Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In small town Minnesota: A public show of support for police officers July 30, 2016

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads "Every Life Matters."

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office, right. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads “Every Life Matters.”

I’VE RAVED HERE SEVERAL TIMES about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. Police Chief Lee Sjolander’s become a bit of a celebrity for his honest, humorous and thoughtful writing. He cares. And people like him. Really like him.

A week ago Friday, the good folks of Kenyon, population around 1,800, honored Lee and his officers during an open house at the VFW in this small southeastern Minnesota community. Lines formed. Kind words were spoken and written. And the humble chief thanked his staff.

I love feel-good stories like this. With all the violence, chaos and unrest in today’s world, we need to be reminded of the positive. We need to thank those who care for us, whether personally or on a professional level. Life can be hard sometimes, really hard. But it’s easier when we are kind to one another, when we support and encourage. And express our gratitude.

This Sunday, July 31, my community of Faribault will thank local law enforcement and first responders during a candlelight vigil ceremony at 9:15 p.m. at the Rice County Courthouse.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: New York’s solution to texting & driving July 29, 2016

Text stop sign in New York

Posted along Interstate 90 in upstate New York.

WE COULD LEARN A THING or two from New York State about efforts to reduce/eliminate texting while driving.

On a recent road trip from Minnesota to the East Coast, I noticed signs along Interstate 90 in New York advising motorists, “It can wait… Text stop parking area 1 mile/5 miles.”

Brilliant. Instead of simply complaining and admonishing, New York State is offering a solution—a place for motorists to pull off thruways and state highways specifically to text. And, yes, motorists were using those no amenities text stop parking areas.

Additionally, New York state law bans drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone or portable electronic device while driving. The state is even considering implementing use of a Textalyzer, a roadside test to check cell phone usage.

In Minnesota, drivers 18 and older can talk on their cell phones while driving. But no driver can legally text.

Texting while driving in Wisconsin

When the ION stopped in front of our van for road construction, I photographed it and wrote down the license plate number. (And, yes, I cropped the full license plate from this image.)

In neighboring Wisconsin, drivers also cannot text while driving. But that doesn’t stop some. Last Friday afternoon my husband and I watched a silver ION weave on Wisconsin Highway 21 about 20 miles east of Tomah. The driver’s behavior was so dangerous that we stayed a safe distance behind as his car crossed multiple times into the oncoming lane and then back toward the shoulder. And not just barely over the center line, but significantly over. Not until we were stopped by road work did we get close enough to the ION for me to photograph the car and to observe the driver’s head down in texting position. I was prepared to call 911, but we had no cell coverage in this area near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  Later, when we pulled off the highway into Necedah behind the ION driver, I saw him parked and texting. I wanted to stop, rap on his window and ask him what was so important that he had to endanger other motorists by texting while driving on a very busy Wisconsin state highway.

Laws are only as good as their enforcement. Therein lies part of the problem. With limited resources, cops can’t possibly be everywhere. So maybe New York is on to something. Offer an option to texting while driving other than “Don’t text. It’s the law.”

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond the Big Woods on Nerstrand’s Main Street July 28, 2016

Driving westbound into Nerstrand, Minnesota.

Driving westbound into Nerstrand, Minnesota.

WITH A POPULATION of only 253, you might expect Nerstrand to be a quiet small town with, as some could surmise, not a lot going for it. But that would be an inaccurate assessment.

A farm site just east of Nerstrand.

A farm site just east of Nerstrand.

Just north of Nerstand, country gravel roads run through the hilly terrain.

North of Nerstand, country gravel roads run through hilly terrain.

I photographed this truck in a field drive west of Nerstrand.

I photographed this parked truck just outside of Nerstrand to the west.

This farming community in eastern Rice County is known for many things including the local ag equipment dealer, Isaacson Implement; the highly-touted Nerstrand Elementary School; nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park; and Nerstrand Meats and Catering.

Nerstrand Meats.

Nerstrand Meats is a popular stop in this small southeastern Minnesota community.

This sign marks the meat market.

This sign marks the meat market.

In business for 125 years...

In business for 125 years…

On a recent Saturday, while on the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour, my husband and I stopped in Nerstrand to purchase meat at the family-owned meat market open since 1890. While Randy ducked into the shop, I snapped a few exterior photos before joining him in the small storefront space that smells of smoked meats, the market’s specialty.

A small section of the fresh meat counter.

A small section of the fresh meat counter.

Randy chose smoked chops, Nerstrand weiners and a half pound of dried beef. He’s the big meat eater in our house. I could live on fruits and vegetables.

Notices in a storefront window half a block from the meat market. So typical of a small town.

Notices in a storefront window half a block from the meat market. So typical of a small town.

While the clerk packaged his purchases, I headed out the door to see the rest of this several-block downtown. That tour didn’t take long.

Another view of Nerstrand Meats.

