ST. PAUL — Days after her 18-year-old son Landon Gran died in a grain bin accident, Michele Gran started making calls.
She called TV stations, newspapers, elected officials and anyone who would listen about the day Landon's legs got caught in an auger while he was working in a nearly empty grain bin at a neighbor's farm near Norseland. He died alone in the bin hours later.
And his mom wants to make sure people don't count him as just another statistic.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn't investigate because the neighbors' farm was too small, Gran said. And with few answers to ease her mind, she pressed officials, farm groups and equipment manufacturers to fund safety efforts, in hopes of ensuring other preventable farm deaths would be avoided.
More than 10 Minnesotans have been killed in farm accidents since June, state reports show.
"Our son's death cannot be in vain, something good has to come out of this," Gran said. "If we can save lives through some of these safety measures, I'm a mama on a mission."
Within weeks of Landon's passing in August, Michele Gran met with local state lawmakers and made her pitch to put more state funding toward efforts that could make farm equipment safer.
And last week, Sen. Nick Frentz, D-North Mankato, and Rep. Jeff Brand, D-St. Peter, brought before House and Senate committees a proposal to put $500,000 in state budget funds toward farm safety grants and $250,000 toward agriculture education funds. Both bills were named in Landon's honor and Gran made the case in both hearings that lawmakers should pass them.
She held up a photo of her son and struggled to tell lawmakers about his death, breaking at times to cry.
Classmates of Landon's filled the hearing room in Landon's memory and in support of Michele Gran and her son James. And at several points, legislators and those at the hearings teared up as Gran spoke.
While both were laid over to be considered as a piece of larger bills, for now, Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, legislative leaders and officials from Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union on Tuesday, Feb. 25, issued their support for a $250,000 plan to fund efforts to update farm safety measures. The money is set to relaunch the state program that helps farmers retrofit older tractors with structures that can protect them in rollovers, reimburse those who put in place grain bin safety equipment and fund a public campaign on tractor and grain bin safety.
"It has always been a dangerous and difficult profession and while we've made strides, there's things that we can do," Walz said.
Under the proposal, Minnesota farms or schools could apply for up to $500 to fund safety projects. And Frentz and Brand's plan could reimburse 75% of a project or up to $1,000 for grain bin safety modifications. All the proposals will require bipartisan support to pass the divided Statehouse and so far have received Democratic and Republican backing.
The Legislature will take up the proposal over the next few months and those pushing for the investment said they'd seek to get a larger state allocation before lawmakers leave St. Paul in May.
"At the end of the day, we're going to fight to get more than $250,000, but $250,000 is a starting point for us," Brand said.
The lawmakers and state leaders said Gran's push to bring the issue to the Capitol forced them to take it up and advance funding proposals this year.
"Michelle's work will make sure that no family has to hold a picture of an 18-year-old in the future in front of them," Walz said.
Gran said she was encouraged to gain key support at the Capitol and to see lawmakers in both chambers of divided government considering her plan as part of larger agriculture bills. And she said she has started working with her brother who is an engineer to create a safety harness device that would allow a farmer to hit a button that would shut down the equipment they were operating and call 911.
Her next step, Gran said, would be to call farm equipment manufacturers to ask that they put in place more safety measures, as well as other states to start supporting protective equipment for farmers.
"I needed to make a noise. I'm glad my noise was heard," Gran said. "You never know when this is going to happen. We didn't know that morning Landon said goodbye was the last time. And to live without him is hell and I don't want that for anybody else."