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Swim safe: 7 ways to be safer in the water this summer

When the heat is on, Minnesotans head to the lakes for fun and sun.

But first, remember to take a few precautions to ensure the day at the beach is memorable for all the right reasons.

Lt. Lance Pearce of the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, who serves as Chanhassen’s public safety liaison officer, spent more than seven years as the county’s water patrol supervisor.

With a large population of people on the water at any given time, summer is a busy time for the Carver County water patrol, and it staffs accordingly, Pearce said.

“A Monday in June will be a lot less busy than a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday later in the summer, when it’s a lot warmer,” Pearce said. The water patrol stations one boat on Lake Waconia; the second boat is rotated throughout the week to every lake in the county.

For a carefree and safe day on the water and at the beach, Pearce recommends the following:

1 Plan ahead.

“Let someone at home know, where you’re going and when you’re expected to return,” Pearce said.

Pack a first aid kit and know how to use it. Bring plenty of water to drink, as well as sunscreen and bug repellent. Bring your cell phone and, if you’re going to be boating or on the water, make sure to put it in a waterproof case.

2 Whenever you’re on the water, wear a life jacket.

“I know they’re hot and not the most comfortable thing to wear,” Pearce said, “but wear your life jacket. They make them a lot better now, so they’re not so uncomfortable. Wear your life jacket.”

3 If at all possible, don’t go boating alone.

Take someone along.

4 Know and abide by the water safety and boating rules for the lake you’re on. If you don’t know, go to the Minnesota DNR website, or pick up a pamphlet at any store or location that sells DNR fishing licenses. You can also pick up a pamphlet in the lobby at the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.

5 If you’re swimming, don’t use drugs or alcohol.

6 Use the buddy system. “Always swim with someone else,” Pearce said.

And be realistic about your swimming ability. Ally Farrell, a lifeguard at Lake Ann, said that part of her job is looking at the swimmers to see who’s a strong swimmer and who may not be.

7 Stay hydrated. “When it is really hot, you get dehydrated, and when you’re dehydrated, that’s when your muscles cramp,” Pearce said. “That’s when a lot of swimmers get into trouble. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, because you’re in the water, but you need to hydrate your body before swimming.”

EMERGENCIES

If there are lifeguards at the beach, always make sure you know where they are, so you can alert them quickly if necessary.

In case of an emergency, call 911. Know your location so you can provide clear directions to the emergency responders.

“If it is a true emergency,” Pearce said, “if it’s a stranded boater, if there is a boating accident, a swimmer in distress, get as much information as you can. Where did you last see the boat, where did you last see the swimmer? The most helpful thing you can do is provide the first responders with as much information as you can.”

As for diving accidents, Pearce said the good news is that most swimming beaches in Minnesota don’t have any places to dive. “I’ve been with the Sheriff’s Office for 25 years, and I don’t think we’ve had a diving accident where it was too shallow.”

In unfamiliar bodies of water, Pearce recommends that before diving, swimmers should use a depth finder beforehand. “Make sure it’s deep enough,” Pearce said. “You may be out in the middle of the lake, but you don’t know how deep it is or how shallow.

And finally, “If you’re boating, be respectful of other boaters and lake users.”


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Rainy spring delays local produce, but farmers' markets still thrive

It’s peak summer, and there should be stalls of colorful produce lining the farmers’ markets of the southwest metro.

Instead, in late June and early July, there were just two farmers selling produce at both the Minnetonka and Excelsior markets. One hour into the Excelsior Farmers’ Market on July 2, Dan Moe had already sold out of peas, broccoli and strawberries.

“There are a lot of farmers who are supposed to be here whose fields were frozen,” Moe said, pointing out several empty spaces in the street. Moe is a certified organic farmer who’s on the board that runs the Excelsior Farmers’ Market. “It’s because of the cold frozen May we had,” he added.

Even at the Bloomington Farmers’ Market, where a dozen produce stalls were selling heaps of root vegetables and leafy greens on July 6, shoppers wanted to know where the usual tomatoes, cucumbers and corn were.

“They’re asking, ‘Why is everything so late this year?’” said Mai Lor, who sells her family’s produce grown on a farm near Rochester. “I think it’s due to the rain.”