Another view of Nerstrand Meats. How convenient and necessary the ice machine.

Yet, I left this small town knowing Nerstrand is a destination for many—whether in need of farm equipment, in need of an education, in need of a get-away or in need of fresh smoked meats.

The fire hall and city hall sit next to Nerstrand Meats.

The fire hall and city hall sit next to Nerstrand Meats.

TELL ME: What small town have you discovered that offers unexpected reasons to visit?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisn’ to church, but not for a sermon July 27, 2016

UCC-CarShow-page-001

 

FOR ST. JOHN’S UNITED CHURCH of Christ, Wheeling Township, a weekend Cruise-In Car Show offers an opportunity to bring the community together.

There’s no ulterior motive. This isn’t a fundraiser. The church isn’t trying to get folks to join.

Rather, says Steve Wille of the St. John’s Revitalization Group, the Car Show is strictly a social event aimed at bringing folks together in a neighborly sort of way. I like that. Visiting with your neighbors, he says, seems to be a lost art.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

St. John’s, a country church located east of Faribault near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, is good at reaching out to the community. The congregation hosts annual events like the Big Woods Run, The Last Supper Drama, German Fest, an ice cream social and more. I’ve been there many times, often enough that congregants know me. These folks are country friendly and welcoming. And they’re fantastic cooks and bakers.

No St. John’s event is complete without food. Pork sandwiches and snacks will be available at the 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday, July 30, Cruise-In Car Show.

Car Show is a bit of a misnomer, though. Trucks and tractors are also welcome with first place trophies awarded to each of the top three.

If you enjoy cruise-ins, country churches, a rural setting and visiting, consider attending (or participating in) St. John’s first-ever Cruise-In Car Show.

FYI: St. John’s is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In rural Nerstrand: Of sheep & cheesemaking July 26, 2016

 

Approaching Shepherd's Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

Approaching Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

I WAS SMITTEN, simply smitten by the two-day-old lambs at Shepherd’s Way Farms. I wanted to snatch one of the babies from an outdoor pen, tuck it under my arm and scamper to the van.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 111 white lamb

 

Lucky for the owners of Shepherd’s Way, I am not the rustling type. And lucky for Shepherd’s Way that a hawk, eagle or other predator did not discover these unexpected pasture-born lambs—born out of the regular lambing season.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 151 penned lambs

 

The lambs, penned under the shade of sprawling oaks, proved a popular attraction during a recent 2106 Eat Local Farm Tour at Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read’s dairy sheep farm near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 143 Burr Oak cheese

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 173 sheep in pasture

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 145 Big Woods Blue Cheese

 

Here sheep graze pastureland, fueling up to produce milk for award-winning handcrafted artisan cheeses. Farm tour visitors sampled those cheeses which range from creamy Shepherd’s Hope to the denser, firmer Burr Oak to a blue cheese appropriately named Big Woods Blue. I found the cheeses especially flavorful and the softer cheeses exquisitely creamy, traits attributed to the higher fat content of sheep’s milk.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd's Way Farms.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd’s Way Farms.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

Looking through a window, visitors get a look at the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Looking through a window, visitors see the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Again, through a window, visitors view aging cheese wheels.

Through an interior window, visitors can view the cheese.

Jodi led visitors on a tour past the milking barn and cheesemaking and aging rooms. As we followed her along a hallway separating us from the operational area, we learned about cheesemaking from start to finish. She’s the cheesemaker. Oversized windows allowed for viewing. Here, some 240 sheep are milked in a process that takes about four hours from set-up to milking to clean-up. Jodi noted that if you don’t like to clean, then sheep dairy farming/cheesemaking is not for you.

Jodi answers questions once the barn tour is finished.

Jodi answers questions following the barn tour.

It is clear from Jodi’s tour that she loves this rural way of life, this place where she’s raised four sons. Although grown, those young men still occasionally help, this day at the tour and also with marketing the family’s cheeses. Shepherd’s Way cheese sells primarily in the Twin Cities—at farmers’ markets and select grocery stores—but also as distant as Chicago and the East Coast. The farm also has a Community Supported Agriculture program.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Classes, tastings and tours are also offered at the farm by the well-spoken and knowledgeable cheesemaker who comes from a pre-dairy professional background in writing and editing.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 127 sheep by barn

 

Listening to Jodi affirms the farm’s mission statement published on its website:

At Shepherd’s Way Farms, we believe there is a way to live that combines hard work, creativity, respect for the land and animals, and a focus on family and friends. We believe the small family-based farm still has a place in our society. Everything we do, everything we make, is in pursuit of this goal.

Shepherd's Way Farms, 150 bottle feeding lamb

 

I left Shepherd’s Way understanding this family’s passion, appreciative of their hard work and savory cheeses, and still wishing I could snatch a lamb.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 106 silos & barn

This 1940s former dairy barn and the attached lower building have been converted in to a milking parlor, a cheese production room and a cheese aging room.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

There's a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

There’s a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The 120-foot long barn replaces the lamb nursery destroyed in a 2005 arson fire.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

Outside the tasting room/store.

