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Planting more seeds

Staples man continues to help, mentor in agriculture

Mel Wiens of Staples has a passion for agriculture he shares with others to achieve their farming dreams.

Wiens, who mentors others on gardening and farming practices, is among several producers working with area farmers markets, and he continues to raise broilers and laying hens for area restaurants.

His love for farming took root on his family’s diversified farm near Delft in southern Minnesota. But he almost left it for a life in the mission field.

Wiens, who grew up Mennonite, attended a parochial elementary school before transferring to Mountain Lake High School. There, in one of his freshman classes, his teacher, Mrs. Twedt, gave students an assignment focused on their future. The class was to complete an occupation evaluation including visiting an individual involved in a career the students wanted to achieve.

He interviewed his pastor. The minister, however, didn’t encourage Weins to be a missionary. The pastor suggested Wiens consider a career in agriculture.

“I wasn’t upset with his comment,” Wiens said. “I just took his advice and looked at the possibilities.”

Agriculture did seem to be a better fit. The high school freshman was already raising his own banty chickens in an old house the family owned. And, he’d taken over the raising of their dairy herd’s calves.

After his career assignment, Wiens wrote to the University of Minnesota, inquiring about agriculture and education.

He was active in 4-H and FFA and showed livestock at the county fair.

After he graduated from high school, Wiens and several friends from his church, went to college at Tabor College in central Kansas. He completed his generals over a three-year period then transferred to the University of Minnesota where he obtained an ag education degree.

He taught at Cannon Falls for one year then worked in alternative military volunteer service. Wiens worked with food producers at a workhouse for two years. He’s enjoyed his job teaching inmates about food production. Their bounty was great in the gardens as they used irrigation, he said.

Following his volunteer service, Wiens worked for an airline welding luggage carts. But an advertisement caught his eye. There was a job working with soil testing. The farm boy was excited about the possibilities and took the job for a year before becoming a plot coordinator at the U of M in 1971.

The job took him to Staples where, at the Staples Ag Center, he conducted plot research on a variety of crops. The research projects grew, and Wiens sought help. Students were hired through the CEP program to assist with the research. By 1982 the research, directed by the U of M, involved 75 plots with 10 students helping. They worked with 70 different crops, including horticulture. Blueberries, muskmelons and edible beans were some of the plants studied.

At the same time, Wiens and his wife, Lorna, started their own little farming venture on eight acres. Besides their garden, the couple continued to raise chickens.

It was a family affair. Their sons, Royce and Curt, picked cucumbers that were sold to a nearby cucumber buying station, he said.

Wiens retired from the Ag Center after a 30-year career in 2001, he said. But he continued working in agriculture. He was a crop adjuster until 2010 and has continued to help others develop their farming plans.

He’s leased a part of his farmland to others for gardening and has enlarged the couple’s own garden. He also raises 300 to 400 ducks and 800 broilers under contract for area restaurants.

Wiens has worked with other farmers developing seven area farmers markets, and through connections made with social service agencies, collaborated on a project to bring bags of fresh vegetables to those receiving Meals on Wheels in two local communities.

His knowledge and connections in agriculture have been important resources for many. He worked with the forage group in Leader to develop a workshop for producers. The annual workshops became so popular, garnering around 100 people, they moved the event to Staples. The group formed the Crow Wing Forage Basin.

Although he suffered a stroke in August, it hasn’t slowed Wiens much. He continues to travel to area communities mentoring individuals on their farming projects and their food connections.

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