Seen & Heard — Colleen Arey Timimi column sig

For over a century, the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association (MCIA) has provided “services that enhance the value and improve the marketability of agricultural products.”

Last month, the organization awarded Mike Zabel of Plainview the Premier Seedsman Award, which recognizes an active MCIA member who is “involved in quality seed production” and “provides excellent service to the seed industry.”

Zabel, whose grandfather Arnold and great-uncle Clarence founded Zabel Seeds in the 1940s, is now the third generation to run the family business.

Similar to seed businesses across the state and nation, it started as a family business on the farmstead,” he said. “It’s my assumption they (Arnold and Clarence) started cleaning (seeds) for themselves.” At the time, it was “not uncommon (for a farm) to have a little tiny seed cleaner.”

Mike even has an old seed cleaner on display to give folks an understanding of the history. By the 1960s, the availability of certified seeds was plentiful.

Mike and Kim Zabel

Mike Zabel and his wife, Kim, at the 2020 MCIA (Minnesota Crop Improvement Association) Annual Meeting on Jan. 8 at the Bigwood Events Center in Fergus Falls. Zabel was presented with the Premier Seedsman Award. (Contributed photo)

“One every 10 to 15 miles, depending on the part of the state,” Zabel said. However, since the 1980s, the “numbers have dwindled significantly.”

Just like his father and grandfather before him, Mike continues to farm, and he learned the seed business growing up on the farm. Today, Zabel Seeds “is the second-largest producer of oat seed in Southern Minnesota and the largest producer of Royal barley in the world.”

He describes his role at Zabel Seeds as “cook and bottle washer,” overseeing administration, sales, and other tasks. His wife, Kim, is the company’s bookkeeper. In addition to the seed business and family farm, Mike gives generously of his time to local agricultural organizations and his community.

Dr. Leah Schnaith

Dr. Leah Schnaith. (Contributed photo)

Education is truly a partnership between students and teachers. Students at Minnesota State College Southeast (MCS Southeast) are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Leah Schnaith of Red Wing as their partner. Schnaith, a chemistry instructor, was recently named the college’s Outstanding Educator of the Year.

Schnaith’s parents were both teachers, so “teaching is in the blood,” she said. However, when she went off to St. Olaf College, Leah planned to pursue a dual degree in chemistry and engineering, intending to become a chemical engineer. After taking classes in calculus and physics, she realized she truly loved chemistry. Schnaith went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota. It was during this program as a teaching assistant that Leah discovered her love of teaching.

“I didn’t foresee this, but I wouldn’t change it,” she said.

Before joining the staff at MCS Southeast in 2006, Schnaith worked with the Red Wing School District, first in an early STEM program supporting grades 2 through 6, then coaching Math Masters, and finally tutoring middle and high schoolers in math and science.

At MCS Southeast, Schnaith teaches on both the Red Wing and Winona campuses and also online. But no matter the setting, she provides as much support as she can for her students. She recognizes that many have full-time jobs outside of school, some are single parents, and most are not going to pursue a degree in chemistry. Her office doors are always open, she answers emails within 24 hours, and she aims to give each student “the highest level of support.”

Schnaith takes pride in her job, is grateful to be surrounded by an excellent faculty, and only wants the best for her students.

“She embodies the qualities of a brilliant educator who puts her students first and endeavors to see them master the material and achieve their goals,” said Interim President Larry Lundblad.

Colleen Timimi is a Rochester freelance writer. Seen & Heard highlights local people with interesting stories. Send tips to life@postbulletin.com.

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