Outside the tasting room/store.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about Simple Harvest Organic Farm, another Nerstrand area farm I visited during the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring Simple Harvest Organic Farm, rural Nerstrand July 25, 2016

The Zemans' farmhouse and yard.

The Zemans’ farmhouse and yard, this view looking toward the driveway.

SIBLINGS KATHY AND NICK ZEMAN farm the old-fashioned way.

Visitors park along the county road by Simple Harvest Organic Farm for the Eat Local Tour.

Visitors park along the county road by Simple Harvest Organic Farm on 155th Street East, rural Nerstand, for the recent Eat Local Farm Tour.

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 17 geese close-up

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 79 beehives

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 69 pigs

 

Their 20-acre rural Nerstrand acreage is home to an assortment of animals typical of farms of yesteryear. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats, cows and rabbits along with two dogs and bees comprise the collection of critters I spotted on a recent visit.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 15 back ends of goats

 

Livestock graze in pastures and are fed a vegetarian diet. These animals see sunlight and sky on this organic farm.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 8 Simple H sign

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm was among sites featured on the recent 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour. As I hiked up the driveway toward the farm yard, I noticed the absence of a barn. I didn’t ask Kathy about that. I was distracted by the goats and then the chickens peering from behind chicken wire in the weathered chicken house.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 43 bunnies

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 39 goat close-up

 

Then it was on to the rabbits and the sweet bunnies and a single milk goat that preferred chomping on dry leaves over fresh leaves.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 18 geese walking

 

As I circled the property, I noticed plenty of weeds and droppings from wandering geese. This isn’t a pristine picture perfect farm. But it’s lovely in the sort of way that this is a way of life for Kathy and her brother. Not only do they raise food for themselves, but also for others through their Community Supported Agriculture business.

 

This weathered building houses the chickens, who roam inside and out.

This weathered building houses the chickens, who roam inside and out.

This pair peered through chicken wire in a chicken coop window.

This pair peered through chicken wire in a chicken coop window opening.

The farm store is located in a closed corner of the pole shed which also houses pigs and fowl.

The farm store is located in a an enclosed corner room of the pole shed which also houses pigs and fowl.

On the second Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., the Zemans open their farm store—housed in a room in a pole shed—to CSA and other customers who stop by to pick up frozen whole chickens, eggs and more. The farm is also open by appointment.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 81 bikes

 

As I chatted with Kathy, whom I met 30-plus years ago when I was a newspaper reporter and she the Steele County dairy princess, she paused to greet new arrivals. “The neighbors are here,” she enthused. And they really were her neighbors, their bikes leaning against a fence near the end of the farm driveway.

 

Simple Harvest raw honey available for purchase at the farm.

Simple Harvest raw honey available for purchase at the farm.

Friendliness and old-fashioned neighborliness prevail here on Simple Harvest Organic Farm.

BONUS PHOTOS:

On the day I visited, these items were available for purchase from Simple Harvest.

On the day I visited, these items were available for purchase from Simple Harvest.

I photographed this sunflower by the chicken coop.

I photographed this sunflower by the chicken coop.

Customers could also purchase Wildflower Honey from Schoolhouse Apiary during the farm tour.

Customers could also purchase Wildflower Honey from Schoolhouse Apiary, Northfield, during the farm tour.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 7 Eat Local sign

 

FYI: Check back as I take you several miles away to Shepherd’s Way Farms, also on the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From small town Minnesota: When no one would be queen July 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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As we were leaving, Miss Elysian royalty were handing out Car Show trophies.

Miss Elysian royalty handed out Car Show trophies at the community’s Fourth of July celebration in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

ARE HIGH SCHOOL teens too busy to reign as small town royalty? That’s the assessment of one local pageant organizer.

According to an article published in the The Gaylord Hub, only one girl applied for the role of Miss Gaylord 2016. That lack of interest caused organizers to call off the coronation which is part of this southern Minnesota community’s annual Extravaganza celebration in August.

Brianna Hahn, chairperson of the Gaylord Royal Ambassadors, cited competition from sports, summer jobs and post-secondary education for the waning interest along with a smaller than usual pool of potential candidates this year. Additionally, Hahn noted that surrounding communities are facing the same problem.

I checked several neighboring towns and found the royalty tradition continuing with a Miss Winthrop at Farm City Fun Fest, Miss Henderson at Sauerkraut Days, Miss Nicollet at Friendship Days and Miss Le Sueur at the Giant Celebration.

But I expect Hahn is right—that other rural Minnesota communities are experiencing declining numbers, too, in queen candidates. Is your community one of them?

Are small town queen competitions becoming a thing of the past? Should changes be made to continue the tradition? What are your thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Source cited: The Gaylord Hub

 

 
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