Lawrence Public Schools receive funds for prairie restoration project

This month, Lawrence Public Schools will receive the funds to restore an old football field to prairie land.

Through the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund, the Douglas County Community Foundation will grant $10,000 for the project. Maggie Hull, program officer at DCCF, said funds should be dispersed by the end of the December.

The football practice field near Free State High School, 4700 Overland Dr., will be turned into a 1.6-acre prairie to be used for research and education. According to a DCCF news release, Lawrence Public Schools indicated that K-12 students, University of Kansas researchers and community members are expected to use the site for classes, ecology experiments, and artistic expression.

Hull said recipients of the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund must have a project that benefits residents of Douglas County. It also has to address an important problem in the community, or provide something that will be in existence long-term.

The DCCF puts out an open call for applications every year, and then a five-member selection committee, including Elizabeth Schultz, rate the proposals and make their final selections.

“We usually get 10 to 15 applications each year,” Hull said. “And we almost always give away around 20,000.”

Fore more information on the grant and guidelines for application, click here.

In other news: The Kansas Rural Center was recently named a beneficiary of the fund. The farmer-led nonprofit organization will use $10,000 to hold workshops, with the ultimate goal of increasing beekeepers and the number of honeybees in Douglas County.

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Lawrence area tree farms offer homegrown Christmas spirit

The Scotch Pine, the most common Christmas tree grown on Kansas farms, has medium length needles and stiff branches. Photo courtesy of kctga.com.

The Scotch Pine, the most common Christmas tree grown on Kansas farms, has medium length needles and stiff branches. Photo courtesy of kctga.com.

With less than four weeks until Christmas, people are decorating their homes, and local tree farmers are starting their busy season.

According to the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association, Kansas tree farmers typically grow and sell four different types of pines: Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine, Austrian Pine and White Pine.

The Scotch Pine, with medium length needles and stiff branches, is the most common Christmas tree grown in the state. Virginia Pines have softer needles and dense foliage, as well as a pleasant pine fragrance. The Austrian Pine is well-suited for hanging large ornaments, according to the KCTGA. It has long needles and open branches. The White Pine has soft needles, little aroma, and is reported to result in fewer allergic reactions.

There are several tree farms in Lawrence and the surrounding area, including Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson Counties:

  • Evening Star Pines is located at 9820 Evening Star Rd. in Eudora. The farm is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Customers can choose and harvest Scotch Pines, White Pines and Black Hill Spruces.
  • Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm is located on U.S. Highway 40 west of Lawrence, one mile pass the U.S. Highway 10 Bypass. The farm is open weekdays from 1:30 to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m. Customers can choose from fields of Scotch Pines, White Pines and Fraser Firs.
  • Located five miles east of Topeka at 2881 31st St. in Grantville, Pine Apple Farm offers Scotch Pines, White Pines, Norway Spruces and Fraser Firs. The farm is open weekdays from 1 to 5 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Prairie Elf Christmas Trees is located at 765 E 750th Rd., southwest of Lawrence. Customers can choose form Scotch Pines, White Pines and Fraser Firs. The farm is open weekends only through Dec. 21. Open hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
  • Pleasant Ridge, at 2710 Vermont St. in Rantoul (southeast of Ottawa), is celebrating its 15th year this season. The farm is open Fridays from 1 p.m. until dark, Saturdays from 10 a.m. until dark and Sundays from noon until dark. Pleasant Ridge offers Scotch Pines, White Pines and Fraser Firs.

Brownback announces new Secretary of Agriculture

On Monday, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Jackie McClaskey as the new Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. She will assumes her position when now-Secretary Dale Rodman steps down next week.

Jackie McClaskey. Photo courtesy of k-state.edu.

Jackie McClaskey. Photo courtesy of k-state.edu.

According to a news release from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, McClaskey grew up on a family farm in Girard, Kan., and currently resides in Manhattan. She worked as an assistant secretary for two years before becoming Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in July 2013. Prior to that, she served as Assistant Dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University.

After he steps down on Dec. 10, Rodman will continue to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

Outhouse Tour breathes life into Kansas ‘ghost town’

 

Ruth Gordon pulled into Elk Falls on Saturday afternoon, parked her car in front of the Senior Center and led two friends to her masterpiece just a short walk away.

The project that Gordon had spent countless hours working on over the past six weeks sat immediately behind the town’s tiny post office. It was an outhouse, and it was anything but typical.

The structure stood about 8 feet tall and was bright pink. A sign reading “Our Pretty Privy” hung above the lemony colored door, which was flanked on each side by wind chimes made of beads, spoons and dessert plates adorned with hummingbirds. The theme continued inside. Gold floral curtains hung behind the makeshift toilet and lace billowed from the ceiling. A water basin sat on a shabby-chic table on one side of the stool, and a lamp, cross-stitch and “The Best of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader” was nestled into the corner of the other.

