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Enthusiasm high as Farm Technology Days kicks off
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EAU CLAIRE — It didn’t take long for dirt roads in a field south of Eau Claire to become bustling avenues as visitors, exhibitors and volunteers arrived at the state’s largest agricultural show.

The start of Farm Technology Days 2021 became official with opening ceremonies on Tuesday morning. Even before the official welcome attendees were already eager to start taking in everything Farm Technology Days has to offer.

Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski, and Farm Technology Days representatives welcomed visitors. The host family of Huntsinger Farms, owned by Nancy Bartusch and her sons Eric and Ryan Rygg, was also recognized.

Farm Technology Days covers a remarkable range, both in terms of subjects and scale. Animal exhibits and shows, a ride-and-drive area, food tents, a youth and career discovery zone, stage shows and more can all be found spread across the massive grounds.

Tent City at the heart of the exhibition covers 80 acres. The full site spans 270 acres.

In Innovation Square, which features diverse agricultural businesses, Charles Wachsmuth welcomed people to stop by for a chat about Chippewa Valley Bean, the world’s largest grower and processor of red kidney beans.

“We’re preaching the gospel of kidney beans today,” said Wachsmuth, who is responsible for sales and marketing for the family-owned business.

Wachsmuth said Farm Technology Days is a great opportunity for the company to “say we’re here.” Despite the company’s global status, many in the region don’t know of the company’s presence or what they do.

Though it was still early in the show, Wachsmuth said he already had conversations with people interested in growing for the company as well as with other attendees interested in learning more about the company or topics like soil health.

Chippewa Valley Bean, Huntsinger Farms (horseradish), and Superior Fresh (aquaponics with salmon and greens) are all world leaders in their respective industries. Ferguson’s is one of the Midwest’s largest apple growers, and Marieke Gouda has earned numerous awards, including internationally, for its cheese.

While Innovation Square exhibitors were selected to highlight the regional agricultural diversity near Eau Claire, hundreds of other exhibitors were also on hand to put on a spotlight on agricultural innovation. While many at the event are known names in agriculture, others hoped to build their brands.

If it weren’t for the one-year pandemic postponement that pushed the show from 2020 to 2021, Melanie Mader wouldn’t have been standing in an exhibitor booth inside of the Rural Event Center. Mader’s Farm only began selling goat milk products last October, making a delayed Farm Technology Days an ideal opportunity for the new business.

The family has had goats, originally for 4-H and FFA projects, for five years, Mader said. But shortly before the pandemic hit last year, the family decided to start milking the goats.

Mader was excited to be at Farm Technology Days for the first time since high school. She was also keeping her fingers crossed about the supplies she brought.

“I’m hoping we have enough,” Mader said.

While Mader’s supply chain comes directly from the farm, other exhibitors have faced supply chain hiccups that made it difficult to fully showcase their wares during Farm Technology Days. Lee Proctor of Danuser, a manufacturer of skid steer and tractor attachments, is familiar with those struggles. But he did have equipment on display alongside distributor Edney Distributing.

“We pulled it off,” Proctor said. But “it came with some challenges.”

Proctor said the Fulton, Missouri-based company was fortunate to manufacture a lot of what goes into their products. They do have to rely on outside sources for some things. But despite the challenges the supply chain, Proctor, a first-time exhibitor, expressed optimism for the show itself.

“We’re expecting a good show,” Proctor said.

Farm Technology Days continues today and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Huntsinger Farms, W3020 Mitchell Road, Eau Claire. Single-day admission is $10; a family ticket for up to 5 people can be purchased for $40. Youth 12 and under are free, and free parking is available on the grounds.


Covid-19
featured
What to expect in September: Chippewa Valley school districts tackle reopening plans
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EAU CLAIRE — School districts in the Chippewa Valley are beginning to release their back-to-school plans for the fall.

Though some districts say they’re debuting their reopening plans later in the summer, the Eau Claire and Altoona school districts say they’re planning to return to face-to-face classes, five days per week in September.

In all four large Chippewa Valley districts — Eau Claire, Altoona, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls — masks will be optional for students and teachers.

