Dori & Duane Klein, Wabasha County
Dori Klein didn’t grow up on a farm, but she was envious of her cousins who did.
“I’d go there and get excited about picking up eggs and they’d think I was crazy,” she remembered with a chuckle.
Eventually she got her wish to have a farm with her husband Duane – and so much more. She retired from Minnesota Farmers Union’s Membership & Outreach Staff a year ago, where she extended her passion for the family farm beyond her own acreage.
“To be able to work with farmers was just unreal,” she said.
Thanks to all she did, Dori received the Dedicated Service to Farmers Union Award at the 78th Annual MFU Convention last fall. And she has desire yet to continue spreading the message of our organization as a member.
The path to MFU
Duane Klein grew up farming just north of Mazeppa. His father died when Duane was 16, so he took over the operation. That was where Dori moved to when she first married him, 54 years ago. They farmed grain, along with farrow-to-finish hogs and beef cattle. Dori got a degree in journalism and worked in education, in addition to farming. She worked as a career counselor at Red Wing Technical College, now part of the Minnesota State System, and in the state’s displaced homemaker program, supporting people who’d been divorced or separated.
But farming came first to her.
“I always worked, but for me, farming was always what I did,” she said. “That was where my interests lied.”
Dori and Duane ended their hog operation after Duane was badly injured in a car crash in the 1980s. They then moved to their current acreage in Zumbro Township, on the Zumbro River bottoms, which they’d been renting already. The Klein farm consists of 550 acres today, although many of those acres are covered by woods.
It was an ad in the Rochester Post-Bulletin newspaper that first sparked Dori’s curiosity about MFU. She first saw it a number of years before she was hired, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Then, later on, funding was cut for the displaced homemaker program and Dori was laid off.
“And lo and behold, there was a posting again for MFU,” she said. “So I pursued it. At that time, they hired two of us. (The other was) Merlin Mathiason from Rochester. He passed away from cancer (in 2009). We covered Southeast Minnesota and we were both part-time, dividing the counties.”
This was in 2006. Dori and Duane had become members before then, thanks to Wayne Boettcher. They appreciated MFU’s commitment to the family farm way of life.
“At that time I was interested in farm policy and had gone through the 1980s, so I had been attending meetings, like one at the Oak Center Store with Sen. Paul Wellstone.”
‘It’s all about the members’
As a membership & outreach worker, Dori’s main focus was to recruit new members to MFU and remind current ones to keep their membership up-to-date. But it wasn’t just about getting dues checks.
“I really enjoyed meeting and talking to other farmers, going to their place, finding out about their operation, what was important to them,” Dori said. “It was the connection. Sometimes it would be frustrating, spending a whole day driving around and not getting any new members. Then one time on a staff retreat we had a speaker who was in sales. He said it takes 6 or 7 interactions before someone is willing to buy something.”
She knows the country roads of southeast Minnesota better than most people, thanks to her hard work. And she didn’t always have the convenience of a smartphone app for directions.
“Wabasha County was one of the last counties to get rural addressing,” she added. “But they’ve rectified that.”
Many of you may be familiar with Dori’s initiative with on-farm day camps in southeast Minnesota, usually on dairy farms. She was motivated by the value that’s the base of the Farmers Union triangle.
“The opportunity for education, educating people about farming,” she said. “So many kids now have no connection to farming.”
The day camps on dairy farms have been a major success. The excitement of the kids to get to see farm animals, as well as their parents or grandparents who may have grown up on farms themselves, brought Dori great joy.
“Livestock are a lot of work, but they’re fun for kids.”
Dori and Duane continue to be active members of MFU. Dori attended the 78th Annual MFU Convention as a delegate for Wabasha County, the first time she’d done that.
“It was a bit strange,” she said. “I felt like I should be doing something. But now I can express my opinion on state policy.”
Dori’s had some health challenges to deal with in the first year of her retirement, but she’s doing well and stays as active as she can. She’s still the clerk of Zumbro Township and is thinking of other ways she can contribute to Wabasha County Farmers Union in the future.
Meanwhile, she’s staying engaged on rural and agricultural policy issues.
“I’m upset about the tariffs,” she said. “It’s not helping us. We got the Market Facilitation Payments, but farmers don’t want that. They want a fair price.”
“I don’t think we’ll get the market back to where it was before,” Duane added.
The lack of fair prices on the farm, particularly in dairy, have driven changes in rural southeast Minnesota. Duane recalled when he used to test milk with the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, the biggest dairy in the county was about 70 cows. Now that’s considered tiny. The Kleins have witnessed the loss of many family dairies in the county, an all-too-common trend across the country.
On health care, the Kleins are lucky to be 15 miles from Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They know not everyone is that lucky.
“In other rural areas, their hospitals are closing and their doctors are moving out,” she said. “That’s got to be pretty scary. It’s kind of the same thing with police. We’re at the western end of Wabasha County. I used to volunteer with a women’s shelter, and if you were having a domestic violence issue on this side of the county, it took a sheriff’s deputy from Wabasha 45 minutes to get to you.”
Sometimes, a struggle in membership work is encountering people weary of politics. But Dori understands as well as anyone that farmers need to be involved, because politics affects so much of what we experience.
“I don’t think you realize it unless you get involved with an organization,” she said. “I think it’s important for farmers to be members of farm organizations, get your voice heard.”
And of course, for the Kleins, that organization is MFU.
“I belong to Farmers Union because they still believe in the family farm,” Dori said. “I really appreciate our members and enjoyed working with them. And I believe in our policy.”