“I bet I spent more time on this than anyone else did,” said Gordon, a resident of Winfield, Kan. “It’s a tad overdone.”

Once she arrived at her creation, Gordon began making small adjustments. She rearranged a few teacups and straightened things up inside.

“Someone left the seat up,” she said disapprovingly.

After all, this outhouse wasn’t built to be used. It was Gordon’s entry into the 18th annual Elk Falls Outhouse Tour, and on Saturday, the “Pretty Privy” took first place.

Cars streamed into the small town, stopping in a muddy lot just north of Kansas Highway 99 on Friday and Saturday. Elk Falls, a village in southeast Kansas with a population of 101, draws in about 1,500 people for the Outhouse Tour each year.

Anywhere from 10 to 12 outhouses make up the tour, which takes people from one side of town to the other (about two-thirds of a mile), and visitors vote for their favorites. Each latrine has its own theme, name and story. In addition to the “Pretty Privy,” the highlights this year were the “Quack Pot,” a play on the A&E reality series Duck Dynasty; “Santa’s Pit Stop,” complete with a life-sized Santa reading the local newspaper; and the “Outhouse Chicken House,” which housed a live bird.

Inside Cavalry Chapel located north of the highway, people milled around the quilt show and craft fair. North of that, the town’s only shop, Elk Falls Pottery, was holding it’s annual open house. At about 1 p.m. Saturday, Reach for the Sky Bluegrass Band played inside, the “ping” of the banjo ricocheting off the shop’s old tin roof. A few dozen people looked at the handmade Americana-style art while owner Steve Fry did a demo on his pottery wheel in the back.

On the south side of the highway lay the heart of Elk Falls. Just one block down on the town’s only paved street, longtime Elk Falls residents Dorothy Tiffany and Kay Koehn sold commemorative buttons and T-shirts and gave attendees a ballot, map, and some solid advice.

“Cast your ballot if you want to see your favorite win,” Tiffany said. “There are some good ones this year.”

To outsiders, the Outhouse Tour serves as a weekend escape to nowhere, to a rugged part of the country with few people and little to see. These visitors travel a series of narrow, winding highways to take in the wild decorations and endless puns that give them something nice to laugh about.

But for the residents of Elk Falls and the surrounding area, the tour serves as a lifeline, a small piece of hope for the dying community.

Finding a solution

According William G. Cutler’s “History of the State of Kansas,” Elk Falls was founded in 1870 after a group of settlers established homes along the Elk River, a strip of land belonging to the Osage tribe.

Though it is near the river, most of the area surrounding the town is rough and broken, unsuitable for agriculture since its beginning.

Cutler wrote that in the town’s early years, a flouring mill was located near the falls on Elk River, and it served as the main source of income for area residents.

At its peak, Elk Falls was home to almost 300 people. According to the U.S. Census, its population was 150 in 1980 and 122 in 1990. Recently, as the population has continued to decline, residents jokingly call their home “The World’s Largest Living Ghost Town.”

The town’s end has been predictable since early on, according to Cutler, anyway.

“As to what the future of the town may be, little can be said more than mere conjecture. It is certain, however, even under ordinary favorable circumstances, that the place cannot attain to any considerable size, owing to the absence of those requisites and conditions as are necessary to its support, such as manufacturing and mining interests, and the surroundings of a good agricultural country, etc,” Cutler wrote. “…to predict for her a more prosperous situation than she now occupies, would be extremely hazardous and unwise.”

After more businesses in Elk Falls started closing up shop in the 1990s (including a variety theatre and a café), the remaining residents of the town set out to stop the process of extinction — or postpone it, at least.

“We don’t have many businesses,” Tiffany said. “There’s no restaurant. We got a car repair place, and Steve has the pottery place. We just don’t have a whole lot anymore.”

According to the Outhouse Tour website, Tiffany, Fry and other concerned parties held a brainstorming meeting in 1995 in order to find a solution. There were no lush gardens in the town, as there once had been, and the architecture wasn’t much to look at. But they had plenty of outhouses, pieces of history that many residents refused to tear down.

“It is crazy,” said Kay Koehn.

But it works.

The tour and coinciding events have brought in a steady number of people since 1996. Attendees purchase crafts and pottery, and sit down to a lunch of sandwiches and pie inside the senior center. Though there isn’t a lot of fundraising to be had, the event brings people to a part of the state they hadn’t seen before.

And it brings some people back home.

‘They’re trying’

Ruth Gordon went inside the senior center on Saturday to escape the cold weather. She sat down at a small table in the corner and talked briefly about her childhood.

Gordon was raised in northern Elk County near Severy. She still owns 80 acres in the area, her share of her family’s old land. Gordon traveled to Elk Falls for the Outhouse Tour in 2011 and 2012, before deciding it was high time she participated.

“I don’t know how many people live in this town, but it’s not many,” Gordon said. “And yet they can organize themselves and put this on and I think that’s a real testament to the people who fight to keep their town alive. When you don’t have a school, you don’t have a restaurant, you don’t have business, what is there to keep your town from completely dying? They’re trying. I don’t know if it’s going to make it forever, but at least they’re trying.”

