On a windy, snowy, winter day John Olson carries a single bag of household garbage out to an old silage wagon, strikes a match and sets fire to the trash.
Olson farms near the town of Hendricks in southwest Minnesota and said for this week, that one bag is all he has to get rid of. He eyes the flames as they consume the local newspaper along with the rest of the garbage.
"That's the Hendricks Pioneer," Olson said. "I read it first. There's a cereal box in there, bread sack, Wal-Mart ads. It takes about 15 minutes here for it to burn, and then it's over."
Olson said burning is one part of what he thinks is a pretty responsible set of waste disposal guidelines he follows.
He takes large items like tires to approved locations and he tries to limit how much waste he generates. So when he hears about government officials trying to end garbage burning in rural areas, he feels a little picked on.
"I think sometimes we have too many laws and it's getting a little carried away," he said.
Of the known dioxins that are created in our atmosphere in the United States, the majority now comes from actual outdoor burning of garbage,Mark Rust, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Olson said the fuel burned and pollution generated to haul farm garbage to a landfill would be more than what's his weekly fire produces. He said the anti-burn push also tends to paint farmers as ecological scofflaws.
"If we weren't environmentally friendly there wouldn't be any farmers left," Olson said. "We conserve the soil, that's why we're able to exist out here. Just give us a little credit."
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is leading the push to end outdoor garbage burning. The MPCA's Mark Rust said a 2005 survey found that about half the people living in rural areas burned their garbage outside.
While state law appears to ban all outdoor garbage burning, Rust said it grants farmers an exemption if they don't have a reasonable alternative, like access to a garbage pickup service.
Rust agrees with Olson that most farmers and other rural residents are good environmental stewards. He said the problem is most people don't realize how dangerous it can be to burn garbage. He said igniting trash can release cancer causing dioxins.
"Of the known dioxins that are created in our atmosphere in the United States, the majority now comes from actual outdoor burning of garbage," Rust said.
Rust said even paper like the Wal-Mart ads John Olson burned can contribute to the problem. Many pieces of paper are coated or treated with chemicals, and burning releases those agents. Rust said the MPCA has stepped up its efforts to reduce outdoor burning in Minnesota.
Just a few miles away from where John Olson burns his garbage outdoors in southwest Minnesota, another Olson, Robert Olson, runs the environmental office for Lincoln County.
The county received a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant to combat outdoor burning.
The weapon of choice: dumpsters.
Olson said his office set up nine dumpsters across Lincoln County where rural residents can bring their household garbage.
"We're trying to offer a reasonable alternative to people who are willing to use it," he said.
Olson said the program started last summer and has shown steady growth. The amount of trash being dropped off is almost double what was expected. He said that shows that most people will stop burning if they have an alternative.
Some Minnesota counties are going further. In recent years, about one third state have banned all outdoor burning, effectively ending the farm exemption.
Farmer John Olson said if Lincoln County took that step, he'd grudgingly change his ways.
"I'm not going to break the law," Olson said. "But I'm sure going to fight for things I feel are right."
Olson said rather than cracking down on rural residents, government regulators should be looking at steps to reduce the problem at its source. He'd like to see everybody reduce the amount of garbage they generate.