmaid announces a grand finale. The “Big Kahuna” features $150 worth of meat and cheese. I have a good feeling about this one and buy both Bruce and me a $3 ticket. We lose again, though I win one of the consolation prizes: a plastic shot glass with an X on the bottom to be redeemed for a free drink. As if I need that to bring me back.

Solar energy a viable option for Wisconsin farmers

Alternative energy options abound for those interested in supplying more of their own energy.

But for Wisconsin farmers, it’s likely going to be solar energy that makes the most sense, according to Adam Wehling, dean of agriculture, energy, construction and transportation at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Wind and geothermal are options in the Midwest, but “we’re really digging deeper into solar, and that is pretty much the primary (option) for a lot of dairy farms, commercial businesses, recreational home owners,” Wehling said during a recent Professional Dairy Producers webinar.

“When it comes to solar, there is tremendous opportunity out here,” Wehling said. “We’re kind of in this solar era.”

As solar panels have significantly dropped in cost in recent years, arrays have been going up on operations across the Midwest, Wehling said.

“You know the price point is good when it’s really hitting big stream in the ag sector,” Wehling said. Wehling said he has his own solar 9.1 kilowatt solar array on the barn of his family’s hobby farm.

Plus, solar panel installation can come with incentives, rebate programs and grant program opportunities that when combined might whittle the producer’s final cost down to as low as 15-20% of the full price.

But, Wehling said, it’s important to remember that solar panels are likely to require a significant investment upfront before reimbursement for some of those costs later through the available programs.

It might be tempting to wait to see if the cost of solar panels continues to drop. Wehling isn’t sure that’s a good strategy. He said even if solar panel costs do go down further, those savings may be offset in the increased cost of the skilled labor needed to to install the panels.

Before launching into everything solar potentially has to offer, producers should be certain to contact their utility provider. Anyone’s specific experience with renewable energy is going to greatly depend on the provider they have and the parameters and caps that utility sets on renewable energy.

“Everybody kind of manages renewable energy differently,” Wehling said.

The parameters allowed for the solar energy generated for buildings at Chippewa Valley Technical College are different that the parameters allowed to Wehling’s home as a residential owner with a different utility provider.

“So the first thing you need to do is you probably need to start making a list here of what are the questions I need to ask my utility provider,” Wehling said. “It’s the first place you start before you even go to a solar energy contractor.”

It’s also important to know what type of metering your has before looking into solar. Most solar operations will be a grid-tied system as opposed to an off-the-grid system. Off-the-grid systems that rely on battery storage aren’t very scalable or cost effective for farms at this time.

The net metering term — the length of time energy credits from the solar array can be banked — offered by the utility will also need to be a consideration.

Wehling said his home net metering term lets solar credits build up in a 12-month period during which they must be used. That 12-month time period is particularly useful because the credits built up during an oversupply of solar energy in the summer months can be used in the less sunny months later in the net metering cycle.

Not all net metering terms are 12 months, though. Some companies use six-month, three-month or even 30-day periods. Not all systems will result in an oversupply of energy either.

But understanding the net metering term in cases where there will be times of oversupply is very important, Wehling said. If the credits from the oversupply aren’t used in time, the producer will only get a wholesale rate (such as 3 cents per kilowatt) for that extra energy as opposed to the rate of electricity they would otherwise purchase from the utility provider (such as 11-12 cents per kilowatt).

“Right now there’s no incentive to overproduce because 3 cents doesn’t really justify anything on solar production to help produce money toward that expense you put into it,” Wehling said.

Solar energy agreements with utilities are also likely to vary depending on if a farmer is producing energy primarily for their own use versus to sell back to the grid.

Farmers interested in implementing solar energy should also do their due diligence when selecting a contractor to set up their system, Wehling said. A utility provider may be able to provide recommendations, and Wehling also recommended that farmers reach out to the solar company’s client references, such as another farm that the solar contractor has worked with.

Another consideration for farmers will be where they’re going to put their solar system.

Barn roofs, as Wehling used, are one potentially good option, assuming the barns are structurally sound enough to bear extra weight without risk of collapse. Roof systems have the benefit of not taking up additional space ground-mounted systems require.

But ground-mounted systems have their own perks, too, Wehling said. For one, those ground systems can take advantage of some of the newest solar technology: bifacial solar panels. Traditionally, solar panels have been monofacial, with sunlight only able to be absorbed on one side, which works well when they’re mounted somewhere where light won’t reach the back of the panels anyway.

But ground-mounted systems with bifacial panels offer the chance to capitalize on both sides of the panel. A monofacial panel, which have gotten more efficient themselves, could draw 300 watts, while a bifacial panel might be able to draw 400 watts, Wehling said.

Ground solar panels might also be able to tip to follow the course of the sun during the day or be seasonally adjusted.

“I encourage people to do their research, do their homework on the different layouts,” Wehling said.

Those choosing a ground system will also have to consider factors about where on the ground to mount their panels.

Ground-mounted panels can last 30 years, Wehling said, so farmers should make sure to choose a spot where they’re not planning to build a structure, place a driveway or do anything else with the land. Considering the levels of dust or shade the panels might get exposed to is also worth thinking about.

In most cases it should be possible to have a fixed mount solar panel where rain can wash off dust or pollen that accumulates and where snow can slide off. Solar companies will also remotely monitor the panels for any deviations that might indicate a problem for the solar contractor to fix.

“You can literally not have to do anything with these if you don’t want to,” Wehling said.