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Our most valuable export. Weeds, 5/16/12

May 23, 2012 - Randy Krzmarzick
Our farm in the middle of Brown County grows corn and soybeans. In a good season, about 2 million pounds of corn and a million pounds of soybeans leave here to join the global supply of those commodities where they get fed, processed, and exported. But I don’t believe that corn and beans are the most important export from our farm.

The town of Sleepy Eye historically has processed local commodities into products it has shipped around the world, and Del Monte continues that today. One of the world’s largest calendar printers began here as Haas Press and is currently owned by BIC. Schwartz Farms and Christensen Family Farms are among the leading pork producers in the country. But vegetables, calendars, and pork are not the most important exports from our community.

As high quality as these items are, young people are the most impressive “product” we continue to “ship out” of Sleepy Eye year in and year out. These “exports” are talented young adults that leave here, and go to affect our nation in many positive ways. I am proud of them; it makes me feel good about the work we do to nurture and raise up our children before we launch them into the world.

I am proud, but also a little bit sad. I wish there were a way more of these fruits of this place could stay here. Is it possible to imagine an economy where small towns and farms could keep more of our progeny? And to imagine a culture where rural places would be more valued? Maybe, but the world is what it is.

I want to use my family as an illustration, knowing there are many others like it. Oldest daughter Anna just graduated from the University of Minnesota, School of Nursing and has been hired in the transplant recovery unit at the Mayo in Rochester. She was told she had one of the most impressive resumes her interviewers had seen. Abby is on the Dean’s list at the University with a double major and will be a strong candidate in her field in two years.

My brother Dale and wife Dorothy have five children. Jay teaches in Winsted after working for years in St. George, Utah. Kip is the principal at Rogers Elementary in Las Vegas. Jody is an RN in an oncology unit at a hospital in Phoenix. Kyle is a general manager for a global talent recruiting company and lives in Brooklyn Park. Kelly teaches 4th grade in Las Vegas.

My sister Jo Ann and husband Tom have three children. Sherry only went east 12 miles to New Ulm where she works for the Diocese. Steve is a national sales rep and lives in Lake Crystal. Sandy is a pharmacist for Target and lives in Chaska.

There. Not counting our son in high school, that’s ten cousins who were taught in Sleepy Eye schools, played in our parks, and biked on our streets. All ten went away to college. That’s something my brother and sister didn’t get to do, but they made sure their kids did. And all ten have made lives elsewhere.

Our family is not unique. To brag a bit, this is a talented set of young people who have gone on to some level of achievement. And like hundreds of other young adults from our town, they had lots to offer the world out there. Without much effort I can think of other whole families of great kids who’ve left our shores: Bill and Jan Zilka’s four, Phil and Betty Heymans’ seven, Don and Betty Rausch’s eleven.

We watch these amazing kids grow up among us. We watch them hit baseballs, play in the band, act in plays, and sing in musicals. They bag our groceries, wait on us at Hardees, and serve at mass. We see them grow a little at a time, and, then, whoosh, they’re young men and women in a cap and gown. And you might not see them again for a long time, till years later, maybe you see them home for Christmas Mass.

Of course, jobs are the driver here. A town like Sleepy Eye has some good jobs, but not enough to keep many of our kids. New Ulm has more jobs, but lots of that city’s best and brightest also go east. It could be worse. You need only drive west to see towns that are shriveling up. And drive through the Dakotas and Nebraska, and you see towns that dried up a couple generations ago.

Not all these kids heading out after their graduation party would want to spend their lives in a Sleepy Eye. Being eighteen should come with a sense of adventure and curiosity to see what’s out there. But I can’t help but think many would settle back here if given the opportunity. A town like ours is a wonderful place to raise a family.

Employers love our small-town-rural kids. A classmate of mine, Matt Rausch, attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He spent several years as an officer on nuclear submarines. He told me once that he always knew when one of his young sailors was a Midwestern kid-they were just more reliable and needed less attention. And my nephews in education were very desired by the State of Nevada, which recruiting highly thought-of Minnesota graduates for their schools.

Last Sunday, I attended 10:00 mass at St. Mary’s which was the Baccalaureate Service. There, somewhat splendid in their gowns, were the next wave of Sleepy Eye’s contribution to the future. Bundles of possibilities, the parish blessed them. We send them forth, but, hey, don’t be strangers.


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