Residents of the town — or some of them, at least — probably won’t stop trying any time soon.

Dorothy Tiffany, owner of Elk County General Store in nearby Howard, has been a key organizer in the Tour since its debut. After visitors stuck their votes in the ballot box on Saturday, she would encourage them to make a trip back, anytime.

“Tell your friends about it, and tell them to come see it for themselves next year,” Tiffany said. “They won’t believe it.”

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Kansas Rural Center receives grant to increase pollinators in Douglas County

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Kansas Rural Center, an organization with the goal of strengthening small farms and rural communities, is the beneficiary of a $10,000 grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation, according to a news release from the DCCF distributed last week.

Julie Mettenberg, KRC’s executive director, said the money would be used to hold a series of workshops on beekeeping in Douglas County.

“At our annual conference, the Food and Farming Conference, this year, we had a pollinator workshop that was very well attended,” Mettenberg said. “For us, that’s an indicator that there’s an interest in bees in Kansas. We’re excited about it.”

According to the news release, the ultimate goal of the workshops is to increase the number of beekeepers and honeybees in the area. The KRC has three specific objectives: increase the quantity and quality of the pollinator habitat, increase access to locally-produced honey, and train and mentor more beekeepers.

This is necessary because bees and other pollinators are in decline due to a lack of diversity in plant life, Mettenberg explained.

“With the monoculture system we have in this state, it’s not great for the bee habitat,” she said. “This is a pilot project for us to gage interest.”

The Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund through the DCCF supports efforts to preserve nature each year. To apply, visit the organization’s website.

Kansas farmer’s ‘The Fox’ parody goes viral

A Kansas farmer has recently received national attention for his parody of “The Fox” music video.

Derek Klingenberg of Marion County dubbed his remake “What does the Farmer Say?”

Klingenberg is a 2001 Kansas State University graduate and owner of a farm near Peabody, a town 40 miles north of Wichita in central Kansas. He posted the video on Oct. 25, and it had garnered more than 2,320,000 views as of Wednesday, Nov. 20.

Klingenberg has his own Youtube channel where he posts parodies of several hit songs, copyrighting them under Klingenberg Farms Studios. “What does the Farmer Say?” is his 26th video, and in addition to “The Fox,” he has remade hit songs such as “Thrift Shop” and “Blurred Lines.”

According to Klingenberg Farms Studios Facebook page, “What does the Farmer Say?” will be broadcast nationwide today on Fox News at 11:40 a.m. CT.

Check out the video below, or go to Klingenberg’s Youtube channel at youtube.com/watch.

Butterball turkeys in short supply, local farms offer alternative

The graphic above lists the top turkey producers in the U.S. during 2012. The top company, Butterball LLC, will produce a decreased amount of turkey for this Thanksgiving.

This graphic from the National Turkey Federation lists the top turkey producers in the U.S. during 2012. The top company, Butterball LLC, will produce a decreased amount of turkey for this Thanksgiving.

Butterball, the nation’s largest producer of turkeys, will be short on their supply of birds this Thanksgiving, according to a news release from Big Y, a supermarket chain headquartered in Massachusetts.

The supermarket announced the shortage on Nov. 13, after Butterball notified their retailers across the country that the orders they had placed would be cut by 50 percent. The shortage affects the amount of Butterball’s fresh turkeys weighing 16 pounds or more. The reduction does not affect Butterball’s smaller fresh turkeys and frozen turkeys.

Butterball officials have said that the shortage comes from a decline in turkey weight gain at some of their farms, but officials of the privately held company have not explained the cause.

According to the National Turkey Federation, approximately 45 million turkeys are consumed in the U.S. on Thanksgiving. Production in the country has increased more than 100 percent since 1970, and Butterball LLC serves as the top producer, processing 1,300 pounds of turkey in 2012.

If you can’t find the turkey you want at the grocery store (or if you just want to try something new), here is a list of farms that raise and sell turkey in the Lawrence area:

  • Bryant Family Farm is located in Jackson County. According to their website, the family raises hormone- and antibiotic-free turkeys that they sell for $4.16 per pound.
  • Homespun Hill Farm is located about 10 miles south of Lawrence near Baldwin City. The farm sells turkey during the holiday season, and anyone interested is asked to call for pricing.
  • Clark Family Farms is located between Lawrence and Baldwin City. They raise turkeys without hormones or antibiotics, and anyone interested in purchasing is asked to contact the farm to schedule an appointment.

For a more complete list of independent farms that produce meat in Kansas, go to the eatwild.com.

This chart, created by the National Turkey Federation, shows the number of turkeys produced in the U.S. from 1975 to 2012.

This chart, created by the National Turkey Federation, shows the number of turkeys produced in the U.S. from 1975 to 2012.