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Deep roots: Weidenborner family is farm family of the year

NORTHOME – Between running a farm, greenhouse, and numerous other jobs, there’s not a lot of downtime for the Weidenborner family of Northome.

But, it appears they like it that way.

Andrew and LaVon Weidenborner last week were recognized by the Koochiching County Board and county Extension as the 2020 Koochiching County Farm Family of the Year, a recognition program that has existed for more than 30 years.

“It was really exciting and we are so honored,” LaVon said of the recognition. “Our whole family got to be at the (county board) meeting. It was special.”

The program honors farm families from throughout Minnesota for their contributions to the agriculture industry and their local communities. The Weidenborners fit that to a tee.

In addition to the farm and the greenhouse, Andrew drives truck delivering wood and LaVon is a director on the Koochiching County Fair Board, a member of the Shooks Homemakers Club and the couple are members of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Kelliher.

“We like to stay busy,” LaVon said. “It’s just kind of who we are.”

Deep roots

Having both grown up in the area, Andrew and LaVon come from a history of farming families. Andrew grew up near Shooks on a dairy farm, and LaVon grew up in Mizpah on a beef cattle farm.

“We don’t do dairy,” LaVon said with a laugh. “We have beef cows. We started with 12 cows in the early ‘90s and now we have about 85 cows and young stock.”

Sitting right on the Koochiching-Beltrami County line, the 426-acre Weidenborner farm is nestled down a dirt road in Northome. In addition to cows, they grow several crops and plants for their greenhouse, Mizpah’s Local Roots Greenhouse, which they’ve owned since 2016.

“We grow all our plants from seed,” LaVon said. “They’re our babies.”

Through efforts related to the greenhouse and farm, the Weidenborners donated marigold and pumpkin plants to area school children to plant and grow over the summer in the school garden.

“People have been sending me pictures of their plants growing,” LaVon said. “We really like that they think to send those to us.”

During the winter months, the momentum continues. The greenhouse hosts more than 50 local artisan vendors which provides a retail opportunity for vendors and holiday shoppers.

“People cry when I give them their checks,” LaVon said. “Especially that time of year. It’s just something extra everyone could use.”

All in the family

The Weidenborners have five children – Trista, Tonya, Cyril, Teresa and Tiana. Growing up, the couple said the kids were very active on the farm.

“We always had a lot of kids here picking rock,” LaVon said.

‘Picking rock’ is a term used for when rocks make their way up through the soil in fields, and farmers need to remove them before they are able to use their equipment. Rock pickers walk through a field and load rocks – by hand — onto a tractor or wagon.

“You have to do that so you don’t wreck the equipment,” Andrew said, pointing to a large pile of rocks people hand picked.

“Our kids have all helped feed grain, too,” LaVon said of the variety of chores there always needed to be done on the farm.

With their children grown up, the next generation is starting to get involved.

The Weidenborners have four grandsons – Luke, Kyle, Jace and Nate. Luke, who is the oldest at 6 years old, said he’s going to “grandpa’s college” to be a farmer.

“He always gets up right away in the morning because he thinks he needs to be here by 7:30 a.m.,” LaVon said of Luke, who lives about 5 miles away. “He told (his mother) he has to be here by 7:30 a.m. because grandpa wants to go when the dew is off the ground.”

LaVon more than once referred to her and Andrew as empty nesters, but noted all their children live within 45 minutes of the farm and make frequent trips home.

The Weidenborners have built successful businesses and a family that continues to grow, and Koochiching County commissioners last week thanked the family for the significant contributions they have made to the Minnesota agriculture industry and area communities.

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Baseball is back in the Falls

America’s pastime made its return to Borderland when the Bronco 14U baseball team beat the Hibbing 3 Bluejackets 12-11 Monday evening.

Turn to B1 for more information and pictures.

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Falls man organizes July 4 activities

With the traditional Fourth of July festivities postponed due to COVID-19, one local man is taking it upon himself to organize an event for the community in Smokey Bear Park.

Andy Piekarski will host a Freedom Festival from noon to 6 p.m. July 4 in Smokey Bear Park with a list of activities for the entire family.

