Sen. Smith learns about everything from farming concerns to public transit projects in Spring Grove, Rushford & Rochester

(ABC 6 News) – It was a tour to hear from her constituents; Senator Tina Smith made her way across southeast Minnesota Thursday with stops in Spring Grove, Rushford, and Rochester.

Smith began her day in Spring Grove listening to the community on how they recovered from a downtown fire in December of 2022 and how the local grocery store has survived the rising issue of grocery store deserts.

The neighboring town of Mabel, is one of many rural communities that have had their grocery store close in recent years with the nearest place to shop falling on Spring Grove.

Following her time in Spring Grove, Smith went to Rushford and visited MiEnergy Cooperative in Rushford, a company that is working to expand broadband throughout rural southeast Minnesota and Northern Iowa. Federal dollars Smith says she helped secure are now helping the expansion of broadband access in Fillmore and Houston counties in Minnesota, as well as Howard and Winneshiek counties in Iowa.

“We have been utilizing federal and state, both Minnesota and Iowa, grant programs to build out infrastructure. Where before it wasn’t feasible from a financial standpoint due to low density, high costs,” said Jill Huffman, mIenergy Broadband COO.

Next door to MiEnergy is Featherstone Farms. There, Smith heard from farmers on what they feel is an uphill battle of small farming operations wanting to keep their food local while grocers from the area buy it from other states offering cheaper prices.

She also talked about the Farm Bill and what she wants in it to help smaller, family owned operations as the bill is set to be drafted by September 30.

“The first thing you have to do with the farm bill is make sure that we are in the farm bill through farming programs, supporting small farmers, emerging farmers so they can get their foot in the door and get in the business,” said Senator Smith.

Smith’s final stop of the day in Rochester focused on how the community has used resources to get people better connected through public transit, as funding was secured to build a new park and ride next to 125 Live.

“One of the things that our members have mentioned that they are excited about is the potential of coming here and working out or doing some of their social programing is getting on the bus and going downtown, getting some lunch with their friends or shopping, “said Kari Etrheim, 125 Live Board President.

Construction won’t begin on this park and ride until next summer. The city of Rochester has received $7.4 million in federal funds for the project. Officials expect the facility to contribute a 30% reduction in car fueled emissions by 2025 once it opens.