Though the districts are encouraging parents to vaccinate their children 12 and older against COVID-19, none of the four school districts will require vaccinations.

The districts’ reopening plans somewhat line up with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said this month that vaccinated students and teachers don’t have to wear masks indoors, though it said unvaccinated people older than two should still wear masks.

Altoona

In September, the Altoona school district plans to hold in-person classes five days per week, according to the district’s reopening plan.

Masks will be optional in most settings, unless local health orders require them — though the district says it might require students and staff to wear masks in some environments, like in vocal music classes.

The district isn’t requiring vaccinations for students or staff, said Altoona schools Superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos.

Though schools will use as much distance as they can, “because of our classroom and class sizes, we know we will not be able to maintain 6 feet of distance” between students in school buildings, Eliopoulos said Tuesday.

Because the district can’t guarantee 6 feet of distance, unvaccinated close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 will have to be excluded from school buildings for a full 14 days, according to the district.

In the fall, the district will offer a 100% virtual option to students in sixth through 12th grades.

The deadline to enroll is Aug. 10. Families who would prefer the all-virtual option should contact Terri Hanson at thanson@altoona.k12.wi.us as soon as possible, according to the district’s plan.

Students who start the school year in the all-virtual program will be able to move to face-to-face classes at the semester point (sixth to eighth grade) or the trimester point (ninth through 12th grade).

Students who begin the school year in the face-to-face option can move to the all-virtual option at the same points in the year.

“One thing we learned over the last year is that virtual learning isn’t a fit for some students, but for others it’s a perfect fit,” Eliopoulos said. “Even if it is a smaller group of students than it was last year, we still want to provide that option to families.”

Altoona students in the 4K program will remain in the same kind of programming they’ve had in the past, except their day off will be on Fridays this year, instead of Wednesdays.

Unvaccinated staffers and students must screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school, and should stay home if they have a temperature over 100.3 degrees, a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, a loss of taste or smell, muscle pain, chills or other illness symptoms. All students and staff should stay home if they have a fever, the district said.

Unvaccinated staff or students who make close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 will be sent home to quarantine, the district said.

The district said it may adjust the plan depending on the level of COVID-19 circulation in the community: “If there is a significant change in the health of our community between now and Sept. 1, we’d need to come back together,” Eliopoulos said.

Chippewa Falls

The Chippewa Falls school district plans to make masks optional for students and teachers this fall, said Chippewa Falls schools Superintendent Jeff Holmes.

Mask requirements will still be in place for school buses at least until Sept. 13, Holmes said in an email to the Leader-Telegram.

The district won’t be participating in the state’s K-12 school COVID-19 testing program for the 2021-22 school year, Holmes added. The federally funded program offers Wisconsin schools free testing supplies, diagnostics and swabbing services for either rapid antigen tests or more accurate PCR tests, according to the state Department of Health Services.

The school district plans to send out further communication about school operations in the fall on Aug. 3, Holmes said.

Eau Claire

The Eau Claire school district on Monday released its reopening plan.

It’s making masks optional for students and staffers, except on school buses. In-person classes will be held five days per week.

The district is also offering an all-virtual option, the Eau Claire Virtual School, which is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The deadline to sign up for the virtual option is July 27; enrollment information can be found at www.ecasd.us/ecvs.

The district won’t require students or staff to be vaccinated.

It plans to share details about teacher assignments, class schedules, classroom setups, physical distancing, field trips, visitor guidelines, lunches and special education later this summer.

For more information on the Eau Claire school reopening plan, see Tuesday’s Leader-Telegram or visit leadertelegram.com.

Menomonie

Masks will likely still be optional for students and teachers in the Menomonie school district in the fall.

The Menomonie school board voted to make masks optional starting in early June 2021. Menomonie schools Superintendent Joe Zydowsky said at a July 12 board meeting that a mask-optional policy is “something the board will continue to have to weigh in on.”

“That’s the direction we’re currently operating under,” Zydowsky said of the current mask-optional policy.

The district is debuting a first draft of its reopening plan at a July 26 school board meeting, Zydowsky said at the July 12 meeting.

In a July 7 blog post, Zydowsky offered more details on what families can expect in September.

