MORGAN, Minn. — News spread quickly of a car/semi collision that sent both Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha and State Sen. Melisa Franzen to the hospital last week while leaving the Farmfest grounds.

According to a Minnesota State Patrol’s report, a Jeep Cherokee driven by Blaha collided with a semi truck shortly after 5 p.m. on Wed. Aug. 4 in rural Redwood County. Blaha's vehicle, with Franzen on board, was southbound on County Road 13 when it collided with an eastbound semi on Minnesota 67.

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Agweek had caught up with Blaha at Farmfest before the accident, to find out what she was doing there.

"I would say if you're a Minnesotan that eats, it's important for you to be a Farmfest," said Blaha on the morning of day two of the three-day affair near Redwood Falls, Minn. "It's always good to know what's going on the ground."

Blaha also has specific interests in Minnesota's ag industry, as she serves on the board for the Rural Finance Authority. She said the RFA's responsibility is to "get the kind of resources in farmers' hands to keep going".

Also as a member of the State Executive Council, Blaha said every so often she's voting on issues of land and agriculture.

Blaha said her office oversees $40 billion in local government spending,

"Especially in agricultural areas, local government, farmers and all producers and processors work really closely together," she said. "So to really understand the work of local government, particularly in rural areas, you've got to understand them."

That's what brought her to Farmfest, where she was asking producers around the grounds what was currently on their minds. She said the common responses she got this year were the COVID-19 pandemic, the drought and labor shortages.

"Farmers want to make sure people learn, and just because you've ever been on a farm doesn't mean you understand," she said

State Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, came with Blaha to Farmfest. Blaha referred to Franzen as a "friend of mine who came with us." She said it was Franzen's second or third time attending Farmfest

"I was like hey, you vote on ag stuff, who wants to get in the vehicle," said Blaha. "I like to drag somebody out from the suburbs or the cities with me. If you're a decision maker in Minnesota, you gotta understand agriculture."

Inspired by politics

Blaha was born and raised in Nowthen, Minn., with a population of less than 5,000. The township in northern Anoka County had dirt roads when she was growing up, and Blaha's mother decided that the residents needed them paved.

"So she got appointed to the road and bridge committee in Burns Township," said Blaha. "First woman to ever be appointed to anything in the township."

She said she learned from that experience of watching her mom work with members of the community, to finally get paved roads.

"So I could see that really good things can happen if you work for them," she said. "And so small town government, and government in general, has always been interesting to me."

Rural Finance Authority

Blaha said shortly after joining the board of the Rural Finance Authority, she was surprised "just how low the default rate was" on the loans through the program.

"They are very successful loans," she said. "And they are also generally not the only funding a farm is getting; they are getting one of our loans plus a loan from the bank."

She said that kind of public-private partnership for financing is "particularly effective."

"You see (through Rural Finance Authority) that just a little capital at the right time, is all you need to get over the hump," she said.

She said the program is particularly successful because most of the board members are farmers.

"To actually have people who have been through it, and who are in it, being on that board is important," she said.

For Blaha, her job on the board is to watch the money.

"I have to say, they've been making very sound investment decisions," Blaha said.

She said the priority now, is making sure enough people know about the loans.