Ruth Hoefs' upbringing wasn't all that much different from other children who were raised on a dairy farms. She attended school in Montgomery-Lonsdale, Minn., and after the day's final bell rang she'd head home to work. She'd help retrieve the cows from pasture and milk them, or assist her mom with cutting stems off the strawberries or washing the cucumbers that they grew in their garden. Her youth left her not just a strong work ethic, but also a love for the outdoors, the environment, and the critters that call Minnesota home.
Fast forward a few decades, and Hoefs, now 55 and operating a farm on her family's homestead near Le Center, hasn't changed all that much. She still works hard. She raises crops and livestock on 350 acres of land that has been in her family since the 1950s. She also manages two convenience stores. And she still has a great affinity for the outdoors and wild creatures. These days, she does more than simply appreciate it. As the new state chairwoman of Ducks Unlimited in Minnesota — the first time a woman has led the group's 42,000 volunteers in the state — she plays a central role in the cause of conservation. This from someone who admittedly isn't much of a hunter.
"To be honest with you, I've never sat in a duck boat to duck hunt, mainly because I don't like to get cold and wet," said Hoefs, who began volunteering for DU about 20 years ago. "But I love watching wildlife, and I love to watch the ducklings and goslings hatch. While I don't hunt, I totally enjoy raising money so there are places for these animals to nest and to provide the things they need to survive."
Hoefs, whose father was a waterfowl hunter and whom she credits with instilling her with a love of the outdoors, took over as state chairwoman earlier this year. Her term lasts for two. During a recent conversation, she talked about the connection between conservation and farming, her outdoor experiences and what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure. Here are edited excerpts:
On her ascent in the group
A close friend of mine who is now my significant other invited me to a DU event about 20 years ago. They were looking for volunteers, so I signed up to help out. As I kept getting more involved in the organization, senior volunteers kept asking me if I'd help out at the next level. Four or five years ago, I was approached and asked if I'd consider being state chair. I almost fainted because I didn't look at myself as serving to that degree. At the same time, the state chairs had always been men, so it made me think. After thinking about it and processing it, I said I'd do it.
On how much thought she gave to being the first state chairwoman
It's a nice honor to be asked and to be Minnesota's first state chairwoman. But I'm out here for every other volunteer for DU, and for the ducks; to raise money, to get wetlands restored and to get prairies restored. One of my main concerns is that so many farmers look at DU like, 'All you want to do is create potholes and have more wetlands.' In farming, you need to follow conservation, otherwise you're depleting the soils by not having the proper cover on them. Or if you don't till properly, the soil gets eroded away. You need to install tile, but you also need to figure out what is worth tiling.
On the relationship between conservation and farming
They need to go hand in hand. One needs to help the other. Otherwise, we're not going to have the soils and the ground that we need to grow our crops.
On what she'd like to accomplish during her term
I want to make people aware of what DU is all about, because there are a lot of people who don't understand it. They think we're just a bunch of hunters who want more wetlands so there are more ducks to shoot. That's not what it's all about. We have chapters that hold greenwings events for kids, and we need to have more of those. We need to get more young people involved.
On her time outdoors
When I'm running the tractor in the spring and fall, it's fun to see the ground go through the tillage equipment, and it's also fun to see all the wildlife when I'm doing that. Relaxing for me is sitting on the lawn mower this time of year. The other night when I got home from work I sat in the sheep barn and spent time with the animals. I have a lovely deck that I enjoy. I just like being outside — walking, biking or whatever. All of that is very enjoyable and relaxing.
Joe Albert is a freelance writer from Bloomington. Reach him at email@example.com.