“Almost most importantly, it’s sober fun for the whole family,” he said. “It’s been pretty tough times for everybody. I know a lot of people are anxious with all the stress, and depressed with all the isolation. People just need something to be happy about... I just want something that people can forget all their troubles for a couple hours.”

The event will feature a costume contest, kickball games, yard games, photos with Smokey the Bear and cubs, dodge ball, raffles, cash prizes and more. There is no cost for anything, but Piekarski has found other ways to give back to the community through the Independence Day effort.

Donations will be collected for The Salvation Army, Paws and Claws and Ruby’s Pantry. People who donate to the cause will be entered into different drawings for prizes.

“Even before all of this health crisis... I’ve been trying to think of ways to donate money to some place that is a good cause,” he said.

Instead of donating to something on a global or national level, he turned to his hometown.

“In reality, the best way to do it is locally,” he said, adding it creates “real change in front of your own eyes... I figured if we’re going to get all these people together and we’re gonna have a lot of fun, we can also probably raise a whole bunch of money for really good causes around here.”

Piekarski’s mother, Debbie LePage, said she was proud of her son for taking the lead on organizing the event.

“When Andy decides to do something – even when he was little – he goes in 100 percent, 1,000 percent,” she said. “He’s always loved this town... I think it’s going to be a day for the whole community, hopefully, to come together. Everyone is so wonderful in our town.”

Piekarski is hoping to attract volunteer help with the July 4 events and encouraged anyone interested to contact him on Facebook. His profile can be found under “Jesus Dubs.”

“It’s going to be an amazing time, I know that,” he said. “People can come bring their family, their friends, their kids... and they can enjoy a day in the park.”

City support

Mayor Harley Droba said the city supports Piekarski’s efforts and noted a permit is not needed to host events in Smokey Bear Park.

“You would need a permit to set up in Smokey Bear Park if you want to be the only one utilizing the park for your own event,” he said. “Every citizen has the right to assemble.”

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Community rallies to fund project

In four hours, community members raised enough money to get a new effort across the finish line to completion.

Drive-in movies will soon be offered in Borderland, thanks to the efforts of the IFalls Nice group, and donations from supporters through an online campaign.

“We bought an inflatable movie screen (a few months ago) to do a drive-in movie somewhere,” said Harley Droba, member of IFalls Nice and mayor of International Falls.

The idea for the drive-in movie came after the group made the decision in May to cancel the 2020 Concerts in the Park series. Droba explained the decision to cancel the concerts wasn’t just about social distancing, but more about funding the effort.

“We always get money from local businesses,” Droba said describing how it provides funding to local artists, who are involved in the weekly performances at Smokey Bear Park.

But because many local businesses had to be closed or lost revenue due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Droba said IFalls Nice members couldn’t ask them to financially support the effort this summer.

Instead, the group decided to get creative and offer something else for the community. An inflatable screen and projector was purchased for about $1,100, but the pricey portion of drive-in movies is paying for the “public performance” license from the copyright owners of films.

“(IFalls Nice) members brainstormed ways to fund drive-in movies and we came up with the idea to do a fundraiser for it,” Droba said.

The fundraiser was launched at 10 a.m. Monday morning, and met its $2,400 goal just four hours later.

The goal was then extended to $3,500, which was reached in another two hours.

As of this report, nearly $5,000 has been raised, and Droba said this is the final amount it will be capped at.

“It’s incredible,” he said of the community support. “I can’t wait to get this started.”

At the time this story was written, a location or start date for the movies had not yet been set in stone, but Droba said IFalls Nice members were meeting with Falls Superintendent Kevin Grover Wednesday to determine if the Falls High School parking lot would be feasible.

“We’re hoping to show a movie as early as next week,” Droba added.

In addition to the film on the big screen, Cine 5 will offer concessions at movie events.

“We’re really excited about this,” Droba said. “I think people will really enjoy it.”

A small fee per vehicle will be charged for admission to the movie, and all funds raised will go back into the effort to be able to continue it next year in addition to concerts in the park.

And, because the equipment can be easily moved, Droba said the Falls City Council may also discuss having movies at City Beach.

“Nothing has been decided yet, but there are a lot of possibilities out there,” he said. “It’s amazing how in a short amount of time, so many people came together on this project to make it happen.”

For more information on when and where movies will be shown, follow the IFalls Nice Facebook page.