“This spring it seemed like we had a low pressure drop stuck out west,” meteorologist Chris O’Brien of the National Weather Service in Chanhassen confirmed. “The center of the country kept getting rain after rain.”

The cold, heavy rains in April and May, which flooded roads and fields across the state, are still causing trouble for farmers. The resulting soggy fields set many Minnesota farmers back in their planting by several weeks, said Kathy Zeman, the executive director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association (MFMA). It’s not unusual, but it’s still an inconvenience.

“Every five to six years, we get a late, cold spring,” Zeman said. “Anything that needed that extra bit of heat or sunlight” isn’t doing well, she added.

If shoppers have seen ripe tomatoes, bell peppers or summer squashes at their local markets already, it’s likely produce that was grown out of state, according to Moe. “People don’t understand we’re growing in Minnesota,” he said.

The fields are behind schedule, Jeff Filipek agreed. He’s the president of the SouthWest Metro Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Downtown Chaska Farmers’ Market.

“It’s a slow start, there’s no question about it,” Filipek said.

Future forecasts

Victoria Hoffman, who coordinates the Bloomington market, and Filipek both said attendance has been strong throughout the summer, despite the crop delay. And vegetable lovers shouldn’t despair: Every farmer that spoke to the newspaper said local tomatoes, cucumbers and corn will be at farmers markets in the next two or three weeks. In the meantime, the cooler weather has been great for leafy greens and strawberries, Zeman said.

Climate models predict the wet weather patterns this spring will become more common, Zeman added. The MFMA is already reacting to the wet spring and climate forecast by hosting a webinar for farmers from two University of Minnesota extension experts who explain how to compensate for the weather by planting more in hoop houses and selecting crops that will thrive in wetter conditions.

“We’re progressively getting rainier and rainier,” Zeman said. Farmers will need to adapt to the new conditions, but “it’s not catastrophic,” she added.

While cucumbers have been late, the cucumber beetle has made an early appearance this year, Zeman said, and she recommended that farmers put up netting to protect their plants sooner rather than later.

‘Cottage foods’ thriving

The wet spring has had no effect on many stalls at local markets who trade in cottage, or homemade, foods. A state cottage food law that went into effect in 2015 allows Minnesotans to make and sell food products with just a training module under their belt − no license required. It’s the law that allowed Melinda Norman to create the Chanhassen-based Burnt Sugar and sell her meringues and caramels at the Excelsior market.

“It’s really great and it’s really frustrating at the same time,” Norman said of the law.

The law requires that any food sold without a license be “non-potentially hazardous” and limits producers to $18,000 in sales annually − after that, they’d need a license to sell more. The law defines “non-potentially hazardous” as foods that are dry or acidic, which helps prevent harmful bacteria from growing in the food.

“There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do − I can’t use fresh dairy − and I understand why that’s the case,” Norman said. She was the pastry chef at the Old Log Theatre’s Cast and Cru restaurant before starting Burnt Sugar earlier this year. While she’s received extensive food safety training, others who produce homemade foods might not have that knowledge.

The markets are a place for entrepreneurs to plant the seeds of a larger business, too, like TeaQuinox Kombucha. Owners Jennifer and Nathan Martine made their first appearance at the Minnetonka market this summer and already have repeat customers, they said. The couple is using the market to test and refine their products before opening a store later this year, Jennifer Martine said.

“We’d love to expand and have a store front, but we figured because it’s so new, it’s best to start small,” she said.

Besides prepared cottage foods, there’s plenty of other local products at farmers’ markets. Midwest Mushrooms owner Peter Ralston slings locally-grown gourmet mushrooms at three local markets, including Excelsior; LiBaan Warsame’s Excelsior stall sells Somali chai; Dale Plekkenpol’s fresh eggs can be found in Chaska; and Jeanne Athey’s organic, Clearwater-based Homeplace Beef has been a five-year staple of the Minnetonka market. All of them appreciate the markets not just for their sales, but for the opportunity to meet and educate the people buying their products.

“The thing that I think people are attracted to in going to farmers’ markets is getting to meet the farmer face-to-face,” said Karen Lanthier, who coordinates membership at local farming resource Minnesota Grown.

Even when buying local means shoppers can’t get the tomatoes they want, that up-close agricultural connection is part of what has driven the growth and popularity of farmers’ markets in the state, from 43 to 190 in just a few decades, Lanthier said.