The school district won’t require students and staff to be vaccinated, he wrote, noting that low vaccination rates in Dunn County are limiting the community’s protection from COVID-19.

About 22% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Dunn County are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 27% of younger teens statewide.

Though COVID-19 is circulating at lower levels around the state, Zydowsky wrote that a recent local outbreak caused Dunn County to be one of four counties in the state listed at a “high” level of COVID-19 activity. (Since then, the county has returned to a “medium” level of activity, according to state data.)

Zydowsky wrote in the blog post: “While it would be great to have a more normal school year in the SDMA, it is very possible that the anticipated spread of the Delta variant could require strict mitigation strategies — especially if vaccination percentages do not improve. Like last school year, the SDMA will prioritize keeping schools open for in-person instruction during the 2021-2022 school year, and planning is well underway.”

It’s unlikely that Menomonie classrooms will be able to keep 6 feet of physical distance between people, Zydowsky wrote.

The school district plans to share more information about the 2021-22 school year in a back-to-school newsletter later this summer.


Politics
Fraud charges brought in 2nd Wisconsin 2020 election case

MADISON — A Wisconsin man who cast two absentee ballots in the 2020 presidential election has been charged with four felonies, making him the second person in the battleground state to face charges stemming from the election.

Former President Donald Trump has claimed there was widespread fraud in Wisconsin, a state that President Joe Biden won by just under 21,000 votes.

Charges of election fraud are exceedingly rare in Wisconsin, but there typically are a handful after every major election. The crime of election fraud is a felony.

The latest charges, filed in June, come in one of 27 cases referred by Wisconsin election officials to prosecutors out of more than 3 million ballots cast. No other charges have been brought from that group, and district attorneys have said they are not pursuing charges in 18 of those cases. The other eight are either still under review, or the district attorney did not provide an update Monday.

In Wisconsin, Republicans have ordered a review by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired three retired police investigators to look into claims of “irregularities.”

In the latest fraud case filed in St. Croix County, 64-year-old Michael Ray Overall claims that his voting twice was unintentional, according to the criminal complaint filed June 16. Overall, reached by phone on Monday, said he has not hired an attorney and reiterated that his voting twice was a mistake.

“Hell no,” he said when asked if he intended to vote twice.

He declined to say who he voted for in the presidential election.

Overall registered to vote in St. Croix County in 2007 but sold his house in 2019 and changed his address on his driver’s license to Beloit in May 2020.

According to the complaint, Overall requested an absentee ballot from St. Croix County in western Wisconsin on Oct. 5, 2020. It was mailed to a Rockford, Illinois, address. A week later, on Oct. 12, he signed the absentee ballot using a Star Prairie, Wisconsin, address, which is in St. Croix County. The ballot was received before the election.

On Oct. 13, just a day after he signed that absentee ballot, Overall registered to vote using a Beloit, Wisconsin, address, using a vehicle title as proof of residence, the complaint said. On Oct. 27, Overall voted absentee in person at a voting location in the Town of Beloit, in Rock County.

Overall said he was told by an election official in Rock County that his absentee vote there would cancel out his request for the St. Croix County absentee ballot, which he said he remembered filling out but not returning.

“I’ve got memory problems,” Overall said Monday. “I can’t even remember what day it is.”

The investigator recommended charging Overall with election fraud because he had moved from St. Croix County in 2019 and changed his driver’s license address, but presented an old driver’s license when applying for the absentee ballot there.

He faces one charge of voting by a disqualified person; one charge of providing false information to an election official; one charge of registering to vote in more than one place; and of voting more than once. Each charge is a Class I felony punishable by a $10,000 and up to 3½ years in prison, or both.

Overall is due in court for his initial appearance on Aug. 5.

His case comes after a Florida man was charged with election fraud in Sawyer County, Wisconsin, in March. Luke Aaron Frazier, 36, unsuccessfully tried to obtain an absentee ballot for the November 2020 election by falsely claiming he was a resident of the village of Radisson. His case was not among the 27 others that local elections officials forwarded to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, as state law requires.

Frazier is scheduled to be in court on Aug. 31 for a status hearing.


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